|[***WARNING*** There now follows an update related to the ferry crossing between Italy and Greece which some readers may find tedious and uninteresting. "But how will we tell it from your other entries, Angela?" you cry. Bog off.]
Between April and October most of the companies doing the Greek crossing offer a ticket option called "Camping On Board". This means exactly what it says on the tin; if you are in a motorhome (or in your car for that matter) you get to camp on board in your vehicle, just by buying the cheapest ticket. We hit the date by a couple of days so we went for it.
We didn't know if we would be able to put the roof up while we were on board, so we decided to make up the "downstairs" bed before we went aboard, so there wouldn't be too much faffing around. We never do this, and because we've got the boot shelf in a certain position, it's quite a major operation that involves taking everything out of the boot, shifting the position of the shelf board, then putting everything back in the van in a different order. So, in the ferry terminal car park, that's exactly what we did. Attracted quite a crowd too. Not embarrassing at all to have your life out on a pavement with people pointing at it. Not until they start laughing, that is.
Right, van configured? Check. Nothing on the pavement? Check. Got the "Camping On Board" sign for putting in the windscreen? Got it but it won't stay put, keeps sliding down. Fast approaching the chap at the bottom of the ramp. He can't see it, we'll be put in the hold, quick quick. Nick ended up driving past slowly and actually waving the sign at the man. He looked at us as if we were insane. I suspect he knew we were the dosy campers.
Once on board, we were shown to our spot beside the open side of the ferry (mmmm just right for seeing the massive waves), and offered our electricity hook up by one of the more cheerful staff members.
Now, camping on board has a nice ring to it, doesn't it? Are you imagining a whole deck of campervans, a party atmosphere, wine corks popping, everyone round the camping stove singing Ging Gang Gooly.
Well, not at this time of the year. We were the only campers there and were quickly surrounded on three sides by huge trucks and even huger truckers. I am in awe of the (incredibly grumpy) chief loading chap as he manoevered these machines into within inches of each other. It was something else watching him do his job; very skilled indeed. We looked out the door and thought, how the hell are we going to get around, but luckily we had the open side of the boat to walk down. Thanks very much.
We went up in the passenger lift to look around the boat while all the loading was going on. Very impressive boat; brand spanking new. We were keen to look at those aircraft seat things as that's what we would be in coming back and it looked good, fully reclinable, very comfy, darkened room. We went back down to the van to check on the dog.
Eventually, all the truckers headed upstairs with their luggage, ranging from carrier bags to sports holdalls to full on wheelie suitcases. What has happened to lorry drivers these days? Wheelie suitcases?
Now we could come out to play! We took Doug for a "walk" around the lorries (don't pee on that one Doug, he's Scottish. Yes, you can pee on the Austrian, that's fine.)
We then went in search of the facilities, fearing the worst after our stint in southern Italian campsites. Well, oh my goodness, they were brilliant. They were just at the end of the hold, with separate ones for boys and girls, which means I had mine all to myself. The toilets were clean and tidy, and they had showers too. Excellent.
That taken care of, we went back to the van and had our dinner. Afterwards, we headed upstairs again. Well, we tried to, but the lift wasn't working now, and we presumed they shut it down when sailing. When you check in you get these keycard things which let you into the main body of the boat and back down again, so we assumed we had to find another way up. While wandering aimlessly around, we came across a crew member who looked at us in bewildered terror and said unintelligable things in Greek along the lines of "how the hell did you two get down here?". We just smiled, waved our passes and said "Camping on Board?".
Aaaahh, the one phrase we all understood. He showed us where the stairs were.
The ferry was pretty quiet apart from the drivers, who'd all had a shower, put a shirt on, and were now in the bar watching of all things Braveheart. We had a drink in the bar, and pondered on the fact that all Greek lorry drivers seemed to be massive, with very thick grey hair, even thicker bushy mustaches, with open necked shirts and gold jewellery. That hair! It's amazing.
Right, bed time. We wandered back downstairs, had supper, got washed and changed, and it was off to our very comfortable bed. I was quite glad to be in bed as it was the only time I didn't feel nauseus. (Note to self: buy seasickness tablets for return crossing.) I was amazed by all this. When you buy the cheapest ferry ticket normally, it means you have to find the comfiest bit of floor or random chair wherever you can. For the same price I was sleeping in the relative luxury of my own home, with electricity, toilets, showers, and the run of the ship. Doug had us with him at all times, and we could walk him whenever we wanted. This was sheer genius.
At about 5am, however, it all got a bit noisy. We were stopping at Igoumenitsa en route to Patra, and it looked like most of the lorries were disembarking there. There was a lot going on: chains being removed, lorries starting up and moving, old grumpy with his whistle, the crew yelling at each other. But, it didn't last too long, and before I knew it, they were off the boat, and I was off to the land of nod again.
In the morning, we yawned and stretched and said how marvellous it all was. Apart from when we stopped, I said. What, said Nick. Tell me your joking, I said. He hadn't heard a thing. When he opened the blind and saw the empty deck all around us, his face was a picture. He slept like a baby through it all. I hate him.
We got ready in a leisurely fashion, had breakfast, got showered, walked the dog around the big open deck (not throwing the ball though!), and admired beautiful Greece. The sun was shining, the coastline was gorgeous, the sea was calm, life was good.
If you ever find yourself needing to get to Greece between April and October and you have a vehicle, may I heartily recommend Superfast Ferries and Camping On Board. Absolutely brilliant.