On the road to Athens: 12 days and 1,500 miles from home

We’ve been on the road since Saturday 7th May, visiting 6 countries in 12 days to arrive in Sofia in Bulgaria – well… a very brown-looking, odd hotel on the ring road outside Sofia. I think it is only just sinking in that we aren’t turning round and coming back to London and our jobs any time soon, giving the trip a strange holiday but definitely-not-a-holiday feeling.

To answer the questions that I’ve been asked pretty often so far by friends, family and anybody else who hears of our plans (including the cashier in the bank in Hackney):

  • No, we’re not driving constantly every day. The maximum we’re doing in any one day is around 4 hours, mostly less (give or take the extra slow bits, on roads so full of pot holes that we’ve had to check whether the car survived the journey).
  • We’re doing ok driving on the ‘wrong side’ of the road. It’s not that different, as long as you learn the tricks of the road: flashing headlights = slow down, police ahead; signalling car behind you = pull over, let them past or they will drive very, very close till you do.
  • And no, we’re not wild camping our way across Europe. Yes, we are staying in campsites, have the luxury of running water. We’ve camped most of the time but have had a bit of indoors-time too, especially after the 24 hour deluge of rain in Vienna.

The journey so far has included stops in Brugges, a small town down the Rhine from Cologne, Nuremberg, Passau, Vienna, a few days in Budapest visiting my family, a nature reserve then a spa town in Serbia, and finally the outskirts of Sofia. We carry on through Bulgaria over the next couple of days before crossing the border into Greece and arriving in Athens on Monday.

The surprising thing is how different the trip has felt since crossing over from Western to Eastern Europe. The Cyrillic alphabet making menus indecipherable, being the only non-local tourists and the different scenery has made this feel much more like ‘proper travelling’. In a good way that is – it’s been interesting struggling through incomprehensible conversations with hotel owners who saved us with a last minute room after the owner of the place we booked went AWOL (and they’d gone to the effort of learning how to say good morning in English by the time we checked out!); or with the old lady selling trinkets in a national park who was insistent we must see where all the parts are of the Virgin Mary that’s appeared in the rock across the river, including her throat!

On the way, the signs of cross-Europe migration have been limited. Big fences and a small camp of tents at the Hungarian / Serbian border, a family walking up the motorway, and extensive searches of lorries have been pretty much it. We will be starting our volunteering in a week in Athens and will keep you posted as we see and learn more there. In particular, we will include information on how the donations from you very generous people are contributing to the work of local organisations as soon as we can.

For now, here’s a photo for my former colleagues:

Tom and coffee 2We’re making good coffee work with the road trip – Tom, aeropressing en route.