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In search of the sun
Dubrovnik (Croatia) to Epidavros (Greece), November 2011

After a great stay in Dubrovnik (Croatia), we decided that it was time to go again. A one day drive separated us from the country Albania, one of the countries in Europe that was most unknown to us. It is a long day drive, and after crossing Montenegro, we eventually arrive in Albania. It is a beautiful ride, and especially the last part of the journey, the mountainous road from Tirana to Elbasan is spectacular. There are no real camp sites in Albania, so we eventually decided to stay at some kind of a ‘truck stop’. It is a barren piece of land where truck drivers can spend the night in their truck. The owner of the truck stop lives in a small house on the same land, and offers us to use his private toilet and shower. The land is also the home for around 70 chickens and a couple of fruit trees. The owner and his extended family are very friendly and hospitable, and his children spoil us once in a while with flowers, roasted corn and fresh eggs. We use Elbasan as a base for day trips in the area and for a visit to Tirana, the capital city of Albania. After our visit to Elbasan, we travel further south, to the small town of Berat. Berat is a medieval town with some great sights to see. Also the area around Berat is beautiful. We spent one day driving over the uncomfortable rocky tracks to small villages in the mountains around town. It is the first time that we use the 4x4 facilities of our jeep and he passes the test easily. Albania is an adventure to visit. Tourist facilities are not to western standards yet, but that is part of the fun. It is also a country which has many secrets. Expensive and shiny cars rule on the roads, while poverty is around each corner. For those who are in search of the last ‘jungle’ of Europe, this is probably it (see also the column ‘we don’t steal cars here’, and the photo impression about the country).

Athens seen from the Acropolis
The spectacular coastal road of southern Albania brings us to Greece. We are not really welcomed and the border (see also the column: Not so welcome anymore), but are eventually permitted to enter the country of the olives and feta. We spent some days on the Adriatic coast on a camp ground in Parga, and enjoy the perfect weather. We parked the jeep almost on the beach. The sky is blue and the temperature above the 20 degrees Celsius. At night it cools down, but it is warm enough to spend most of the evening outside. We are happy that some camp grounds decided to stay open all winter. Most camp grounds close at the end of October and will not open before April. But camp grounds are for us an essential way to keep a visit to Greece affordable. If we have to sleep in hotels and eat in restaurants, Greece is expensive. The time of ‘cheap’ Greece is over, thanks to the introduction of the Euro. In some ways, for example for food and petrol, Greece is much more expensive than Western Europe. And that is strange if you know that the average income in Greece is the lowest in the European Union.

After Parga, we drive to the East for our next destination: Meteora. We take a small detour through the Pindos Mountains, but eventually end that day on a camp ground in the Meteora area. The weather changed. The blue sky disappeared and is replaced by dark clouds that bring rain once in a while. But the days after, the weather improved. Meteora is a fairy-tale destination, and it is strange that we never heard of it before. The spectacular rocky landscape is unique, and on many of the rocky peaks, spectacular monasteries are built, many centuries ago. It is possible to hike from monastery to monastery, but also the less active visitor, or even the disabled ones, can enjoy the area, thanks to a road that connects the sites. Meteora is a must see for the people that decide to visit Greece’s mainland. However, most visitors to Greece arrive on a beach package tour and travel directly to one of the many islands. But that the area is spectacular, was already recognised by James Bond in 1981, when the last scenes of his ‘For your eyes only’ movie were shot here. So, those who consider a trip to this area, watch this movie, or take a look at our photo impression.

After Meteora, we spend some days in Stylida, and non interesting town on the east coast of Greece’s mainland. We waited here till the rainy days were over before we headed to ancient Delphi. We used the days in Stylida to work on the website and to do some maintenance on the car. We were lucky that the owner of the almost deserted camp ground agreed that we put our car on the covered terrace. So, the days were for us as dry as possible. We also spend a Monday morning in a local café, drinking a cappuccino of 3 Euro! We were surprised how many young people (of an age that most people work in other countries), were enjoying an expensive coffee on this day in the week. It seems that the crisis did not arrive in Stylida yet.

By the time we arrived in Delphi, the weather was perfect again. However, we decided to stay in a pension. The altitude of 600 metres in combination with the clear skies and the fact that it was already November, made camping too cold for us. But we were lucky. It was low season so we could make a good deal for a comfortable budget room. For dinner, we visited a local snack bar, where we had a perfect ‘pita bread with gyros’. Now we understand why the Greek youth belongs to the fattest youth of Europe. It is so difficult not to get addicted to these tasty calorie bombs. And that for only two and a half Euro! Probably the best value product of the whole country.

Greece's answer to France's St. Mont Michel: Monemvasia

After Delphi we brought a visit to Athens, for the first time in our lives. We expected a lot from it, and that was maybe also the reason why the visit disappointed us. Most of the city centre is a typical tourist place, with many souvenir shops and a high density of over priced restaurants. The sites are nice, but not really spectacular. The Acropolis for example, was completely under construction and the best part of the visit to this world famous temple, were the views over the city. The idea of how big it must have been during that time makes impression … much more than the present sight itself. At least, that is our feeling. After some days in Athens, we drove to the Peloponnese province. Our first destination was the Epidavros theatre, the best preserved theatre of ancient Greece. We were lucky that it was Sunday, because that means that all ancient sites in Greece are free. We enjoyed the site and decided to spend to night on the parking of Epidavros. That is officially not allowed, but in the low season, it is a so-called ‘tolerated camp place’. During the afternoon, a Belgian and also a Slovenian family joined us. We had briefly spoken to them already on the camp ground in Athens, and now we had more time to exchange experiences. Both families, travelling in 30 year old Mercedes campers, decided to do where other families only dream about. They took a long time off and decided to make a big journey through Europe. During this time they take their own responsibility over the education of their children. When the children went to bed in the evening, all wine and Raki was collected from the cars, and we made it a nice evening. We slept well that night!

We said goodbye to both families the next morning and started our exploration of the Argolis area. It is a typical agricultural area where many people work in the olive and orange business. We learned so far that Greece is a beautiful country with many interesting areas to visit. If the weather stays fine, we will be here for a while.


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