When I woke up and got down to the restaurant I met with nothing but sleep-drunken passengers. The staff were not yet fully prepared in the restaurant so I took a stroll on the outside deck. I was met by a beautiful rainbow. I thought I could discern land far away but I told myself that was not possible since the boat was scheduled to arrive in Patras at only half past eight in the evening. It was a cloudy morning.
After a light breakfast I went back outside and now the silhouette of land was clearly visible. When I inquired if that was Albania I got a fierce and firm negative from the Greek barman. Of course not, that was Greece, what was I thinking! Then I found out that we would have a one hour stop in Igoumenitsa, which is in the north of the Greek mainland, opposite the island of Corfu. We would be there at 2 o’clock in the afternoon. I bought a map of Greece (I didn’t take one with me from home since I thought I wouldn’t need it) and calculated that if I would get off the boat in Igoumenitsa, I could be in Pireas by the time this boat would arrive in Patras. That would save me one extra night in a hotel on the Greek mainland. Besides, with the only book I took finished and me not ready to re-read it yet, I was getting bored on the boat, together with the staff and the other passengers.
I went to see the purser and asked if I could be reimbursed if I changed my plans and got of at Igoumenitsa instead of Patras. He explained it was the same price. Did I believe him? I still had the information folder from the port of Venice in my cabin and went to check this up. It was indeed the same price. Who would have thought this?! Certainly not a European mind: the Greeks happily carry you for 8 extra hours on their boats without charging you for the extra miles. They must think like “If we are going to be bothered with the hassle of guiding you to a parking spot on our boat, take you across the water, and again get into action when you want to get off, what difference does it make if you get off in Igoumenitsa or Patras? We are going there anyway.”
In the meantime we had sailed — or “steamed” or “floated”, whatever — between what I persist was Albania and the island of Corfu (locally known as Kerkyra). Most passengers were awake now and biding there time in either the restaurant or the lounge. After 10 o’clock the sun started shining and if you managed to find a place sheltered from the wind, it was a pleasure to linger on the upper deck outside. Most people did exactly that. I got into a dialogue of some sorts with a Greek truck driver who spoke a little bit of German. Between his German and my Greek we managed wonderfully to exchange views on the Euro, the forthcoming Greek presidency of the European Union, the Olympic Games to be held next year in Athens and other Greek cities, the American attitude and posture towards Irak. This is something I noticed before when on holidays: Greek people even with little formal education have a keen and broad interest in almost any matter of importance and can very clearly express their views thereof. They are also highly opinionated and when in groups they fiercely defend their views, if necessary with shouting and banging the table, to the point where outsiders (I mean non-Greeks) think that they will start beating up on each other any minute now. It never comes to that, a few minutes later they are cheerfully tapping each other on the shoulder and raising their glasses to each other’s health, “Yamas!”. I love them for that.
I asked George — that was the truckdrivers name, so let’s call him George — how long it would take me from Igoumenitsa to Pireas. “LKW oder leoforio” he asked, truck or bus? I said I was driving a small Toyota Yaris. Oh, certainly not more than 6 hours, he answered. That would be just enough time to catch the ferry in Pireas to Iraklio. He explained I could drive down the west coast to Andirio, which is opposite Rio, near Patras, but on the mainland while Rio and Patras are on the Peloponnesos (are you still with me?), and then follow the road east to Pireas. I asked him whether it wouldn’t be better to cross over to Rio and take the motorway from Patras to Athens. No, no, his answer was, many Greeks would be coming back from the holidays and that motorway was sure to be congested, especially near Corinth. With any bad luck I could be sitting there waiting in my car for hours, together with hundreds of angry Greek drivers.
Who was I to doubt the words of a professional driver? I would learn soon enough.