We left Athens after lunch on another bright blue sky day and took the backroads through the mountains and around the coast of the Korinthiokos Kolpos which was an enormous body of water of the inner Mediterranean which stretched from the bay of Corinth to the eastern bay of Patras.

We stopped at the lovely town of Itea and then wound our way up the mountain to Delphi which we reached about 4.30pm. It was an easy two hour drive. We went straight to the archeological ruins to see the Temple, the amphitheatre and Sanctuary of Apollo which stretched up the mountain side and across the road and further down the valley. There were few tourists there as we had decided to leave sightseeing until late in the afternoon when most of the tour buses had left for the day. In Greece most of the sites and museums are open from 8am until 8pm in Summer which gave us plenty of time take it easy in the morning.

We had probably the best view from the campsite (which was more like a resort) in all of Delphi with views down to Itea and to the bay and to the other surrounding towns. It was particularly beautiful at night with all the lights glistening below. A lovely pool and bar/restaurant area overlooked the amazing view and we made the most of it having dinner and breakfast outside.
The mosquitoes had been a problem previously as we had both got bitten so we made sure we had mosquito coils lit before nightfall. There were few campers at the site which was curious given the view and the facilities and at only 16euros a night it was a steal.

The next morning so we stopped at a quaint little town of Amfissa which had at least twenty bar/cafes and all with someone having their morning coffee or beer!
I dispensed with the Tom Tom which wanted to take either on the motorway or down goat tracks. We had to back out of a couple of them so I reverted to “ME maps” on the tablet and the paper map which proved more successful.

The spectacular scenery continued as we drove up into the mountains and it felt like being on top of the world. The wide There were vast crops of corn, tomatoes and other greens stretching for kilometres in the wide valleys as well as vast areas of olive plantations. We continued towards Volos and on to our next campsite of “Hellas Camping” at Kato Gatzea, another idyllic place right on the beach. The owners welcomed us with a handshake (the first we had had from a campsite) and showed us to a place a couple of metres from the water – bliss for the next three nights. The weather was perfect – around 30degrees and dry. There were quite a lot of people the day we arrived but by 9.30pm when it started to get dark all was quiet.

We had a lay day and just walked into the town about five minutes away to have a drink and then for some exercise in the other direction to the town of Kala Nera about fifteen minutes away which was far more touristy so we went back to our campsite by the beach to have a Greek salad (they all serve it with a slab of feta cheese on top)a large fresh cod, boiled potatoes and broccoli which was all delicious and with 250ml of red wine came to 29euros.

Following was another lazy day spent trying to sort of “wordpress” imaging problems and getting coffees from the restaurant. A bit of rain kept everyone indoors until late afternoon afternoon when the sun came out and people started getting into the It rained a little in the morning but by the afternoon the sun was out again. I bought some good red homemade wine for a couple of euros from the local small supermarket where we stocked up on peaches and nectarines that were very cheap,smelt wonderful and tasted delicious.

We made our way north past Volos and along yet another very scenic mountain road from Larisa which passed to the west of Mt Olympus and on to Thessaloniki. We saw no traffic for a couple of hours and being a Sunday no one was on the road before about 11am. There was much land devoted to agriculture and all the crops looked very green and lush.
Our most expensive toll highway which we took for ten minutes cost us ten euros, five times more than that for a car.

It was quiet driving through Thessaloniki on the Sunday as all the shops were closed as were all the large supermarkets like “Lidl” and “Carrefour” along the way. The only queues we saw were at a couple of ATM’s where people were lining up to get some cash. We tried about four different ones on the way into theh city until we found one with some money. The government closed the banks the following day for a week and limited residents to 60euros a day for the following week. They then advised that they would open the banks on Wednesday only for pensioners and those that did not have ATM cards. Foreigners were not affected by the restriction at the ATMs.

The campsite of Akti Retziki was in another prime location on the beach on the south east bay of Thessaloniki and which also happened to be the closest beach to the city. We arrived on a hot Sunday afternoon and the place was overrun with cars and holiday makers. The following morning the whole place was deserted and we virtually had the campsite to ourselves bar a couple of other campers. Monday was spent at the beach and doing the washing and cooking. I made stuffed eggplants with a rice mixture.

There was no bus yet (1st July it started) from the campsite to Thessaloniki so we drove the half hour to the enormous Ikea store where we could park the van and take the bus from the bus station next door. Diesel in Greece ranged from 1.13euros to 1.27euros a litre, much cheaper than the rest of Europe. It took us another half hour to get into the centre of town where we decided against the hop on hop off bus and opted to walk for a few hours and get the feel of the city. There were again hundreds of cafe/bars and restaurants in leafy side streets and a lovely wide promenade by the harbour.

It was a coolish, cloudy day, unsusual for the time of year (nearly July). There were several Greek Orthodox churches and a fewnew large ones being built. Some of the architecture of the old appartment buildings was beautiful but there were also many derelict and vacant shops in one section near the port. There were many interesting food and specialty shops in another area and the usual Zara and H & M stores as well as the Marks and Spencers in the main street.

we stopped to share a slice of spanakopita (spinach and feta pie) at a local shop where we used sign language. There were groups of locals in most of the cafes. We had several discussions with locals in cafes and on the bus about the crisis that the Greeks were experiencing.
We didn’t find too many shop owners that spoke English and then we would come across one who when we asked if they spoke English said “Of course” so we enlightened her that “of course” was not always the case. No one that we asked in the north seemed to speak any other language either except in the campsites. We caught the bus back to Ikea and the huge storm that had been brewing broke and the thunder,lightning and torrential rain continued for half an hour taking out a lot of traffic lights on the highway which made for hestiant driving. There was a lot of water on the road so we made our way slowly back to the campsite where by the beach where it had barely rained at all.

The 1st July saw us making our way east via Kavala to Alexandropouli. It was a cool and rainy morning with a lot of mist and low cloud in the mountains and clear but dull and overcast by the sea. Driving by the sea there were a group of archeologists excavating right next to the highway and across the road from the sea.
All over Greece there were many unfinished buildings – commercial and residential amongst the established houses and flash new two storey ones. A lot of houses had solar panels on their rooves and there were many in the fields although almost no wind turbines unlike in Italy.

We listened to a bit of Greek music on our radio but we could only take the bouzoukia for so long. A lot of the songs sounded almost Arabic.
We stopped at a large Carrefour supermarket and bought some “pink lady” apples from Chile under licence to Australia. They were as good as the ones from home.
The temperature rose from 16 degrees in the morning to 29 degrees in the afternoon although the day stayed cloudy. Spain and France were getting the temperatures that Greece should have been experiencing at this time of year.
Taking our time took us about seven hours to get to Alexandroupoli and our last campsite in Greece for a while. Off to Turkey the following day.

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Greece (like Oman) has many spellings for it’s towns and islands – Aegina or Egina and Piraeus or Pireus or Pireas, Oia or Ia and on top of that all signs in the Greek alphabet. It made it difficult when looking at the Tom Tom which didn’t recognise the spelling we used. Google translate is also good but not for English to Greek as it only translates to the Greek alphabet!

We left the Peloponnese on the 13th of June for the ferry port of Piraeus, taking the van over to the island of Aegina, one of the closest islands to Athens in the Saronic Gulf of the Mediterranean for a couple of days. The slow ferry only took an hour and ten minutes. Friends of our friend Ruth in Lubeck own a hotel close to Agia Marina and they were happy for us to leave the van there while we took the ferry back to Piraeus, bus to the airport and then flew over on Aegean airlines to Santorini for a few days. The buses and ferrys were very clean and ran very smoothly and were a pleasant surprise after hearing many stories of ferries being cancelled and long delays. We experienced none of that.

Aegina is a picturesque island with pine and olive trees and is renown for it’s pistacchio nuts. We passed many groves of the trees on our way across the island to Kavos Bay. The Kavos Bay hotel was about a 20minute walk from Agia Marina on the north east coast of the island and was on it’s own at the tip of the island. It was a very relaxing spot and the rooms and restaurant overlooked the very blue water of the Mediterranean. A rocky path took us down to the clear water for a swim although it was a bit tricky getting into the water because of all the rocks. Access to the water was much easier nearer Agia Marina.

We were very pleased that we didn’t take the van to Santorini as the traffic was bumper to bumper for most of the day with quad vehicles and hire cars driven by tourists who couldn’t drive. This coupled with local traffic, delivery vehicles and the huge coaches taking tourists from one end of the island to the other and coaches taking the thousands of tourists from the cruise ships around the island made driving a nightmare.

We were lucky that we could avoid the crowds by walking around early in the morning or later in the day (it didn’t get dark until about ten o’clock) once the cruise ships had left. One day five cruise ships and between 10-15,000 tourists were on the island, making their way around the caldera with many older people staggering up and down the steep steps. Cable cars brought most people up the mountain while a few hardier ones used the steps or rode the donkeys who were led down to the base of the cliffs every morning. At least they looked well fed when we saw their keeper take them up our street (a little way off the hectic part of town)in the morning and down again at night.

Santorini was so much busier than when I first went there about thirty years ago. There were a few shops selling carved items of olive wood or glass souvenirs but most of them sold the very boring cheap and nasty ones with Santorini written all over them. A lot of the ceramic items were no longer glazed. It was however still a magical island especially at night with a wonderful atmosphere sitting overlooking the sea, the volcano and the caldera way below at a superb restaurant with wonderful food and service or having a cocktail and watching the sunset which was not until about 8.45pm. The restaurants we chose – La Maison, Salt and Pepper and Melitini were all excellent with very varied food and no Mousaka or Pastitso to be found which was fine as most restaurants we had been to in Greece in the past three weeks offered a limited range of traditional Greek food. I had cooked most of our meals in the van with fresh produce especially the blood red delicious tomatoes. We especially enjoyed the “Fava” boiled split peas pureed and eaten with chopped onions and olives.

La Maison in Imerovigli had a delicious variety of beautifully presented foods while Salt and Pepper in Fira Stefani had very fresh fish and seafood and Melitini in Oia offered innovative Greek tapas. The cocktails at Palia Kameni and the service at all of the restaurants was exceptionally good and prices were surprisingly reasonable given their position overlooking the caldera.

The Fira (Thira)side of the island was very rugged with whitewashed appartments, hotels,bars and restaurants down towards the sea. Along some of the roads we even found some gum trees. We took the bus (a very frequent and good bus serviced the island) to Oia (Ia). The other side of the island to Thira was not so rocky and more graduated down to the sea with vineyards and various crops.

The architecture of Oia although also on a series of cliffs was somewhat different and it seemed more of an upmarket residential area amongst the restaurants,hotels and appartments. We did go to Oia to see the sunset but it was not a very special one that night. We arrived at Melitini too early (about 7pm) when it was still very humid and very hot sitting in the sun for the first hour or so.

We had decided to take the 4 1/2 hours ferry back to Piraeus the next morning and then transfer onto another ferry back to Aegina. We met two English girls Mattea and Anya on the bus down to the ferry port so they came and sat with us in our VIP section of the boat which was very pleasant and it made the journey seem very quick. It rained slightly on the way back but had cleared up by the time we arrived in Pireaus. We couldn’t change our tickets for the ferry back to Aegina for an earlier one so we bought new ones at 13euros each and left within the hour. The fast ferry only took 40minutes so when we arrived we ate dinner at Droumaki on the seafront before getting a taxi back to the Kavos Bay hotel for a couple of nights.

We walked into town from the hotel the following day, had lunch overlooking the small port of Agia Marina and relaxed for the rest of day ready for our departure at 2pm the following day back to Athens. The Tom Tom took us down impossibly narrow streets again so that I had to get out and guide Van Mauriceson away from the walls in Aegina old town before we parked. We again stopped at Droumaki and had lunch and bought some fresh fruit and vegetables before heading for the ferry where there was virtually no one else on board as it was a Saturday lunchtime.

It was an easy drive through Athens to “Camping Athens” a small but very well appointed campsite. A major highway was directly outside but that was the only downside. The receptionist was very helpful and highlighted how we were to get to the centre of Athens via a bus right opposite the campsite and then a quick metro ride to the centre of the city. We landed at Syntagma square where we saw the changing of the guard in all their regalia with pom poms on their shoes which looked very cute. We were there quite early so we went into Amalia National park adjacent to the parliament building. Amalia was the German wife of the first (German) king of Greece. She developed the park and it had a mini zoo with mountain goats, rabbits,geese,ducks and many types of birds.

By the time we made our way back with half an hour to go to watch the changing of the guard there were thousands of people already lined up in the blazing sun. To beat the crowds we left once the change had taken place and walked through Syntagma square and down to the Monastiraki and the Plaka area which was also teeming with people. We walked around for about five hours with a short lunch break and then caught the metro and bus back to the campsite.

We opted the following day for the free walking tour of Athens. It was spitting with rain for a short while before the day improved to a warm one although not very sunny. Maria had studied art history and was well informed about all aspects of Greek history, culture and economics. She was a very interested and interesting guide for the 14 of us that opted for this walk. Athens was very easy to get around on foot and there was much to see and hear about in the three hours. Many of the archaeological sights are in the central part of the city and in the Plaka (the hotel and restaurant area) and in the Monastiraki which is full of gold and souvenir shops. There are many parks and the feeling was one a very leafy green centre. Athens viewed from the water is a sea of white buildings spreading up the many hills around the city. It was only supposed to be a temporary capital and therefore was planned for between 40 and 60,000 people and then the capital was going to be moved to Istanbul. This never happened and what Athens has today is a burgeoning sprawling city of about over 600,000 people and greater Athens wirh over 4 million inhabitants not taking into account maybe another million illegal immigrants.

Many of the shop owners in the Monastiraki spoke an Ozzie English as they had lived for some or many years in Australia or had relations there. Melbourne has the largest Greek community outside of Greece so that wasn’t a surprise.
Part of the tour was walking through the Syntagma metro station. There was a lot of controversy about the construction of the metro given there were many archeological ruins and remains (parts had been cemeteries) so when they built it they retained or recontructed the layers of what was there including an open stone coffin with a skeleton. There were also artifacts in glass cabinets in some of the stations as well as modern sculptures which made them an interesting part of the city.
We had a vegetarian pitta in one of the more modern establishments and after buying a kilo of cherries for 1.69euros and a nice gold ring for me and a leather wallet for Maurice made our way back with sore feet to the campsite.

There were a few newly arrived camping cars – one with a friendly dog and one with a friendly cat Junior pronounced (shunior) He was French. Again the animals were well behaved and not a sound from them until they went on their walks out of the campsite. I attempted to replicate the “Fava” (yellow split peas, boiled, pureed and eaten with chopped onions, capers and olives) that we had eaten on Aegina after getting the recipe from the waiter but it didn’t quite taste the same. I since found another recipe online that I will try. The large Aegina tomatoes and yellow capsicum stuffed with a rice mixture we enjoyed on a number of occassions. We bought many peaches and nectarines which were extremely tasty.

The Acropolis and archaeological museum were left for our last day in Athens as well as the old cemetery area of Keramicos at the confines of the old city. It was about a twenty minute hike up to the Acropolis which was covered in scaffolding with a massive reconstruction underway. In order to differentiate the original from the new, they are now using a lighter coloured material in the columns and building structures. We walked from the top of the Acropolis down through the ancient Roman Agora or market to see the Stoa of Attalos an enormous two storey structure which has been totally reconstructed. Behind that is the Monastiraki area and beyond that the Keramikos ancient cemetery. Our feet had had enough for a while so we stopped at a nice little cafe where we must have looked hot as the owner came rushing over with complimentary water for us. There are many very upmarket cafes and patisseries also in the suburbs which we discovered on our way out of town.
The Thesseion metro station was nearby so we caught it and left it at Omonia square where we walked another twenty minutes up to the National Archaeological museum which was interesting with many artifacts, statues and marble steles in various states ranging from parts of a leg to some complete and beautiful statues from the period 100 to 500BC. We saw a gathering for a demonstration against the proposals put forward by the government. I’m sure there will be many more.

Our legs and feet had really had it by then so we caught the metro and bus back to the campsite which only took half an hour.
We thoroughly enjoyed our four nights in Athens and the friendly, welcoming and helpful nature of it’s inhabitants. We found the city, trains and buses to be very clean and tidy although there was much graffiti everywhere like in other major cities.

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It turned out to be a wonderfully calm crossing from Bari to Igoumenitsu on the north west coast of Greece on the 1st June.

It was our first “camping on board” experience. Choc a block with every kind of vehicle,truck, campervan, caravans and even a boat. Part of the sides of the ferry on the car deck were open and we could go up to the lounges, restaurants etc but we had a picnic in the camper instead before sleeping in our bed in the camper. We had electrical connections for the airconditioning and lighting but there was no cooking allowed via gas or electricity. The view of the Anek’s sister ship should tell you why! The Costa Delizioso, a sister to the Costa Concordia was also next to us.
The ship had cages and a peeing area (for the pets) – all very civilised.
It was beautiful up on deck – nice and warm and a there was a beautiful sunset in Italy followed by an amazing sunrise in Greece. It was rather cool when we arrived (it was 0530) and we drove through a lot of fog in the mountains towards Meteora which took us about three hours after a stop for breakfast and a Greek coffee – no cappuccino but a strong espresso in a very small, local village where the conversation stopped for a minute as we arrived.
Yellow fragrant bushes along the mountain roads as well as the new green foliage and colourful pink thistle like flowers were in abundance.

We drove at a leisurely pace along the excellent highway and then secondary road to Meteora. There were a couple of toll roads and the first pay station decided to charge us six euros and the second 2.40euros instead of six. In Greece they take the height of the vehicle as opposed to the length (taken in every other country we have visited). The first girl decided to add on the height of the airconditioner – All Greek to me.

Meteora is known for it’s enormous rock formations, many with monasteries perched on top. A truly magical sight. The weather was perfect and we managed to avoid a lot of the bus loads of tourists who were arriving as we were leaving to find our “Camping Kastraki” campsite which was below some of the spectacular formations.

We visited a couple of the monasteries the following day climbing the steep steps without too many people again and then driving further up into the mountains where the air was very fresh and the views spectacular. The rock formations are restricted to a small area compared with the expanse of mountain ranges around them. We stopped at a cafe at the top and had a drink before we headed back down the slopes, stopping to avoid a couple of tortoises, one of which we nearly ran over. I got out of the van and urged him back onto the grass and we then saw his partner across the road and another one further down trying to cross the road. When he saw us coming he retreated pretty quickly.
There were a number of stray dogs wandering on their own along the road and a few cats waiting for some titbits near the entrance to the monasteries.

A leaking gas connection sent us to the camping personnel who referred us to a shop in town to be told they could do nothing but they then referred us to another shop. This went on for six shops until we finally found Mr Fallas (unfortunate name) just out of town who was more than helpful and fixed the problem. He showed us pictures of his seven male cousins in Sydney and also his motorbike that he was restoring in his shop. It took about an hour to solve the problem (which he hesitantly said was Maurice who had tightened the fitting too much). He said to Maurice that he spoke nice English but he couldn’t understand him. The conversation was lively without much comprehension on either side. He refused any payment so we went back the following morning with a couple of bottles of wine for him. Such a lovely man.

That evening we went for a drink to a new restaurant “Panorama” aptly named for it’s view of the town and some of the rock formations near the campsite. Maurice happened to look up and see a trail of goats making their way along the very precarious edges of the rockface and into it’s crevices. No wonder they are called mountain goats. They obviously stayed in one of the crevices for the night as they were still there sunning themselves when we left in the morning..

We found in the couple of days that we had been in Greece that English comprehension is very limited to language involved with selling souvenirs. The camping ground staff speak enough of about four languages to say what they need to but anything beyond that is pretty restricted.
Having said that, every one we have dealt with has been more than helpful (with sign language) and very friendly. I suppose
they really need to be to encourage as much tourism as possible given their current economic state.

The highways, roads and tunnels many of which appear brand new were probably built with EU money and made for very easy driving. Many of the cars were very old utes (30-40years old) and not in very good condition. There were however many new and large two storey houses dotted around the countryside and not many vacant shops in the villages and towns so things didn’t appear desperate. The coffee shops around the towns were also bursting with locals and many of the shops only took cash.

We left Meteora and took all day to drive up and down the very winding beautiful mountain roads with very little traffic to Arta. It reached 31degrees high up in the mountains and we stopped and had lunch in the van overlooking a wide valley. Vast forested areas covered most of the mountains and the wafting scent of the pines was all around us.
There were only a few little villages with scattered houses (not like the tightly packed hilltop villages in Italy).There were many scattered rocks on the road and a couple of minor landslides to avoid.
we saw another tortoise by the side of the road as well as a couple of dead badger like animals and a dead snake. It was more wildlife than we had seen in the entire last year of travel in the van.

Nearer to the coast the hills were a lot drier and covered with olive trees. We turned off and followed the road with it’s banks of oleander bushes to ” Enjoy Lichnos” campsite near Parga where we decided to have a couple of days by the beach. The campsite was right on the beach in a lovely bay and was touted as the most beautiful beach on the Ionian coast. It was indeed lovely and after an hour’s steep walk up and over the hill into Parga town we took the boat back to the campsite and had a swim. The weather was very changeable with sunshine, clouds and a bit of rain and sunshine again but it was nice and warm. The water was beautifully clear but getting in was a bit bracing!

More rain was expected the following day so we headed for Patras stopping along the way to have some lunch and to buy more fruit and honey from a roadside stall. The owner was very generous and gave us extra bananas and oranges even though the price was very reasonable. We passed through a lot of agricultural land with wheat and corn crops and thousands of kiwi fruit
trees.

We drove over the very impressive Rio-Antarrio bridge with a 13.20euro toll and to the large city of Patras for a look around and a coffee. Most of the bars and restaurants were well patronised, mainly with Greeks. We got our heart rates up for the day by climbing the 200 odd stairs to get a good view of the city and down to the sea.

Aginara Beach was our stop for the next couple of days and it was a beautiful spot on the coast overlooking the island of Zakynthos. It had a lovely bar overlooking the sea where we met up with two lovely couples Australians Bruce and Mary Rose from Mackay and Norma and Reece from South Africa. The Juventus/Barcelona match was showing but we all sat and chatted which made for a very pleasant evening. It was a lovely quiet camping place with a mixture of Dutch, German, Austrian and British campervans and caravans.
Our umbrella went up for the first time and our new table and chairs and so we had breakfast outside. The rest of Sunday was spent doing the washing, cooking and doing general household things. It was rather overcast for some of the day and we even had some spots of rain about 8pm. It didn’t get dark until about 9.30pm.

There was more rain forecast so we headed to Olympia to see the home of the Olympic games, the archeological ruins and museum. Many kilometres before and after Olympia there was an enormous amount of garbage at intervals along both sides of the road. We both said we wouldn’t want to be there in the height of Summer if it still hadn’t been collected.

We were again lucky with few tourists wandering around in the 31 degrees at the site. The ruins and museum took us about two hours. We noticed one sign which said that there was an interesting mosaic on the floor of one of the buildings. We however couldn’t enter the building so I asked one of the staff who was sitting on a rock why this was.
He said that some tourists had taken some pieces of the mosaic as souvenirs so the Greeks just covered it with sand and closed it off! We stopped by an orange orchard to have lunch and after fueling up (diesel is 30euro cents cheaper here than Italy) headed further south to Camping Kalogria after stopping at the lovely town of Kardamyli for a “cappuccino freddo” for me. We were astounded to see that there were at least twelve bars around the main centre of town. We stopped at Kalamata and bought some olives.
The temperature dropped to a cooler 24degrees as we drove over the mountains and there was much cloud and a bit of rain around.

Rain wasn’t on our menu for Greece and the locals said it was very unseasonal so we looked at the weather forecast and decided to press on to the east coast near Corinth to get some welcome sunshine for a few days. At least it wasn’t cold.
We didn’t pass any large shopping centres like the ones found in Italy and other European places only some small super markets and fresh fruit stalls where we bought delicious apricots and cherries for 2.50euros a kilo. There seemed to be more German spoken here than English which we found a bit surprising. Even some of the shop signs were in Greek and German.

South of Kalamata were many beautiful stone houses, old and new and these continued for much of the coast down past Aeropoli where we bought some good bread and had a break. The Greeks seem to be fond of sesame seeds which we found on most bread products.
We circled the middle southern finger of the Peloponnese which was spectacularly scenic from the very high mountain roads down to the sea.

There were also some abandoned and derelict stone houses in the small villages in that area and much of the terraced stone walled plots had long been left without any further cultivation. We left Areopoli and took the road through the mountains and valleys and across to the west coast town of Palaia Epidavros. We landed a prime site at “Bekas camping” about 4metres from the sea with lovely views to various islands. We settled in for a few days and walked in the morning along the beach to find a gaggle of geese enjoying the water and looking for cockles buried in the sand. Scores of orange and lemon orchards and some beautiful bouganvillea lined the streets into the town with it’s picturesque harbour and good coffee! A fish shop lured us in to buy a very fresh fish which we grilled for dinner that night.

This was the best camping spot we have found so far so decided to stay for four nights. The next day we walked to the ancient small theatre of Epidaurus and then over the hill to the town where we sat and enjoyed
the scenery over a coffee and then walked back along the foreshore to have a swim. The water was not as cold as on the west coast but not exactly warm. We saw the geese wandering around again as though they owned the place.

We had been recommended to eat fresh fish at Muria restaurant on the water’s edge not far from the campsite and were not disappointed. The meal of homemade dolmades, tomato, onion and caper salad and baked fetta with tomatoes followed by two kinds of grilled fresh fish was delicious washed down with some decent Rose.
Eleven kilometres outside the town was a much larger Amphitheatre at set amongst the pine covered hills. It was an amazing structure and so well preserved. Maurice stood in the centre and his voice carried right to the top of the theatre.
Someone explained that there were three acoustic zones and that from each of those zones the dialogue could be heard perfectly around the whole amphitheatre. That was another good climb to the top.

Another relaxing day followed with an hour’s walk into town with the scent of olive and fig trees and jasmine hedges then back for a swim in the crystal clear water.
Eating outside was a pleasure with no flies or mosquitoes.

On the 13th June we left the idyllic town and campsite of Palaia Epidavros and visited the ancient ruins of Corinth, an hour away before leaving the Peloponnese and driving on to the port of Piraeus to take the camper on the ferry (70euros) to the island of Aegina which is the closest inhabited island to Athens off the west coast.

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We flew back to Rome at the awful hour of 7am from Dublin and to a lovely 26degrees where we were met at the airport by city taxis and taken to our B and B to collect our heavier luggage and were then dropped at the main train station for our journedy of 2 1/2hours to Boiano. Our friend Liberato picked us up and we went directly to Roccamandolfi where we had dinner with him, his wife Giulia and their little girl of eighteen months Caterina who we have seen every six months from when she was 3months old. It was interesting to see her development from small baby to a happy, smiling toddler.

We went and uncovered the van in it’s nice dry garage on the 13th May ready for our Summer tour to Greece, Turkey and across Italy, France, Spain and to Morocco. It took us a week to organise our things and then have everything taken up to the van again and have it serviced in Campobasso and buy a few more useful things for the van.

We didn’t realise that onthe 16th May the “Giro D’Italia” cycle race was taking place on the neighbouring mountain “Campitello Matese” so we went into Boiano, half and hour away to see the parade of all the support and promotional vehicles.
We took our friends out to lunch to “La Locanda” in a small neighbouring village and had the usual four courses of a lunch.
Needless to say no further food was required for the rest of the day.

We really appreciate our base in Roccamandolfi where the mountains are beautiful,the air is fresh, there are no other tourists but the town is well supplied with five bars, a couple of pizzerias, a nice restaurant, a few general shops where you can actually smell the nectarines and tomatoes when you enter the doorway. There are many birds singing in the morning and in the afternoon you can hear the cuckoos across the valley. Ocassionally the wolves howl from across the mountains and we saw a fox crossing the road as well as the shepherd with his flock of sheep.

One afternoon we went up the mountain to an open field where they celebrate Ferr’Agosto (the biggest holiday in Italy)on the 15th August. We were lucky enough to be there on a couple of occasions where people camp out and BBQ and generally enjoy themselves.
We are sorry to be leaving our lovely friends and Maurice’s favourite little girl here Roccamandolfi. A great place for a relaxing holiday with lovelyl mountain walks.

We made our way leisurely to my relatives in Sezze on the 21st May stopping to buy some delicious fruit and fresh buffalo mozzarellas on the way. We spent a nice ten days with my relatives mainly eating and making merry with one trip to the coast visiting Nettuno/Anzio which I had heard a lot about because from the landings during the war in 1944.
We also attended a small cousin’s end of year production which was nice to see. She was an enthusiastic butterfly and another cousin was the group’s teacher for the last year and who organised the whole thing.

We made our way to the ferry in Bari on the 1st June for the ten hour trip to Igoumenitsa on the Greek coast to start our month long exploration of the mainland and a couple of the islands.

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We flew from Dubai and into Rome to drop our large bags in Rome at at our usual B and B as we only wanted to take hand luggage to Dublin. We also had dinner with Maurice’s brother and wife who had arrived the day after from Perth. We met at Piazza Navona and had a great dinner at “Mamma Rosa’s”. It was a beautiful sunny Sunday, twenty six degrees and there were thousands of tourists in the city.
Maurice and I flew to Dublin the following morning to a cold fourteen degrees and the weather over the next eight days was
mainly very cold, windy and raining.
We stayed at the Royal Marine, a lovely old hotel in Dun Laoghaire (pronounced Dun Leary) and our friend Mary from Meath came
and met us to have a lovely dinner overlooking the water at an Italian restaurant called “Toscana.
We met up the next day with Maurice’s German cousin and her husband to have another good Italian meal at “That’s Amore” in Monkstown.

The seaside walks along the coastal promenade at Dun Laoghaire, Sandycove and Glasthule are beautiful but warmer temperatures without cutting wind and rain would have been nicer.
Maurice’s sister Maura and her husband had also arrived in Dublin so it was nice to catch up with them as well as many other
cousins, spouses and children who had come from the USA, UK, Germany and Australia to celebrate his cousin Caroline’s 70th birthday. She had arranged a bus tour for twenty six of us over the wicklow mountains to Glendalough but unfortunately it was a wet, cold and very windy day and only the braver ones walked down to the lake while the others of us that wanted to remain warm and dry went to the bar. We had an excellent three course meal at the hotel.
After four days we moved to the “Windsor lodge” a very convenient and comfortable B and B where most of the other overseas cousins were staying.

The party for eighty people on a cold but fine day was held in her daughter’s house which luckily had had an extension done so that most of the guests could be seated inside.
The following day we were collected by Maurice’s german cousins and went down again to Wicklow to the “Wicklow Heather” in Laragh, an atmospheric old restaurant for lunch with Paul another cousin from the McCarthy side of the family and we then went on to Kilmacurragh National Botanical gardens which were spectacular with their amazing displays of Rhododendron and other colourful bushes and flowers.

We had a wonderful family reunion and celebration with far too much eating and drinking. Back to Italy on the 12th May.

Getting through to airside at Srinagar airport is a lengthy business. We realized that the security would be tight but that was an understatement. After having to firstly have our bags xrayed quite a way from the airport terminal and then again when we arrived at the terminal we had to fill in departure forms. They then practically turned all my bags inside out and we were frisked three times and had all our small wrapped items unwrapped. We checked in and luckily they checked our baggage through to Abu Dhabi but although it was a codeshare flight with Etihad from Delhi to Abu Dhabi they did not have the facility to issue us with a boarding card for the following flight. Luckily we enjoyed a very pleasant one hour flight to Delhi and were served us a beautifully presented tasty meal and drinks in the half hour before we started our descent.
We were told to just go to the transfer desk in Delhi and then go to the lounge which we wanted to do as we had about seven hours wait in Delhi.
Things didn’t go according to plan. The transfer desk sent us up to departures where Etihad were to give us a boarding card however the flight had not opened and the security man told us to wait for three hours before we could even get to the counter. We sat in the Costa coffee shop and then at the specified time went and found an Etihad person who did give us a boarding pass and we could finally get into the lounge where we stayed for three hours.

We had forgotten what the airport was like in Abu Dhabi and it was archaic with having to walk down the aircraft steps to buses and be transported to the terminal which had no travelators and huge queues for immigration. We managed to be processed in over an hour and found the bus to the city and then a taxi to our hotel. We got to bed about 3am after starting from Srinagar at 9am the previous day.

Our friend Tina who is working as a nanny for the Royal family in Abu Dhabi met us about 10.30am and we spent about three hours chatting at a cafe at a local mall before heading to the grand mosque which was a spectacular building with amazing
chandeliers and inlaid marble work. Tina and I had to put on Abayas with the rest of the women before we could enter the mosque. We all agreed that we actually preferred the grand mosque in Oman to the Abu Dhabi one.
We were all tired by the time we left the mosque at six o’clock as none of us had had not much sleep and Tina had flown in the previous day from Switzerland so we caught a taxi back to our hotel, collected our luggage, said our farewells and then caught a bus to Ibn Battuta in Dubai and then a taxi to Alan’s house. We had met Tina in Bali two years ago then caught up with her in Stroud in England last year and then in Abu Dhabi.

Mary the housekeeper let us in and Alan flew in again two days later. We spend our week in Dubai relaxing, walking to the
beach and having a swim. Since six months ago they have really made changes to encourages holiday makers to Dubai by installing showers, toilets and kiosks at the beach and an 8 kilometre rubberized jogging path which Indian workers sweep
every morning. There is ever more construction and a bridge being built so that the existing creek is extended through to
the gulf. We found a very good new Turkish restaurant called “baba iskender” and went with Alan, his daughter and fiancee to
a French Moroccan tapas restaurant with very tasty food. The only expediation we made was to the local coffee shop and supermarket and to the Mall of the Emirates a couple of times. The temperature was very mild (about 30degrees) when we arrived and slowly built up to 41degrees but it was a pleasant dry heat.

We noticed many more African workers this time and together with Indians and other foreign nationals they make up more than 90 percent of the population. The local Emiratees are in the minority. Since we were last there six months ago the UAE has brought in National Service and our friend Salim was in the process of doing his nine months in the army.
On the 2nd of May we took off for Rome to visit my aunt, have dinner with Maurice’s brother and his wife who arrived the same day for a European holiday and to leave most of our bags at our lovely B and B ready for our flight on Aer Lingus on the Monday for a week in Dublin for a 70th birthday party and family reunion with Maurice’s sister and husband and cousins and spouses flying in from England, Germany and the USA.

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A word about Kashmir – we found it extemely safe. We stayed on Butts Clermont houseboats located on the very quiet upper Lake Dal where they were the only houseboats after the village of Hazratbal. We walked into the village a few times and felt completely safe.
The driver we used and recommended by the Butts was well informed and if there were any troublespots he knew where and when to stay away from them but we saw no violence or agresssion by the Indian army. There were many soldiers standing around in the city and all throught the countryside. The Kashmiris feel that they would be better off without the army there and are very proud to be Kashmiri. They treat other Indians almost as coming from another country.
We ventured into the city on a couple of occasions and only encountered very friendly and helpbul Kashmiris. There were a couple of checkposts going up to the Mughal garden high on a hill and towards Sonamarg but on both occasions we didn’t have to show any paperwork and were waived through immediately. The militancy from 1990 to 2006 deterred all tourists bar some journalists and Kashmir has not recovered from the conflict with many media reports exaggerating the danger to visitors.
The whole time we were in Kashmir we only saw another western looking couple in the Shalimar gardens and a small group in in the carpet factory. The locals are really hoping for a return of foreign tourists as the tourist season is only six months of the year and constitutes their livelyhood and they otherwise struggle to make a living. There are no factories or manufacturing in Kashmir other than their textile industry. As in other parts of the world local cottage crafts are also slowly disappearing as a lot of young people do not want the labour intensive work or to work on the land or on the water. This coupled with the worst floods last September that had experienced in their lifetime had made for a disastrous time for the locals.

We overnighted in the Eaton hotel located in the domestic terminal 3 of Delhi airport after waiting fruitlessly for our last bag to appear. It had been left behind in Kuala Lumpur and we were told it would be sent to Srinagar the next day. The hotel was super and a five minute walk from the check in counters so very convenient. We flew north to Srinagar and had beautiful views of the snow capped Himalayas before we landed in Srinagar.
The houseboat was a 3/4 of an hour away from the military airport where we landed. The very loud roar of the Sukhoi and Mig jets nearly deafened us in the airport and as we left the airport.
We drove through Srinagar where there were many derelict houses and many newly constructed ones. Many old houses had very interesting wooden architecture. We were told that the heritage laws do not allow for a derelict wooden building be demolished and a modern one erected in it’s place so there are many disintegrating wooden buildings because either people cannot affort to rebuild them or the younger generation want to live out of town in a more modern house.
The flood of September severely damaged a lot of the city and water levels had been up to the second storey of many buildings.
The unusually late rains this year and melting snow had caused the water level to rise by inches every day and this causes major problems for the Butts and their houseboats.

Arriving at Butt’s Clermont houseboats was like coming home. Mr Butt senior and junior and several staff were there to welcome us and Mr Butt even gave me a big hug and showered me with petals. I think he was grateful to have guests again. For many years after the conflict of the nineties and sporadic ongoing incidents they lost most of their business and their number of houseboats had diminished from nine to four. Many celebrities and heads of state stayed on the houseboats and Mr Butt proudly showed us his memorabilia room full of framed prints of former guests from Joan Fontaine to Lord Mountbatten, George Harrison and Michael Palin. We also found number 17 guestbook with glowing reports from guests from all over the world.
Mr Butt explained to us that from 1990 when the conflict was at it’s worst for nearly sixteen years there were no tourists and the Indian army even set up camp in his “Garden of the Breezes” built by former Mughal King Akbar. They suffered greatly under the militants who would come and demand money and threaten them.
The Kashmiris we spoke to cannot understand the actions of the militants and just want to live in peace. Kashmir is part of India, Pakistan want it and a few Kashmiri militants want a separate state and a minority of Kashmiris want to join Pakistan.

The houseboats were originally owned by a British couple (the Fosters) who had them constructed because they could not buy land in India and wanted somewhere to escape the heat of Delhi in Summer. When they left India they left the houseboats and contents to the Butt family who had been textile merchants. They then changed course and ran the houseboats. It is now third generation with father and son working in the business. The houseboat was charming with beautifully carved wooden panelling, Queen Anne tables, writing desks and chairs and heavily embroidered curtains and lounge suite. It was like stepping back in time.

The four houseboats were located on their own in Naseem Bagh on upper Lake Dal alongside the embankment with a spectacular view over the lake to the snow capped mountains behind. This was unlike the other part of Lake Dahl where we passed hundreds of houseboats all jammed together. We had our very efficient and wonderful butler Ramzan who had been working there for 43 years. We just needed to press a button and he would come and see to anything we wanted. He spoke excellent English told us that tourists, especially Indian ones were starting to come back to Srinagar. We were served a two course tasty lunch and kava tea (green tea made with crushed almonds, cardamon and cinammon) then went for a walk to the village about ten minutes away. The stalls there were an interesting array of fruit, vegetables, meats and fruit and breads. Kashmiris eat a lot of meat and Mr Butt was disappointed that we only wanted vegetarian food. We went past the local mosque and went into a small shop selling Kashmiri shawls and hand embroidered bags and coats.
The shop owner “Raja” was a lovely man who was not pushy but showed us all his wares. We didn’t buy anything but that didn’t seem to bother him in the slightest which was very refreshing. We walked back to the houseboat for afternoon tea which was brought on a tray with fine bone china cups and saucers, tea pot and included some pastries.
The evening meal brought from the kitchen on the bank opposite our houseboat consisted of soup followed by rice and paneer, potatoes and capsicums in delicious spicy sauces and chappatis and a creme caramel for dessert.
We did try telling Ramzan that we never ate so much especially at night and didn’t want any dessert and asked if we could just have some soup and chappatis in the evening but the following night we were served just as much food minus the dessert.
Mr Butt did say that he wanted us to just forget watching what we ate and just enjoy the food. It was all delicious but a hearty breakfast, morning tea with pastries, three course lunch, afternoon tea with biscuits, a three course dinner and “Kava” or Kashmiri tea of almonds, cardamon and cinammon many times a day was just too much so they finally acquiesed to our wishes.

The temperature when we arrived was 19degrees, sunny an warm, in sharp contrast to the 35degrees and humidity of Cambodia. It dropped considerably at night so that the staff brought us hot water bottles and put them in the bed.
We could stipulate when we wanted each meal and what time we wanted to bathe. The bath water was heated by a chip heater located just outside the boat so we had to give prior notice to have hot water. The staff were muslim and were up early for morning prayers so the fire was lit early.

We were hoping that Maurice’s bag would be delivered the following day but it was not put on a flight from Kuala Lumpur until the next day and then it would come to Srinagar a day later so we ventured to the local market and bought him some underwear and a set of thermals. The locals wanted to know from where we came and when we said Australia they all mentioned the world cup and what a good cricket team we had. We saw many cricket games being played the day we arrived and it seems the Kashmiris are as enthusiastic about cricket as the rest of India.

It drizzled most of the day so we went to a recommended carpet wholesaler and after being shown a large number of carpets while sipping kava we decided on two woollen carpets featuring a tribal design. The workshop was full of workers hand weaving beautiful silk carpets and the owner was lamenting the fact that it was a dying craft because he could get young people as workers. His team were all older men. We got the driver to drop us back at the market where we went back to Raja and bought a couple of embroidered cloth bags and walked back to the houseboat. Mr Butt had lent us typical Kashmiri robes and me a shawl and a beanie to keep warm which amused the locals at the market to see us wearing them.
At 5pm the local masseur and barber arrived to give Maurice a massage.

There was always something to see on the lake. The fishermen or boatmen and a lot of wildlife. A lovely little bulbul bird came to the window several times a day and a vibrantly coloured kingfisher perched on a pole outside as well as several kites swooping and diving on the lake in front of us as well as ducks and other birds. The atmosphere was one of complete peace and serenity once we were back on the houseboat. There was no TV, radio or phone. The WIFI was by no means reliable so it did make for enforced relaxation and we read, chatted to Mr Butt or the staff or simply stared at the lake.

It rained all that night and into the morning so our driver took us into Lol Chowk to do some shopping. Maurice’s trusty Keene’s boots had finally died so he bought some new ones and gave his old ones to Shakeel the driver who was very pleased with them. We stopped off at the local market and bought a few bits and pieces and then retreated back to the very warm houseboat. Ramzan our butler had rigged up a chip heater in the loungeroom which warmed the room in minutes. The rain continued and into the next night but in the morning the clouds were higher and we saw the sun again so we set off to see the various mosques and the old town. Srinagar has seven bridges crossing the river which is very fast flowing at the moment. The poor people here have had awful flooding in September last year some of which reached to the second storey of some buildings. Then the unseasonal heavy and continued rain caused major drainage problems and flooding in March so they have had a really hard time of it. Even at the houseboat of which there are now four, the staff have been putting in extra stakes to secure the houseboats. The lake is much higher than usual for this time of year and the larger two and three bedroom boats are about a metre and a half higher making it more difficult to get on board.

Shakeel our driver took us to their largest mosque which was unlike any we had seen with square turrets and filled with pine columns which were about 20 metres high. Over 30,000 can fit inside the mosque. We drove to another part of Srinagar town and we parked the car and walked to see other places of worship where in one place there was a mosque with a hindu temple and sikh temple nearby. We were the only non Indians on the whole of our walk and the object of much talk and chatter. Many young and older Kashmiris were interested from where we came and an old man crossing me in the middle of a bridge asked where I was from, what I did for a living,what was my name and was I enjoying Kashmir. The sun stayed out for the rest of the day and we were grateful to be warm again.

We were offered tea in many shops whether we bought anything or not and there was no pushiness on the sellers part. The wifi on the houseboat was not great but there was a good little internet cafe five minutes away.
The pink peach blossom in the park not far from us was absolutely beatiful. The little Bulbul flew into our houseboat when the door was left open and would go straight to the grapes on the table.
Mr Ramzan was a gem, very courteous and friendly and gave us a wealth of information about the lake and the history of the houseboats and the whole region.

There are many very old and large Chinar trees on the property and dotted all around Lake Dal. The leaves look similar to maple leaves and their design is used extensively from wood carving to material and even the shape of flower beds in the Shalimar Garden on the opposite side of the lake to our houseboat. The gardens were built by Shah Jahan who constructed the Taj Mahal and are well laid out and there were a lot of peach trees in blossom and spring flowers everywhere.
There were stepping stones in the water features and Shakeel tested them before I stepped on them but I stepped a bit soon and ran into him and we both nearly ended up in the water. How we didn’t I don’t know but the water was very cold so I was very glad we didn’t. We headed off just as the Indian tourists started arriving.

We left the gardens and went on to the Indira Ghandi Tulip Gardens a little further on. It was 28kilometres to circle around the lake. These gardens were very extensive with water features dotted about and a few gardeners tending the beds. Entrance to the local attractions was only 50rupees or $1.
We then drove a little way up the mountain, through the army checkpoint and Shakeel parked the car so we proceeded for 2-3 kilometres on foot up the road to “Pari Mahal” a terraced arched garden built into the side of a mountain by Shah Jahan’s eldest son in the mid seventeen century. It was a pleasure to go for a long walk after all the sitting and eating.
There was also an army lookout on one corner of the building. The army were dotted all over Srinagar and the surrounding area but all were very friendly even if they looked a bit fierce with their guns slung over their shoulders and many wearing flak jackets. The seem to be near every bridge, mosque and major intersection. The fort high above the town is out of bounds for tourists and locals alike.
We had wonderful views from the garden there across the lake to Srinagar and Hazratbal where the houseboats were mooored.
Butts Clermont houseboats were the only ones on upper Lake Dal so it was very peaceful except for the call to prayers by the sufi mosques in the area where prayers were sang over the loudspeakers for up to 2hours in the mornings. Unlike the other mosques we have heard, the congregation answer singing their prayers which is sometimes pleasant to listen to but not necessarily at 5-6am.

The following day we set off with our driver Shakeel and Mr Ramzan for the two hour drive to Sonamarg, a mountain retreat for winter excursions and Summer vacations for many Indian tourists. The road there had only been open for a week so we were lucky to make the trip there. We passed many new houses or old houses with new shiny corrugated iron rooves.
There were normally pony rides up to the glacier in Sonamarg however because of unseasonal heavy snowfalls the pony rides were replaced by toboggan rides. We instead walked up to near the glacier after the snow plough had cleared a small path and then it was easier walking on the softer snow. It was a beautiful sunny day and not really cold. We both had a bit of a headache and were sleepy because of the high altitude of about 8,500ft. We stopped on the way back near the river to have a picnic which Mr Ramazan had prepared with fried chicken, cheese sandwiches and boiled eggs.

Like most of India there were no road rules and the cars and buses honk their horns incessantly and some of the old auto rickshaws very sturdy buses belched out black smoke.

We decided to use the boatman Lasser with his “Happy Journey” shikara to do a two hour leisurely trip around some of the lake where he gave us a lot of information about the vegetable farmers who grow bullrushes for three years and then when they are firm they can walk on them them and grow vegetables in root blocks from the lakebed. They use the sludge from the lake as fertilizer and therefore grow pesticide free, organic vegetables. Most of the farmers could not plant anything because the floods had caused very high water and most of the gardens were under water. We saw clumps of tall branches tied together and these were used to cultivate marrows. They hope that the lake water recedes enough in May to enable them to replant.
Lasser took us through the wetlands on the lake where where there were a great variety of birds and he had excellent knowledge of each bird species.

There were hundreds of people in Hazratbal for their Friday market and prayer at the mosque holding the most people in Srinagar. The market was set up on the outskirts and in the centre of town so we walked there and spent an hour looking around the market with so much fresh produce. We went back to “Raja” the friendly shop owner who sold me a beautiful sheepskin and fox fur trim coat for the extremely reasonable price of $62 which I will use in Ireland and the UK and in Roccamandolfi if it is still cold when we go to get the van.

We left Srinagar on the 25th April a day before our Indian visas expired. We had an eight hour transit in Delhi before flying to Abu Dhabi to meet up with our friend Tina.

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The countryside on the outskirts of the Capital looked very arid with few trees but with many small fish/prawn farms close to the road. We passed the mighty Mekong River and as we drove further north it looked even more arid with many of the rice fields already harvested and burnt off.

The trip took us about 8 1/2 hours with two half hour stops on the way. When we set off we thought that the road was quite good for the first half hour and then we hit the bone jarring potholes for about a third of the trip. I thought I was lucky as we sat in the second last row with the only window on our side that could be opened so it was good for opening briefly to take pictures but it did not have a good seal so that when we hit the dusty potholes a cloud of red dust would fly in over us. It was also a pity that the driver had not learnt where the gears were and there was much scraping of them when he did attempt it. Otherwise it was a pleasant journey with little variation apart from a few smallish towns on the way and a very large lake. The houses dotted amongst the trees were mostly on stilts with either animals or machinery underneath.The more affluent looking ones had painted bamboo screens on the front of the house and stainless steel or fancy railings on their staircases. Most houses had enormous pots outside their houses filled with water.

It started to sprinkle as we entered Siem Riep but we were whisked away by a tuk tuk driver Mr Shut Soeun who fitted all the luggage and us into the trailer and took to our hotel about ten minutes away for USD3. We walked around the corner and over the river to a lovely training restaurant for under priviledged youth and it was very pleasant sitting under the trees to have our tapas dinner. It was one of four such restaurants in the country run by one organisation. They also had a small shop which sold mainly recycled innovative products.
We chose our hotel because a friend from Perth was also going to stay there but didn’t turn up coming so we decided to move
hotels (walking up three flights of stairs was a bit much) to the Royal Crown which was a much nicer hotel and central to the
markets, river and many restaurants. We decided to employ Mr Shut Soeun to take us around the Angkor Archaelogical park for
the four days that we went out to the various temples of Angkor Wat, Bayon, Banteay Srea, Ta Keo etc.
He suggested that we not go temple sightseeing after we changed hotels as it was a bit later in the day and the three day pass (valid over one week) costs $40 and we wouldn’t get the best value from the pass that day. We instead went to see the
markets and the artisans of Angkor who employ a lot of disadvantaged and handicapped people to make all sorts of goods from
soapstone sculptures, silk items, porcelain to lacquer work and woodcarving. Soeun dropped us later to the Khmer Touch Cuisine restaurant where we had a delicious dinner and walked back to our hotel via “pub street” with it’s many bars and nice restaurants. The streets of Siem Riep were very clean as were the roads out to the Archaeologial Park. The French influence is still noticeable in many of the buildings.
Some of the roads in town including the one in front of our hotel were red earth which were watered to keep the dust down. It made for a lot of cleaning inside for the staff.

We set off the next moring at 6.30am to explore the temples of “Angkor Thom”. We liked Bayon temple very much as well as the
better known Ta Prohm temple where the film Tombraider was shot, not that we had seen it. There were hundreds of stairs to climb at many of the temples we visited with some very steep and narrow ones to boot but we managed them all. There were very good resting huts in the park and many refreshment stands.
We found the temples all quite different and the surrounding very tall and unusual trees made the whole area a fascinating one. The entire park is densely forested in many parts with a lot of shade and red earth roads. There was ongoing reconstruction at a few temples. One was undertaken by the Chinese and another by the Indians. How they reconstructed parts of the temple was to number every stone block which had fallen in a heap. These were then entered into a computer and the computer then made a jigsaw puzzle fitting the blocks together.
There were some long walks to some of the temples and a few small stages were set up with men playing Cambodian instruments. They were mainly amputees (landmines) and they were well supported by the tourists. They organised the tourists very well by having east/west or north/south entrances so not everyone was walking in the same direction and we found no congestion at any of the sights. It was the low season so that may have helped. There seemed to be a lot of Chinese and also Cambodian groups around. They do advise you not to venture off the beaten track as there are still landmines in the countryside.
Soeun was a very good driver and most of the drivers are very polite and there is virtually no blowing of horns or drivers getting impatient. Everyone just seems to wait their turn. The weather was very pleasant about 34degrees and 60percent humidity with a gentle breeze blowing. After we had covered about six temples in about five hours we decided we needed some lunch so Soeun dropped us at a great little cafe that we found called the “Little Red Fox cafe espresso” which served excellent coffee and food.
We walked back to the hotel stopping at a wonderful spa and had an hour’s very professional and luxurious reflexology massage for USD12. Our legs and feet very much appreciated that before we walked the short way back over the river to our hotel. The river runs right through middle of the main town with shops, restaurants,and hotels on both sides of the river with it’s overhanging trees.

When we decided to come to Cambodia we didn’t realize that we would be in Siem Riep for Khmer New Year which is a 3day event starting from the 14th April depending on who you talk to. A lot of workers take the whole week off and we saw many enormous stages being set up for the holiday. They were expecting up to half a million people to hit town, mostly locals who came home for the holiday or wanted to experience New Year in Siem Riep. There were many decorations and colourful lights to mark the occassion along the streets and in front of buildings.

Our driver took sick so the next day he sent us his friend Phanet to drive us to Banteay Srea and various other temples in that area which were over an hour away. We started out at 9am which was a much more civilised hour. We had a good tuk tuk ride there passing many rural houses and even some rice crops and a much greener landscape. Some of the houses were decorated with colourful stars and balloons.
The temples in that area were all quite different from the temples we had seen on the previous day and luckily with not so
many steps. Phanet dropped us in town about 2pm and we walked around the old market area with it’s French colonial buildings.
That night we ate at another nice garden restaurant (Georges Rhumerie) where we ate Creole,French influenced food. The owner and chef hailed from Reunion island. After dinner we walked back into the old market area where the streets were packed with Cambodians enjoying an enormous street party.

We had a lay day on the Wednesday and got up a bit later, went for a good hour’s walk around the town, had breakfast and then
tried to sort out flights which was proving difficult for dates and times that we wanted. We abandoned that and headed back to town where we bought me a very lightweight pair of trousers and then proceeded to find a little place in a small side street called “Ecstatic Pizza”. We were sitting close to the front of the restaurant and I saw who I thought was our friend Tom from Perth who we were suppose to meet in Phnom Penh. I wasn’t sure as he had sunglasses and cap on but went up to him and sure enough it was him. An amazing coincidence that we found each other. He had not told us that he was coming to Cambodia and we thought he had gone on a fishing trip instead so I didn’t bother emailing him that we had changed hotels in Phnom Penh and he thought he would surprise us instead and couldn’t find us so he came up to Siem Riep anyway. Such an amazing coincidence especially as we were going to go to another cafe for lunch but it was closed and he just happened to be walking along the same little side street!

On Thursday we decided to go and see the sunrise at Angkor Wat so were up at 4.30am for a 5am start with our trusty driver Soeun. It only took about twenty five minutes to arrive there with a hoard of other tourists, mainly Cambodians who were still in Siem Riep from Phnom Penh and from other area for the New Year. After photographing the sunrise we went to the side entrance instead of the front where everyone was heading and were lucky to see a lot of the temple with very few people to contend with. The rest of the day was spent doing last minute shopping and having massages and then to Khmer Touch Cuisine for a meal with our friend Tom.

Soeun took us to the airport on Friday afternoon 17th April to catch our business class MAS flight to Delhi via Kuala Lumpur. We told him that we would be back in Siem Riep which was such a friendly and easy town in which to explore and within easy reach of the wonderful temples to the north of the town. We hoped that the very friendly Cambodians would not lose that trait once tourist numbers rose in the years to come.

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We were collected at the airport by Mr Huot who dropped us at our hotel “La Rose” where we were met by a party of staff who asked if we would like to be upgraded to their new “Suites hotel”.
Of course we didn’t say NO and were whisked off in their 4wd Lexus to the other property which was very opulent with superb staff. Every time we entered the hotel we were met with a cold towel and greeted profusely with our names (well they probably were our names but the pronunciation was very innovative). The level of English comprehension by the Cambodians in the hotel and on the street
was very limited and we had to explain things in a very simple way.
The city had a very comfortable, open feel to it and although we were advised that traffic would be bad, it didn’t seem too bad travelling in the tuk tuks or Remork as they are known in Cambodia. They are much more spacious than the autorickshaws in India but instead of one vehicle they are a covered trailer pulled by a motorbike. We were recommended to go to “Kabbas” restaurant (one of the 300 odd in the city) and drove around for about 40minutes with our lovely driver who didn’t know where the place was after
being shown the location on the phone. After stopping several times to ask directions which had us going backwards and forwards, I spotted the place virtually in front of us while we were stopped to ask further directions. He wanted no extra money and was most appologetic – a lovely fellow called “Gi Vom”

We opted for a tuk tuk ride around the city the morning after we arrived to get our bearings. The hotel was located in a very central area just down the road from a large park with the statue for their independence at it’s centre and a ten minute walk to the river and Royal Palace which was similar to Bangkok’s Royal Palace in size and opulence. We visited the National museum with similar architecture but was a rich terracotta colour with many beautiful ancient life sized sculptures and an interesting virtual tour of ancient times
around Angkor Wat in the north. Wat Phnom with it’s enormous white stupa was surrounded by a leafy park and a large clock with even a working second hand.
There were only a few high rise buildings with many more under construction. There was much controversy apparently over a very new hotel across the river called the “Sokha” built by a Vietnamese of dubious reputation which now spoils the views from the Royal Palace to the other side of the river. The city was very clean on the whole with people collecting rubbish along the roads. We decided not to do the trip out to the “killing fields” or the genocide museum
as we had lived during that era and the subsequent revelations of the killings after 1979 and what Pol Pot did to the nation was enough for us.

The central markets were dominated by a huge domed hall full of very bling jewellery. Long corridors with stalls either side selling every type of goods ran from the main hall and surrounding these were the fresh food markets and eating stalls. Maurice purchased a new polycarbonate ultra light overnight bag for USD35 which was
way below what they wanted for one in Bali. The ice cutting/making stall was fascinating with a truck laden with dripping enormous ice blocks which were then dropped into a delivery shute to a worker who then stack the ice ready for cutting with a circular saw or dropping into what looked like a leaf crusher to be stored as crushed ice.

We were taken to a “safe” local restaurant near the river for lunch where the fresh vegetable rice paper rolls were delicious. Our driver then drove us to the Russian market(couldn’t find out why it was so named) which was a maze of open stalls selling mainly clothes, textiles (their main industry in Cambodia) and souvenirs.
We had time for a quick rest before being collected by Sonya Duck an Australian living in Phnom Penh who runs “Urban Forage” food tours. We started at Phnom Penh Towers rooftop terrace for cocktails and to see the sunset over the city. From there we ventured into the local food markets and started with tastings of local desserts which we found to be delicious, very unlike a lot of Asian desserts. We progressed to sample delicious pork ribs (not for Maurice the vegetarian or pescatarian really) and then to try the delicacies of fried crickets and water beetles and some kind of grubs. I think if I hadn’t had my cocktail first I wouldn’t have tried these but when in Rome and after a couple of drinks…..
The next stop for our nice group of eight with Mr Smiley (obviously his real name!)and another driver was a local restaurant with an enthusiastic band and circulating beer waitresses from the local Angkor beer company who replenished our drinks with firstly a large chunk of ice dropped in the glass. Later in the evening a group of “marlboro girls” in their red and white uniforms offering samples of cigarettes. We hadn’t seen that for a number of years anywhere else!
The menu apart from crispy fried frogs (which were quite tasty) was relatively tame – squid, morning glory vegetable with oyster sauce, spicy prawns, tofu and mixed vegetables. Mr Smiley and co driver joined us and there was much toasting which is done with one hand touching the other arm and shouting cheers in Cambodian.

I opted to do a cooking course in our hotel and was the only person doing it so had very personalized attention.
We made rice paper rolls with peanut and chilli dipping sauce, Fish Amok (which is not a very hot spiced dish) and banana and sago pudding. There was too much food for one so Maurice was allowed to join me for lunch.
A lot of the Khmer food is coconut based and a lot of emphasis is placed on a balance of flavours – sweet, hot, sour and salty. Cambodians like things very sweet and will even put spoonfuls of sugar into their beer.

We encountered few dour people in Cambodia – they were all very welcoming and smiling and the market sellers were not at all pushy and enjoyed the bargaining. They seemed a gentle, patient people in general with no honking of horns or impatience when driving. Sonya told us that in her three years in Phnom Penh she only saw one
incident of anyone raising their voice and that was to apprehend a thief that a group of people then nearly beat to a pulp. She told us that a lot of young people are not happy with the ruling party but the older generation after what they had been through during the Pol Pot era (1975-1979 where he annihilated more than two million people)
just want to have a peaceful existence. Cambodia has elections coming up in eighteen months so that might see a change.
The King is claimed to be gay by unoffical sources but the reason given by the authorities that he hasn’t married was that he is devoted to his position like a monk. The majority of Cambodians are Buddhists and there are many temples and newly contructed temples around the city and in the countryside.

Before going to dinner we opted for our free one hour massage in our hotel and Maurice had a traditional Khmer massage (no oil) which he said was one of the best he had ever had. Mine (with oil) was good too.
We walked on our last night in Phnom Penh to “Malis” a restaurant located a couple of streets away in a lovely garden setting and ponds filled with koi. They served very interesting Khmer food.

We used two tuk tuks to where we were to take the bus (no station as such)to Siem Riep. It was parked with many others beside the night market. One took our luggage and we took another one. Our motorbike had a flat tyre so we walked the last bit to the bus. The driver was most apologetic. The bus to Siem Riep which can take anywhere from 7-10 hours (because of traffic and/or roadworks) was very comfortable – recliner seats with adjustable leg rests and
plenty of leg room. A nice surprise.

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The rain continued on the 12th March when we arrived at Pondok Bambu in Candi Dasa. It was easy to relax at the property just watching the waves crashing over the breakwater in front of us with the island of Nusa Penida in the background and the east coastline of Bali to the right.
The only drawback in Candi Dasa was if we left the hotel which was located on the main road which also ran through the middle of town with a constant stream of trucks and vehicles thunderering up and down especially in the morning and evening.
There were very few tourists in town and instead of being asked if we wanted a taxi every few metres we were occasionally asked it we wanted “sailing in a boat”.
We found goods and services like massages and clothing quite cheap in Candi Dasa with a good hour’s massage costing the equivalent of $7.
Pondok Bambu is owned by a very personable middle aged Dutchman “Gerco Scheeper” a former marine who won 6 million euros in the lottery in 2000 and who came to Candidasa and purchased the property and who had since built himself a house in the jungle and a large restaurant across the road called the “Crazy Kangaroo” in memory of an Aussie friend who had died. They have a very professional dive outfit and specially built boat for such trips.
The property is right over the water and such a relaxing spot especially as there were only four other rooms occupied. We were joined by friends Robert and Gay from Sydney and we relaxed, swam in the sea and pool and took a 20 minute boat ride down to the “white beach” where we swam in crystal clear water and had fresh fish for lunch and lazed by the ocean. We were also lucky enough to see a pod of dolphins on the way there. Ketut who has taken us a few times before in his boat charged us approx $40 for the trip and waited for us for four hours and then took us back to our hotel.
We visited some of our favourite restaurants – Vincents and a little family run “Warung Boni” set amongst the banana trees and on the edge of the hill.

We were told about an upcoming cremation ceremony near Bug Bug village about five kilometres from Candidasa so Gay and I ventured off with a driver to see some of the ceremony. When we arrived at about 3pm there were hundered of men, women and children all dressed in traditional costumes and sitting around chatting. Some children were gambling, playing a roulette type of game and some of the women were finishing off the very decorative fruit offerings. We were told that the actual ceremony would only start at 6pm and finish about 3am the next day so we decided to leave after about an hour but just as the car got from the parking area to the road, the temple police stopped us and said that the main procession was making it’s way down from the village to the temple and we would have to wait for half an hour. There must have been about five thousand people in this procession which we watched from the side of the road with many people carrying offerings and some men carrying huge bamboo boxes also full of offerings. Others were leading calves on ropes along the road. It took nearly an hour for the procession to reach past us towards the temple and we could then leave to go back to Candidasa.
The people came from all over Bali back to their village for this important cremation ceremony. They never seemed to mind foreigners watching or even taking part as we saw a few westerners in traditional dress bearing offerings. There was also a bit of a fair atmosphere with stalls selling clothing, watches, food and live birds and bunnies.

On the 18th March the four of us caught the fast boat (an hour and a half) to Gili Trawangan, the largest of the Gili islands off the coast of Lombok. We decided after two days there that although the “Pearl Lounge” was an excellent place to lounge and eat, we would not be going back there. It is definately a backpacker’s paradise with booming music every night.

They did however have the best pizza at “Pizzeria Regina” (just like a real Italian one – not thin and crispy!). We saw Robert and Gay off and left the following morning on the public fast boat (85,000 rupiah) to Gili Air where we were welcomed back at “Chill out bungalows” by English Vinny and his Indonesian wife Suzi. The harbour is just a bit far to walk with bags so we were scalped for $10 for a 5 minute “cidomo” horse and cart ride but the rest of the two weeks we went for walks around the island which was very relaxing given that there are no motorbikes or cars allowed except for the odd electric motorbike and some of the drivers appeared to be about five years old.
We had two very relaxing weeks swimming in the crystal clear water, walking every morning and doing yoga nearly every day.
There were so many fish of every colour which could be seen very close to the shore. Some days we walked around the island and saw very few people which made a pleasant change from Bali and Gili Trawangan.
The beach was set up every night with tables and chairs so we sat listeneing to the water lapping on the shore while we ate our dinner with a pleasant breeze blowing every evening. It was hot and humid during the day but we could just take a dip if we felt hot.
We watched more TV than we had in the last three years since starting our adventure and we saw some interesting films and a particularly good English series “The Bletchley Circle”.

The “Chill Out” bungalows was such good value for money. They served a three course breakfast (if you wanted it all) with some or all of the following for breakfast – a choice of fresh fruit juice, tea or coffee, fruit and yoghurt,pancake with honey, eggs and toast all for $8. There was a choice of about eight types of fresh fish every night. I had BBQ’d barracuda one night which was very tasty but the chargrilled tuna and vegetable kebabs we ate nearly every night were just delicious.

They were on a large skewer and came with some salad, more vegetables and either chips, baked potato or rice and choice of four sauces for $5.
We reluctantly left the island to Gili Trawangan and then caught the fast ferry back to Bali for a few days to collect the rest of our luggage and do last minute essential shopping and go to some of our favourite restauants before heading to Cambodia on the 7th April.

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