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We’re feeling lucky. On this trip we’ve had a couple instances of receiving either bad or no information about desired bus connections. In both cases the missed connections led us to much better travel experiences. Thank you bus gods.

After a ferry from Albania we arrived in Puglia, southern Italy, and went to stay in the lovely baroque town of Lecce. italy1-010We both had colds which  dampened interest in sight seeing but we still went out. The echo effect in the baroque churches, caused by a hacking cough, is quite amazing. The candles flickered and the cherubs seemed to shake.  Scared even us.sicily1-011

We’ve had another bus schedule cock up. We visited the bus station for information and were told we could catch a 7pm bus the next night and to pay on board. So we checked out next morning and walked the baroque streets and huddled in a park, two cafes, a church, a pastry shop and a bar. 8 hours later we walked to the bus station just to find out the information was wrong and the bus was canceled due to a local holiday. Thankfully the ticket agent gave us a much better alternative that left early the next morning.  So we found a hotel, fell into bed and stayed another day in Lecce. Early the next morning was a bus to Taranto. We had cash ready when boarding and were promptly kicked off by the driver indicating tickets must be bought somewhere in the direction he was pointing. I went sprinting that direction and found nothing open accept a cafe. No bus tickets. So I ran back, muttering “another day in Lecce”. Bless the driver. He let us on without paying. We got a free ride to Taranto where we had a 4 hour layover. Lovely city full of fashionistas and fishermen. italy1-013Then down the coast to Consenza.

Next day another lovely bus ride concluding three weeks from Athens to Sicily and probably our last bus. Yeah!

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In a previous episode I proudly displayed my 3 page trip itinerary in 10pt font just before our flight to Greece.  It turned out to be as good a travel guide as the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. itinerary  Our adventure started on the Isle of Cephalonia.

The original itinerary:
Day 1: Ferry & 2 buses from Ionian island of Cephalonia to Ioannina, the connection town for a bus to Corfu.
Day 2: Bus to port of Igoumenitsa and ferry to Corfu
Day 3&4: Relax in Corfu before returning to Igoumenitsa and a ferry to Italy
Day 5: Ferry to Italyitin-map1

What actually happened:

Day 1: Ferry 3 hours late due to weather. Rough crossing. rough-seasOn the mainland we only get as far as nearby town of Agrinio and book next day tix for Ioannina.
Day 2: Just as we are getting on the Ioannina bus we see one next to us pulling out that is going directly to Corfu. KTEL, the Greek bus line, must be run by the Greek secret service. They only give out information on a need to know basis and I guess we weren’t on that list. We boarded the bus to Ioannina where I pictured the Corfu bus on the ferry as the warm sun set over the island. Meanwhile we were headed for the frozen mountains.
Day 3: Frost on the ground. itowns-001As we board the bus for Igoumenista the driver asks, “Do you want to be dropped at the port for Corfu?”. “Yes please, how nice.” When we arrive at the port the driver tells us there is a seaman strike that started this morning and the ferries aren’t going for 2 days. At least we’re now on the need to know list. I again picture the Corfu bus people sitting in sunny Corfu cafes. We book into the little port of Igoumenitsa and wait for the strike to end.
Day 4: The strike is extended for two more days and threatening more. The Seamen’s Union is striking against higher taxes and reduced pensions. It’s a little strange to think that the government is going to reduce taxes because of a sailor’s strike.  Meanwhile people are stranded everywhere. There are 5 people  recently released from a mainland hospital who are trying to get home to Corfu and are stranded along with us. I realize we were lucky to have missed the infamous Corfu bus. That night over a cheap bottle of Greek wine we came up with a brilliant plan B (or is it C, D or E by now?). The plan was great, the wine, maybe not.itin-map2
Day 5: We boarded a bus for the Albanian border. Apparently it’s no longer a communist dictatorship and ferries are still running there. As we neared Albania there were only 3 passengers, Erica, myself and a shepherd who was dropped off at his flock. After the border we found a taxi to the first town 50k away. alb-013There we changed money and found a minibus leaving for the port of Vlore. Four hours and hundreds of switchbacks later we arrived at our ferry. alb-026We loved the 24 hours we had in Albania.
Day 6: Ferry to Italy. Now my only problem is that I’ve caught my second cold in two weeks. Spaghetti sauce is full of vitamin C?
Day 7-10 Greek seamen union strike extended.  Feeling sorry for the Corfu bus people. Like Papillon they might be making straw rafts and waiting for the seventh wave to carry them back to the mainland. papillonSo much for itineraries.

In a week we’ve met six Greeks who have repatriated. In our first hour in Greece, on the metro from the airport, a drunk who was ranting about the EU had repatriated from California. Two hotel managers, a restaurant owner, a farmer and even a bus ticket taker all took time to tell us their story. Most were bittersweet stories about problems in Greek society and usually some family intrigue that brought them back. The most interesting may be Billy, real name Visili. He is magical because he is the only one in Greece that could tell us connecting bus information. We’ve been to 8 intercity bus stations and none of them could tell us about buses we needed to connect to in another town. Billy made one phone call and got it. He lived 30 years in New York City and  built a multi-million dollar real estate business in the Chelsea area of Manhattan. His Achilles heal (as it were) spawned from his two marriages and divorces in the US, which must have included large settlements because now he complains of just scraping by, running a small hotel in the sleepy port town of Poros on Cephalonia. ionia-010His first marriage was to an American, his second to a Greek American. Now he’s married to a Greek. Let’s hope he’s found the right pedigree this time.
You’ve heard of slow food, slow living, how about slow travel. In two days of travel we managed only 80 miles overland and 40 miles at sea, mainly due to bus schedules and bad weather. We spent hours holed up in a port cafe waiting to find out if our ferry was going to brave the weather. Not wasted time. We stuck in with some locals ionia2-007 and got to know the cafe cat, Bella. ionia2-008  It took twelve buses and four ferries to make it around the Peloponese  peninsula and on to Cephalonia and  Corfu. We’re anxious to see it Italian bus schedules are more available and helpful.

From Athens we hopped a bus for the Peloponnese Peninsula, where we spent a week. First stop was Nafplio. A lovely, small old port town that was the capital of Greece in the early 18th century when the Venetians controlled the area. pelo-011
Our next bus was to Sparta where we had a cute little roof loft and played Greek Scrabble. sparta-014 That week was a local holiday honoring St. Nicholous. The churches were the place to be. sparta-016 Outside Sparta is a large hillside ruin of the last Byzantine stronghold in the middle ages. sparta-006 From Sparta we had a magnificent bus ride on switchbacks through autumn colored canyons reminding me of the Rockies. sparta-018-tagonytus-mtns After four buses and a taxi in twenty four hours we caught a ferry to the Ionian island of Cephalonia. 200cm of rain fell in the same period with flooding. ionia-011 The first night thunder shook the mountains like Grecian gods ranting about EU austerity measures. The island was still there the next morning but threatening more rain.

Like most travelers to Greece we went to catch up on some great TV. alb-009The whole trip to Athens went as smooth as greek yogurt. We boarded the airport metro, put in for the 2004 Olympics and had an easy ride to town. The drunk next to me ranted the whole way about the EU but at least he didn’t hit me when I said we voted against Brexit. Our airbnb host, NIck, met us at the metro and took us home. Nick was a bit of an anomaly. Nice guy but he made his living as an online poker player. He soon went out, it being Saturday night. We found a family place around the corner and had our first gyros. Yummm. We turned in and were fast asleep when the door buzzer rang. It was 1am. Nick wasn’t home and our experience with city apartments on Saturday nights was that drunks would sometimes ring the buzzers trying to get someone to ring them in. So we ignored it. Then the buzzer started ringing nonstop. Maybe not a drunk? Maybe a disgruntled girl friend, or loan collector? The buzzer was still ringing after 10 minutes. Now we’re thinking psycho killer. Finally I heard my name being called from outside. It was Nick and we had locked him out.
The whole trip since that night has been great. Lovely days exploring Athens streets athens-016 and museums, wonderful food athens-026 and friendly people.

News of the Paris attacks and the ring leader of Moroccan origin came out just a few days before we boarded the ferry for Tangier. Here are some photos and stories that try to refocus away from that recent dark news and reveal how lovely Morocco is.

Interior of Marrakeck riad revealed.

Interior of Marrakech riad revealed.

Morocco, or then Barbary, was the first to formally recognize the USA in 1777. We visited the first US real estate on foreign soil at the US Legation in Tangier. tang4 It’s now a museum but still US soil. Nice to think I got a US holiday without getting on a plane. While in Tangier we experienced more Americana. We stayed at the hotel where the Beat author William Burroughs wrote his most famous book, The Naked Lunch. tang2 We took the night train from Tangier to Marrakech. Loved being rocked to sleep in the sleeper carriage. trans9
The road east of Marrakech was California central valley straight and flat, with orchards and aqueducts either side. These orchards were olive and almond, watered by the snows from the High Atlas Mountains serrating the horizon. Demnate is a quiet little town surrounded by olive orchards in the foothills of the High Atlas.
We saw no other non-locals as we strolled the medina market. A nice feeling. Breakfast was in a stall overlooking the bus yard. Demnate is famous for its olives. Breakfast was an omelette with berber herbs and flat bread dipped in olive oil. Never have I tasted such fresh, sweet, flavorful oil. Yum. While we ate we watched the vans get loaded and depart for who knows where. trans7 From Demnate the roads shrink and curl their way over the High Atlas and down into the Sahara. There was a tinge of longing to jump in the back of one and see where we ended up.
The thieves of Demnate: After breakfast we followed paths where the streets end into the orchards. There we found children “stealing” olives. One would climb the tree with a long stick and beat branches causing a shower of olives. The rest gathered up the harvest. Erica asked the girls why they weren’t in school. One pointed to their haul in the bag and said “l’argent”. debnant
The High Atlas mountains are something to behold. We squeezed 7 in a collective taxi outside the Marrakech medina and headed up to the mile high end of the Ourika valley where we were squirted out. We walked another mile and were suddenly alone.siti8 We walked to where the canyon closed in and our only way forward was straddling the aqueduct sit5 or taking this footbridge,

sit064

to a village with no cars, electricity, modern anything.

sit7
We traveled to the the fishing port of Essaouira.esharb7 At sunrise all the activity is around the fleet of 15′ fishing boats and their captains. esharb3

esharb8  Down from the port kite surfers share the beach with camels. es8Many fond memories from Morocco.

Sunset over the Muslim cemetary, Rabat

Sunset over the Muslim cemetary, Rabat

It was a little nerve racking rolling into Lisbon. I had booked an apartment for 5 days in the Ajuda neighborhood on a hunch, a pretty long stay for our style and had no idea whether I could even find the place or parking in the convoluted old streets.
Ajuda turned out to be lovely, just up the hill from Belem where museums and monuments abounded. lisbon 015 Ajuda was very friendly, especially if you liked dogs.

A dog visits us for our first meal in Ajuda

A dog visits us for our first meal in Ajuda

Our apartment stood over a little plaza ajudalisbao2 001that was dog central both night

Dog caught in the act

Dog caught in the act

and day ajuda3 002ajuda3 003ajuda3001 Most evenings we would recap the day at Aroma’s cafe with a $0.55 glass of vino tinto. ajudalisbao2 027Mornings were spent planning the day while the morning fog rose off the river. evora 005 Late morning we stumbled down the cobble streets to Belem where we caught whichever tram and bus came by to carry us somewhere we haven’t been yet. Our favorite was Tram 28. tram 28

cute trams, cute drivers

cute trams, cute drivers

It ran on some of the narrowest alleys through the medieval Alfalma district. The steepest was a double tram up a steep hill off the Biaxe.tramlisbao2 021 Painter rolls down while trams rolls up.tramlisbao2 022 The Biaxe is the central district which was rebuilt in a Parisian style after an earthquake destroyed it in the 18th century. Lisbon is the only European city where we’ve seen tuk tuks. tuktuklisbon 020Made us yearn for our next stop, Africa. Late afternoon was for Biaxe cafes, people watchingpeoplelisbao2 023and promenades.peoplelisbao2 003
On our last day in Lisbon we saw a banner hung in the Biaxe remembering this week’s tragedy in Paris. lisbon3 007