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August 13th 2014
Published: August 16th 2014
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10th August

Very peaceful nights sleep in the hotel in Xanthi. 4 of us made breakfast before 10 and were still eating when it closed at 10.30. Then we drove into and through Kavala and found a lovely beach - no wind today so the sea is unbelievably flat. Hot though - 30 something so the sea is refreshingly cool. Filled up with petrol before getting to the beach and the guy filling the tank graduated from Southampton the same year as Christopher. Nice beach, lovely warm sea, massive jellyfish 😊 just the one. Hopefully got some good pictures with the underwater camera. Should have brought the GoPro though as that takes good pictures underwater I believe.

Next stop a bite to eat in a cool Taverna? We got back in the car and travelled a little further away from Kavala and found this lovely town with a marina and frontage on the sea - including an amusement arcade and had snacks and drinks there. Then we walked along the front - had a lovely ice-cream and headed back to the car and back via the E90/A2 to Xanthi. Reasonably quick journey the road is lovely and easy to travel along. We got back to the hotel about 17:50 and went in for a long swim before the pool shut at 19:00. Then we hung around the hotel using the nice fast internet and the impressive lobby until we went out about 8.20.

As the hotel is on the outskirts of the city we drove I to the centre. For a Sunday night it's heaving - the centre square is alive with people parading their children up and down. We wandered around a little and then found a nice traditional restaurant on the edge of the square to sit at. A Greek man said the food was "very nice" and we took his word at it. It was and very reasonable - native Greek prices not tourist prices. We perhaps over-ordered as we'd eaten at the marina but the swimming had made us a little hungry and most of it went.

10.00 on a Sunday night and the streets are alive with people. Slowly went back to the car past cafés and bars with hundreds of people sitting outside. Then drove back to the hotel where we played a few hands of cards before retiring to bed.

Monday is our last day in Greece as we are heading back to Bansko tonight - we will probably stop at a big cave system near Drama as that will be cooling.

We drove from Xanthi along the motorway to Kavala and then hung a right up into the mountains towards Drama. Great drive on a good road. Then we stopped at the Aggitis caves which are about 20 km outside Drama on the way to Bulgaria. Superb cave system, very well done and we went round without a guide as the guide spoke little English. The cave system is a constant year round temperature of 17 C - great when the temperature outside is approaching 35 C. We spent a while in the cave system - one of the best I've seen for a while even though you only go about 500 metes in and the cave is many kms long. Massive caverns and stalactites make it all the more impressive. Not supposed to take pictures but I managed a sneaky few without flash.

When we came out it felt like things had really heated up as the temperature was double the cave system! We scuttled back into the air conditioned car and continued our journey towards Bansko - which was about 90 minutes away. As we went over the border and back into Bulgaria - passports required - we saw the start of the lightening a few miles away. We were looking for somewhere to have a few rolls and crisps as a picnic and were looking for a suitable stopping point but unfortunately the heavens opened and it rained and hailed. At one point the temperature dropped to 17 C and it was raining so heavenly the traffic pulled over to the side of the road with hazard warning lights on.

The rain quickly stopped and we were of again and we watched the thermometer in the car gradually rise to 30 C. As we hadn't found anywhere suitable to stop we continued to Paul and Mary's apartment and were there by about 4. Driving time today less than 3 hours. From Bansko to Thassos which is a lovely Greek Island if you hit the ferry at the right time could well be less than 3 hours! It is definitely less than 3 hours to Kavala and their are some gorgeous beaches there.

We had a picnic on the balcony. This will be our last stop before coming home so we unpacked the bags to pack for the plane. Then we relaxed, read and inter netted... The internet in Prespa is blindingly quick faster than at home even with BT Infinity... And I think on a par with Cornwall which currently is a bit quicker than Wycombe. It means those that want to stream YouTube etc can with ease... Lots of internet ting done!

7.30 was agreed on for going out - so people washed and made themselves ready and we headed out via the back of the Lion hotel and across the paths to Pirin Street. We needed a few presents so popped in and out of a few souvenir shops - Eleanor got her sheep/cow bells, I managed to find my kissing pigs 😊 Then as we'd walked far enough down Pirin Street we found a great place to eat called Tavern Bunare - www.bunare.com - still a bit of a tourist trap but local enough to serve good food. 2 or 3 beers, food, salads for 5 for less than 50 pounds.

As we walked back up Pirin Street we stopped at a small shop for some drinks - I got a 2 litre bottle of Zagorka (the local beer) with 30% extra for 2.59 Lv - just over a pound for the equivalent of four pints. If you bought local food and beer you could live here for a fraction of what you pay in the UK. As an example a Kg of peppers was about 20p, Watermelon is less than 20p a kilo - about 12p we worked it out at. Pasta for 5 for multiple meals would be less than £1. I can see why some British ex pats spend at least part of the year here.

Arriving back at the apartment we drank and played cards until people disappeared of to their rooms.

The penultimate day was warm - in fact for Bansko very warm. I had to get up in the night and open the balcony door to let a breeze through. As soon as I'd done that it called down quickly. As we'd been up very late people slept in and we had a brunch in the park in Bansko after going to the Lidl in Razlog for some supplies. The park is cool in the summer heat and lots of people are pushing their children around in prams. It's a real communist era park though with very little maintenance, the trees have grown, the grass has died and the boating lake is falling apart. It's a shame really as it would be a great attribute for Bansko to have.

We brunched and walked around the park - nice BMX track as well. Then we headed back into town for some shopping. They were warming up for the Jazz festival which is on from the 8th to the 13th. We bought some local sweeties and then headed back to the apartment via the Carrefour.

More internetting, packing and relaxing was undertaken. Sad to hear Robin Williams had died - great comedian. Cleaned the sand out of the car - seemed to have most of a Greek beach in it.

Need a few more things so are heading back down Pirin Street as it cools - around 7.30. Then heading round the Gondola and to Victoria before having a look at the Gondola and the Kempinski.

We headed out at about 7.30 and walked a little way down Pirin Street but not as far as Bar 75 - which was a happening place when Paul and I were here 3 years ago but is now locked up. Doing an about turn we headed via the Gondola - all the little ski carriages safely put away for the summer. There are reports of them working on it but we didn't see any evidence at all - it's a great loss to Bansko not having it running in the summer as people will and do to elsewhere.

Then we wandered past the Kempinski and up to the Victoria - the hotel the Victoria is based in is allowing people to use it's spa and sauna for a minimal fee - I think it was 7 Lv.

Absolutely great meal at the Victoria - they do stunning Pizza and I had 500 ml of a fine Cabernet Savignon for less than £3. We left quite late and went up the street and through the dark unfinished road back to Prespa for our last night. We were all quite tired and packed and cooled down - we were planning on getting up at 8 so that we could leave for the airport at 9.

Got up a bit before 8 as it was another glorious day - we packed the car and I set the SatNav for Terminal 2 departures - it was saying 2 hours and 14 minutes. Everyone was up by 8.45 ish and we left at about 9.10. Thanks again Paul and Mary for letting us use your Bansko apartment it makes a great base for this part of the world. The first bit of the journey is upwards out of the Bansko bowl and the down from the mountains. The road isn't bad - apart from a single stretch they are working on and we made good time. We were due to hand the car back at 12 in the same place we picked it up from so arriving on the outskirts of Sofia at about 11 we thought we'd have time to spare.

Driving in Sofia is a bit of a challenge - very little in the way of road signs and no-one seems to take any notice of the lanes or signalling. In fact one of the newer roads had 3 lanes with no road markings and you could amble from lane to lane quite happily. People push in wherever they want - so you drive like a Bulgar and do the same. The road surfaces in Sofia are generally like Talbot Avenue apart from the few major thoroughfares. Without a GPS we would still be driving round and round....

We eventually got to the airport with the car still in one piece around 11.50 - so allowing 3 hours for the drive - as we didn't stop anywhere is probably a good bet. The car was quite low on diesel but that is how I received it and we parked where we picked it up and got the bags out. It wasn't long before Bulgarian Border Security moved us on and I drove the car to the other end of the line and as I walked back came across the man from MotoRoads ready to pick-up the car. Very little English but I got the form from him, gave him the keys, told him it needed a service (and a Battery service) which were the messages I was getting. Either the battery was going or the alternator, I think possibly the battery as the car was 5 years old. Would I use MotoRoads again - probably they we're half the cost of the Avis/Europcar type people for a bigger car - but it all seemed a bit dodgy picking the car up outside the airport on the verge, the car warned of an oil service within 500 km so we did 1500 km with it telling us this every time we switched it on... Then there was the battery charging issue. However, none of this lead the car to missing a beat and taking us to places you would be surprised it managed... The difference with the big boys is if it goes wrong they have offices near you, MotoRoads would have to send someone out or get someone they know... I may be doing them a dis-service but when travelling multiple countries I think I'll pay a bit more for the comfort of support in case something goes wrong.

With the car of our hands we headed into Terminal 2, checked in, dropped the bags and headed through security/passport control - again Bulgarians don't seem to know how to politely queue so act like a Bulgar. Once we had found our way through the many levels of security we went into the Swissport lounge using our Priority Pass - well mine as Catherine had left hers at home. Very quiet, very clean, limited food but nice coffee, canapés and cold drinks.

Our plane was called at 13.55 so we wandered down to Gate B7 with the ladies picking up a squirt of perfume as they went past the shops. We walked into B7 and straight onto the plane - excellent timing. Everyone was on board and ready to leave a few minutes early so we taxied about 14:20 - circled over London and eventually landed about 20 minutes late at 15:45 - we gain 2 hours coming back.

Arrived back about 15:35 and sat on the airport runway as they brought out a mobile stand for us to get off - 30 to 40 minutes later we were in the terminal - picked up the bags, strolled through customs (blue gate) and then met by the nice Taxi man who took us home - the cat was extremely happy to see us!

That's it for this year - join us next year on Route 66

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