Back Home Again :: Γύρισα στην Αγγλία

Departure from Calais

It has been a long week, but the good news is I’ve arrived back in the UK and have spent the weekend recovering from my adventure with the Belgian breakdown service.

After the VW garage in Belgium opened on Tuesday they quoted a very large sum to repair the car, at which point I asked my breakdown company just to get me + car back home – It took 48 hours to organise but eventually they towed me back from Belgium; I was able to drive the car on to and off the ferry which made things much easier.

As a result of Brexit, P&O Ferries ships are now registered in Λεμεσός (Limassol) and fly the Cypriot flag…

I arrived in Dover at 22:45 on Thursday night and was then towed back to Gloucestershire, arriving in Fairford some time between 04:00 and 04:30, and getting back home at 05:00 on Friday morning.

Following all this I’ve since spoken to my garage who couldn’t find the fault the Belgians said they found – other than perhaps the timing chain is a little noisier than it should be but just keep an eye on it for now…

I trust my own garage’s judgement more than a VW main dealer in another country who have never worked on the car before – although I have my car back now, it does mean that whatever the underlying fault, whatever it may be, hasn’t been fixed – but if/when it does resurface, at least I’m not too far away from home this time!

Apart from the breakdown spoiling the end of my holiday, it was otherwise a great 3 weeks and I would definitely drive to Greece again – Not every year, the cost is comparable to a 2 week holiday for a family of 4 who are flying over; but maybe in 2-3 years time I’ll consider it again.

As well as driving to Greece for the first time, I also went in to some countries I’ve never been to before – my thoughts on those as follows…

Italy: I wasn’t too sure what to make of Italy. I didn’t feel as welcomed in Italy as I do in Greece, Cyprus or the German speaking world – perhaps not speaking Italian was a contributing factor – and I found their motorways (Autostrade) a little crazy, not like the German Autobahns where I feel quite comfortable.

Austria: I only drove through Austria in the pouring rain on the way to Greece and called in briefly at Bregenz (near the Swiss and German borders) on the way back – but it seemed nice enough. I speak German and can understand TV and radio in Austria – one to explore more of.

Bregenz from Above

Switzerland: I liked Switzerland a lot, despite only really driving through it in a single day. If I could have stopped in every Alpine village I liked the look of, I’d still be there today!

The scenery in Switzerland as I drove over the top of the Alps was brilliant, and the roads there are good too.

Swiss Alps in June

After crossing in to Switzerland from Italy, I tuned in to the national German-speaking radio station (SRF 1). It was the first time in a number of weeks I’d listened to a proper news bulletin on the radio so it was almost like coming home, re-entering the German-speaking world and catching up with everything I’d missed since being away.

It was through listening to the news on SRF 1 I learned that Theresa May had formally stepped down as Conservative leader, signalling the start of the leadership election.

Liechtenstein: A bit like Switzerland in that it also uses Swiss Francs as the currency (and therefore the prices that come with that) – Definitely one to visit again.

Vaduz, Liechtenstein

That is it for my Greece Road Trip 2019 and my blog.

Back to work on Monday – I’ve bought a shed load of Belgian chocolate to make up for the week I wasted while sitting on the phone in Belgium for most of it; to compliment the bag full of biscuits I bought back from Greece.

Think I need another holiday to recover from my holiday. Can that be arranged?

FH.

Thurday’s Mileage: 307
Total Mileage for my Greek Road Trip: 3813

Journey Map

Completed Map

I’m Not Back At Home :: Δεν Γύρισα στην Αγγλία

Today was not the end of the holiday I really wanted it to be. Instead of driving back to England, I’ve only really made it half way.

I had a good breakfast in Boppard before getting on the road shortly after 9 – Earlier than planned but I wanted to leave sooner and get some miles covered early in the day.

I’d been on the road for a little under 3 hours when the car started playing up; The engine management light came on and it went in to its limp home mode – just as it had done in Greece. However this time I couldn’t clear it; Cue 2 hours of sitting on the hard shoulder of a Dutch motorway waiting for a breakdown truck. The truck came, he plugged his thing in to the car’s data port, said it was a faulty sensor, cleared the error, and sent me on my way.

All was fine until I got to about Brussels. I’d stopped at the Services just past Brussels for a drink and got on the road again – then the real problems started; The engine was misfiring. No warning light (probably because the guy who came out had cleared it), but something certainly wasn’t right.

I pulled in to one of the emergency breakdown lanes they have every few hundred metres on Belgian motorways…Played about with the car, stopped and started it a few more times, and decided I’d try and make it to the next services rather than sit on the motorway. Didn’t know how far ahead they were, maybe 20-30km away? I’d not long come out of one lot of services! But I didn’t make it that far. I drove off fine and for a couple of minutes it was normal again, before the misfiring began again. It was no good, I needed to stop.

Another 2 hours of sitting beside the motorway.

This time the driver managed to identify the real cause of the problem; A faulty valve was sending exhaust fumes back in to the engine. Definitely not right! When it became too much for the engine it would send out an error message and that’s when the light would come on, and when in this latest incident the engine would misfire.

So… Where now?

This late on a Sunday – and a bank holiday weekend (Pentecost) for most of Europe – there was now no chance of being towed back to Calais tonight.

So instead my car’s been towed to a garage and I’ve been sent to a nearby hotel for 2 nights. I’ve got the number of the garage and will have to call them on Tuesday morning.

The result of this is that tonight I’m in Aalst. My room has a good view of the motorway. I think there’s a park within 10 minutes walk, and about a 30 minute walk to the centre.

Might as well make the most of this… I’m here until Tuesday (at the earliest)…

But now I think I’m just going to stick the TV on.

Goedenacht,

FH.

Today’s Mileage: 214.9
Accumulative Mileage: 3505.8

Journey Map

Germany Again :: Η Γερμανία Ξανά

Bodensee as seen from Austria. On the left is Switzerland; on the right is Germany.

Tonight is my last night abroad and I am staying back in the area of Germany I came to during my first trip to Germany in 2006 (in the same hotel even); the same place I came to when I first drove to Germany 2 years ago.

I started with a good breakfast at my hotel in Bregenz. After checking out I took the Pfänderbahn to a viewpoint above the city – 1064m in height. The views from the top allowed me to see all the way to the Swiss Alps in one direction, to Germany’s Baden-Württemberg and Bavaria in another direction, and across the city of Bregenz and the Bodensee Lake in another direction.

I also enjoyed wandering around the free-of-charge Tierpark (animal park) at the top of the mountain, home to a range of Alpine animals. The deer were too far away to see properly but I did manage to get this photo of them…

I got on the road I think at around midday and set the Sat Nav for Stuttgart. I had a good 4 hour journey ahead of me and Stuttgart was roughly half way between Bregenz and Boppard.

Arriving in Germany I was back on the Autobahn, and going fast. The Autobahn today also gave me the first big traffic jam I’ve had since the M25 3 weeks ago.

In Stuttgart I stopped off at the Fernsehturm (the TV tower), to enjoy the views across Baden-Württemberg and to enjoy a drink and a light lunch in the Panorama Café.

Stuttgart, The capital of Baden-Württemberg, is Germany’s 6th largest city
Boppard-am-Rhein, Rheinland-Pfalz

My arrival in Boppard marked the first time since Lefkada that I have seen other British cars in any great number. There was the odd British camper van in Switzerland and I got a thumbs up from a bike on GB plates who overtook me in a traffic jam on the Autobahn today.

After I had checked in to my hotel and then walked in to town enjoy my last evening meal abroad. By dinner time tomorrow, I’ll be back in the UK. In some ways I’m so close to home, yet so far away at the same time! Driving on the left will feel weird after 3 weeks.

The last couple of days haven’t been without their problems; Somewhere along the lines my passenger side wing mirror has been damaged – I don’t know by what, but I think it happened while I was parked in Italy, it is like something has hit it.

I’ve patched it back up as best I can and it seems to be holding OK but I’ll want to get that fixed sooner rather than later. I’m still not 100% happy that the alignment of the mirror is totally correct, so I’m being extra careful when changing lanes.

The other problem is I have another warning light which has been on since Athens (it did go off briefly this afternoon but then came back on). The light is telling me a bulb has gone. The only trouble is I can’t figure out which one, everything which I think should work, does.

Other than that so far so good and I’m now within a day’s driving of the UK on roads I know fairly well, now that I’m back in an area of Germany I know well. It’ll be a long day on the road tomorrow – Maybe as many as 14 hours including stops – so I will need to stop plenty of times, drink plenty of water, eat a good breakfast/lunch etc.

So given that I’ve got a long day tomorrow, I’m going to have an early night, I’ll go in to my room and stick the TV on for a bit (I can get some BBC programmes out here, albeit dubbed in to German, but that doesn’t bother me) and I did manage to get a BBC channel in English last night, which was showing W1A and Live At the Apollo – I think it is one I’ve seen before; Josh Widdecombe talking about going on holiday and being asked by friends and colleagues “can you get me…” which turns the last day of his holiday in to a day of going round looking for things, like in an episode of The Apprentice. Somehow I felt this was quite accurate!

Gute Nacht,

FH.

Today’s Mileage: 304.5
Accumulative Mileage: 3288.9

Journey Map

The Alps :: Οι Άλπεις

It was warm and Sunny when I woke up in Italy this morning. So t-shirt and shorts it would be – even if I was about to go in to the Alps.

I had 2 choices of route today. The quickest route would be on the motorway – that would mean going South to get on the motorway and turn North again once past Milano (Milan).

Alternatively I could take the scenic route – It would be a slower route, not meeting the motorway until well in to Switzerland – but it would be more fun.

Just outside Corteno Golgi, Italy – shortly before the Swiss border (view to the South).

It took slightly more than an hour to get to the Swiss border. The Italian-Swiss border was the first land-border at which I had to show my passport. A Swiss customs official checked it and asked «Sprechen Sie Deutsch?» (Do you speak German?) – I replied «Ja, Ein Bisschen» (Yes, a bit) and he proceeded to ask me where I was going, was it just me in the car, was I in Switzerland for work or holiday, etc – before sending me on my way.

I was impressed by the Swiss roads – they are good! Quite twisty and windy as you go over the Alps but in comparison to some of the Greek roads, not bad at all.

The scenery was great. On the way to Greece I’d followed the Brenner route, one of the lowest Alpine routes; Now I was getting high in to the Alps. I was following the Bernina Pass road, one of the the highest routes through the Swiss Alps – it took me to an altitude of 2328m (7638ft) above sea level.

Snow still on the ground in June!

The road is an excellent road to drive on – People were driving it in their sports cars (including a very nice looking Porsche on Russian plates), there were quite a few cyclists, and loads of Bikers – usually all stopped in groups at the view points.

I was still in my t-shirt and shorts when I stopped to take photos in the snow, and while it was definitely fresh outside I never felt cold. The car was boiling anyway (I drove with the window open most of the way), and at lower levels the temperature in the high 20s, so I wouldn’t have wanted to wear warm clothes.

Today’s journey also included taking my car on the train between Sagliains and Klosters; Klosters is a ski resort apparently a favourite of the British Royal Family. At this point the local radio station (SRF 1) started playing music which didn’t sound too out of place in the Alps!

Taking my car on the train

Eventually, About 20 minutes from Vaduz, I reached the motorway – Vaduz, the main city in Liechtenstein had been somewhere I wanted to visit when I put this itinerary together. Vaduz doesn’t feel like a capital city; I parked at the Rheinpark football stadium – within walking distance from the centre but surrounded by farm land, with the Rhine river nearby; the Rhine forms the border between Switzerland and Liechtenstein.

5 minutes walk from the centre of Vaduz (Capital of Liechtenstein) – It doesn’t feel like a capital city at all!
Vaduz, Liechtenstein in the foreground – In the background, the Rhine forms the border with Switzerland

I had a 2 hour stop in Vaduz which gave me time to have a drink, wander around the City Centre, and up to the castle (the castle itself isn’t open to the public; it is the home of the Prince of Liechtenstein).

Leaving Vaduz, I drove back in to Switzerland to get back on the motorway and soon after crossed in to Austria – My 4th country in one day! My destination was Bregenz, the capital of the Austrian State of Vorarlberg located on the Southern shore of Bodensee (Lake Constance); I arrived not long after 7pm.

In the evening I wandered in to the centre of Bregenz where I found a Greek restaurant… Well, this is a Greek road trip after all, so why not!?!

I have felt very at home being back in the German speaking world today, able to understand the language, and in particular I enjoyed eating at the Greek restaurant where I was able to switch from one language to the other (and back again) with no difficulties at all.

I’m going to head off to bed now – Got a long drive tomorrow to Boppard, but should have time to stop off in Stuttgart along the way.

Gute Nacht,

FH.

Today’s Mileage: 187.5
Accumulative Mileage: 2984.4

Journey Map

I’m Back In Italy :: Γύρισα στην Ιταλία

As I write this evening it feels like it has been ages since I left home. (3 weeks tomorrow, actually). I only have a couple of days left before I get home and the best part of 1000 miles still to drive.

I woke up late this morning – I slept well after getting off the ferry in the middle of the night.

Taking such a long ferry journey has rather meant I’ve lost track of what the time is. I’m still on Greek time (1 hour ahead of Italy); The ship’s time was Greek time, the crew was Greek, the food on board was Greek and tannoy announcements were done in Greek, English, German and Italian (in that order) – In effect although I left Greece on Tuesday night it wasn’t until this morning that I actually left the Greek world behind – but I’m still thinking in Greek now, so it might take a few days to adjust to the change in language.

Italy – or at least Northern Italy – is a world away from Greece. It seems like the pace of life here is to much faster than in Greece. That’s not necessarily the case but drive for a few minutes on the Italian Autostrada and you’ll know what I mean.

I find the Italian Autostrada a bit tiring to be honest. Truck after truck after truck in lane 1, truck overtaking truck in lane 2. So if you’re in a car the best way of going anywhere at speed is in the fast lane, usually with an tailgating Italian in tow. Pull in to lane 2 to let them pass and someone starts tailgating in lane 2. Find a gap in lane 1 and someone will start tailgating in lane 1 as well. There just isn’t any room to breathe! Not to mention the lack of lane discipline.

Then there’s the language: Italian is totally unfamiliar to me – not an ounce of similarity between Greek and Italian. This means that while I have the radio on while I’m driving through Italy, I’ve not a clue what’s happening on the roads, where the traffic jams are, what’s happening in the news (although I did hear «Theresa May» spoken in an Italian accent on the radio earlier).

The only thing I can vaguely work out is the travel news – the tone which marks the beginning and end of the bulletin, which sounds a little bit like a plane’s Autopilot disconnecting – is the same as the one used by the German-language station I listened to in Italy’s German speaking region – and I can also understand the radio station’s jingle which comes on every half hour or so – variations of people singing «Radio Due» (Italian for Radio 2).

But otherwise, I don’t speak or understand Italian. So…Back to speaking English it is then – for now.

Today was an easy day in comparision to the next 3 days. 2 drives of roughly 90 minutes each. The first was to the Parco Giardino Sigurta – a sort of botanical garden / country park – an interesting place to go for a walk and have some lunch, just to break up the journey more than anything else.

Need any more fish for the pond, Dad?

I left the park right on time – It had started raining and thundering a bit as I walked through the exit. Within 2 minutes of getting in the car it was pouring with rain and there was some lightning to add to the fun.

It was again that sort of rain which means you have to have the wipers on full speed and still can’t see… It is surprising how disorientating this type of rain can be, when you can’t hear anything, can’t really see anything – couple this crazy Italian drivers while trying to find the 5th exit of the roundabout to get on the Autostrada, and it was inevitable that I should get a little lost (thankfully the sat nav readjusted and got me facing the right direction within no time).

It was a surprisngly quick run from there up to tonight’s hotel, in the village of Castro on the banks of Lake Iseo. The scenery was quite nice as I came off the motorway and in to the mountains. There were loads of tunnels though – I lost count of how many but each one lasted for between 2-3km, then maybe 100m in daylight before yet another tunnel. Still – Being on these roads made a nice change to all those trucks on the Autostrada.

Castro, Lombardy, Italy

A long day of driving tomorrow which will see me stop in Bregenz, Austria – just a couple of km short of the German border – Before that I’ll be passing through Switzerland and Liechtenstein (stopping in Vaduz) on the way.

So I suppose, ahead of a day on the road, I’d better head off to bed.

Buona notte,

FH.

Today’s Mileage: 165.5
Accumulative Mileage: 2796.9

Journey Map

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