>Translated with www.DeepL.com/Translator
(>Pictures at the bottom!)
Caught at the Azapika Beach/Chalkidiki
The Greek Government’s request was brief and unequivocal! From 23 March, all residents will have to withdraw into a two-week self-isolation period and only for the most essential matters will they be allowed to leave the house. Short sports activities and walks with the dog are allowed. The restrictions were very restrictive and whoever was on the move had to be able to identify themselves to the authorities. For a trip to the nearest grocery store, to the doctor or even just for a short walk, a permit always had to be carried along. In case of violation, a fine of at least 150 € had to be expected.
And, what was valid for the local population, the many stranded tourists with their mobile accommodations also had to adhere strictly. ….so the specification of the authorities!
Also we wanted and could hardly escape from the strict orders and had to leave the country road for the next two weeks. The accommodation in Toroni was cancelled at the last minute and so we drove on a bit disappointed, found a wonderful beach a bit northwest of Toroni, where already 2 vehicles, a VW camper and a slightly bigger camper based on a truck, were parked.
The choice to stay on this beach was in retrospect really great. The land belongs to the public, is a wonderful place and there is running water at the nearby chapel. The shepherd, who runs his farm next to the beach, was very well-disposed towards us and never gave the impression that we were unwanted. On the contrary, he often sought the conversation at a distance and also passed on certain information to us.
We pitched our tent in a gap between the reeds with a great view of the sea. While we tried to couple the tent to the jeep properly, our closest neighbours – Anja and Jochen – were already standing next to us and wished us a warm welcome on the Azapika beach in self-isolation: “And, if you need anything, just get in touch. We have a lot with us and will gladly provide it for you.”
Already in the early evening the wind shook the tent quite violently and the big outer walls let us fear the worst, already it sounded from outside; “tock-tock”, it’s us, Lea and Lisa. Two young women laughed at us from a certain distance and wished us welcome as well. They had already been standing on this beach for several days at that time. Actually they are here in Greece for hiking and now they are condemned to do nothing. They also fought against nature, the low temperatures and the somewhat aging technology in their VW bus. Even their roof tent could not be pitched due to the strong wind.
The nightly wind shook extremely strong on our tent and pitched roof. Therefore we looked for a better protected place the next day, which proved to be an almost impossible task. All wishes and needs could not be completely fulfilled. Nevertheless we hoped that the newly chosen place would be a safe place to stay for the next two weeks. With the combined help of Anja and Jochen our big tent was soon moved and furnished accordingly. The situation with the wind relaxed immediately, the tent didn’t shake all the time and my fear that something could tear and give way calmed down almost suddenly.
The fact that in Greece one is soon in any company of a four-legged animal was immediately apparent here as well. Apart from a cat, which behaved almost like ours and allowed itself almost everything, or tried, there were also several visits from dogs every day. The cat was rather modest and very satisfied with stroking, while the dogs rather wanted something solid between their teeth.
In the meantime, another German camper couple – Ute and Thomas – came to this beach, who were also looking for a safe place on this beach and wanted to “survive” the two-week self-isolation here. In return, the two young women announced their intention to return home soon, since they would not possibly want to spend an eternity here. Their quarantine facilities in the car were almost more modest than ours.
We also discussed very often whether a trip home would not be the right thing at the moment, as there were still flights to Brussels and Zurich. But with such a departure we would have to leave our car here in Greece indefinitely and who knows what the world will be like afterwards. We have invested our last money in this car and now we just give up! And, back to Switzerland; where should we go then? We have neither an apartment nor any other place to stay and out of consideration we don’t want to be a burden to older people. Also, the numbers of corona infections at the end of March in Switzerland were much higher than here in Greece and to our surprise: in the Chalkidiki province there is not yet a registered case of illness. Perhaps we had made the right choice with Greece after all?
After a few days Lisa and Lea said goodbye for the second time (on the first attempt the flight was cancelled at short notice!) and drove to Thessaloniki, where they left their car for an indefinite period of time and flew home. For us, the remaining three camper pairs, this was not an option and we stayed behind at the stand. As soon as these two were gone, there was already a younger couple – Ina and Christopher – standing at the beach with their camper, who came here from the northern area.
Our camp life had soon settled in and a daily routine developed that would last longer than was announced at the beginning of the “lockdown”!
… sleeping in, having breakfast, doing the laundry and fetching water, chatting – of course in sufficient distance – with our fellow-sufferers on the beach, walking in the immediate vicinity, a game of cards, enjoying an aperitif by the sea and stroking, cooking, eating and a soon retreat under the blanket. Our daily routine was so simple – simple and solid! The shopping trips to Neos Marmaras were the weekly highlights and a great change at the same time.
Looking back, the days of self-isolation passed relatively quickly. The tent repair, as our four-legged friends were putting too much strain on the fine tent fabric, was a welcome change. So I was finally able to do something creative and prove my craftsmanship. Since the thread was already threaded in the needle, we made our face masks from discarded winter pantyhose by Chantal. So we would be well prepared for the case of emergency. The obligation to wear masks in Greece was strongly discussed and could suddenly become compulsory in public places.
The many conversations with the other stranded people – of course always with the necessary distance – certainly played a decisive role. Also games and many conversations among us – Chantal and me – shortened the waiting time tremendously. The mutual encouragement and exchange of knowledge among us “travelling people” also made the waiting more pleasant. Ute was also THE contact point for us, as she and Thomas had a better internet connection to the outside world. Unfortunately, we also received a lot of “fake news” via the many forums, which did not bring any decisive news, but caused a lot of uncertainty. Probably at this time thousands of motorhomes had to stand around somewhere – mostly illegally – all over Europe and put many owners in front of an unsolvable task.
In addition to the many true and untrue stories, Chantal soon sought contact with the Swiss ambassador in Athens via the FDFA. In contrast to other embassies, the help was very obliging and reassuring. In addition, we were also told that if we did not urgently need to go home, we should settle down and wait. In any case, we would be registered with them and if there were any news, we would also be informed immediately by them.
After a few days of dry weather there was a strong disturbance front on the first weekend and a lot of precipitation was announced. I tried to protect our location a little bit from possible water masses and alluvial wood, because the water level of the nearby stream was already very high. The announced rain could let the water masses over the bank.
The at first decreasing rainfall gave us later a lot of confidence that nothing will happen and so we soon went under the warm blanket.
The hope that nothing would happen and that the stream would follow its course nicely turned out to be a deceptive assumption. Along with lightning and thunder, it was pouring continuously and very abundantly during the whole night. The water masses from the nearby creek washed around our tent and car more and more. Inside our pitching roof it became uncomfortable, because a lot of moisture from outside penetrated into the tent.
At daylight we could catch a first view from our roof windows on the new river and carefully we crawled out of the jeep into the tent. The ground felt as if we were walking over a waterbed. Everywhere water was pressing into the tent and outside the stream was splashing ankle-deep around our belongings. Some attachment points of the tent did not withstand the load and the awning was moved in a strange position. I was afraid that something would not withstand the water pressure and break. After closer inspection I was relieved to find out that the tent had not suffered any damage and only a part of it was slightly crooked in the landscape. The tent was okay, but my mood was destroyed. The rain, the cold weather and the strong gusts of wind brought my mood to an absolute low point. Now I would give everything for a warm and dry accommodation!
… but where to? Everything was closed and movements over long distances were strictly forbidden!
Soon I fasted again and tried to make the best out of the whole situation. We had to arrange ourselves with this situation accordingly and somehow we had to keep on staying here in the rain and cold. Nearby I found a place where the ground was not completely soaked and an old building offered some protection from the wind.
We were very happy that the other campers took pity on us and together we soon had moved our belongings to the new location. Although the tent stood diagonally on a ramp that leads to a former building of a camping site, the ground was dry and a little bit protected from the wind. Thomas and Ute put their vehicle additionally as a wind protection, so that the pressure of the wind remained within the limits. For the next hours we experienced generous hospitality, despite the corona virus we were very happy to be warmed up and pampered in the campers of Ina/Christopher and later Ute/Thomas. We appreciated the comfort very much! And the good news; the weather should calm down and spring should come here too.
The newly chosen location soon proved to be only an emergency solution for us and so we changed back to the old location after the soil had dried and the preparations had been made accordingly. Our tent was again brought back to the old place with united forces. The hope was also bigger than the fear of another flooding, finally it should be nice and warm. The advantages outweighed and the regained sea view from the tent entrance pleased us from the first moment on.
The many informations from all over the world were exchanged among us in regular intervals and we discussed all possible variations, what could be useful and how to go on. In the meantime the curfew was extended until the orthodox Easter. Germany had a house quarantine for all returning home from April 10th, which made Ina and Christopher decide to drive to Athens immediately, leave their motorhome there and fly home to avoid the quarantine, which was not an option for us – the remaining motorhome owners – as we did not want to leave our vehicles on any parking lot indefinitely under any circumstances.
Soon Ina and Christopher left the Azapika beach to enter Germany before the house isolation. They also provided us with the latest information from the many internet forums and the latest possibilities. But, instead of leaving their car in Athens, they suddenly saw a possibility to drive home via various Eastern European countries and informed us accordingly. Immediately Ute and Thomas also said goodbye and made their way home, so that we and Anja/Jochen still stay behind at Azapika-Beach.
We also dealt with the immediate return by land, but we did not want to get involved in any kind of land adventure. Chantal immediately contacted the ambassador in Athens and asked for appropriate support. Contrary to the many internet forums, he knew nothing about a possible overland route back to our home country, and even his inquiry at the German embassy did not yield any new insights; for them – the embassies – any overland route is excluded at the moment and we were strongly advised against this plan.
And indeed: Three hours later, Ute and Thomas were back at our beach. Apparently there had been a translation error with the interpretation of a government instruction in Romania and thus a passage on a transit corridor had been wrongly translated. All the excitement in the forums was at that moment really anything but reassuring. Anyway, we were glad that we could take a break and waited with our Bavarian fellow sufferers Anja and Jochen for the time being. Also Ina/Christopher could not even cross the Bulgarian border. They also couldn’t drive back to our beach, because the road to the “3 Fingers” (Chalkidiki) was closed from the north. They spent their further time at a lake in the north of Greece.
In the meantime new instructions from Athens followed and the lockdown was extended by the Greek government at least until after the Orthodox Easter. The fear of an explosive infection during the Easter festivities probably also strongly affected the Greek government. Although the optimism from Athens gave us hope that we might soon be able to travel to Greece itself again. Greece would also like to open its tourist season slowly as soon as possible in order to give the already heavily suffering industry some income after all. Unfortunately, this hope was shattered more and more and the first relaxation would perhaps take place in the middle or even at the end of May.
In the time before the Christian Easter suddenly a request from French campers to their ambassador concretized itself, whether one could not get some special permission to take a ferry to Italy, from where one could travel to the homeland over the fastest possible transit route. This proposal triggered countless contributions in the forums and many inquiries to the respective country representatives, who were probably also in mutual contact, and suddenly the request became a concrete project of a possible repatriation of vehicles and their owners. Soon we were asked to inform the respective embassies who would be interested in such a repatriation and we had to register accordingly.
However, the scepticism was still great, as Italy was still cut off from neighbouring countries. Chantal and I were also not entirely convinced at first that this would be the right way to go. We discussed at length about its advantages and disadvantages and what we could do in our home country at all. The question of a possible place to stay in Switzerland was soon defused by our youngest son, who would grant us “asylum” despite the close circumstances. The question about the behaviour of the Greeks towards foreigners also occupied us more and more. Until now we never had the impression that we were not wanted, but such moods can change abruptly in times of crisis. We soon decided to return home, if this was possible after all. The prolonged extensions of the restrictions and the uncertainties both in Greece and in the Balkans made the decision increasingly easy.
The information from the embassies became more and more concrete and in the background much had to be clarified through diplomatic channels. The Easter holidays probably did not make these clarifications any easier. We were also soon given a binding date, but also that various permits were still outstanding. Without such approvals, there would be neither a crossing nor a transit possibility; according to the information of our ambassador.
The Christian Easter was already over and we still had not received any positive news from the embassies, neither from the Germans nor from the Swiss. Pessimism was spreading again and the hope of a quick return home was diminishing. Do we have to spend the summer here?
Nevertheless and perhaps with foresight we took down our tent so that we could load it dry. Beside the announced rain there was still a little hope that something will be possible after all.
Then suddenly everything went fast; at the same time as Ute’s message, we also received a message from the Swiss ambassador that the booking portal of the ferry company was open and that we could book a crossing. The time of a possible booking until departure was very short. In less than 36 hours the ferry should leave Igoumenitsa/Gr to Ancona/It.
The electronic booking did not work as desired at the beginning and made Chantal almost despair. So close to the destination and now our ability to make a simple booking over the internet fails! Probably too many options in the portal were deactivated and the rush brought the system to the limit. In the end, it worked after all. We were able to complete our crossing to Italy properly and the credit card was quickly charged. The embassy provided us with the necessary forms and instructions so that we could travel through both Greece and Italy.
We breathed a sigh of relief and were glad that finally something would move again. The inactivity and the constant uncertainty were getting on our nerves. For 25 days we were condemned to do nothing on this beach; everything else was forbidden by the authorities!
Of the four campers stationed and stranded, three of them booked the possible trip home. Only Anja and Jochen were not completely convinced, especially as their two young dogs prevented them from leaving immediately, as no booking for dogs would be possible in the portal. For the 450 kilometre crossing to Igoumenitsa we arranged with Ute and Thomas to drive together through northern Greece, where we had to drive strictly on the motorway.
Chantal and I enjoyed the last evening at Azapika Beach. In the evening sunlight we enjoyed the aperitif on the beach and put an end to our daily routine. For this last evening our “house cat” was unfortunately not there anymore; no stroking and other flirtations with the four-legged predator! Did she probably suspect our quick departure?
Full of confidence we lay down in our “Gazell” and looked forward to what was to come. We were also very curious to see how our journey would continue; in Europe, no, the whole world still stands almost still.
>Translated with www.DeepL.com/Translator