From the Ionian Islands we ferried back to the mainland and drove north to Igoumenitsa, a port city with several ferry lines running across to the south of Italy. The crossing was overnight and took about 10 hours which was perfect as we slept through most of it anyway. The noise of the engines and the waves crashing on the hull were reminiscent of our cruise ship days and even the smell in the crew area was the same, a particular mix of grease, sweat and stale cigarette smoke that is hard to define but very particular to ships.
Once we arrived in Italy we headed straight for Sicily as we were meeting up with friends who were there on holidays to see family. Sicily is one of those places that you can´t see in a rush, and we left after a week with the distinct feeling that we had barely scratched the surface of what the island has to see and do. Politically, it´s part of Italy… geographically, closer to north Africa and culturally, it´s a land all of it´s own. We spent most of our time in and around the city of Siracusa, with short day trips to Marzamemi and the fish market in Catania, which was an incredible experience. All the more visceral because I was wearing Havaianas and by the end of the day my feet were coated in fish scales and stinky unidentified gunk as the cement floor is flooded with fishy water. A fragrant experience, to say the least.
From Lefkada we boarded an early morning ferry to Kefalonia, arriving in Fiskardo on the northern tip of the island. Kefalonia is posh. Beautiful, but not wild and ramshackle like Lefkada had been. There is a lot of tourism here and a lot of rich people, which means that towns are clean and beautifully restored… lovely for photos but lacking just a little bit in soul. We were also unceremoniously chased off of Myrtos beach halfway through cooking our supper as apparently campers are not allowed to overnight there. Since it is not illegal to park and sleep on public land in Greece and we had never had issues with this anywhere in the country before, it was a bit of an unexpected shock and again a sign of the wealthy attitude that we hadn’t encountered elsewhere (and didn’t encounter again anywhere else in Greece) So Kefalonia, while beautiful, didn’t capture any special places in our hearts and we didn’t feel inspired to stick around for very long.
Oh hey there!! It´s been a while… but I´m still here, and after an embarrassingly long break in updates (summer is always crazy and this little blog of mine gets a bit neglected) I am back, as if nothing happened, to continue sharing our campervan journey through southern and eastern Europe.
We were apprehensive about Montenegro and particularly Albania for a few reasons. First of all, was the fact that we were travelling with our dog and by entering these 2 countries, we were exiting the European Union. No big deal there, as he has all his paper work and doggie passport in order. But we had been warned that it could be tricky re-entering the EU with a pet and since we were headed to Greece, this was a concern.
And secondly, because without fail, every single person we told about our plans to drive through Albania told us not to do it. None of these people had ever been in Albania before so in retrospect I´m not sure why we gave their unfounded opinions as much importance as we did, but retrospect is 20/20, as they say. Albania is a poor country, but people are friendly and we really didn´t feel like it deserves the reputation it has. The coastline in particular is beautiful, especially the southern stretch, and as yet undeveloped, but this is already changing and it seems like the inevitable expansions are going to happen unchecked and pretty soon it will be over-developed like the south of Portugal and Spain… generic and nasty. Which would be a pity, as this coastline is gorgeous, and I hope that I´m wrong. Only time will tell.
We almost didn´t go to Croatia, as we´d heard that wild camping is illegal and that the authorities are super strict and take some sort of peverse pleasure in rooting out campers and making life miserable. But then we decided just to go and see how it was, and if it sucked, we´d just keep moving through quickly. And OMG am I glad that we decided to go because since leaving Portugal and her glorious Atlantic coastline, this was the first place that we stopped and looked at each other and declared that “we could live here”. Croatia is incredibly beautiful, in a way that defies description. I am writing this almost a year after our time here and I want to go back so badly that it is actually painful… I look at these photos and feel a knot of longing in my stomach.
We arrived in September so the holiday crowds were thinning out, which I think helped as the beaches weren´t as crowded and although we took pains to hide ourselves at night, we didn´t encounter any horrible authorities who wanted to fine us and on some of the more remote islands, people really didn´t care and we didn´t even bother to hide. We also stayed with our amazing friend Irene in Zagreb, who introduced us to her 2 gorgeous little girls, fed us copious amounts of red wine and took us out for the best (literally, THE BEST) squid ink risotto I´ve ever eaten… and I don´t even really like risotto, so thats really saying something. Irene was also responsible for getting us hooked on Game of Thrones by downloading all of the series onto our computer for us to watch on the road, so all in all Croatia was a life changing experience. I would go back in a heart-beat and cannot imagine that we almost didn´t visit.
Several of these photos were originally published in an article I wrote for Mr Hudson, you can see it HERE.
Romania was so many things… it was beautiful but neglected, exciting but frustrating, so full of potential but with the unmistakable sense that it´s just not quite there… yet. By far the poorest country up until that point, it was quite the stark contrast from Slovenia and the tiny bit of Hungary that we saw while passing through. Infrastructure is lacking and Romania´s public struggles with corruption on every level have resulted in very few improvements since joining the European Union.
The people, however, were wonderful. We had quite a bit of van trouble while in Romania, some of it due to our complete lack of mechanical knowledge (really simple stuff that we just didn’t know) and some more complex things involving GPL gas tanks and potentially dangerous business. On both occasions, we were helped by everyone… friends, perfect strangers, long-suffering mechanics who came home early from fishing trips to rescue the random Portuguese people parked in front of their house. As is typical of countries where people have little, they are more than willing to share the little that they have, in stark comparison to the van troubles we had in richer, more developed countries (ahem, France…) where no-body could be bothered to even offer a hand, never mind go out of their way to help. Highlights of Romania include seeing our friend Dan (who, together with his dog, travelled with us in the van for a few weeks), visiting the Salina Turda, an undeground salt mine converted into a theme park… bizarre, amazing, unlike anything else I´ve ever seen… and driving the Transfagarasan pass, which has been something I´ve wanted to do for years and years.
Luis made a few videos during our trip, and I really like the Romanian one, you can see it HERE.