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Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Venice - Patras, the final instalment

My route shown in red up to Milan, then light blue to Venice & by ferry Source:

So there I was, happily mooching around Venice: eating pasta, taking photos of gondolas (not riding in one for 80 Euros a pop, you understand) and thinking romantic thoughts on the bridges. But I had to leave at some stage. And so it was that I made my way across to the port to board my ship (sorry dad, vessel) to Patras in Greece.

A cheaper option - camp out on board
Eventually the vessel pulled off (it was a huge monolith of a thing, that Minoan 'Europa Palace') and initially 'yippee!' I had a cabin all to myself. I had paid 178Euros for a 2 bed cabin to share with another lady, but was holding my breath as so far; no-one had been put to share with me (it can often happen this way when travelling on a Greek ferry). But my luck ran out. After spending a good half hour on board waving goodbye (and taking some fantastic pictures) to Venice, upon entering the cabin I heard a woman singing in the shower. She poked her head out, wrapped in a towel:

"Maria from Prague" she shook my hand. And so began a 2 day ferry friendship. 
We lazily sauntered on deck again where I marvelled at the pilot disembarking our huge ship back onto his speedboat. This entails a rather Bondlike manoeuvre whereby the smartly uniformed pilot climbs down a rope ladder at the side of our ship whilst the speedboat driver is maintaining the same speed alongside. Then the pilot reaches over and jumps onto the speedboat, we all cheer at him as he gives us a little salute/wave and says into the radio to the Captain "Thank you for visiting Italian waters" (actually, I don't think he really does that, but they do in Air Traffic Control towers, I've heard them: "Thank you for visiting Dutch (etc) airspace.") We are all cheering the fact he hasn't
Can you spy him creeping down the side of the ship?

1) fallen in at high speed

2) been squashed against the side of the ship.

And so, with the old Milk Tray advert playing in my head (my British compatriots will remember this); my cabin mate and I head off for dinner.

Can you just about see him on the speedboat?
Bye bye pilot

Albania to the Port
We left Venice at 5pm on Monday 22nd August. By Tues 23rd August we were mid-Adriatic and Maria had dragged me out of bed (I seemed to want to sleep a lot) to inform me that the swimming pool was now open and I should come swimming with her. I say swimming pool, it was more a 'swimming hole' but none the less, enjoyable. It was more the novelty factor that I was swimming in a little pool in the middle of the sea. By 5pm that night we spied land! Albania to our port (left) side and Italy to our Starboard (right). After lots more photos, Maria and I went to eat again.
Italy to the Starboard side

The journey until 5am the next morning (Wed 24th) continued much the same: taking photos, doing Sudoku and swapping life stories as well as slipping in and out of weird lucid sleep with odd dreams involving pilots of aeroplanes trying to steer our monolithic ship and failing, thus crashing into the Rialto Bridge (told you I have an overactive imagination).

Our first stop in Greece was the evening of 23rd August, in Igoumenitsa, North-West Greece. Then a stop in Corfu before our final destination of Patras. I kissed Maria goodbye (her husband had kindly travelled overnight by bus to meet her off the ferry and drive the car for her) whilst I boarded a special Minoan Lines organised bus to Athens, which met us at the port (19 Euros).


And so here I am, back 'home.' This journey has been an incredible one: full of adventure, meeting characters of all sorts (remember the Italian guard on the Paris - Venice train) and falling in love with a city (but not in love with the smell emitted by Parisians).

Enjoy the pictures interspersed here, this blog will close now and I hope you continue to follow my ongoing blog about life in Greece/Athens:

Sunset leaving Igoumenitsa

Monday, 22 August 2011

A day and night in Venice

So here I am, arrived refreshed (?) and alert in Venice after a delightful adventure on board the Paris – Venice train.

I exit the station into bright sunlight (seriously, why is it that as soon as one steps onto the continent that gorgeous weather ensues, not to mention very hot and humid?  It beats the English grey and drizzle anyway).  I follow everyone else to what looks like a queue for a taxi.  Remember we’re in Venice now, hence ‘taxi’ is a small boat shared with many people.  Before I do this though, I spy a sign for “private taxi” and wander over to take a look.

“60 euro to St Marc’s Square” he informs me, apologetically shrugging and also pointing to the long queue.  “You’re best off going there.” (I thought this was rather nice of him, given that he’d passed up a fare).

I go back to the public taxi queue.  5 mins later & it’s not moving anywhere. 

“F*ck it” I mumble under my breath, turn to the Australian couple behind me and ask if they’d like to share a private taxi to St. Marc’s Square.  Turned out they would love to, so off we trot.

“Are you a native?” the Australian man asks me. 

“No, I just like to try to look like I know what I’m doing when abroad” is my reply.

So we board the private taxi – think little mini speedboat.  I can’t hide my excitement as I feel like an extra from “The Tourist” or some kind of Bond movie.

Speeding along, we pass MANY beautiful sights and I am in awe of the many bridges and, quite frankly, the magic of the place.  This is only exacerbated when I finally reach my hotel, settle my belongings and go for a wander.  I am left simply breathless by the place: her bridges, small side streets and oh the yachts!  I even spy one with a helicopter pad!  Further enquiries reveal that it’s the Venice Film Festival quite soon, so maybe someone famous has rented it.

Can you see the helicopter on board?!

Enquiries into a gondola ride reveal that it costs 80 euros per person, even if sharing a gondola with 5 or 6 others.  I do my best not to laugh in the face of the gondola man and make my way over to another place I have spied: 30 euros for a ride on a small motor boat up the Grand Canal and back.  This is a much more agreeable price and I happily part with my money.  Having an hour to kill before said trip, I plonk myself in the park and stretch out on a bench, happily dozing whilst listening to the chatterings of many different languages around me.

The trip is a pleasant one – the boat only fits 7 of us and we are able to stand up and for the next hour we are shown the delights of Venice: the Rialto Bridge and all along the Grand Canal as well as Byron’s house (I hope Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt showed it some respect when they stayed there during filming of “The Tourist”).

I sleep well that night, having dined on gnocchi and a 4 cheese sauce.  I remember my last waking thought is that despite the people, it is so quiet, hence I’m able to drift off quickly.  In retrospect, this is because there is no traffic (cars) in Venice, hence no motor noise.

Small side streets reveal lovely buildings
Awaking early, I go for yet another wander around St Marc’s Square and eat a small salad of tomato and mozzarella.  Not wanting to pay another 60 Euros for a private transfer to the port, I pay a respectable 7 Euros instead for the public taxi.  But oh!  I know now why it’s so cheap – the queue to get on it!  And once on board, the sweat dripping off me/us as we all cram together in a space that isn’t air conditioned.

“Ok” I figure, “I can cope with this for the next half hour at least.”  Except that half hour feels like an age.  The taxi doesn’t exactly motor at full speed and all the while, people are getting ‘edgy’ and impatient.

 Upon disembarkation at the port (finally!) I then have to find my way to the ship.  I can see the Princess Cruises ship where the majority of my fellow taxi passengers seem to be heading, but my Minoan Lines ship seems to be tucked away (if that’s possible because when I eventually see it, it’s bl**dy huge!).

 Another 20 min walk ensues – in 30 degree humid heat and me dragging my case (no small transfer bus for Minoan passengers!)  By the time I finally get to board the ship, I must be looking rough as the lady asks if I need a doctor.  I just tell her I’m hot and make my way on board.

And so now I am in the middle of the Adriatic.  My jaunt in Venice was thoroughly enjoyable and I loved it.  I fell in love with her – she offered beauty, peace and tranquillity.  I must come back, albeit in the winter I think.  Or if I book in advance, maybe for Carnival in February?  I visited a small shop next to my hotel which sold masks and carnival dresses.  The lady informed me they make the dresses for carnival and they hire from 300 – 1,000 Euros.  We shall see.

Look out for the ‘Adriatic’ instalment – coming soon!

Facts:  Hotel booked through (or .com) and was £75.  Excellent value as it was 2 min walk to St Marc's Square and the room was huge.
Try to share a private taxi at least once if you can, it's well worth it.

From Paris to Venice

OK, so far we're in Paris Bercy (if you're following me and can put yourself in my shoes, then I refer to 'we'). I've told you about the excruciating smell, waiting for the train in a small station.
Bercy was bustling!

I manage to find a quiet platform  and take myself off and plonk myself down, ready for the arduous wait. It's only half 6, my train isn't until half 8 (PM).

Whilst amusing myself with the sight of people crossing the train tracks from platform to platform, blatantly ignoring the "Danger! Do not cross the tracks!" sign, I hear an announcement, followed by a scramble of people to the cafeteria. Apparently the announcement said that due to the air conditioning breaking down, there will be no buffer car on the Rome or Venice trains.
Train to Venice

"Oh well" thinks I, "I'll just buy myself some Maltesers then" I think this whilst eyeballing the queue to the cafeteria.

The train pulls up - miraculously onto the same platform I have plonked myself on - there's a stroke of luck! Finding the right coach and cabin, however, is quite hilarious! I manage to find it (for some reason, the coach numbers have been stuck on with paper). Each coach has an Italian man in charge of it. He looks down his list and tells me "Cabin 1 - all yours!" with a flourish of his hand.

Cabin 1
I find Cabin 1 - ahhhhh, all to myself! I spread out and get busy making my bed located above the seat. But it's a weird bed sheet sewn together and I can't make head or tail of it! When I eventually get to bed, I end up sleeping with another on top of me and a blanket (the A/C was DEFINATLY working in my cabin), but I am getting ahead of myself.

The little Italian (about 50ish?) man turns out to be either 1) passionate about his job or 2) a little unhinged. I went to the toilet as we were pulling out of the station and came back to my cabin, only to have him appear from nowhere, rushing at me wagging his finger.

"Close the door! Close the door!" he is yelling at me (I'm not exaggerating). I tried to explain that I thought I HAD closed the door (it isn't possible to lock the cabin door from the outside) but I couldn't get a word in edgeways. I just smiled and aimed a pretend gun at my head, shooting myself for my stupidity. Besides, I received back up when 3 young Italians came along with a trolley load of sandwiches (in place of the buffet car). The young girl looked at the guard, looked back at me and rolled her eyes.

"He's a little crazy" she assured me.  “Make sure you lock your door tonight, if anything to keep ‘IM out.”

So now it's 11pm and dark. I have shut AND LOCKED my cabin door from the inside, pulled the blinds down (not at the panoramic window to see outside) and feel all snug. I clamber into my bunk, pull up my sheets and blanket and fall into some sort of weird lucid sleep.

My bed

I wake up and look out the window, to see that it’s1am we are in Lausanne (Switzerland?).  Sitting on the bottom seat, I look out the window for a good 20 minutes, trying to decipher where we are.  We are continuing on through Switzerland (the slightly crazy guard has my passport as he says the border police get on in Switzerland to check all passengers passports on board and he doesn’t want to wake us up) and I marvel at the night scenery…illuminated by a half waning moon and oh, the stars!  

Smiling I go back to bed for yet more weird dreams (an American man gets off at Saltsburg in my dream and is shouting loudly on the platform that it’s “oh so beautiful!  I’ve never seen anything like it before, except in Seattle.”  I still can’t work out if that was actually real or not).

I panic slightly when I awake at a long stop, poke my head out of my cabin to see it’s a huge station, but I can see no name.  I find an equally panicky Australian man in the corridor and he goes to find out.  It turns out we’re in Milan, Venice is 3 hrs away.

So the Australian man and I settle back in the corridor and discuss the beautiful sun rising out the window, the fact he drives freight trains in Australia and the fact that we think our guard is a little crazy (the guard has obviously made an impact, and not just on me).

3 hours later, at 09:33 we arrive in Venice.  I feel well rested, a little hungry but excited about this beautiful city.  I have over 24 hrs here before I head off on the ferry to Patras.  Oh!  And apparently I am entitled to a refund as they didn’t operate the train they said they would, so I will get a refund difference of the fare.  The guard tells me this, but goes to pains to explain that it will be sometime in 2012 no doubt.

First views of Venice from the train

I am writing this having spent my time in Venice, but will write a different post about that.  Would I travel by train again from Paris to Venice?  Hell yes!  But I’d research to make sure that Paris Bercy was not the departure station.  The cabins, even though not the intended train, were comfortable and yes, the staff on board provided light entertainment for a while.

Booked through  

Sunday, 21 August 2011

The first instalment - London to Paris

The facade at Kings Cross St Pancras
Well, I'm actually already in Venice, but I want to take this bit by bit and also want to go outside and enjoy myself! So I will write about Venice shortly.

Now then, the London St Pancras - Paris Gard du Nord:

VERY straightforward, except the bloody London Underground from Paddington Station to Kings Cross St Pancras. London Underground had, in their wisdom, decided to close most of the underground lines running out of Paddington that day, so consequently a 7 min journey took me about half an hour and a change. Still, never mind - I am on an exciting journey, I will not be sad.

Seat 25 - Eurostar
We board on time; I get to my seat...Seat 25 all to myself! I am a happy girl. I settle back, watching the grey English countryside roll away and await my promised '3 course meal.'

Yes, the meal comes, but think airplane style 3 course meal instead. Not that it wasn't nice (mackerel pate, potato salad was ok, but the pasta was really bland, sorry).

Incidentally, the 'bit' under the tunnel/sea takes 20 mins if anyone's interested. And I would recommend taking earplugs because, unlike an airplane, the pressure goes up and down, not regularly either.

I get to Gard du Nord - it's about 30 degrees in Paris and humid :0)

I have to make my way across to Bercy - this entails 2 metro changes, and the Paris metro seems even more complicated than the London Underground. Never mind, I'm not stupid and can do it (and do, in fact, do it) - but it's hot, and Parisians it seems do not use much deodorant (sorry, but they don't. Even in Athens people smell nicer in the heat). So I am GAGGING by the time I surface.

"Ahhh Bercy!" I think, "Fresh air in an over ground station." Yeah right…as anyone been to Bercy? It's tiny! I got chatting to some French bloke who informed me that usually the long distance trains go from Gard du Lyon, but they're doing extensive works to it.

So I find myself a quiet platform to plonk down on, away from the ever present smell of B.O. and I wait patiently for my train to Venice...all will be revealed in the next post!

I have to round off: having read this back to myself, it is looking terribly negative thus far.  It really hasn’t been a negative trip at all: the stewards on Eurostar were really friendly and chatty, helping you to store your luggage on the train.  And when I asked how to get to Bercy, the one who helped me produced a map of the Paris Metro and helped me decipher it.  In fact, one guy in the Metro helped me to pull my case onto it before the doors closed too – so there you have it, although slightly wiffy, let him off at least.

Friday, 19 August 2011

(Not) off to a good start?

I'm a bit ahead of myself...I don't leave till tomorrow (Sat 20th) but to those of you that know me, you'll know my slight OCD about making travel plans run smoothly.

So, London - Paris rail ticket:  check
      Paris - Venice rail ticket:   check
      Venice - Patras ferry ticket: check

One night in a Venice hotel:  check.  But just to DOUBLE check, I call the hotel to see that they have my reservation (having made it through the Internet).  I know, I know - these Internet companies like or are very reliable, etc etc.  But did I mention my OCD thing about travel plans?

Transcription of telephone conversation

Male Receptionist:  "Buon giorno, Hotel *****"
Me:                       "Can I check you have a reservation for me please?"
Male Receptionist: "What your name?"
Me:                         "*****"
Male Receptionist: "Eh???!!!"
Me:                        (Repetition of my name, with spelling of surname)
Male Receptionist:  "Non signora"
Me:                          "Eh??!!"
Male Receptionist: "Non signora, nothing 'ere for a ***** (my name)"
Me:                         "But I booked through Expedia!"
Male Receptionist: Nothing 'ere Signora, for you or Expedia."

Determined not to panic, I call Expedia.  After about 4 mins of deciphering the correct button to press
(No, I didn't want to cancel my reservation, so didn't want to press 2, etc), a nice lady assured me she'd call the hotel to sort it out, then she'd call me back.

6 mins later, said Expedia lady calls me back. 
"Madam, you can be sure they have your booking.  You need to make sure they understand it's though Expedia."

So!  I'll find out soon!  Keep your eyes peeled.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Bloggin' on the road

Flying over the Alps on the way to UK
First part of journey!  Well, not strictly speaking.  I'm at Athens airport at the moment, waiting for my plane back to the UK.  It's the RETURN that will be exciting.

I have to say though - leaving my flat in Central Athens to get to the train station to take me ot the airport was an experience:

I leave a little later than planned - highly unlike me, but maybe I'm turning into a Greek after all?  I digress...
Therefore I am in a little bit of a hurry.  I walk past the pharmacy - the girl who works there comes out for a chat with me (not that I spend a lot of time in the pharmacy you must understand, they are just very nice people who I chat with occasionally).  I politely point to my case, making the point that I am in a bit of a rush.  She waves me away with a "Have a good trip."

Second encounter - the man in the hardware store seems me passing and comes to the door to chat:
"Where are you going?"
"What do you want to go there for?!  It's going to sh*t at the moment, and your weather is cr*p.  Stay here - you'll have a better time" (he doesn't mince his words).

Hmmmmm, I admit it's 36 degrees in the shade, a beach is about a 40 min distance from me by public transport - I don't know what to expect when I get back 'home'/UK...maybe he's right?

Still, am looking forward to seeing my dad - love ya dad...the rest of it we'll have to see.

Monday, 11 July 2011

So, how do you go about it?

And why?  Why travel back overland?  Isn't it a hassle/expensive?

OK, let's take this bit by bit.

1) Why...why???  Haven't you ever thought to yourself that there has to be more to a 'holiday' than merely arriving at your destination?  For me, my holiday starts when I 1) step foot on the plane or 2) step foot on the container ship (that's a story for another day) or ferry or train or whatnot.
So, with this in mind, I decided to save time by COMING to the UK, so I could spent precious time with my dear, dear dad.  The journey back to Greece I decided to make 'exciting.'  Despite my age (30 'something' - and that's all you're gonna get :0)  ), I still get a little tearful when I leave my dad, so I decided to make my return journey something to take my mind off the potential floodgate farewell.

2) Expensive?  Well, the ticket from London St. Pancras to Paris (1st class don't you know!) and then in a single sleeper overnight from Paris - Venice cost £415.  I arrive into Venice early morning (09:30) and have decided to stay one night there - the hotel, found on cost me £75 for a double room near St. Marks Square, then the ferry from Venice - Patras (in Greece), 2 nights shared cabin with one other 'person of the same sex' (damn!) cost 178 Euros (you do the maths). 
I should add the 'ferry' is more like a mini-cruise as it's 2 full nights, has a swimming pool and entertainment. 

Am I happy?  YES!  To me, it'll be totally worth it.  I've never been to Venice and am looking forward to it - maybe I should have also booked one night in Paris, but never mind.

So, keep following this blog - when I set off, I shall update you as and when I can.  Oh, I should add the following websites that are great for booking overland European rail:

Speak soon people!  Enjoy your summer, where ever you are.
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