It’s 4 years on since we started our life on the beautiful Greek island of Kefalonia and I wouldn’t change a thing. When we look back on the journey to get here we still chuckle.
Before I share our story, I would like to explain that I hope this doesn’t put you off of road-trips. We had many eventful situations, but I wouldn’t change them as it was a road trip of a lifetime and so much fun. However, if I had been travelling with anyone other than my amazing husband, that may have been a different story. A 3-day car journey with 4 cats caged up and temperatures hitting 40 degrees could bring any couple to a crumbling heap. I am so grateful that I married my best friend and I can honestly say that whatever was thrown at us, we couldn’t help but laugh and look at each, saying in unison, ‘It’s an adventure’.
It Started So Well
It all started the morning of 7th June 2016 when we set off in the car with 4 cats in the back with our business equipment and a top box with a blow-up bed and some clothes. We were moving to an unfurnished house but thought it would be fun to completely start afresh so travelled light.
We got off to a great start, route was planned, allowing plenty of ‘delays’ time, ferry tickets were all booked, filled-up with petrol and even got to Dover in time to catch the earlier ferry! It was at this point that the things started to ‘go wrong’. We were sat on the ferry enjoying the view when I realised that I had forgotten to upload the European maps to our new Sat Nav. After paying for internet access, we desperately tried to download them, but the bandwidth just wasn’t good enough, so we came up with another brainy idea of getting the directions up on my iPad and screen-printing each part of the journey. ‘There you go’ I said, ‘That’s our blip for the journey’. How wrong could I be.
The ferry trip itself was straightforward and we arrived in Calais earlier than expected which was great as we had til 12 noon the following day to get to Ancona in Italy to catch the ONE daily ferry to Greece. We must have been travelling for no more than an hour when the heavens opened and the torrential rain was so bad, we could hardly see the end of the bonnet on the car. Luckily, we were on a main motorway, so we continued on carefully and slowly. Then, without warning the passenger windscreen wiper stopped working. As we were close to a service station, we pulled in to consider our options.
It soon became clear that they were very limited as I realised that, in the excitement, I had forgotten to take out European breakdown cover. In fact, I had also forgotten to contact our car insurance company so wasn’t even sure that we were covered for the journey! So we trooped on, very slowly for the next 3 hours through storms that even hit the news as Europe was battered with floods https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-36483045
Where Were We?
The next stage was to head towards Strasbourg and skirt around the edge onto Switzerland. Looking back (hindsight is a wonderful thing) I think we managed to come off the main motorway onto the minor A4 road (arrow on map) as we some how came round the back of Strasbourg and ended up in Germany!
There were petrol strikes in France, the fuel tank was low, and it was late at night, so we started to panic about finding a petrol station. Finally, we came across one, but where were we? We didn’t even know what country we were in! Were we still in Germany? Had we made it back to France? Or were we further down than we thought into Switzerland? Who knew?
We pulled up at petrol pump 11 and filled up. I always try to speak a little in the local dialect and after spending a couple of years as a youngster in Germany I could still remember numbers, so thought I would be polite and tell the cashier it was pump 11 in German. The problem was, the guy was very large and we were not convinced we were even in Germany still so saying ‘elf’ (German for 11) to this heavily built cashier could have come across as though we were insulting him. Instead I just said, ‘pump 11’ and left quickly. We were in a state of uncontrollable laughter. Obviously the tiredness and insanity had kicked in, so we were finding everything hilarious. I guess it was one of those ‘You had to be there’ moments. Before long, we were back on the road again.
By now our iPad screen-prints were totally useless so I relied on Martin’s memory of driving this journey in the past and he recommended we headed towards Zurich.
We finally reached the Swiss border just after midnight and there was no one on the checkpoint so we drove on through. Little did we know that we were supposed to buy the Swiss motorway vignette for 40 Francs to allow us to drive on the motorways. If we didn’t have one and were stopped it could cost us 200 Francs. Luckily, we were not stopped, so there was no fine. Phew something that actually went in our favour for once!
Siri Knows Everything!
After going through the checkpoint and looked out for signs to Zurich. That is when we hit the next dilemma. There were 3 SIGNS pointing to Zurich. One went left, one straight ahead and one to the right. Which one do we take? Frantically looking at the newly bought European map, I was trying to find other towns and cities that were marked on the road signs but they all seemed to take us in totally the wrong direction so we opted for the one on the right.
This was obviously the wrong decision as we managed to miss the main motorway onto Italy and ended up driving in the ‘less pretty’ part of town. This was the one and only time that Martin lost it. After 2 hours of driving around looking for signs to help us and over 48 hours of very little sleep, Martin ranted ‘Why don’t you ask Siri. Siri bl***y knows everything”. After approx. 17 hours of driving abroad with no European Sat Nav, I hadn’t even given it a thought. After all, I had a pay as you go phone so not likely to have any data. So being a little sarcastic I spoke into my phone. “Siri direct us to Milan”. To my surprise up popped a map and directions to follow. Why didn’t we think of this before?
As dawn approached it was my time to drive again. As Martin attempted to sleep for a while, I drove through the what I can only describe as some of the most stunning sights in the Swiss mountains. Shame we didn’t have the time or energy to stop and soak it up properly (another road trip coming up me thinks). Then we were well on our way.
Just before the Italian border, I stopped to grab the charger as my phone battery way dying. Before I knew it, I woke up. OMG I had been asleep for 1.5 hours! After the misroute in Germany and then in Switzerland we had already used up so much of our ‘delays’ time. If we missed the 2pm ferry in Ancona to Greece, we would have to wait another 24 hours for another ferry and that wouldn’t be fair to the fur babies. So, I made it my mission to get us there.
As we approached the outskirts of Milan, there was a terrible accident which held us up even longer. Crawling through the built-up traffic, I could finally see open road ahead. I am not proud of the fact that I was speeding, but let’s just say, even the Italians moved out of our way. I saw the signs for Ancona, no idea how far away it was and just floored it. We were going to make that ferry if it was the last thing we did.
We were supposed to be at the port by 12 noon and it was already 1pm. We finally arrived in Ancona just 15 minutes before the ferry was due to leave and arrived at the check-in. There was no sign of a port or a ferry? Were we in the right place? I ran into the building and begged and pleaded with the lady to still allow us on the ferry which she agreed. Now all we had to do was find the ferry! Not so easy when there are one-way roadworks that sent us round a building site TWICE! But we eventually found it with just 2 minutes to spare. The Italian operators squeezed us in on the end of a row and we made sure the cats were settled and headed up to the deck.
It Could Only Happen To Me
This was going to be a 16-hour ferry ride, so we made arrangements to be escorted down to the lower deck to check on the cats a little later and settled into our ‘cinema seats’. This was our chance to catch up on some sleep before the final leg.
Once we were comfortable I decided to go and take a shower to freshen up. Martin had had one at one of the service stations, but I didn’t fancy it. I trotted off to find the shower cubicles leaving Martin at the seats with our carry on luggage
It felt so good to feel clean and freshened up, I could have stayed in the shower all night. I really shouldn’t have had that thought as it almost came true.
The shower was in the restroom with 5 toilet cubicles and were big enough to take your clothes in so that you can get dried and dressed in there. They were very typical of the restrooms you get in offices and pubs where they are all joined together with metal framework and high-pressure laminate doors and were very clean.
Once I was dried and dressed I went to leave, but the door wouldn’t open. As much as I pushed and played around with the lock, it was jammed. I even tried to put my weight behind it and ram it with my shoulder, but it wasn’t budging. What do I do? After standing there for about 5 minutes contemplating my options I heard 2 people come into the restroom talking in Italian. Do I say something? I felt so silly. I decided to keep quiet until they went and then tried again. Nope, no luck. Then another person came in. This time I decided to swallow my pride and shout out for help. They came over and were trying all sorts but to no avail. They said they would go get help so I waited. After 10 minutes, no-one turned up.
Then the cleaner came in, so I called out to her to let her know I was trapped. She came over and was playing around with the lock for a few minutes and then disappeared. I thought SHE was going to get help. After about another 10 minutes I realised no-one was coming to rescue me. At this point I had been in here for 45 minutes, surely Martin is going to be getting worried by now.
I was starting to think I really was going to be stuck in here all night. It could only happen to me! Finally, I decided I would try brute force and did what can only be described as a police break in (I’d watched too many action films) and held onto the sides while I kicked the door, driving the heal of my foot into the door where the lock was situated. Success! The door opened, but in doing this, I managed to reshape the metal framework which caused the door on the cubicle toilet next door and the division between to come apart from the frame. I hadn’t completely broken it, but it had seen better days. I grabbed my stuff and left the restroom quickly, almost running back to our seats, to find Martin looking relaxed and totally oblivious to what had been happening.
He looked at me with his sleepy eyes and just said ‘You were a long time’. All I could say in response was ‘Don’t even go there’ and burst into laughter. I then retold the story to my beloved husband, who found it VERY amusing. The rest of the ferry trip, luckily, was uneventful.
After catching up on some much-needed sleep, we awoke the next morning to see land. We were approaching Igoumenitsa. The final leg of our journey and today we were going to arrive at our new home. We were so excited. The plan now was to drive down to Lefkada and catch the ferry to Fiscardo and drive down the island to our new home in the south in Ratzakli (between Katelios and Skala).
Left Or Right Dear?
This part of the journey, Martin was familiar with as he had done it a couple of times before. Lefkada is a small island joined to Greece mainland by a bridge. Martin was driving so I left the directions in his capable hands. When we got over the bridge, we could go left or right, Martin turned right. As we started to drive around the coastline of this beautiful island I decided to look at the map as we couldn’t remember the name of the port where we had to catch our final ferry. The only place that looked remotely like a port was a place called Porto Katsiki on the southern tip. There was even a picture of a ferry by it, so that’s where we headed. As we started to descend down the steep narrow mountain road, we could see a ferry ahead. When I had checked online we were told there was one ferry that left at 12 noon. It was 11.45am so we had to hurry, or we were going to miss it. Martin drove as fast as he safely could and as we descended we could smell burning rubber from the brakes. They were starting to fail on us. Meticulously using the handbrake for extra security, we made it down to the bottom to be greeted by a lovely Greek man. When we asked how we get to the ferry he responded. ‘No ferry goes from here. The ferry to Kefalonia goes from Nidri. 45km away back up the island!’. When I looked at the map and saw where Nidri was situated, it turns out that if we had turned left at the bridge, it would have only been 15km away.
That was it, we were in the wrong place with only 5 minutes before the ferry was due to leave and it was 45km away. Unless we could time travel we were never going to make it. We had defied all the events to get this far, only to be beaten at the last hurdle. We were devasted.
We thanked the guy and left. We decided to head back up the island and at least find out where it was and book a ticket for the following day. As we travelled back up the west coast of the island, we suddenly noticed we were only a few km away from the bridge again. We had missed Nidri again! How did we manage that?
Everything seemed to be against us getting to our new life, but we never let it get us down. We just laughed everything off with our favourite saying, ‘It’s an adventure’. We must have said it at least 30 times during this trip. We turned the car around and finally found the port. No wonder we missed it; it didn’t even look like somewhere that ferry’s big enough to carry cars could dock. We looked at the timetable and to our surprise, they were running 2 ferries each day, one at 10am and another at 5pm and it was only 3’Oclock! OMG we could still make it. We could still arrive in Kefalonia today and now we had a couple of hours to spare.
Where Is Our New Home?
We parked the car right by the ferry docking point and had something to eat in the café directly opposite. We were not taking any more chances. We enjoyed our first Greek meal and sat with the cats with the boot open to give them some fresh air and waited. We made it. We were on the ferry. Surely nothing else could go wrong now.
We finally arrived in Kefalonia. We started our final drive down the east coast of the island to find diversions in place due to the horrific earthquake in 2014 that destroyed part of the coastal road between Myrtos beach and Assos. The route was straightforward enough, but it meant that we were going to miss the stunning views as the sun was setting.
We had made it to Ratzakli, and it was time to find our new home. There was just one slight problem. We knew it was somewhere between the two turnings down to Mounda Bay and it was a pastel yellow house with lemon trees out front, but we didn’t know anything else. So, we drove round and round, checking every house on the route. It was getting quite dark now and more difficult to see as streetlights were few and far between.
The letting agent had given us the owner’s brother’s telephone number who apparently was our neighbour. Problem was, in the excitement, it was another thing I hadn’t made a note of and I had no internet to access my emails. After an hour or so of driving in circles, we finally decided to park up in the Mounda Beach Hotel car park. We had stayed there whilst on holiday and luckily, they hadn’t changed the wi-fi password, so we managed to get the number.
I called Kostas (the owner’s brother) who then agreed to come and meet us for us to follow him back. We drove along the Mounda coast road, listening to the waves lapping the beach and all the stress and tiredness from the journey just disappeared. It was magical. Part way up the Kaminia road he took a turning so tight he had to do a 3-point turn. Then he travelled up the gravel road. We followed. When we got to the top, there it was, a house, split into 2 apartments all on their own, overlooking Kaminia beach with no other houses around, it was pure bliss. Even in the dark we could tell the view was going to be breath-taking.
We jumped out of the car and walked into our new home. It was better than the pictures and video the letting agent sent us. We truly had found our corner of paradise. Kostas left and we had a quick look around. We safely brought the cats in and put them in one of the spare bedrooms to settle in, blew up the bed and settled down for our first permanent night in Kefalonia.
When we woke the next morning, we were greeted with the most stunning view across to Katelios (our favourite village on the island) and I just burst into tears. We made it. We had finally found the home of our dreams on a magical island.
Even after 4 years, I cannot help but look out at our view and cherish just how lucky we are. Would we do it all again? IN A HEARTBEAT!