Author Archives: beverleydalton1

The delights of Drepano, and Xmas-on-wheels



Drepano is a funny little village on the coast of the Argolid. It has one big church in the middle, surrounded by cafes full of old blokes, a decent baklava shop, no police, and one benign, homeless chap with a mental health problem and a lot of different hats.

There’s also an old, nay positively ancient, lady who sits in front of her house and gives you sweets as you pass by. The sweets are mastic masquerading as mints, and there’s a skip you can spit it into just up the road, so no worries. Once when we passed, I glimpsed her through the doorway, trying to sweep around a series of cloth-covered tiny tables that were groaning with stuff. She was so hunched I think the broom may have been holding her up. Another time I saw a woman leave a plate of Spaghetti Bolognese on her doorstep.

One of the local restaurants is manned by Stephan, who’s the owner’s son and a really nice lad. He’s shy to start with, but when he gets to know you he opens up more. We also found that, the more he got to know us, the cheaper our meals became. I think he works by assessing how much trouble it is to make, and if he likes you, then it’s barely any trouble, is it?



When we first arrived we tried several times to go to another restaurant nearby, but it was either shut, had odd opening hours, or we were turned away. One day we met the proprietors on the beach – Vicelis and her husband. They had brown plastic ‘milk churns’ beside them, and were standing out on a rock, heaping things into a big garden sieve and swooshing it through the seawater. It was the olive harvest from their small plot of land, yielding masses of fruit from five different varieties.


We helped sort out bruised or damaged fruit, bits of stalk, and leaves, then Vicelis rinsed them in the sea before tipping them into the churns. Her husband filled my pockets with olives. He said I had to slice five cuts down the sides and put them in salt water. The slits would speed the curing process and they’d be ready for Christmas. If I left them uncut, then they’d take three months.

I was very excited by this. I raced home and put them in seawater, one lot cut, and one lot left whole. After a week they’d developed a rather unhealthy-looking froth on the water, which had also gone distinctly murky. I asked Janine what she thought and she suggested I put more salt in. So I got fresh seawater and added more salt, and then waited for Christmas, to be impressed by my olive-curing prowess.

But ready by Christmas, my arse. I tried one then and it was absolute pants. Rock hard, bitter, not good at all. Obviously the instructions I was given were for someone who had at least a basic knowledge of the process, or perhaps just far more common sense.

Because I’ve just checked them again, and now our van smells as if the King of the stink bombs has been released. Only from one jar, mind you. The other jar with the slit olives are pretty much there, if rather over-salted. However, smell is a strange thing – it hit me just after I’d taken a bite of the devil’s fruit. So, if I don’t finish this blog it’s because I’m doubled up with food poisoning, ok?

That walk on the beach yielded more than olives, though. I also found a shell as big as my foot. It was beautiful – orange and spiny on the outside, with a mother-of-pearl coloured core. I had to wade out to get bits of it, but it was worth it.

We Googled it and found it’s called a Pinna Nobilis, or Pen Shell, and it’s a type of clam that grows upwards from the rocks, by attaching itself with hair-like fibres that are known as sea-silk. This is where it gets special: the shell is rare, and has been sought after for thousands of years because the sea-silk is incredibly fine. A pair of gloves made from them can fit into half a walnut shell. And when the fibres are treated with lemon juice (of which, plenty around here) they turn golden and never fade.


When December came I started to decorate Georgie. I have a small box of decorations that are lightweight, unbreakable, or made by the kids (felt Xmas trees, that sort of thing). I also have a cardboard reindeer that flat packs, courtesy of M&S.

So I went for a walk to pick some evergreen stuff with which to make a wreath to hang around Rudolph. I didn’t want to scalp any of the bushes on site – that felt a tad like taking the piss. On the beach I found an old, broken, Japanese fan wall-decoration that would provide the struts I’d need to make the wreath foundation. Then I picked some green frondy things and headed back to the campsite.

I met Christina, the owner, and she was horrified that I’d gone elsewhere. She insisted I go into her own back garden and take as many branches as I wanted from her fir tree. Far superior, she said. And do I like lemons? Yes, I do. Well here you are, she said, piling me up an armful, because the ones on her personal tree are the best.

I find this level of generosity incredibly touching. Especially from a woman who, soon after we parked up, replenished all the gravel around our van causing us to live in the world’s biggest cat-litter tray because of the sixteen cats. We were very careful where we walked, and avoided anything hilly.

So, van duly decorated, I set about finding some games for us to play at Crimbo. I downloaded some pictures of celebrities as kids (inspired by a friend on Facebook) for Steve to guess. He did badly. Here’s a few of them, have a go if you like.


I took Steve into our local town of Nafplio, where one of the cafes gives you a bowl of lovely, sticky little doughnuts with every coffee. Once fortified, I gave him a budget of no more than fifteen euros, and sent him off to buy a silly present for me.

I knew what I wanted to get for him, and headed straight for the pet shop to buy a cat toy for when Velcro shimmied under the toilet door. Then I saw a truly hideous travel mug that I just had to get as well.

He found me an exceptionally kitsch candle – purple, and glittery, with odd flowery shapes and bits of driftwood. If anybody out there actually likes it and wants me to keep it for them, let me know, because Steve nearly binned it on Boxing Day.


Santa did make an appearance for the kiddies in town, but he arrived by pirate ship (as you do), his reindeer, perhaps, having taken a break in the Caribbean. He had this elf-man/MC hybrid inviting them in.


Later that day, I bumped into Santa packing up for the day. In typical Greek-waiter fashion, he gave me a lascivious wink and said, ‘welcome to my boat’. Er, no thanks, matey.



On the actual day I cooked a chicken, which is the only thing our oven does well (it thinks it has to melt The Terminator with every meal), and ignored the packet of stuffing mix that, according to Google Translate, required me to add 12 hard-boiled eggs and 750g of rats. Feeling happily fat, we walked along the beach after lunch, and cut through the orange orchard to pick mandarins to eat on the way home.

Then we played the games I’d prepared, including Make your own Christmas Jumper out of plastic carrier bags. Now I know I had an unfair advantage here as I’ve made my own clothes before, and I know that the pattern for a sleeve is much bigger than you’d expect. But to be honest, not giving Steve that information was part of the fun. We followed it up by watching Groundhog Day. Perfect.

For New Year, these perky chaps fetched up at the campsite and serenaded Christina. I saw them sit on her doorstep afterwards counting their spoils. They saw me watching them, and promptly fetched up on our doorstep and sang their tuneless and incomprehensible New Year song (with triangle accompaniment, no less). They were great. I bloody loved them. They got on their knees afterwards and took photos of all the cats under the van.


In the evening we glammed up as best we could, considering it was a bit parky. For Steve this meant a clean jumper, and for me, well I washed my hair. We went to a restaurant that did a special New Year meal deal, where we’d previously had coffee while I admired the lighting.

The deal included a piece of the traditional cake that, like our Christmas pudding, traditionally contained a coin. In our case, that would’ve been a sixpence (2.5p), whereas this coin was worth 60 euros. Everyone else had made a bit more of an effort dress wise. These glamour-pusses were at the table next to us. And no, we didn’t find the coin. We found a lot of Sambuca though, so happy days.



And after that it was back to real life. We discovered a liquer (oh thanks, Stephan) called Tsipouro, which is 44% awful. I bought worry beads from a lady who wrote my name in Greek for me. And Christina’s husband, Vangelis (I know), got out the big tools, digger and forklift and – with scant regard for health and safety – trimmed the palm trees and levelled our bit of the beach.


Well, I appear to have survived the evil olive, so that’s it for now. I’ll write about Nafplio and the 1,000 steps as soon as I can. Thanks, again, for reading. Ciao xxx

P.S. The celebrities are:- Meg Ryan, Benedict Cumberbatch, Freddie Mercury and Keira Knightly.


My life as a cat-herder


Triton II, near Drepano, is a lovely little campsite opposite a beach, run by an equally lovely lady called Christina. We’d read about it on Barry and Margaret’s website (, and they’ve been everywhere, so that made it easy. Here’s the beach – looks nice, right? Peaceful? Tranquil? Deserted?


Well the beach was, but the campsite …

At first we were completely disarmed when two sweet little tabby kittens turned up and purred at us, gently rubbed our legs, and were no trouble at all. They’d sit happily on our laps, and meander along with us when we walked on the beach. We felt their little ribs when we stroked them and bought more cat food. We called them Sausage and Spot, and liked having them around.

And so it started.

After a few days of the tabbies, the fluffy gingers turned up. Thing 1 and Thing 2 began to camp on our doorstep. And several specimens (that after three months still each only had the name ‘Ugly Cat’) began to settle underneath the van. By now, leaving the door open with the fly-screen closed was not an option. Sausage had discovered she could climb up the screen and yank open the handle cover to climb in. Thing 1 thought this was brilliant, and all the others began to follow suit.

Still, not a massive problem, and so we started to put down our roots at Triton. We met travellers Bob and Lynne (who also fed Sausage and Spot), and Janine and Arno, who lived there permanently now, and had adopted three of the cats as their own (Charlie, Fritz, and Fritz’s sister).

Janine gave us the lowdown on the surrounding area – where to go for good, reasonably priced meals, where to shop, where the hardware stores were, the local sights etc. Really kind lady, makes beautiful jewellery (Esfera jewelry on Etsy). So when she asked us if we could feed her three cats, as she and Arno had to go to back to Holland for a fortnight, well of course we could.

And this is where the cats really played us.

They would follow us every morning and evening as we went to feed Fritz and co., and try and muscle in. Persistent little buggers they were too. Janine had left a broom there but it wasn’t enough to keep them at bay once word had got around. No, the only thing that worked was Steve enticing them all to one end of the site by rattling the dried food and feeding them there, while I sneaked off to give Janine’s crew their meal.

Initially, there were the tabbies, the Things, and the Ugly Cats. Then came a gorgeous, fluffy tortoiseshell with a bulbous tummy (that I wrongly assumed to be carrying kittens) that I called Mama Bear. She was a sweetie, so we fed her.


Bob and Lynne left and we think they probably took Spot and Sausage with them, because we never saw them again. Good for them. But the gap had been quickly filled by some ginger and white jobbies, and one in particular was friendly and fairly devoted to Steve. We’d just watched the finals of Professional Masterchef and had been very impressed by one of the contestant’s tenacity: Louisa was a very young girl, with a great personality, who worked incredibly hard, and never allowed herself to be knocked off her goal of professional excellence.

Steve called his new follower Louisa-from-masterchef, because of her affectionate nature, combined with an extraordinary determination when it came to food. No other cat got a look in when she was around.


Then we met Velcro. This little tabby could lift the skin from your bones and the carpet from your floor when you tried to pick him up to put him out. His ability to hold on was just extraordinary. His masterstroke was he made you give up trying to chuck him out because you prized your ‘surfaces’ too much. He quickly became Steve’s favourite. He’d follow Steve when he went to the loo and then shimmy under the door to be next to him.


There was also a cross-eyed ginger we called Clarence (you have to be old to get that one), and one that sang all the time she ate – she became Geri or Ginger Spice.  Tricolour was ginger, white and black, and a bit of a cow, and Bruiser was a fat-faced, big-footed bully boy. He’d pick on the other cats, start fights, attack people (he once jumped onto Janine’s head and dug his claws into her scalp) and generally be a nuisance. He was a tabby version of Tom after Jerry has hit him in the face with a frying pan. At feeding time he would lurk.


And now they were all living on our roof. Or under the van, or sleeping on Nibbles soft-top, or our doorstep, or outdoor furniture, or tucked under the slide-out. We’d have to check all our outside lockers before closing them in case a cat had sneaked in when we weren’t looking. At night I’d be woken by the thump of a cat landing on my bedroom roof. They knew what time we fed Janine’s three, and they’d all queue up outside each morning and yell if we overslept.

By the time we’d settled in for Christmas we were regularly feeding sixteen cats twice a day, and Steve had discovered a place to buy cat food in bulk. And even though Janine and Arno were now home, Fritz and co. would still come for ‘seconds’ at our place.


We’d come back from the shopping to see three or four of them curled up on our coiled waste pipes, or occupying pride of place on our fold-up chairs. And then, as soon as they heard the car engine stop, they’d all come running and yelling for food, with others suddenly appearing from out of trees, or under hedges, or God know’s where.


But then Doggo turned up, sometimes bringing his mate, and I thought maybe we’d get a little peace.


Not a chance. He appeared every day for about three weeks, and just sat and watched. I think he was aware that he was vastly out-numbered, and that at least two of those cats were little shits.

By now Thing 1 thought she owned us, which in a Mafia sense, she probably did. She and Thing 2, Louisa, Mama Bear and Velcro would just climb into the van and make themselves comfortable, and honestly, it was easier to just let them be.


Luckily, by the time we left Drepano, the season was beginning to open up again and more people were coming to stay. I saw other people feeding the cats occasionally, and the numbers of regulars under our van had begun to dwindle. The die-hards remained, of course, but by now they were fatter and healthy looking. Thing 1’s eye problem had cleared up after being repeatedly squirted with Optrex by Steve. Thing 2 had got brave enough to be stroked, just not on the head. Mama and Thing 1 would curl up on my lap and just be cats. Velcro and Louisa would still follow Steve to watch him on the loo.

And although I have many happy (and normal) memories of our time in Drepano (about which, more next blog), it is the cats that I’ll always remember it for.

P.s. Steve misses Velcro and I miss Mama Bear.

NEXT TIME –  still playing catch-up so I’ll fill you in on Christmas in an RV, and being a beach-comber. Love to all of you, ciao xxx





There are obviously many things to see in Greece, but also a limit on how much broken, headless, collapsed or reconstructed stone stuff I can maintain an interest in. Ergo I suggested a trip out to the Lepida waterfall as a bit of a change. It is known to be a bit dry in the heat of summer, but this was the winter and it’d done nothing but rain since we arrived. I excitedly packed a very nice picnic and off we went.

After an hour or so’s driving, Deirdre the sat-nav slut kept insisting we veer off onto various dirt tracks. All the options she offered looked pretty dodgy, so we tried to find another route, and our drive got longer and longer. At one point we climbed up the side of a mountain that took us through ten of the sharpest hairpin bends I’ve ever encountered. Our ears popped on the way up, and on the way down again. It would be worth it though, because … waterfalls!

Eventually we submitted to the will of Deirdre and let her take us down a track – until it got to be a lot more rut than road. The sign said the waterfall was a mere 2km further on, so we parked up and started to walk. We passed tracks in the dried mud that I thought might be deer, mainly because I always want to see deer. Steve said no, those are goat tracks. We argued about it a bit and then I kept quiet, because I knew we were going to see deer.

It was a surprisingly long 2km, as it turned out, and so it was hours later that we came to the waterfall. Except there wasn’t any water and nothing was falling. Not a drop. We saw where the waterfall had been though, but it didn’t help; we sat in a totally dry riverbed to eat our picnic.

This is what a waterfall looks like without it’s clothes on.


On the way back we heard bells. Cowbells? No, said Steve, it’s the goats. I really wanted it to be cowbells and deer tracks, but of course he was right. They all flooded across the road in front of us and eyed us with deep suspicion. Then they all trundled up the opposite hill, and had almost disappeared when we heard … the sound. To start with I thought it was an odd bird call – some kind of magpie, maybe? It was incredibly shrill and loud and went something like, ‘Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee-ya, eeeeee-ya eeeeee-ya eeeeee-ya eeeeeeeeeeeeeeee-ya.’ Yup, not a bird, just the goat-herders calling them back.


We started the long drive home and immediately heard clonking noises from under the car. Steve got out and checked, but could find nothing. Later we heard a bang, as if we’d driven over something. We pulled off the road into an old lady’s driveway and found a very flat tyre. It was almost as flat as the frog I’d seen on our walk to the waterfall. The poor thing had been squashed by a farm vehicle, and then a dog had come and pooped on it’s head. This helped me keep things in perspective – whatever kind of day I was having, that frog had had a worse one.

The old lady said there was a garage a couple of minutes up the road, so we carefully drove up there, (Nibbles is a Smart car, and they don’t carry spare tyres – that’s how they stay so light). The guys at the garage couldn’t help us but said there was somewhere that could, about 4km back the way we’d come. They pumped up the tyre so we could get to the new place, and it lasted all the way. God knows how, though, because when the flat was removed, they found a hole the size of a fifty pence piece and the inside had completely shredded.

But we are incredibly lucky in that, whenever we’ve broken down or had a problem with either vehicle, we’ve found the right people to help us nearby. So even though they had to go and find a new tyre for us, it was all sorted within half an hour.

We drove back down the ten hairpins to a road that was merely very bendy, and had a sheer drop to one side. Despite the double white lines in the centre and the lack of visibility, a horn-honking lorry overtook us and the lorry in front of us, in one hit. Well, he has a death-wish, I thought. We caught up with him later: he had a banner stretching all across the back of his lorry, hanging below his number plate. It said, (in English?), ‘In memory of my beloved Uncle.’ I couldn’t help wondering if he’d run him over.

They are very keen on remembering lost loved ones here, especially by the use of roadside shrines. We’ve noticed this all over Europe but the Greeks seem to have taken it to the next level, and blurred the line between shrine and chapel rather effectively. Our local garden centre offers all the usual shrines, but also this rather nifty one-man job as well.


And a local business has done even better – because you never know how many times in your working day you’re going to need a quick pray.


On another occasion, we went down to Kalamata for the afternoon. Why? Because someone had told Steve it was really lovely. Did he check this, on Google, for instance (because my idea of ‘lovely’ could be different to yours)? No. And I suspect the dead of winter is not the best time to see any beach resort, you know what I’m saying?

But the Greeks give really good church. It’s always the most impressive building in the town/city/village/business forecourt, and Kalamata has a wonderful example of this – the Church of Ypapantis.


And, as with all Greek churches, the inside is even better than the outside.


At the front were pictures of saints with 3D silver relief panels over them, just exposing key points of the pictures underneath, like the faces, hands and feet. Nearer the door was an ornate shrine that people steadily approached, kissed, knelt before, and left offerings beside. A bottle of wine that was gifted was picked up pretty smartish. One lady even crawled penitently across the carpet, on her hands and knees, before kissing the shrine. I don’t claim to understand that kind of devotion, but I found it touching, all the same.


At the beach end of the town is the Municipal Railway Park, which some websites claim is a theme park, where you can ride on steam trains and all sorts of shit. Not true. Maybe it was once, but now it is a place where a lot of old trains, carriages, and engines are rotting away on the grass. You are allowed to climb all over them but I didn’t fancy falling through the floors and gouging my legs on rusty iron. Interesting to look at though, and the kids still have fun.


Easily our most successful trip out was to the island of Spetses, when Joe came to visit. I finally got to see some Greece that was a bit more akin to my foolish imaginings of it. Small, quiet, peaceful and pretty.



We wandered along the beach, skimmed stones, found the harbour, had an over-priced lunch, were offered a choice of ‘scrumble eggs’ or ‘scrabbled eggs’, and got fleeced by the guy in the water taxi. Perfect, just perfect.


I’ll tell you all about the three months we spent at Drepano in my next blog –  My life as a cat herder. Until then, thanks for reading. Ciao xxx



My Olympian moment, and other legends.


Travelling in Greece brings to mind the opening lines of Harry Nilsson’s song, Remember:

               ‘Long ago, far away, life was clear, close your eyes…’

Everything here seems to have been glorious but it was all ‘once upon a time’.

It had a good run; from the eighth century BC, right up to when the Romans started getting a bit uppity over eight hundred years later. The first couple of centuries are known as the Archaic Period, and when Steve and I fetched up at Drepano, we were delighted to see a sign for an Archaic Temple just around the corner. Sadly, we were somewhat less delighted when we found it.


The signs had been proud and proclaiming on the main road, but as we’d got closer to the site, they’d become vague, unhelpful, and pointing in distinctly off-hand directions.

When we eventually found it, we understood why – they clearly wanted you to know they had a Temple, but they just didn’t want you to see it.

Because said Temple was, in fact, a triangle of grass with a few rocks and a couple of holes in it, on a slope behind the church. The sort of place where all the rubbish blows, and people dump their old beer cans and Xmas trees, and dogs go to poo. Not very Templey. I genuinely mistook it for a bus-stop.

But who cares, because after the Archaic Period came the Classical Period, and this is when Greece really got its shit together.


We waited until my son, Joe, came to stay and then we shot off to Mycenae. Here they have three Tholos (or beehive-shaped) tombs, and it’s also where the great golden mask of Agamemnon was found.



Steve made a ‘find’ of his own; scratching in the dirt on a pathway he picked up a tiny piece of painted pottery, circa 1200 BC. Joe adored the serenity of the Tomb of Clytemnestra, with its high, domed roof made of intricately over-lapping brickwork. And, in the museum, I found more of the strange little Grecian figures that I have come to think of as Nipple-tweakers. Happy days.



You’ve heard of Hercules defeating the Nemean Lion? Well, this is where the legend takes place, and we thought it’d be a good place to visit. The story goes that, as the first of his ‘labours’, King Eurystheus sends Hercules off to kill a certain lion that has been causing havoc in the area, and to bring him back the skin as proof.

Fair enough, you think? No, not really – this particular beast has fur that is impenetrable, and claws that can cut through both swords and armour, which just shows what he thinks of Hercules.

Now, the H-man has been told about the lion, but he’s as thick as two short planks and tries to shoot it with arrows, which naturally just ping off. To give him his due, he doesn’t quit, and eventually corners it in a cave and chokes it to death. Round one to Hercules.

But now he has to skin it. Having totally forgotten (again) about the strength of the animal’s fur – it having been, ooh, minutes since the arrows bounced off – he tries to cut it  with a knife. Epic fail. Aha, he thinks, I’ll sharpen my knife with a stone. Fails again. This goes on for some time, until Hercules tries to hack it off with the stone. Not a lateral thinker, our Herc.

By this time the Gods are all placing bets and pissing themselves laughing. Zeus is wiping tears from his eyes, muttering, ‘he’s the gift that keeps on giving’. But Athena has had enough, and drops down to Earth to give him a nudge in the right direction.

That’s quite a lion, you’ve got there,‘ she says.

‘I know, right? Got claws that can cut through armour, too. I’m bloody heroic, I am.’

‘Cut through armour, can they? Wow, that’s really sharp.’

‘Yes it is, and now I’ve got to skin it, and look what it’s done to my best knife? It’s all bent up.’

Athena tries again. ‘If only you had something here that was sharp enough to cut through armour – that would do the trick, wouldn’t it?

‘The stone didn’t work either,’ says Herc, completely mystified.

‘Oh for fuck’s sake, use the claws, the claws! Seriously, what is wrong with you?’

And that’s exactly how it happened, and I personally think this story has something that every one of us can identify with.


There’s a sunken city off the coast near Epidauros, which you can swim out to, that’s a couple of thousand years old. So we took a drive out to that, only to discover that neither of us can swim that far, or that deep – not with a snorkel, anyway. So we trollied into the local town and went looking for ice-cream instead.

While I was deciding if mine had ever actually met a strawberry, we got befriended by a lovely young couple and an older chap; Sarah, Patrick and Petyr. They were looking to buy a boat to set up an island-hopping business. Sarah was a Brit who’d gone to the States to study acting, and had then gone on to be a singer/songwriter. She looked about twenty-two. I couldn’t work this out so I turned to Patrick and enquired if she wasn’t too young to have given up on one dream already? She laughed and said she was older than she looked, but he said, ‘I hope she hasn’t given up – I love hearing her sing.’ He looked so totally besotted I nearly hugged him. Best I could do was choke out, ‘Well, he’s a keeper,’ and then float off feeling awed by how sweet they were.

Further up the beach we saw a young lad who’d caught a small octopus for his dinner. Apparently, to tenderise the hard muscles which serve instead of a skeleton, it has to be beaten about fifty times on a rock. When we caught up with this lad he’d been dragging it up and down a well-worn rock for at least half an hour, liberally dousing it in sea-water. He looked exhausted.


Of course, there’s more than just a sunken city here. There’s plenty of other ruins including an amphitheatre, cos you’ve got to see at least one, haven’t you?



If you’re not going to Athens (which we are not), then the next best place for Classical Greek stony stuff has got to be Olympia. A lot of the temples fell down in an earthquake, but even seeing the size of the blocks that made up the columns is impressive. I really liked that one of the buildings in the surrounding (massive) complex was said to echo whatever you said, seven times.

They light the Olympic torch here, and you can still run down the original 100 metre(ish) track. So I made Steve run with me, whilst workmen and other tourists looked at us pityingly. So am I now an Olympian? I think I am.

But the best bit for me was the museum – lots of muscles and beautifully draped cloth.


And stuff that was just plain interesting (this little lion probably never met Hercules – he’s too smiley).


And how come glassware can survive for over two millennia in the ground here, but every time we get back to England it’s another trip to Ikea for us?

I’ll leave you with this – a photo of me crossing the finish line at Olympia, that totally belies the twenty minutes of red-raced gasping for breath that followed, or gives any hint about the bit in the middle that I had to walk. Thanks for reading. Ciao xxx



Greece is the word


I wasn’t sure what to expect from Greece: my vision of it having been formed by films like Shirley Valentine and posters of Santorini. So the reality was somewhat to the left of centre as regards my expectations. Obviously, to start with it looked exactly like Albania (well, duh, I was ten minutes across the border), but I couldn’t see a single white building with a domed roof and a blue doorway, under a searing sun. I was, frankly, shocked.

Where were the legendarily horny and handsome Greek waiters? Wasn’t this the land of the holiday romance? Shouldn’t there be a Taverna on every corner? And how come I travelled for days and never once heard a Bazouki player?

Perhaps it was just the difference between summer Greece and autumn Greece? Or between island and mainland Greece? Between Shirley sodding Valentine’s Greece and the bits that I found?

No. It was that I was looking for the wrong thing.

What makes this crumbly little corner of Europe special….. is the people – their generosity, helpfulness, and hospitality. Now, I am a smiley person, and Steve likes to talk to strangers (his preference veering strongly towards waiters and check-out girls), so we are used to a certain amount of reciprocal friendliness, but in Greece – well, this was on a whole new level.

As we’d been driving all day like maniacs, to get away from the maniac drivers in Albania, we stopped fairly soon after arriving in Greece. There was a nice looking roadside restaurant with a massive, almost empty, car park in front. We pulled in and asked if we could stay there for the night if we ate in the restaurant. Of course, no problem, come in, have a drink.

We ate the best meal we’d had in ages, and learned how to say hello, and a few other things, from a large family at the next table. They told us what was best to order (the lamb chops, butchered on the premises). The son kept dashing over to a laptop on the counter and finding traditional Greek music for us to listen to (and, ok, he started with the theme to Zorba the Greek, but that was actually surreally good in the circumstances). The dad sent over a local dessert (on his bill) for us to try (grapes in syrup, nom nom) and then they invited us to their table and plied us with wine. Utter sweethearts.

In the morning I awoke to a strange sound. Outside was an enclosure full of turkeys, free-ranging it like anything. I took a picture and they all rushed towards me thinking that I’d come to feed them. I figured if we stayed another day, it would more likely end up the other way around. So I felt guilty and we left.


As travellers on a budget, we can’t really afford to cover the distances we do and pay tolls on the roads. This leads to us taking the long way around most of the time. We don’t mind this as the view is usually better, and we get an intensified sense of how people really live in the countries we visit. It can really increase our driving time, though, especially if mountains are involved.

Consequently, it was already dark (and we were both tired, and totally bereft of all concentration and common sense) when Deirdre the Sat-Nav slut took us down another wrong turn. She can be the most almighty cow at times. And that’s where we got stuck. When I say ‘we’ I mean Georgie (our American RV) got stuck, all 34 feet of her, impaled on both sides by low walls as Steve tried to turn a corner.IMG_6646

A guy on a bicycle helped us for a bit, and then a chap on a motorbike arrived and he took charge. First he went home and got his sister who could speak better English, then he directed Steve (carefully, in reverse) off the walls, back up the road, around all the bins, and into a side lane to turn around.

He had other blokes out of their houses helping too. Then he and sis got on the bike, and led us down other (larger) roads until we got back on the main road again. Said it was his pleasure to help us.

Now that we’ve been in Greece for several weeks we know that this is perfectly normal.

IMG_6653In Patras we found a little restaurant called Labyrinthos, which sounded properly traditional – no more schnitzel for me! The waiter suggested the baby goat cooked slowly in olive oil and oregano, which was so good I wanted to marry it and have its babies.

His mother was the cook and used old family recipes – Labyrinthos had been started by his grandfather. He spent ages showing us all the places in the Peloponnese that we should visit, and gave us a free dessert and a home-made liquor.

A few weeks later we fetched up at ancient Corinth. Lots of ruins, and an incredibly hard to say Isthmus. Same story, though – people going out of their way to help us. At Corinth we were unable to find the campsite as Deirdre was sulking and telling us we were already there, which is sat-nav for ‘Bog off, I’m tired’. And the signs were even less helpful. So we parked in a big car park and went off to find it on foot.

An old chap was there, so Steve pointed to Georgie and mimed, ‘is it ok for us to park here? Will we get in trouble with the police?’ At the word ‘police’ the guy burst out laughing. ‘Where you from?’ he said. England. ‘Well, this is Greece.’

Then he took us to see his mate at a local restaurant; did he know where the campsite was? No, but he knew who might, and then all the guys in the restaurant got up, raced over the road, and accosted an old fella doing his shopping. He was the campsite owner (yay) but he only wanted to speak to us in French (he wasn’t French).

He got us to follow him to the site, on his beaten-up old motorbike. He also had a beaten-up old face – with stitches. I wondered if the two were connected and if he’d recently driven in Albania. At the site we met another chap (German, I think) who offered to show us a better route, and said he’d come and fetch us the next day at 9 o,clock and lead the way.

We went to the restaurant that we’d been led to earlier and had the world’s best kebab. This chap gave us a mountain of free stuff – bread, olives (from his tree), coffee, and a plate of mandarin oranges. Lots of very warm handshakes. And then he caught up with us as we staggered down the hill to the car park, as Steve had left his car keys on the table.

The next day he saw Steve in the street and gave him a whole bag of oranges. If we stayed in Greece much longer we reckoned we’d start getting entire meals for free. The next day, a couple staying in the hotel behind the car park gave us the wifi code from the hotel.

Ancient Corinth was great. Loads of it is still standing, including an almost complete street, with shops on either side.



There were these chaps, caught practicing their moves from the Full Monty dance,


and some nice pieces in the museum.

Though one of the workers had given up on her sweeping and taken rather a long tea-break, I thought.


The Corinth canal is worth a quick look, too. Here it is, just before we drove over it multiple times, because Deirdre kept wanting to take us to a non-existent bridge. She gets a bit bride-of-Chucky from time to time.


On the subject of ruins, we also visited Olympia and Mycenae, but I’ll tell you all about that it my next blog. Thanks for reading, and may this new year bring you all you need and at least some of what you want. xxxx Ciao.




‘Patience, wonder and vigilance’


We have now driven Georgie 7,845 miles, (which sound even better as 12,626 km). During that time we’ve seen changes in landscape, signage, and architecture, as we expected. Less predictable was the naked-from-the-waist-down gentleman struggling to get into a wrestler’s jock strap, at a cafe by a shopping mall. Or this rather buxom lady made of concrete, gazing out at us as we stopped to let a build-up of traffic pass by Georgie.


This was me on the walkie-talkie: ‘Did you see her? on the left?’

Steve’s reply: ‘Why do you think I stopped?’

In the middle of nowhere we parked by a cafe, because it was a hot day and Georgie’s brakes needed to cool. Around the corner we found a strange little petting zoo in someone’s front garden.  You could wander around the enclosures of kiwis and ostriches, turkeys, goats and pigs, and then leave a donation when you left. It was both sweet and rather sad.

At another roadside coffee stop, a few guys got out of a van and produced a piano accordion. One smiley chap proceeded to play loud, jolly folk songs to the delight of his mates. Other people at the stop were not so pleased and one chap started yelling at him to be quiet. So he played louder. The other chap went up to him and they were nose to nose as he shouted. We thought it was all gonna kick off, but the musician simply raised the accordion and played it very loudly in the man’s face, then started chasing him around with it. Poor guy was furious but I was rather entertained – I’d never seen accordion music used as an offensive weapon before.

One of the van mates had now found a traffic cone and was playing that like a kazoo. The angry man, realising he was both out-numbered and surrounded, backed away pretending that he’d won that round (in the way that cats pretend they meant to fall off that chair). The accordion player finished his songs to much applause, got in the van (with the purloined traffic cone) and off they went.


It was the roads in Montenegro that first induced Steve to utter the advice, ‘patience, wonder and vigilance’ over the walkie-talkie. They were covered in potholes the depth of Ben Nevis, and petered off alarmingly at the edges. It was mountainous, with seemingly endless hairpin bends, around which herds of sheep or cows would suddenly appear.

This phrase was to become less of a mantra and more of a prayer when we entered Albania, five hours later. Steve tells me that there were no cars in Albania until fifteen years ago, which goes some small way to explaining the way they drive.

We arrived just after sunset and no-one, I repeat, no-one had lights on their bicycles and everyone was wearing black. No-one on a motorbike had a helmet either, and most had at least two passengers, one of which was a child (at the front). They often couldn’t be bothered with lights either. There was no right of way, and no road markings apart from the central white line, which they took absolutely no notice of. I was a jibbering wreck by the time we parked up and went to look for something to eat.

Settled in a restaurant, I used Google Translate to work out what the toppings on the pizzas were. I wanted to check Sallam Pikant, which I was fairly sure would turn out to be salami, but as we were in a new country I thought it better not to make assumptions. So I started typing and good old Google started translating ….

s = s

sa = how

sal = sal

sall = hall

salla = Hall

sallam = sausage

sallam p = salve p

sallam pi = I drink more

sallam pik = I have a pic

sallam pika = I give it a point

sallam pikan = I’m gonna drink

and, finally….

sallam pikant = I’m salty

So, sort of salami, then.

Unable to find a single campsite, we woke up the next day to find we’d parked in the school bus stop. As it was practically opposite the pole-dancing club, in a grim little shanty town, circa Morocco in 1986, we’d thought we were tucked away. Not so. We set off, nervous about the driving, but excited to see what Albania looked like in daylight.

First we drove along past slag heaps and rubbish dumps, stay dogs, and titty bars, but then we hit the road to Golem. The buildings now were all variations on a theme, the theme being, ‘what can we do with concrete?’ (We’d already spotted that the Croatians like a bit of concrete too, but there they’ve decided that greige is the new black.) Albanians prefer to use a packet of refreshers as their starting point, and I particularly liked the ever-popular mint and salmon combo.

Then we got onto the motorway. Well, Google Maps called it a motorway, but I called it a fairly crappy, pot-holed dual carriageway. It had a rather variable hard-shoulder which,  it turns, is absolutely the place to be. There were lots of loitering men, numerous donkey carts and eleventy billion guys on bicycles, some with as many as ten planks of wood balanced across their handlebars. There were wizened little old ladies, in white headscarves, waiting for lifts, or buses or, possibly, death. There were loose chickens, and cows and goat-herders. Goat-herders! There were men who waved plastic bags of something brown at me, and another who waved flowers. At one junction a man had parked his motorbike in the middle of the road and was standing there, bag on the road, no helmet, just waiting. And there were lots and lots of things like this.




We stopped for coffee and petrol at a garage called Kastrati. Its logo was a petrol pump filling up, um, a UFO? And when we looked to see if they had wifi we found it under ‘Shyti petrol’.

There is simply no explanation for Albania.


The road masquerading as a motorway had two solid white lines painted down the centre which, to the average Albanian, is the thing he likes to drive along best. His favourite place to overtake is, of course, a blind corner.

If he overtakes you, he will drive as far as is feasibly possible on the other side of the road, for as long as he can (even if there is an empty over-taking lane to the left of you). When he sees the on-coming traffic, he will wait until the very last second before skidding in front of you. If you brake and swerve he knows he has done it right.

However, if the vehicle heading straight towards him is wide – a lorry, coach or bus, say – then he will attempt to hold his ground over the central lines and see if he can fit in the gap between the on-coming lorry and you. If he succeeds without killing anyone then he knows he is a God amongst men.

They learn this early on, I think. In one town I witnessed a young lad pushing a baby in a pushchair along the road – and several feet out from a totally empty pavement. He was coming towards me.

As for signage – that was … variable. Off a roundabout in the busy town of Fier, Steve attempted to follow the sat-nav instructions and all the other cars down a turning. Oh no, people said, jumping in the way and signalling to him to back out again. Now, we were already a bit frazzled at this point. Double-parking in single lane roads is a thing here, and manoeuvring Georgie around them had taken every bit of Steve’s considerable driving skill. There were people parked on the sodding roundabout, for God’s sake.

As I drove round and round while I waited to see what Steve was gonna do, I saw people stop their cars halfway around, get out, leaving the door open, buy a coffee, and get back in and drive off. So I pulled in behind Steve while they sorted out getting him to reverse back onto the roundabout. Oh no, no, no, they said, in mad but obvious gestures. I had to reverse back onto the roundabout, with all view of me hidden from oncoming traffic by the idiot white van that had parked there! And I had to do it three times because they kept changing their minds about where they were going to let us go!

Eventually we got into the south of the country and headed off through the mountains towards Greece. Here Albania was beautiful but, it’s got to be said, that it’s Mother Nature that’s done most of the heavy lifting. Where the actual Albanians have been involved…. I’d like to say that it’s merely a bit run down, but I’m not sure if it was ever run up in the first place.

We reached the customs on the border into Greece and, boy, were they thorough. Nibbles is only a tiny car and you can see everything through the windows. It is impossible to smuggle using a Smart car, but those guys took no chances – they even had my carpet up.

There was a family of beggars working the queue of cars. I genuinely had no money on me at all, which really got their goat. They sent in the big guns, by which I mean the little girl. All I had was a banana, which I offered apologetically. They looked disgusted, but took it anyway. The little girl endeavoured (quite successfully) to eat it with as much scornful disdain as she could muster. I wished my car was bigger so I’d have somewhere to hide.


And then we were on our way and driving down the mountains, into Greece and the Shirley Valentine moment I’d been waiting for since 1989. I’ll tell you all about that next time. Until then, thanks for reading, and big hugs to you all. Ciao.





Winter is coming!


Ah, Winter is coming: the eternal warning in Game of Thrones (GOT), and preferable to its other motto (The night is dark and full of terrors) which leaves something to be desired as a rallying cry. We had arrived near Dubrovnik, aka, Kings Landing, the show’s major city and seat of power. To say I was excited was something of an understatement. These were the very streets that Peter Dinklage had trod!

71Thi2bPAUL._AC_UL320_SR214,320_Who he? A very fine actor that I first came across in a charming little film called The Station Agent. As Tyrion Lannister, the somewhat unwilling and drunken voice of reason in a GOT world of war-ravaged madness, he absolutely slams it. If they kill him off in the next season, battlements might get hurled from, that’s all I’m saying.

On the way to the campsite we’d stopped for coffee at what looked like a small hut in a lay-by. It turned out to be a wine bar, selling stuff from the vineyard that sloped down the mountain ahead of us. Tyrion would have been delighted.

The girl behind the counter was the founder’s grand-daughter, and another couple were already sitting on a bench nearby with two stout glasses of red. They were appalled that I only wanted coffee and told me off, albeit nicely. I found it interesting that a country with a zero tolerance policy towards drinking and driving should have a wine bar you can only reach by car.

At the campsite we got a phone call from one of our lovely new Angloville friends (see previous posts on Angloville). Sarah hailed from New Zealand and was spending a good six months travelling solo around various interesting parts of Europe. She would be in Dubrovnik the following day – did we want to meet up? Oh hell, yes. Sarah is great.

Despite the fact that as soon as I entered Dubrovnik Old Town I had to keep scooping my jaw up off the floor, I did spot her in the crowd and we had a lovely day together. My agenda of seeing as many of the filming locations as I could may not have been her cup of tea, but the place is so beautiful that it didn’t matter where we went. We saw the steps where Cersei began her ‘walk of shame’…


…and then all sorts of other recognisable bits…

…before freaking out this fella. Steve isn’t that scary. You know NOTHING, Jon Snow! (apologies to those who don’t get the references, but I just can’t stop myself).


While we were debating whether to get the funicular up the hill, a nice girl selling tours suggested an alternative. For the same money we could have a chap drive us out to see the big bridge, down to Europe’s shortest river (wait, what? That’s me sold), up the hill to see Dubrovnik at sunset, and back to where we parked our car, saving us a massive walk back out of town. Seemed a good deal, so we said yes.

Here’s the shortest river. You see that white gate thing over to the right of the picture? That’s where the river comes out of the mountain. And the weir in the foreground? That’s where it meets the sea – a distance between the two of 35 – 40 metres, depending on the tide. As rivers go, this one is a bit of a rank amateur.


Our tour guide, Chris, then drove us up the mountain and through a bombed-out village, named for the Bosnian girls of easy virtue who used to fetch up there when food was scarce. As we were driving up a tree-lined road, he dropped the bombshell; –

‘Do any of you watch Game of Thrones, because this is The King’s Road?’ Yes we do, and I am a bit of a pushover for Tyrion, it’s got to be said. ‘Oh, I am his driver when they are filming’. WHAT! You know him? Tell me everything! (And I shan’t disclose what he actually said, but apparently Peter is a very nice man, so there.)

A few days later we met Antonio, who took us in his boat to the island of Lokrum. This is where they have an iron throne (just like the one in the show) which you can sit on and take endless selfies. Lokrum is also home to more rabbits and peacocks than I have ever seen in my life, wandering peacefully around the ruined monastery and looking rather picturesque.

When I lived in London the pigeons foraged around the pavement cafes, and when we lived in Dorset it was seagulls you had to watch out for. Now, as we sat drinking over-priced coffee and eating more weird salad, the peacocks pushed past my legs and pecked hopefully around my feet. The disgruntled waiter was sick of them, but I was enchanted. The rabbits were less friendly but more plentiful, because they were, well… rabbits.

Then it was time to do some sight-seeing and find the throne. Although it was less impressively displayed than I expected, it was free to see and to sit on, and you could take as much time as you liked. Surprisingly comfy and not actually cold. Felt sort of born to it.

We’d been told the time of the last boat home and we wanted to avoid the rush, so we slipped off to the jetty in plenty of time for one of the earlier ones. It didn’t come. No sign of our boat, just others that they wouldn’t let us on because they were going somewhere else than we had embarked. Every half hour, Antonio? You’re having a laugh. The last boat arrived and it was not ours. Thankfully, they let us on despite us having the wrong ticket and we got a nice look at Dubrovnik as we sailed in.

A couple of days later we decided to ‘walk the wall’ that surrounds the Old Town, and there was bloody Antonio, taking our ticket as we went in. The wall takes a couple of hours to go all the way around and gives you a real appreciation of the city. One of the sad things to witness is the number of newly tiled roofs. During the Homeland Wars of the early 1990’s, Dubrovnik was targeted and nearly destroyed. Over 11,000 buildings were damaged or destroyed in the bombardment, gutted by fire, and subsequently looted. The stone walls mostly withstood the impact, but the roofs show the extent of the re-building that had to take place.


The wall did produce more GOT moments for us, however. We had a good view of the bay where Tyrion fought off Stannis’ attack by sea, and the tower that is used as The House of the Undying sits on a corner – this is the place with no visible door, that Daenerys walks around after her dragons have been kidnapped, and then disappears into. We also passed this sweet couple, who’d just got married and gone up onto the wall to take selfies, because, why not?

Walking the wall also gave us the chance to see the backs of people’s houses, which is where I discovered the sport of competitive laundry hanging. We’d seen it before but they really nailed it here. The rules are simple – all laundry must be hung in order of object, size and colour, and absolutely no mixed loads or pegging it up as it comes out of the basket. See what I mean?


Back in town, we also searched out Little Finger’s brothel and the steps of the Palace in Qarth. Then, as we were walking up a side street, we saw a shop with GOT merchandise and ANOTHER THRONE. So for those of you who don’t want to be caught off guard by Antonio and his flaky promises, you don’t actually have to go to Lokrum.

Just outside Dubrovnik is Trsteno Arboretum: a lovely little place where more filming of GOT takes place. It’s where all the outdoor scenes of Margaery and her gran (played by the elegantly acerbic Dame Diana Rigg) have tea in the garden and plot. Also used for Sansa flirting with Lorus, and Tyrion being withering to… everybody. Even Cersei wafts about there on occasion, so this was a ‘must do’ on my list.

It has wonderful views down to the sea, some trees that are over 150 years old…

…and – surprisingly – a field where a load of Martians have stopped by and left their brains all over the grass.


The next day we drove down to Montenegro to find out about Green Cards, which validate our motor insurance whilst passing through the country. Having heard about the average driving capabilities of people, there and in Albania, this seemed beyond necessary. The man in the booth said not to bother, just get one when we get to Albania. Of course, when we turned up at the checkpoint a few days later, they refused to let us through because we hadn’t got our green cards yet. And I’m so glad we got them because the next few day’s driving was unlike anything I’d experienced so far.

But I’ll tell you all about that next time. Until then, have a happy Christmas, and thank you for reading this. xxxxx B



The good, the bad and the vomity.



Since we sauntered into the Czech Republic all those months ago, we’ve got very used to being offered a choice of pizza or schnitzel pretty much everywhere we’ve been. The schnitzel wins hands down; beaten to the thickness of an atom, coated in the crispiest of crumbs, and fried in less than a nano-second, it is delicious. But as we approached the coast of Croatia, the food suddenly changed. Now it was cheese with everything, and that ‘everything’ quite often turned out to be honey. Seriously? I’m not big on cheese, anyway.

In Zadar we had a burger that was honestly a bit grim, but the wifi password there was ‘David Bowie is alive’, which kinda made up for it. At our campsite near Split, the lovely girl at the onsite restaurant recommended a Croatian speciality called Cevapcici. I said ok as I always like to try the regional food. Apart from anything else, it gives me a clue as to what I can cook with the local (and usually only) produce in the shops. The cafe had sea-views and black squirrels jumping in the trees overheard, so I felt that compensation was plentiful if the meal was shite.


But Cevapcici is brilliant – little spiced sausages, a bit like kofta. At the supermarket I found sachets of Cevapcici spice mix for about 60 cents, so I bought six packets. Used the last one a week ago and wish I’d bought more.

So I was pretty optimistic when we went into Split, armed with the name of a good restaurant from my friend’s website, Unravel Travel. The restaurant had a queue outside (as expected) – but it was raining. Consequently, the owner said that he wasn’t gonna serve any more people after the couple in front of us, and would close for the day. Oh, ok. Never mind. There are other places, such as Marta’s Fusion, a vegetarian restaurant that we’d passed, just around the corner. It looked nice, and it was raining, and we were hungry. You get the picture.

For those of you who are my age, you’ll remember a time when vegetarian food had a bad rap. It was considered to be dry and tasteless and mostly lentils. Worthy is the word that sprung to mind. But then times changed and things moved on wonderfully in the veggie world. However, someone forgot to tell Marta.

We both ordered the black-bean burger, which was our first mistake. If we’d chosen different things, then we’d have increased our chances of having something edible. The lukewarm burger arrived – with no bun, and covered in cold ketchup of the vividly scarlet sort that usually squirts out of a plastic tomato. It was tasteless, had no seasoning, and a dry, suck-all-the-moisture-out-of-your-mouth texture. It wasn’t even worthy: it was miserable. I felt sorry for the beans. I got the giggles and then I felt sick. Steve tried to give them some feedback, but I had to excuse myself and rush outside in case I marched into the kitchen, grabbed a pan and said, ‘look, it’s not that hard, here’s how to make falafel. And use some effing salt!’


But Split itself was great. Apart from the Diocletian Palace (which I’ve mentioned before) there was a rather fabulous statue of the Croatian hero, Gregory of Nin. Local folklore states that Gregory will grant your wish if you rub his big toe. Consequently, said toe is now massively shiny. I rubbed it, course I did.

But it’s quite possible that some tourists only know of the superstition, and not the actual whereabouts of the statue, because I noticed a lot of other statues in Split had shiny toes too.


Wanting a day in the countryside, Steve read about a place called Vrana. To be honest I wasn’t really listening when he told me the history of the place: something about two famous sculptors, or authors, or something. Plus the usual – a medieval town, a place of great political and religious significance, monasteries, and Knight’s Templars, yah dee yah dee yah. Sometimes I just like to go with the flow cos that’s how I roll.

Anyway, we set off and although I didn’t have a clear idea on what to expect, I certainly envisioned something more than the crappily run-down little village we drove into and, moments later, out the other side. Was that it? Apparently so. Where were the plaques and history and interesting stuff? I personally don’t think that locals staring at the two puzzled-looking idiots driving backwards and forwards in their Smart car count as ‘stuff’.

But I’d spotted a place on the outskirts that had a menu up outside. Yay, coffee time. Coffee sweetens many an abortive trip out, and if there are cakes, then it’s a spree! So we parked up, walked in and got slapped in the face with history. In 1644, the commander of the Turkish Fleet started building his summer palace here, and the ruins of it have been newly restored and renovated.The Maskovic Han, as it is called, is now a lovely hotel with very nice coffee.


As we left, the waitress asked if we’d seen the ninth century ruin over the road? Oh, so there‘s more stuff here? Great. We pootled over the road to what, at first glance, appeared to be a field with a lot of fallen down stone walls. But then, after climbing up and down some dips and navigating gaps in the overgrowth, we found ourselves inside the remains of what were once impressive buildings.

It was totally silent, apart from the occasional chirps of birdsong. The sun was beaming down, the air trembling with butterflies and it felt completely peaceful. Like a secret garden that had been carefully avoiding Monty Don.

I heard some rustling in the bushes (which I hoped wasn’t a snake), then I got distracted into pursuing a big, bright-yellow butterfly with black spots, that I’d never seen before. Which is why I almost trod on this little sweetie as it wandered onto the path in front of me.


A tortoise! A genuine wild tortoise! My ignorance again, but I had no idea that they lived here. That pretty much made my week, let alone my day.


We’ve had some surprisingly wonderful meals in shopping malls, of all places, including a terrific curry and some great Chinese food (I worry what tourists in Britain think when they rock up and are faced with a choice of Burger King or KFC). So I was happily encouraged by the sight of Soparnik under the counter of the cafe we ended up at a few days later. Soparnik is a Croatian speciality, and is basically a flat pie made from flaky filo-like pastry with a filling of chard and a white cheese. I like chard. We’d often been served chard and potatoes, the spuds being boiled, but golden and the chard, rich and iron-y. So a chard pie, with some cheese – how wrong can you go with that?

Now, perhaps I should have been worried when I heard the microwave ping. Hands up who’s over-microwaved pastry before now, and turned it into an un-chewable, rock-hard slice of sweaty brown stuff? I think you know what I’m saying.

But it was the cheese. The cheese! I don’t know what animal’s milk that had been made from, but I’m guessing a really pissed-off Tasmanian Devil or a dead Yak. It left a taste in my mouth that was beyond-words-awful, really rank. And then I realised what it reminded me of. You know that taste that is left in your mouth just after you’ve just thrown up? Bingo. Now, I discovered Parmesan when I was in my late teens and remember being surprised that it smelt of vomit but tasted of cheese. This one smelt of cheese but tasted of vomit. Steve was hungry and chomping it down so I thought it best not to expand on this theory at the time.


Driving down through Croatia is certainly an experience. For a start, my knowledge of geography is so poor, that I genuinely had no idea that to get to Dubrovnik from Split you pass through a bit of Bosnia. I just hadn’t zoomed in that much on Google maps. So it was a bit of a shock when we fetched up at a checkpoint. I imagined that Deirdre the sat-nav slut had taken us down a wrong road again, and just followed Steve into Bosnia assuming he’d sort it out.

After a while we approached another checkpoint and I got my passport ready to show. But, to my surprise, Steve just drove straight on to the last kiosk and was then waved through by a chap standing outside it. Strange, I thought, but oh well – I’ll just do the same. I couldn’t see anyone in the first kiosk anyway. And so it was that I drove mindlessly past the lady with the out-stretched hand in kiosk number two, didn’t show my passport to anybody, and just sailed past the confused-looking man standing outside. When I realised what I’d done I frantically called Steve on the walkie-talkie. Don’t worry, he said, if there’s a problem they’ll just send the police after you. Thanks mate.

The Croatians like simple campsite names, such as Camp Martin, Susie, Petar or Antonio – which to choose? Not Camp Bozo, I think, or (given that a ‘j’ is pronounced as a ‘y’) the untrustworthy sounding Camp Dunja. We settled for Camping Kate. On arrival we were told that it was due to close in a couple of days, but if we wanted to stay longer, then they’d stay open longer too. Fantastic. We suggested a week, and they said that was fine.

It was nestled on a hilltop amongst olive, orange and persimmon trees. There was a tiny chapel overlooking the sea, and stairs that took you down the hill to the beach at a sweet little place called Mlini. Bit of a climb back up, but so worth it.



The nice lady at Camping Kate suggested that we go over the road to a restaurant called Flamingo’s if we wanted a decent meal. It was fairly unpretentious and a little bit basic looking inside, but we’ve learnt never to judge by appearances. We ordered The Flamingo Platter, which was a sharing plate for two, and stopped us having to spend ages thinking about what we wanted and get down to the wine.

In the corner, three guys started playing an Argentine tango on a guitar, a double bass, and an accordion. When they sang, their voices were rich, melodic and harmonious; they had clearly been performing together for a long time. They finished their set and then moved over to the first table.

‘Where do you come from?’


No problem. They launched into several songs that the chaps at the table could sing along to, and so on around the room. Then they reached us.

‘Where do you come from?’

‘The UK.’


‘Er, England?


You’ve heard of London, maybe?’

‘Ah, ok.’

Then they got in a huddle, had a little chat, smiled, and launched into What shall we do with the drunken sailor, followed by a Scottish reel, and Fly me to the moon.


Bit surreal, but then the food arrived and it was humungous. The plate (which was larger than my bathroom sink) had roast chicken, steaks, two sorts of kebabs, chips and potatoes and a vegetable rice, roast Mediterranean vegetables, chard mixed with some other veg, and fried breaded cheese. Plus eight homemade bread rolls, and a soup bowl full of mushroom and cream sauce. We took a lot of it home in a doggy bag and it lasted us for three days.


We were now within reach of Dubrovnik, aka, Kings Landing from Game of Thrones. That’s a whole blog on its own, so until next time, thanks for reading. Ciao xx



Feeding mozzies and finding heaven


As my friends and regular readers know, my grasp of geography is right up there with my killer dance moves and my ability to ignore cats, i.e. it is almost non-existent. So as we crossed from Hungary into Croatia, I had no idea what to expect. I knew Dubrovnik was further south, and was the setting for Kings Landing in Game of Thrones, but that was pretty much it. I must admit, I quite like travelling this way – letting each town, country, or culture take me by surprise (the first surprise always being unfamiliar and incomprehensible road signs). I like the days of waiting, and watching, while the subtle differences reveal themselves and after a bit I can say, ‘Ah, that is typical of Budapest/Almerimar/the Somme’. So come on, Croatia, bring it on.

Our first stops were a series of truck stops on the outskirts of Zagreb. Although this meant deploying the old memory foam earplugs again, it also meant freedom from the mosquitos that hung around the nice, tree-filled campsites of an evening. I’m told that being blood type ‘O’ is more attractive to the bitey little bastards, and this is both unfortunate and true: Steve and I share that group and we have both been bitten as lumpy as the Alps. I also have another theory: using the idea that you are what you eat, (and taking into consideration that I’ve lived in Bath for the past ten years) – I reckon that on a cellular level I am a good 75% gin and tonic. Furthermore, as an utterly hormonal woman, I imagine the other 25% is probably reconstructed chocolate. If I was a midge, I would bite me.


The capital of Croatia is a very nice little city: buzzy and interesting without being too big. Apart from the red-umbrella’d Dolac market (with its statue of Kumica Barica – the spirit of the farmer’s market) there was an artisan market that filled the main square. Here, among other things, you could get an umbrella made to order by the most hard-working women I saw all day, and then a nice lady would paint flowers on it for you.

After stuffing our faces on samples of mortadella, cheese, fresh figs, sourdough bread and blackcurrant jam, we took a turn around the pretty cathedral.  After more pootling around we wandered into a brilliant art exhibition – the work of Hungary’s most prolific artist, Vasko Lipovac. It’s hard to put into words the wit and brilliance of his work. My best description would be imagine if Beryl Cook had just gone dogging….

Here’s what I mean.


His most impressive piece, Cyclus, was housed in a long room and featured a sculpted cycle race in all its agony and glory. Each figure was an individual, with its own expression and sense of story. Bloody marvellous.Vasko-Lipovac-Retrospektiva-01-nh2s0ffhsjyyoe2gkntnf42u0ai0anvpjjex4566gw


Zagreb is also home to the sweet, but odd, Museum of Broken Relationships. Each willingly donated exhibit told a story of love and loss, or humour, or horror. Someone had left an axe, which suggested a relationship well past fixing. This was also a bit chilling.


I went to the loo and found that it, too, had a broken relationship – to its door lock. And although it clearly said ‘Women’ in numerous languages, a man was standing there peeing, with the door wide open. When he saw me, he carried on as if he expected me to use the gents. Er, no. So I waited, and then he made a huge fuss of clearing up after him which actually consisted of him not clearing up anything at all. I just hoped he hadn’t come back for his axe.

Just around the corner the road curved under the Stone Gate, and someone had decided that this was the perfect place to build a tiny church. On either side of the road. Under an overhang.

On the inner side of the curve, two wooden pews perched on the pavement, with people genuinely sitting there praying whilst motorbikes whizzed past, and tourists gawped. On the outer side of the curve, an almost invisible statue of the Virgin was hidden behind huge, wrought iron gates. The walls surrounding them were covered in plaques saying thank you, mostly. In front of the pews a lady scraped melted candle wax into three huge tubs on the ground.


There was actually a Burger Festival happening in one of the parks which Steve decided to avoid – more fallout from living in Bath for ten years, I suspect. Instead we headed up to the Cemetery, because it was nearly dusk and we needed to be bitten some more. And, to be fair, the place is utterly spectacular, and I’ve always rather liked graveyards.



Bugs notwithstanding, once we’d headed off to the coast it was time to find a campsite again. So we did what we usually do, which is to look in books and on the internet, get as much info as we can, try and phone ahead if possible, and then find out that all of that has been a complete waste of our time. And what we usually do (when we turn up at another ‘closed’ sign, get stuck down an impossible to navigate road, or are met by the campsite owner telling us that, yes, he knows it’s a 35% hill on the way in, but he’s sure we can manage it, despite the hairpin as it joins the road) is ask somebody.

We were directed to the north end of the island of Pag, the countryside of which is known by its proper term – THE ARSE END OF NOWHERE! But it was worth it because it led to the wonderful Camping Simuni. This place had everything, and I mean everything. For a start, it was all landscaped beautifully – lots of interestingly decorated corners, so that if you got lost you’d know that you turned left by the old row boat and anchor, and right by the bougainvillea covered hammock. And as for amenities, forget a couple of shower blocks and a rarely open reception – this place had an onsite supermarket, a fish restaurant, a burger joint, a takeaway, at least three bars, a pizza joint, a traditional restaurant, several shops of souvenirs and water sport equipment, a laundry, a kid’s club, a spa and yoga room, and it was right on the beach. We literally got to park right on the beach. In a thunderstorm. Fantastic. Sitting there after a long drive, eating pizza and watching it sheet down to the horizon. The next day we bought a snorkel; that’s how great it was.

And, as it turned out, all the campsites on the Croatian coast are pretty much like this. Seriously worth being bitten for. Our next site parked us just back from the beach but right next to the cafe. I could wander out each evening and the barman would line up a gin and tonic (so that I could keep up with the deficit caused by the mozzies), and then sit back and watch the sunset, followed by the awakening and swooping of the bats. This was the view from Georgie.



We popped into Zadar to check out the Sea Organ. This is pretty much how it sounds – an organ built into the sea wall, so that the water rushing down the pipes creates the sounds, the way that air would in a traditional organ. Each combination of strange, mournful, lowing bellows is utterly unique.

I had a good listen despite the fact that, as familiarity breeds contempt, so the Sea Organ has become the place for the locals to gather and gossip. Loudly. I had to shut my eyes and really focus, especially as I have dyslexic ears. No, really, it’s a thing. My doctor said. I hear perfectly well but my brain can’t be arsed to translate it properly. So I struggle if there is background (or, as in this case, foreground) noise. Doc advised learning to lip-read.

As for the organ, they got some special expert in to tune it, and although I don’t know what it sounded like before he did that, I would say that it’s possible he was overpaid.


After Zadar we trollied off down to Split and the wonder that is Dubrovnik. I’ll fill you in as soon as I get reliable wifi again. Ciao folks, thanks for reading.


Filling out, filling in.


There’s good toothache and there’s bad toothache, right? The good kind is just a dull ache – enough to induce the weirdly enjoyable need to constantly press on it, whilst not exactly being a throbbing pain. The bad kind makes one want to commit murder.

Luckily, it was the good kind that started up for me as we drove across Hungary to a campsite at the south end of Lake Balaton. I had a good feel around with my tongue, concluded that a tiny bit of tooth had chipped off (a sucky sweet may have been involved – I couldn’t possibly say), and seriously considered asking Steve to get his Dremel out once we stopped. Then I forgot about it.

The next day we went into Hevis to check out the market. Steve had an urge to buy proper Hungarian paprika, and spent a long time with a little old lady testing the samples on one of the stalls. Steve is pretty nifty at working around language barriers and only resorts to the joy that is Google Translate as a last resort. In fact he has an absolute gift for finding words that can be understood across a fair whack of the board.

So, ‘piquant?’ he asked the lady, pointing at one of the samples. ‘Yes,’ she agreed, ‘piquant’. He indicated another sample and asked again. ‘Brutal piquant,’ said the lady,  offering to bag some up. Er, no thanks, we’ll stick with the piquant – my mouth is sore enough.

In fact, the toothache was now ratcheting up and this meant I’d have to do something about it. Bollocks. My entire knowledge of Hungarian consisted of the word for thank you and now I had brutal to add to the mix. Didn’t bode well.


The next day was a Sunday so I just had to bide my time. By the end of the day another chunk of my tooth had fallen out. On Monday morning I went to see Janos in reception. He was a nice young man – big smile, bald head, had a nice Rhodesian Ridgeback and a good command of English. He explained the problem to the dentist next door (cos that was handy) and made an appointment.

By 10.30 I had a brand new filling, and had honed my negotiation-through-mime skills as to the price. Sorted. Went back to the van, waited for the pain to kick in, ate soft stuff, and watched The Handmaid’s Tale.

The next day we went to Keszthely to visit the Festetics Palace. This baroque beauty housed a fabulous library, several museums and exhibitions, a bird park, tropical gardens, and more besides.IMG_5129

The nerdily brilliant model railway took up an entire hangar, and featured trains through the ages hurtling through lots of well known Hungarian towns and landmarks. It had so much detail that I went round twice, happily spotting a couple snogging on a park bench, a lady with carrier bags trudging up a hill just past the bus stop, and – my personal favourite – an army tank that had sneaked in to the drive-in movie.

Outside the Palace was a vintage car rally. These were all old Russian cars – Volgas – and many of them were clearly still in use. One had a microwave perched on its passenger seat.

We saw exotic birds, some stunning cacti and amaryllis, and an interesting ‘Travelling Aristocrats’ exhibition, before discovering a building that housed over fifty old coaches, carriages and sleighs. They were lush.


And then it was off for coffee and cake at a cute little tunnel of a cafe, almost a corridor, really, but covered – absolutely plastered – in antique clocks.

And then my brand new filling fell out.

The next day I went back to the dentist, where she did a terrifying mime to show me that my tooth now needed to be extracted. We agreed, and she injected the living daylights out of me. I thought my throat was going to close over, and I certainly couldn’t swallow. I imagined saliva filling my mouth and dribbling out of my nose.

She got to work but what the poor woman didn’t know was that one of my main personality traits is tenacity, and it seems that that applies to my teeth as well. At one point I genuinely thought she was going to put her foot on my chest in order to provide the necessary leverage, and she was actually sweating. She managed eventually, and it was Dentist:1, tooth:nil.

An hour or two later, and it was the pain that made me want to murder someone. Steve had raced to the shops and come back with broccoli to make into soup, so it wasn’t going to be him. Then Georgie gave an almighty lurch and there was a horrible crunching sound. We’d been hit!

We both raced outside to see a rather large caravan stuck on our back ladder and a red-faced Latvian woman shouting furiously at her husband. Some careful backing-up of their van revealed a whacking great tear in their side, and on Georgie? Not a scratch.

The woman told us that she’d thought we’d been sticking out too far, but then she’d had a walk around and seen that we were, in fact, touching the fence at the front. So deffo her husband’s fault. Damn. Couldn’t vent my pain at him, either, because his wife had got that sewn up already.

On our last day we saw her again and Steve invited her in to see the walkie-talkies. She looked so relieved at the idea that I thought she might cry. I was so heavily medicated that I felt perfectly benign towards them both and besides, it was time to discover another country.

And then one of Steve’s fillings fell out…….!