Thursday, 29 October 2009

Stay in Lefkas

As mentioned in earlier posts we rented a villa in the small village of Apolpena in the hills just above Lefkas City (sounds very grand for a town). Tony the villa owner was there to meet us on our arrival bearing gifts well there was a fantastic welcome pack in the villa anyway. He gave us another tour of the place and showed us how to operate the various appliances washing machine etc. and was generally very helpful. The villa was equipped with everything you could wish even a pair of binoculars for admiring the view, there were also lots of books and Cd's in case you had forgotten to bring anything but your kossie. Just in case anyone missed it earlier here is a link to Tony's booking site. I cannot recommend his villa too highly and if you come for a long stay out of season he is open to negotiation.

The picture shows Mark (from the yacht Options) Liz (Tony's partner) and Tony with the streamers all over his head.

In our stay at Apolpena Tony & Liz introduced us to many of the expats who live in and around the area, mostly on live aboard yachts in the marina. Many of these have become firm friends, Kev & Linda, Mark & Maureen, Flash, and John Chips deserve a special mention but there are many more who I'm afraid must continue to be anonymous.

It was our intention to use the trip primarily to find some long term accommodation, preferably to rent but not ruling out any options. Renting is preferred because it's much easier to get out of if you have made a mistake and it also means that if for some reason you fancy moving to a different area all you have to do is get on yer bike and find somewhere, no need to wait for a buyer etc.

We looked at many properties on Lefkas Island and also on the mainland but we kept going back to Assos to see George and Martha who we met when we were at Parga. George found us several places local to him to have a look at including the place where we now are living. We picked this up for about a third of the cost of a similar apartment in a tourist area.

This picture shows Sandra with Martha & George our very special Greek friends. George is a bit of a Danny Devito look alike bearing in mind Sandra is only 5ft 5 and she's stooping here!! We love them dearly and could never have been where we are now without their help. All this started from just stopping at a filling station for a Frappe and talking to them about our plans to live for long periods in Greece, even though they have very little English and we have very little Greek it's amazing how you can communicate with the odd reference to your well thumbed phrase book.

Anyway towards the end of our stay George got us in touch with the owner of the maisonette we now have and we agreed on a one year deal with the option to extend if we are mutually happy with the arrangement.

Not much but we call it Home - Our Assos house has two decent sized double bedrooms a large dining kitchen and good sized lounge. And the bathroom has a bath as well as shower. The wonderful thing about it though it that it has 180 degree panoramic views mountains east and west and straight down the valley north and south.

Our Stay in Lefkas was a truly wonderful time we went to parties, got invited as crew in a yacht race (thanks to flash for taking on the handicap), witnessed a fantastic soap box derby down a huge hill behind Nidre with the carts reaching speeds of 30 mph and whats more the road wasn't closed to traffic (brave lads and lass'). The Greek people are the hospitable people in the world, in my opinion anyway, if you ever come out here just ask around and you can find people who will help you with anything.

We returned home full of hope for the future as well as a notebook full of measurements for curtains etc with which to return in late September. We took two days going home after disembarking the Ferry at Ancona in Italy one overnight stop at Grafenhausen and then back to dear old Yorkshire with the wind and the rain and the rain and the rain and the rain....

Next, roll on September

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

"D Day"

January 28th 2009 - We set off from home for a leisurely drive down to Folkstone where we were booked into the travel lodge just outside the Channel Tunnel terminal. Accomodation was fine and with an evening meal cost about £60.

Early start next morning to catch the 4am train to Sangatte. The travel Lodge provided us with a packed Breakfast as we were starting out before their restaurant opened, this was acceptable although nothing to write home about. The Tunnel for anyone who has not been on it, is fantastic, it quick and efficient and you have no idea you're really moving when you are on it. The return cost on it for this trip was £96 but be warned when I came back in September I thought rather than book I would see if you could get it cheaper by turning up and just paying at the terminal, you can't it cost me £160 quid, put that down as a lesson learnt!! Total time taken from arriving at the terminal to departing from Sangatte terminal 55 minutes with about 40 minutes moving.

Next stop Germany, we had sort of planned stopping at around Saarbruken but had not booked anywhere as we were expecting to find some Formule 1 hotels adjacent to the motorways, never saw one! In the end we stopped at a place called Grafenhausen which was about 60 or 70 miles further than we had intended but as the roads were so good despite temperatures of -8 outside, this did not worry us much. Euro Hotel was a good overnight stop as it was literally 1/4 mile from the motorway. Good Quality room and good continental Breakfast in the morning about £70. Went into the small town for an evening meal which was smashing but I couldn't tell you what we had it was a local speciality excellent!

Set off at 8:30 for Italy via Switzerland. The Swiss don't have tolls on their motorways the have a Vignette which you stick in the window. It doesn't matter when you buy it it runs out in January. Our therefore lasted us for three trips through Switzerland January, May and September. The cost is 27 Euros which isn't bad if you get your use out of them and they also cover you for the alpine tunnels including Gottard which we went through.

Looking back toward Gottard Tunnel when we stopped for a cupper and a wee!!

When we reached Milan in Italy my sat nav told us to go on the southern orbital motorway, the road signs indicted the Northern Hhhhmmmmm time for a decision. The road signs are the most efficient way arn't they - we'll go around the North of Milan NNNoooooo!!!! it's much easier around the South, there is one place were a couple of Motorways merge were you end up joining traffic in the fast lane not that I mind mixing it with Ferrari's and Lamborghini's but them buggers are 120MPH. oh well have 4X4 and keep nosing in!!. Again we intended staying near Milan but went probably 100 miles or so further to Modena. As we had quite liked the Travel Lodge at Folkestone we saw saw one at Modena and thought we would go with it. Another expensive foe par. Good quality but £120 for BB and Evening meal. Hey ho... Next stop Ancona were the ferry terminal is.

We had a very steady ride to Ancona as we were already over 100 miles nearer than we planned although we needed to be there for 2pm to book in for the ferry. Northern Italy with the exception of the lakes above Milan, is a bit boring but the scenery improves as you get towards the east coast coat. We got there with plenty of time to spare and embarked on the Ferry for Igoumenitsa in Greece.

Sandra and I on the Ferry to Greece just before it started to get choppy and Sandra was confined to her bunk.

Arrived Safely next morning with just a 60 mile drive left to Lefkas. Grand trip with lots to see on the way.

Lessons learnt from this trip was you can do it with only one stop which we did on the way back at the same place in Gafenhausen which we stayed on the outward journey. It does mean a couple of 700 mile trips but as the roads are generally all good and not in general busy apart from around major urban areas this is not a problem easily done in 10 hours per trip. Book the tunnel save £100 quid on a single trip. Don't book the ferry you can get a better deal at the ferry terminal, coming back this September to book online would have cost me £120 more than at the terminal, this also has the advantage of if you miss the planned ferry you can go to another operator and get another ferry which runs later. Check accommodation is available in the area you intend stopping, our stop at Modena cost must more than we had budgeted.

Coming up Stay in Lefkas...

Monday, 26 October 2009

Preparing for the trial run...

On our return home from Parga back home we started to realise the magnitude of all what we needed to plan and only three months in which to achieve it. There were lists to write of what was needed, routes to plan through Europe, ferries and hotels to book etc. As we had never driven in mainland Europe in our own car before (other than a booze and fag run). We had to find out what we needed to do for the car hi viz vests, spare bulbs, warning triangle, car recovery insurance, the list goes on and on.

In addition there was the not insubstantial work of getting the house and garden into some sort of state so it could withstand three months of neglect without taking too much harm.

We looked at various routes through Europe down to Ancona in Central Italy from where we would catch the ferry for Igumenitsa in Greece finally deciding to go through Belgium, Germany and Switzerland rather than through France which is in fact the quickest and slightly shortest route. The reason for this choice is that the Belgian and German motorways are not tolled whereas the French ones are and quite heavily. This we weighed up against the possibility of the none tolled roads probably being in worse condition and also perhaps more heavily used due to the cheaper cost. As we had not travel overland from Yorkshire to Greece we decided that it would be a three stop trip, once a Folkstone before taking the chunnel, then somewhere in between Saarbruken and Strasbourg and a third stop somewhere near Milan with obviously a forth night on the ferry across to Greece. We thought the cost would be something like £800 to £900 for the round trip including ferries accommodation and Diesel. You can get these thing quite horribly wrong!!!

We borrowed a Satellite dish which with look would fit into the car 1.2 Meters. We had asked in Parga what the Expats there were using for UK TV. They said that you could get most of it with a smallish dish although most web site say 2.5 to 3 meters which is bloody huge. Anyway, being the prudent sort I though I would take this 1.2 meter dish and try before you buy rather than drop a cobbler and find I couldn't get anything. I also borrowed a Joker decoder in case my Sky+ decoder didn't work, I hoped it would because the two hour time differential means that many things which you would like to watch are on at silly o'clock.

Anyway, with the preparation work done, well as near done as you can when it's all new to you, we sat back and awaited January 28th 2009 which was "D" day (departure day) for us.

Coming soon "D Day"

Saturday, 24 October 2009

Time for decisions

Late July 2007, I got paid off from work so we spent a short time paying off anything we owed, Mortgage etc. and invested the little money we had left. As it turned out this wasn't such a good idea as Northern Rock went down a few weeks later and we all know what happened after that. However, we had decided that any money invested was sacrosanct for at least five years, now October 2009 it's nearly back to were it was!

We had friends who spend their winters in southern Spain so we booked some accommodation at Conil De la Frontera near Cadiz in February to see if this would be for us. But also went to our beloved Greece in late September to Arilas in north west Corfu. We have been to Corfu a couple of times before and it's a splendid Island provided you avoid the tourist traps and the typical holiday makers who are only there for the sun, beach and booze.

Anyway suffice to say we thoroughly enjoyed Greece and didn't care too much for Spain, but to be fair there are some really fine historic sights there and for a Napoleonic war story enthusiast like me the chance to visit Trafalgar was something not to be missed. The old town of Cadiz is totally amazing as is Gibraltar, however the Spanish people seem to be fed up with "tourists" and the place is absolutely heaving with expat Brits, Dutch and Germans. This can be an advantage if you want to speak as at home but in general there appears to be little foreign ghetto's cropping up all over the place and with the greatest of respect they are tending to create little Britain in the sun, not really our idea of integrating into a new lifestyle.

When we returned from Spain we immediately booked the cheapest holiday we could find on mainland Greece for September 2008 and started looking for something we could rent over the winter to try it completely out of season. We got a package deal to Parga and provisionally booked a villa above Lefkas town in a village called Apolpena for three months from February to the end of April 2009, Villa owners direct is the web site

Parga is a beautiful place on the Northwestern mainland coast almost opposite the island of Paxos. This region of Greece has stunning mountain scenery inland and a coastline to die for. And although we had spent many many weeks in the Greek islands we had hitherto only seen the mainland in passing through to ferries ans transfers from airports and this did not prepare us at all for the sights which were to lie before us.

Our provisional booking for the villa meant that while we were at Parga we could drive to Lefkas (as it's connected to the mainland via a causeway and bridge) and pay a visit to the villa thus enabling us to see 1. if it was what we wanted, and 2. what we would need to bring to Greece for our three months stay expecting that the villa would be only kitted out for people in Summer ie. perhaps not warm enough to live in through winter, so some heating appliances and carpets etc may be needed. We need not have worried to any extent whatsoever as the villas (there are two of them) are absolutely superbly kitted out. The smaller of the two even has central heating for out of season use.

Tony Dudley, the villa owner met us at a taverna on the quay side in Lefkas town and after a coffee and introductions he took us up to the villas in Apolpena. The views from the villa across the valley and over Lefkas City and the marina are out of this world. It took us all of 20 seconds to decide that our booking was confirmed and that we would be spending February to March in Tony's villa with a view for looking for a more permanent place to live somewhere in Epirus (The northwest mainland).

The rest of our holiday in Parga was spent touring the area to see what it had to offer us in terms of authentic "Greekness". We Drove to Igoumentitsa to suss out the ferries as this was were we would land if we drove across from England and also to see how accessible the port was and what sort of costs would be involved. Then we drove straight across to Ioannina, the capitol city of Epirus. This is a truly stunning medieval town with a huge lake high in the mountains and well worth a visit for anyone who likes great scenery and history. We also visited Arta and Preveza which are the other two major towns in the area.

One day we took a drive up through the mountains above the town of Lauros and discovered the place where we now have a house Assos. This is real Greece. and I think this one thing above all others made us realise that the decision had actually been made.

Coming up preparing for the trial run...
It all started six or seven years ago when Sandra was diagnosed with Cervical cancer at the tender age of 46. Luckily after the usual trips around specialists and hospitals she had to have an hysterectomy. All went well and she made a marvelous recovery but these things have a tendency to focus you mind on what you want out of life. But of course you have to pay the mortgage and bills and even if you have a pension you can't get your hands on it when you are in your forties.

Sandra had worked for years in Nursing homes and caring in the community, and I had worked as a computer engineer so we always managed to have at least one holiday a year. Over the years we have been to many places from the Caribbean to most of the Mediterranean places but we fell in love with the Greek Islands and the people who lived there.

For several years we tried to visit as many islands as we possibly could (53 to date) by various means. Cheap flights to Athens and then island hopping via the ferries, cheap package holidays and going off and doing our own thing when we got there and flotilla holidays where we could just call in at any island which happened to be in the area.

A few of years after Sandra's cancer scare I had a serious back injury which was very debilitating, I couldn't walk more than a few yards without being totally out of it. Again minds started being focused.... After major back surgery (what a star that guy was)I was repaired or at least back to 80% of what I used to be and at least we could do things again. While I was recuperating from my operation I found out that my company was asking for volunteers to take early retirement and if you were over 50 (I was 51)you could get your hands on your pension. I asked for the figures and even though we would not be very well off we would be able to manage especially as the redundancy payment would pay off the mortgage and we didn't owe anything else other than the bills. Well we did it and we are managing still 2 years later.

With this kick in the bum we made the decision that we were going to enjoy our retirement as we didn't know (as none of us do) how long it would last.