Saturday and it was once again a day for moving on. This time to Patras on the Gulf of Corinth and a major transport hub in Greece, a stopping-off point for me en route to Kalamata, itself a staging point for Kardamili where I plan to spend some time.
I had done a search on GTP (Greek Travel Pages) for ferries and had turned up a result which was very convenient, a ferry from Venice calling at Corfu at 12.15 before going to Igoumenitsa and then on to Patras arriving at 20.00. Not wanting to arrive late in a strange and sizeable town I had sussed out on the internet a reasonably priced and conveniently located hotel and booked ahead …. just in case it might be full.
The plan was to take a taxi from Boukari to the nearest town where I could catch a bus t0 Kerkyra (Corfu Town). It turned up promptly at 09.30 and began the slow winding journey along the narrow coast road. The driver, Leonidis, was more than happy to chat in Greek even though his English was obviously pretty good and by the time we reached the bus stop he offered to take me all the way to the harbour for a ‘special price’. Given the uncertainties of public transport and the need to be at the harbour in plenty of time to suss out the shipping office and the berthing place for the ferry I accepted. A very enjoyable chat in Greek the whole way. Perhaps taxi drivers have a good ear for the stumbling of foreigners speaking Greek. One issue which we discussed was Albania, Corfu being opposite the Albanian coast, and he hesitantly advanced the opinion that the number of Albanians in Greece is a bit of a problem because there are ‘para poli’ . Greek doesn’t have the concept of ‘too many’, instead the phrase he used strictly translates as ‘beyond many’. I had already picked up that about 10 or 12% of the population are now incomers, most of whom are Albanian. Corfu and Paxos being so close to Albania the numbers are particularly high.
We parted almost lifelong friends. Greeks do have a knack for that.
I won’t bore you with the saga of touring the harbour front being misdirected from pillar to 300-metre-away-post for half an hour. Eventually I located the shipping office of Minoan Lines immediately opposite where the taxi had dropped me off and the cafe at the Domestic Ferry Terminal where they have free WiFi. Enquiry showed very quickly that I had been misled by the internet, the Saturday ferry to Patras doesn’t begin running until 16 June.
There was an alternative. Take the bus. Yes, despite the fact that Corfu is an island there is a bus which goes to Athens stopping off at Patras. Or nearly so. The only bus available left at 14.45 and stopped at a place called Rio from where I was assured that I could get to Patras.
I had 4 hours to kill so I had a long WiFix and meandered a bit around the town, very difficult with Big Bag in tow so I only saw the edges of the apparently very attractive town.
Eventually went to the bus station and boarded the Athens bus along with 20 or so others. It drove to the harbour about 100 metres away and then we all got off and boarded the ferry to Igoumenitsa for the 1½ hour crossing. Once on the mainland we got back on the bus and sat back for the onward journey, in my case about 4 hours worth.
Normally I find journeys very boring and nod off to sleep as a way of escape but that proved impossible. The bus lurched its way the entire time over rough roads and around sweeping bend after sweeping bend.
An aside here: there is an extensive programme of road improvement underway with extensive lengths of partly prepared road but all work seems to have stopped because of the economic crisis. However, because the new roads are, in theory at least, being built no maintenance is being carried out on the existing road network. The result is an extreme version of what the Tories are inflicting on the UK, deteriorating infrastructure, less money being paid in wages so less money going into the economy and a continuing downward economic spiral. And in Greece a pretty dire road system and discomfort for passengers. Just put up and bear it.
The bus first stopped to let someone off at a road junction in the middle of nowhere and my heart sank at the thought of another situation like my journey to Metsovo but his time with no friendly policeman.
The landscapes we passed through were amazingly varied, far more variety than I had ever associated with Greece. Many would have been very interesting to explore with the camera, especially in the evening light. After 2½ hours we stopped at a roadside café again in the middle of nowhere, presumably for the driver to have his official rest …. and a couple of fags. And then we carried on, eastwards towards the gathering dusk and an uncertain dropping-off point.
We crossed the Gulf of Corinth on the new and very splendid bridge and then pulled into what looked like a commercial lorry park at the southern end of it. I nearly ran to the taxi which was waiting there, so pleased was I to see it.
It was a 20 minute journey into Patras with a driver who spoke very good English, had no intention of listening to me stumbling on in Greek because he wanted to unleash his bile about the current economic crisis. He had worked in Italy for 10 years and come back to Greece and seemed to bitterly regret what he found. He was adamant that Greece should never have gone into the EuroZone though ventured no opinion as to whether it should now leave, which I think is the irresolvable dilemma the country now faces and cannot agree on. They want to stay with the Euro because it has raised their standard of living but don’t want the austerity measures associated with it. He further ventured the opinion that Greece is a beautiful country but it’s problem is the Greek people. He was also depressed about the prospect of the election on 17 June, reckoning that if the Communists get into power the country will have a a civil war.
I arrived 21.30 at the hotel, which I would have struggled to find on foot from the bus station in the dark. Tired and pleased to have stopped travelling.