Our summer on Skiathos is over. One last trip with friends in their boat to Katiyorgi on the mainland for lunch.
Then it is packing. Closing down the house for the winter. All outdoor furniture taken in. Emptying the fridge. Locking up. Packing the car.
On Friday evening, we drive onboard the ferry in Skiathos harbour. The ferry is taking us to Volos on the mainland, a trip of not much more than three hours. We drive strait to the hotel in Volos. Checking in. Then a short walk down to the harbour. A final, typical Greek dinner. Ouzo. Lots of small Greek dishes, mezes. Another ouzo.
After a steady hotel breakfast on Saturday morning, we set out for a leisurely drive towards Igoumenitsa, just south of the border of Albania. We have plenty of time. The drive is 300 kilometers and the ferry to Italy is leaving at 23.00 in the evening. We are driving over the mountains. The leaves on the trees are starting to get its winter colours. The hot Greek summer is suddenly turning to autumn.
We stop by for a late lunch in the town of Ioannina. Ioannina is a town of 65,000 people, located at an altitude of 500 meters on the western shore of Lake Pamvoti. It is a town with a lot of history, dating back to Byzantine times and a big, impressive mediaval fortress is prominently located by the lake shore. On a Saturday afternoon like this, lots of people frequent the many lake side cafes and restaurants. A coffee. A glass of white wine. Talk. The latest gossip. No one is in a hurry this day.
After a pleasant afternoon walk along the lake, we proceed towards Igoumenitsa. We reach the harbour and get our boarding tickets.
I have made this trip between Greece and Sweden so many times now so I do not need a map or a gps. And I have learnt a few things over the years. First, always plan the trip so that you drive through Italy on a Sunday. Lorry traffic is banned on Italian highways on Sundays. Then you must plan your entry to the ferry so that you get a quick exit out from the ferry in Ancona. Last in, first out.
The ferries are big and take several hundred cars and trucks. As you drive onboard the ferry, you may, if you are unlucky, be sent down one floor or up one floor to park. Then you will be late out of the ferry the next morning. Leaving the ferry in the chaotic harbour of Ancona can also be a problem. Trucks are often controlled and if you get stuck behind them, it could be more than an hour before you get out of the harbour.
So after checking in, we don’t drive up to the ques for the ferry. Instead, we park 100 meters away. Now a waiting game starts. We watch as the cars and trucks slowly enter the ferry. Finally, with only five or six more cars to enter, we join the que. And we are lucky this time again. We just drive aboard, being parked immediately next to a few trucks. The next day, we will be one of the first cars out, reversing from the ferry to Italian soil. The strategy worked again!
The crossing over to Italy takes 18 hours. The ferry is comfortable. Our cabin is comfortable. We sleep, eat, drink, read. I finish the book I started a few weeks ago.
We arrive in Ancona at 14.00 in this Sunday afternoon. We are the second car off the ferry. The drive is smooth initially, the weather great, sunny, just over 20 degrees. Passing Bologna, we make a phone call to Austria. Yes, they have rooms available at Hotel Heiligcreuz in Hall In Tirol. I have stayed in this hotel many times over the years. The lady in the reception immediately knows who I am. The room will be ready when we arrive.
Darkness sets in as we leave Verona behind us. The weather is getting worse, drizzling rain. More traffic than expected. We go over the Brenner pass. It is pitch dark outside. The road is made with black asphalt, very black. Rain. Lots of cars meeting us with strong headlights. It is a tiresome drive. But just before nine in the evening, we reach our hotel in this small village outside Innsbruck. After checking in, we walk to one of the nearby restaurants. A pizza and a glass of red wine will do this evening.
Monday morning. After a heavy breakfast, we set out on the road. It is a beautiful day. High alps surround us. The trees on the mountains slopes are dressed in autumn colours, yellow, brown, red. Traffic is smooth. But subconsciously, I drive carefully in Austria.
Once in my life, I have been fined for speeding in the traffic, and it was in Austria. That time, I was driving from Vienna to Prague in the Czech Republic, a drive of four hours. A few kilometers from the Czech border, Austrian police stopped me. I had been speeding, not by very much but it was still speeding. When the polite police officer told me the size of the fine, I burst out laughing. The fine was small. The police officer could not understand what was so funny. I told him what the fine would be for a similar offense in Sweden. “That’s too much”, the police officer said and now he started laughing. I paid my fine on the spot and the police officer wrote a receipt, both of us still smiling.
This day, we have the longest drive of our trip, 930 kilometers. We take turns driving. Our marching speed is 130-140 kilometers per hour but we are constantly passed by other cars at much higher speeds. A few times, we are slowed down by road works and also by a traffic accident.
We are reaching the ring road around Berlin. Twice I have made the mistake of missing an exit here, causing me to have to drive into the city center of Berlin. Both times, this cost us an extra 70 kilometers drive. This time we do it right. On the ring road, we make a phone call to TT Line, one of the shipping lines with ferries between Germany and Sweden. No cabins available at the 22.00 departure from Rostock but there are cabins available at the midnight ferry. We book the tickets.
The ferry ride over to Trelleborg in Sweden takes seven hours. We sleep six and a half hours in our cabin. Getting off the boat in Trelleborg is smooth this Tuesday morning and we set off for our last 650 kilometers before we reach our home in Stockholm.
The autumn weather is fine, cool, sunny most of the time with rain showers occasionally. The traffic is not as intense in Sweden as it had been in Italy or Germany.
As we pass Jönköping, we call friends who live along the road. Yes, they are at home. Yes, we would love to come by for a cup of coffee. So just outside Nyköping, we leave the main road for a few kilometers drive to our friends’ home. We have a pleasant half hour break before we resume our drive. Ant then, finally, at four in the afternoon, we reach Stockholm.
We started our trip from Skiathos on Friday evening. We arrived in Stockholm on Tuesday afternoon. We have been driving a total of 2,620 kilometers. We have slept two nights in hotels, two nights in cabins on ferries. And now, we are back home in Sweden again!
We will stay in Stockholm a week, doing some shopping, having several dinners with family and friends. Then we will return home to Malaysia for the “winter”. In Malaysia, the temperature is 24-34 degrees, all year round. We will have a pleasant “winter”.
This is my last blog in 2017. Probably….
I will write the next time in 2018. Possibly…
In the meantime, enjoy your lives!!