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Our Road Trip "home" September 2010

Posted by Kritsa Yvonne, 12 September 2010 · 2,330 views

As everyone in the UK was getting ready for August Bank holiday, we set off on the Friday for a road trip to Crete, although “old hands” at this now we were still very excited.

As usual, we made a dash through France and then took our favourite scenic route over the Alps via the St Gottard Pass; the lush green pastures on the mountainsides are “dotted” with large wooden chalets and herds of pretty cows often looking like a scene right off the pages of Joanna Spry’s “Heidi”. When the Pass is open, most drivers opt for the “sensible route” on a road where the best engineering skills have reduced the angle of the bends where possible and all are equipped with modern crash barriers. However, Alan is of the opinion that a trip over the Alps should be leisurely when there is time to do so; which is how we came to be on the very windy cobbled “old road” most often used by motorcycle enthusiasts; where a crash barrier did exist it was usually only a low wall. Exhilarating and great fun but my clenched up toes ached by the time we reached Italy on the other side!

Once in Italy, the slog on the motorway to the Adriatic coast was thankfully uneventful. Every year as we near Ancona, we pass signs for The Republic of San Marino; this year we decided not to pass by but have two nights there giving us a whole day off from driving. We had pre booked our stay at a posh hotel with excellent road access, secure parking and only 10 minutes from the cable car up to the city of San Marino that perches on a high “crag”; what more could we ask? Well dinner would have been nice! As soon as we arrived, Alan felt that he deserved a chilled beer or two so by the time we found the hotel no longer operated a restaurant driving to find supper was out of the question. Even though cheese and crackers was not what we had envisaged we were grateful of our habit of always having some food with us!

After (a larger than usual) breakfast we set off to explore San Marino and can thoroughly recommend it as a great stop over for anyone else mad enough to drive to Crete. There was free parking close to the cable car so it was obvious that driving on up was not encouraged. Once at the top we enjoyed 360-degree bird’s eye views of the surrounding countryside and could see Ancona in the distance. This tiny State uses the euro as currency but it is not in the EU, making it a popular destination for people to buy duty free products. The “city” capitalises on tourists effectively with many shops selling weird and wonderful spirits in odd shaped bottles, handbags, and jewellery but the real attractions are the three cliff edge castles that have helped the tiny republic stay independent over the centuries.

Following the 22-hour “cruise” to Patras in Greece, we drove towards Piraeus for the overnight boat to Crete. When we were nearing the Corinth Canal area we both felt the need of some exercise so we drove up to the nearby hill top archaeological site of old Corinth. This was a fantastic experience, just the ruins, a handful of tourists, a scrawny cat and us enjoying more 360 degree views but this time over to Central Greece, and down on Corinth and the Peloponnese.
There was no entrance fee (probably to save paying staff) but there were signs in Greek and English to explain what we were seeing. The site has been important to the ancient Greeks, early Christians, Venetians and Turks and each group added more walls and more fortifications but the exposed and windy position makes it surprising that so many remains survive for visitors to enjoy. What a contrast to the careful and effective restorations we had seen in the hill top city of San Marino and not even a mobile cantina in sight!

This unplanned but very welcome break set us off for the last few mile to Piraeus where we arrived with so much time to spare we congratulated ourselves on such a trouble free and fun journey and wondered if we should go for a coffee before checking in. We opted for check in and then coffee, thank goodness..............at the check in desk the lady behind the glass said, “Computer says no”! Panic set in but the time in the UK was 5.45 p.m. and the UK booking office was open until 6.00 p.m. Equipped with a new reference number we joined the queue again and this time the computer said yes. Back in the car, we checked the tickets only to see the outward/inward bound journeys were the wrong way around; argh the UK office had closed! Back at check in, the clerk just stated it was not her problem it must be the fault of the booking company so contact them. I then asked what turned out to be the pivotal question, “CAN you change them?” this lady could not lie, so very reluctantly and laboriously she changed over the tickets, phew.

The next morning in Crete we drove to Kritsa as the dawn gave us a very rosy reception. Full of energy we unloaded the car and did all the chores necessary after the house has been empty for a while. As usual, every external surface had a covering of sandy dust so there was much sweeping and washing down required before the outside street area looked tidy, windows and doors were clean and the balcony was in a state to set up patio chairs etc. After a siesta and a very long refreshing shower, I felt ready to walk into the village for supper. Unfortunately we were unaware that it was the turn of our part of the village to have the water switched off to save power/money so all the time we had been using gallons of water the tank had not been refilled – Alan had to wash in the small bowl of water he managed to wring out of the system! Yep, we love the vagaries of village life and Alan really appreciated his shower the next afternoon when the water pressure had returned to normal.