'I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out 'til sundown, for going out, I found was really going in.' John Muir

I've seen the top of Everest (from a long way off), smelled the breath of a whale (from way too close) and lived on a boat in Greece (for a few years), but I continue to experience some of my most precious moments right outside my backdoor.

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Thursday, 24 April 2014

Trieste to Greece - eventually (from our slow campervan trip)

Another instalment from our slow trip to Greece.....

We left Venice for Trieste, to catch the ferry to Greece.
Trieste is almost in Slovenia, it only became part of Italy in 1918. The elegant neo-classical buildings along the front hark back to the days when it was a great Austro-Hungarian port.

We parked the van in the ferry port and walked along the bustling water front, past gin palaces and sleek yachts to the Piazza dell’Unita d’Italia, a grand square, like a mini St. Mark’s in Venice, with mosaic decorated buildings, a fancy fountain and ornate chiming clock. Making the most of our last day in Italy, we took thick creamy ice creams to the fountain seat and settled in to watch the evening crowd at their ‘passegata.’  Swallows swooped and Grandparents scuttled after kids on pink trikes, young couples cuddled and elderly folk greeted each other with cheek kisses. The golden mosaics gleamed in the amber evening sun. A grandmother sat down next to us, parking the buggy containing her two grandchildren facing us. In silence, with huge brown, unblinking eyes, they proceeded to watch our every lick and slurp.  That was one gelato I didn’t really enjoy.

At midnight, we were allowed to check-in then, we sort-of-slept in the van until 3am.  Boarding a Greek ferry is an experience in itself.  It bears no resemblance to getting the ferry at Dover, there are no lane numbers, hardly even any lanes.  Vehicles will be getting on and off at Ancona, Igoumenitsa and Patras so must somehow be parked in the appropriate place on board. There’s a lot of whistle blowing, a bloke tearing around in the dark on his motorcycle, waving drivers this way and that, and vehicles generally bunched wherever they see a space. 
By 5am people are tired and fraught waiting to board. Then the ferry men shout at you and wave their arms and insist you park in tiny spaces or right tight against a pillar or other vehicle and well, lets just say, we were glad to get on and went straight to our stuffy, window-less cabin to sleep.

We went on board armed with travel kettle, teabags, egg butties and lots of snacks.  Food on board isn’t great and is quite expensive.  When we finally emerged from our cabin, squinting like moles in the bright light, we sat and soaked up the sun on deck, reading and listening to the different languages all around us.

And then we heard, ‘Hello, fancy meeting you here.’ It was friends from Porto Heli where we lived on a boat for a few years. And before we could say ‘Efcharisto,’ we had been invited to Biff and Amy’s Beer Festival at Poseidon Studios.



Monday, 14 April 2014

...And then, Venice

Continuing our slow campervan trip to Greece

Venice dripped.  I saw it through a veil of fog and all its edges were soft and fuzzy.  Then the sun came out and made the black gondolas gleam, washing flapped over narrow green canals, peeling terracotta walls glowed and red geraniums shone under blue shuttered windows.

We leant on a tiny bridge as a Lawrence Llewellyn-Bowen look-alike sang 'Santa Lucia' to a gondola full of tourists. We splashed out 2 euros on a wobbly gondola ride directly across the Grand Canal, (it's what the locals do when there isn't a bridge nearby), ate huge triangles of pizza sitting on the canal steps and took ages choosing a flavour of creamy gelato. Like the Queen of Sheba on the Nile, I sat right up at the front on waterbus no.1 and travelled the length of the Grand Canal, past churches I knew were crammed full of jaw-dropping paintings by Tintoretto and Canaletto. Then we ducked into an Osteria opposite the yard where they make gondolas and sipped sparkling Prosecco before catching our water bus back to the campsite at Fusina. 




Monday, 7 April 2014

The Only Stork in the Village

Here he is, 'Storky White', he made a fantastic clicking-castanet sound with his beak each time he arrived back at his nest.  His Mrs hadn't joined him yet and after the coldest night we'd had in the van so far at minus 3 degrees C, I can't say as I blamed her!  We were parked in a designated campervan stop practically under his nest in the sleepy village of Chevannes sur l'Etang, Alsace, on our way to the Swiss border. Etangs are ponds and there are lots of them around the village with three way-marked routes to choose from. We picked one amongst watery woodlands and heard our first yellow-hammer singing 'a little bit of bread and no cheeeeeese.'  Storky White was hunkered down in his nest at 6.30pm, with only a bit of his tail visible and a blackbird sang his flutey song as we munched on crusty French bread and watched the sun sink behind a stand of willows.

Friday, 4 April 2014

Some Posts from Our Slow Campervan trip to Greece

(On March 12th we pointed our campervan east and began a trip to Greece to welcome the Spring.  Charlie has made me the most wonderful retreat on wheels - photos later - we travel slowly and live simply, by 'wild' camping).

The Night of a Thousand Cranes...

We spent our first night parked on Dover Prom, lulled to sleep by the shushing of waves on shingle.  Night two was spent on the edge of Lac du Der - Chantecoq, the largest lake in France.  We arrived to the sound of bugles and looked up to see thousands of cranes ribboning across the lilac sky towards their island roosting site. That night I dreamt of cranes dancing in stubble fields under the silver moon.
A bugling alarm clock woke us at 6am the following morning. I leapt out of bed, which only the sound of passing geese, and now cranes can make me do. I sleep-walked to the water's edge, a lone witness to the noisy take off of cranes, gliding low past the rising sun and sliding over water the colour of freshly sliced blood oranges. The sound was like a whole orchestra of those long trumpets with banners below being blown to herald the start of a medieval jousting tournament. A flock of curlew joined in the chorus and a chiff-chaff or two added some rhythm.

Later we found La Ferme aux Grues (Farm of the Cranes) and climbed to the top of a tower hide to watch 50 feeding cranes po-go-ing and bugling whilst a spec of a skylark poured its high brow song over the brash punk rockers.
We watched great crested grebes doing their courtship display, coming together to form their necks into a heart shape, heard green woodpeckers laughing and chiff-chaffs, reed buntings, sparrows, blackbirds, thrushes, curlews, starlings and herons.  

Spring had arrived in France and the air was filled with the glorious sound of it; bugling, trumpeting, yaffling, honking, chirping, tweeting, splashing, flapping, fluttering, buzzing, swishing, drumming, clicking, whistling and barking.