Thursday, 26 April 2012

Sweeping South (part 2) and paddling west

It's funny how things work out sometimes. I should know by now that it's often the least expected things that deliver the most. I was surprisingly sad to leave Milan on Wednesday morning... After all I had no great plans to go there but I needed to stop as it was the furthest point on my journey from London that I could comfortably get to in a day. I could have left first thing in the morning but I know from bitter experience that that would leave me exhausted hence why I spent a day there. Milan surprised me though and turned out to be a thoroughly charming and interesting city that I still had much to see in... Always a good way to leave I think.... But leave I had to as I had a ferry to catch. I was up at stupid o'clock so I could be on the 7.30am train to the ferry port at Bari. I think I committed a mortal sin at the train station by asking for my cappuccino to take away... It seems that no matter how short of time the Milanese are they will always drink their coffee from proper cups in the coffee shop.... But hey I needed coffee at that time of the morning and the train waits for no-one... It was a long journey, nearly eight hours and took me further south in Italy than I had been before. Vineyards gave way to olive trees and then palm trees as we met the coast at Rimini. From then on it was a glorious run along the seashore, sometimes only meters from the waters edge.... Though sadly far to much of the coast was blighted by ugly concrete hotels. The train stopped quite a lot and I had several Larkin moments (check out the poem The Whitsun Weddings if you want the reference) though being Italy the scenes were a great deal more romantic and less cynical than the man from hull observed on his ride.  As I had a couple of hours between the train and ferry I was hoping to have a bit of an explore of the old city of Bari which is supposed to be very beautiful.... It may have been but on this particular Wednesday afternoon it was resolutely shut, everything from restaurants to the Cathedral and Castle were bolted up tight... I had to resort to Burger King to get some food as it was the only place open.... It was downright eerie.... so I headed on over to the ferry port and waited to board. I got quite excited when I arrived as there was a lovely looking ship in dock.... But I soon realised that that was a German cruise ship and the ferry to Greece was in fact the small scruffy boat moored alongside!  That said I could not fault the ride at all. I boarded at six and we departed dead on time at eight. There was a bar and restaurant that served food and drink at not extortionate prices given they had a monopoly on us for the next sixteen hours and several seating areas with good views off the ship. The cabins were far to expensive for me on my own so I had booked an "airline" seat in the sleeper lounge. I was concerned I would not get much sleep but it turns out a midweek crossing off season is not that popular a choice and there were only a dozen or so of us with 100+ seats to choose from... Result. Bagged a bank of four and with the aid of a few glasses of red wine actually got a fairly good nights sleep. It was somewhat of a rude awaking in the morning though as we docked at our intermediate stop (Cofu?) at 5.30 am. Any hope of sleeping through this were rapidly dispelled as the disembarkation notices were given in five languages one after the other, each started and ended with a cacophony of bing bongs very loudly over the ships PA system... You would have had to be stone deaf to have stayed asleep thought that.  It seemed like most of the passengers got off at this stop and so the boat was pleasantly empty for the remainder of the voyage. I had the top deck to myself most of the morning and enjoyed a lovely peaceful time leaning on the rail and watching the Greek islands pass by. Just needed to venture inside every now and then for a top up of the cappuccino (this time correctly drunk in a small china cup with amaretto biscuit on the side) and I was happy as Larry. The arrival in Patris went smoothly with a local bus right at the ferry port to take us to the main bus station. Sadly I couldn't get to Athens by train as the line was closed for upgrading a few years ago and shows no sign of re-opening anytime soon. I therefore caught an express coach to the Capital.... It may be several hours quicker but my goodness I much prefer trains to cramped coaches anyday. We arrived a a bus station somewhere in the suburbs (another plus of trains they usually deliver you to he middle of town!) and on asking for directions to the centre got several opinions on buses, where to change etc.... Decided I didn't fancy getting lost on the Athens bus system and so grabbed a cab to my hotel - definitely ten euros well spent.  So I have made it to Athens and I am writing this on one of the two balconies my hotel room has, looking over a lovely tree lined alleyway only a stones throw from the acropolis and listening to the wonderful chanting coming from the Orthodox church on the corner. Ok the bathroom suite is bright yellow and the decor is distinctly seventies but hey I think I can deal with that :0).  Tomorrow I head for the station first thing to see if trains north will be running on Monday.... Not a given, the state of the economy being what it is.... But after that to the Acropolis, the inspiration for the whole journey. Can't wait....


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