A few months ago I spent the day in Lisbon shooting the LX Factory for Transavia´s onboard publication, Enjoy! Magazine. You can see the online edition HERE or onboard Transavia over the next few months.
Last summer we took a trip to the Azores islands, more specifically the central group that consists of Faial, Pico and São Jorge. These volcanic islands are absolutely spectacular and still relatively undiscovered… and hopefully they stay that way. Faial is a stopping point on most transatlantic sailboat voyages so in spite of it being a tiny island lost in the middle of the ocean, the vibe here is super international, with the sailing crowd from all over the world in town, fixing boats, topping up supplies and just generally taking advantage of a few days on land.
Last year we visited one of my closest friends in Brighton and spent a few days exploring the town and surrounding countryside. I must admit that living in the UK has never been something that appeals to me so I haven´t spent much time on this rainy island… I have a penchant for countries with inefficient politicians and great weather… but Brighton´s quirky open-mindedness and colourful houses really captured a place in my heart.
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 Kefalonia we hopped onto another ferry to Ithaki, a tiny unassuming island that turned out to be the highlight of Greece, maybe even the highlight of the entire trip? Hard to say… but it´s up there in our top 5 favourite places. We arrived in mid September, so the tourist season was well and truly over, but the weather was still great and we had the place more or less to ourselves. I´m sure that in August the vibe would have been quite different, but during the time we were there, the island was sleepy and laid-back. Locals just getting on with their lives, somewhat indifferent to us, not at all hostile but also not wired to take advantage of the punters like sometimes happens in touristy towns. So it was just perfect. We explored and did our thing, camping on some spectacular (and empty!) beaches undisturbed by anyone except the occasional German nudist or a sailboat that would drop anchor in the bay and spend the night alongside us.
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.
Lefkada was an unknown island to us, we´d never heard of it but it made it onto our trip itinerary because of the fact that it has a bridge connecting it to the mainland, which meant one less ferry trip in the van, which was good for our dwindling budget. But I am glad we visited because not only does this island have some seriously mind-blowingly beautiful beaches, but also produces some of the best honey I have ever tasted. The entire island is blanketed in wild thyme and sage, it is a bee paradise and the honey is sublime. We bought tons of the stuff from road side stalls, some of which even made it back to my family South Africa and I am not even joking when I say that I would make the trip back here just simply to buy more honey, it was that good.
After our short but sweet adventures through Albania we crossed the border into Greece, an event we´d been somewhat dreading because of our dog but absolutely nobody cared one bit about him or his passport and we were waved through somewhat impatiently, as it was almost dinner time and we got the feeling the border officials would rather be elsewhere. We headed to Igoumenitsa where we boarded a ferry to Corfu and began island hopping through the Ionian Islands.
Corfu is simultaneously terrible and wonderful… a double edged sword of tacky tourism in the south together with incredible mountainous landscapes and secret beaches in the north. OBVIOUSLY the north is better, so unless you are a sock-and-sandle wearing, stag-party-attending, full-English-breakfast-eating, warm-beer-binge-drinking kind of tourist, then the south is most likely not going to be your cup of tea. Consider yourself warned.
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.