Published: August 6th 2012July 29th 2012
Friday, July 27
The train/bus journey between Athens and Patras wasn't as fraught as we expected though it was tedious. The train runs between Athens Airport and Kiato via Corinth and only skirts the outer suburbs of Athens so it is first necessary to take the Metro from the city to one of the outer-urban stations and change trains to the inter-city train.
Once out of Athens, the train follows the coastline for much of the way. It was a comfort to see the water again after being so long in cities. Where we live in Budgewoi, the sea is only a few minutes away and the pounding of the waves and the smell of the ocean is a constant background which we rarely notice until it is absent.
From Kiato to Patras the existing narrow guage railway is gradually being replaced with standard guage and the line has been closed. The train has been replaced by a coach which follows the coastline – sometimes scarily close to the water and the cliff-face. Sylvia found it almost as bad as flying and even I clutched at my arm-rest a couple of times as the coach leaned out over
a steep drop into the sea but eventally we arrived in one piece at Patras where we could see our ferry at the dock just a few minutes walk away.
As we had a couple of hours to spare before we needed to check in we left our bags in the left luggage office, retreated from the heat to a cafe and had a late lunch before wandering around the centre of Patras. It was very quiet as most shops were closed for siesta but it seemed to be a pleasant enough small port town.
When we went back to collect our luggage for the walk to the boat, I noticed a train pulling into the station so I asked the woman in the ticket office whether it went as far as the ferry terminal. Thank goodness I did because that terminal had been closed and all of the ferries now sail from a new terminal six kilometres away. Oops! Luckily we had enough time to take a taxi to the new terminal.
For a ship on which we would be spending the better part of two days, the ferry was a little disappointing. Facilities were minimal
and food and drink expensive. The English channel ferry from Dover to Calais, which only takes an hour or so, has better services. Our cabin was comfortable though cramped but we didn't spend much time there apart from sleeping so it didn't really matter. Saturday, July 28
The ferry called in at Kerkira (Corfu) and Igoumenitsa but we weren't able to disembark. As the Kerkira landing was about 4am, we didn't get any photos but, later in the morning, after leaving Igoumenitsa, we passed close enough to the island to get a distant photo of the Temple of Cassiopea.
When we went up on deck this morning, Sylvia was amazed to find that people had set up little camps all over the deck. Most were just a blow-up mattress and a sleeping bag but some had tents and screens and several people had even strung up hammocks. She had never seen “deck” class before and was a bit outraged that they had taken over all of the best vantage points on the boat – not to mention the small lounge and bar. Having travelled “deck” several times in my youth, I tried to explain that
she should not be intimidated and that they had no more right to the space than she did but she never did feel confidant enough to barge into the space and use it herself.
We sailed close to the Albanian coast for most of the day and I was surprised at how arid and rocky it was. For some reason I had always pictured it as fertile and green. There was a lot of sea haze for most of the journey as the weather was still very hot so our photos are a bit misty but the memory is clear.
During the day we met a young Greek couple who were migrating with their two children to Luxembourg as they were unable to find work in Greece. Their story seems to be fairly common as many of the Greek people we spoke with were either contemplating getting out of Greece or had friends/relatives who had already done so. I remember reading in a Sydney paper that there had been a marked increase in the number of young Greeks arriving in Australia for a “working holiday” in the last six months.
We also met a family of refugees
from Iraq who were on their way to Sweden where they had been granted asylum. Their tale was very sad but, I suspect, not atypical for refugees from any war zone. Sunday, July 29
Our ferry's arrival in Venice was complicated by the simultaneous arrival of five cruise ships. The port area was chaotic and it took us over two and a half hours to travel what should have taken less than half an hour.
There is a free shuttle bus every ten minutes from the ship to the gates of the port but it only holds about twenty people and there were at least a hundred wanting to get on. After waiting about half an hour and not being able to get on three shuttle busses, we managed to get on a coach from one of the cruise ships but, when we got to the port gates, there was another wait of about an hour while we queued to get on the monorail which would take us to Venice proper.
Whoever designed Venice did not have to carry their own bags! All of the bridges have steps. Even the new bridge, built in
the 1960s, which takes you to the railway station has about thirty steps up and then thirty steps down. A kind gentleman took Sylvia's case and offered to carry it for her. Fortunately, as he was disappearing into the distance with Sylvia in pursuit, he was stopped by a passing policeman and Sylvia's suitcase was returned.
We queued (again) for nearly an hour to leave our bags at the left luggage office and then headed off into town to see what we could in the few hours we had left before we boarded our train to Paris and London.
The first thing we learned is that you can't do it without a map (more queuing). The streets are a maze and though there are some directional signs they are not very helpful. We followed signs pointing to the Piazza San Marco but we never did find it, even though we wandered around for over four hours.
We did find other beautiful places, though, and churches and canals and boats and people galore. For us, the highlight was the church of Saint Maria del Frari. Full of tombs from the late 14th
century, with wall frescoes even older,
we spent almost a hour inside. Unfortunately we were not allowed to take photos so you'll have to go yourselves (or it might be on the net).
Next blog from Wallingford in England.
There are more photos below