Day 7: Parga to Heraklion, via the River Styx
Not quite the furthest point of the journey yet but almost there and today was a drive from Parga at the northern end of the Greek mainland, down to Pireas next to Athens, then the overnight ferry to Crete.
Here's a bit of culture for you just so you can't say this is all interminable inane ramblings. This small river dear people is the River Styx, and not just a modern-named River Styx but your actual proper River Styx. Or Stix, they seem vague on the spelling. I don't think it's still called the Styx now and is something like the Acheron. It's just south of Parga and runs down to a necropolis, hence in lore became associated with the dead and the eventually became the River Styx of mythology.
Not quite what one imagines the Styx to be - always thought of it as more a river of blood, fire and Hell Hounds rather than a meandering startlingly green channel passing under a main road. However, looked at one way, if you drive up the main road heading north you cross what was the mythical Styx and if you carry on along the same road you end up in Albania, which is easy to mistake for Hell, so maybe not just a myth after all?
My mistakes today have been small for once. The first was a sudden urge to be a proper car owner and check the pressures in my tyres after the off-roading rigours of Albania. In an act bringing shame to men everywhere, I did however fail to correctly operate the air hose at the petrol station and eventually gave up and drove away with less air in the one tyre I tried than I started with. Oh well, I'll think about that again in Crete.
For lunch I stopped at a random place along the main road as it looked welcoming enough, as indeed they were. The only issue I had was that the two nice ladies working there didn't speak any English, and while Good Lady Wife #1 speaks good Greek, mine is very limited. There was no menu so I just said 'souvlaki pita' hopefully. They said something which I guessed may have meant chicken or pork, so I mimed a pig... I was one step away from asking for my lunch via the medium of dance! The nice lady brought a selection of souvlaki meat from the fridge and I just pointed at one and held three fingers up. The skewers were small so three seemed reasonable to me but they looked very perplexed. When my lunch turned up it seemed I'd ordered three entire meals all for myself!
I ate one and was pleasantly stuffed. You don't want to cause offence so in a manful effort I shifted a second one but number three was too much so I pretended I had wanted it for a take-away to eat in the car. I'm not sure they were convinced.
There are quite a few tolls between Parga and Athens but I am getting very good at the Toll Booth Shuffle to jump out, run (well, more 'potter') round the car, pay, run back again and get going again. Almost slick at it now if I say so myself.
As far as I can tell Athens and Piraeus are pretty much merged into one big city and all I had to go on was that I was looking for a ferry port, but that can't be too hard to find can it? I hadn't considered that Greece kind of specialises in ferries and Piraeus has dozens of the things. Twice I could see my ferry but kept getting stuck on a dual carriageway and had no choice but to carry on past it. This was not helped by me stopping behind a truck at some traffic lights and he didn't move for two complete green signals. Then the driver came back from the shop over the road with his ciggies in his hand. I'd been waiting behind a parked truck, although to be fair he had parked at the traffic lights! In the end, to find the ferry I followed a sign saying 'trucks only' for an entrance near the big red ferry I was supposed to be on, following the logic that it's better to be there but in the wrong place rather than not there at all, and that worked just fine.
It's quite informal. To get on a ferry in Britain you get told to drive from line to line while being barked stern orders by men in orange jackets. In Piraeus you go to that little booth in the photo above, pick up your tickets, turn round and drive to the back of the ferry where a man sitting on a metal fence having a fag waves you on and that's it. No messing about queuing here - just get on the ferry as soon as you arrive. Perfect. And it left within 60 seconds of when it was supposed to and should be in Crete at 6am. My sense of enjoyment was slightly marredby a Facebook message from an old school friend who is the world's biggest ferry geek saying that Greek ferries are very good, but have been known to sink when the crew are distracted by football. Right in the middle of the World Cup. Cheers David!