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The Filthy Lucre Tour
Feeding goats
20th Jun 2006 - 26th Jun 2006
Athens, and my Dewy-Eyed Summary of Leg One

We got the caravan to Evia and pitched it up. Boy, is Greece warm. It's rather amusing that while the car is reporting an outside temperature of forty one, I am wondering whether I'll have to buy a new set of ski goggles for climbing Mustagh Ata because mine are only rated to minus twenty. Speaking of temperatures, I'd like to take this opportunity to whinge about the crapness of the caravan fridge. It tells you gaily in the manual that powering the fridge on battery is only good for maintaining a particular temperature, rather than cooling the fridge to a particular temperature - so you ought to pre-cool the fridge on mains or gas, and then switch to the battery. What a lot of bollocks. I cooled the fridge dilligently on mains before switching it onto battery in Evia - after a day the temperature in there was an icy thirty-two degrees. My Magnum had evaporated.

And speaking of electrics (watch my seamless transitions), this week I had the joy of visiting the office of Kiki's sister, Eleftheria. She works for a chap who acts as an intermediary between the Greek government and people wanting to develop more ecologically-friendly methods of generating electricity and fancy a grant for it - currently this is predominantly wind. I mean the type of energy they're using is wind. Anyway, as we argued about the advantages of wind power and Greece's own position somewhat behind the rest of Europe in this field, all of the lights went out and his computer screen abruptly went black. We'd been hit by one of the power cuts that had been blighting his office lately. I asked him whether any potential alternative energy clients had ever been stuck in the lift, but I'm not sure how amusing he found it.

I'm speaking near-perfect Greek now. I know the entire alphabet (in both upper and lower case) and I can do three words in the past tense. The Greek person I'm best at communicating with is Kiki's father, who has developed a quite excellent ear for the exact sort of Greek I speak. A sentence such as "eho theloume na fao ke esis to vrathi" is heard by Pop Tsagkarakis correctly as "I'd like to eat with you this evening", but sadly many other Greeks are a lot slower off the mark and hear it as "I have we want I eating and you [plural] the evening". I think the reason more tourists don't speak much Greek is because the locals are so bloody pedantic.

I've packed my mountaineering gear! You'll be pleased to know that all you need in order to escape the rat race and face the great outdoors is 250 litres of luggage packed full of the most expensive equipment imaginable. I had a lot of mountaineering gear before this trip but I sadly had to shell out the better part of a thousand English pounds on new stuff I didn't know I'd ever need. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you (select parts quoted from the kit list):

"expedition down parka with hood". You have a down jacket already? Ha ha ha. You poor deluded soul. It continues, "It is important that your jacket is 700+ fill down, baffle construction (not sown through seams) and has a thick insulated hood". 700 fill! Go on, I dare you. Look at the fill rating on your down jacket. If you can fit it in the car, I guarantee you it's not 700. How much for one of these? Well, the first one I found was £325...

"1 pair down pants that fit comfortably over underlayers". They just toss it in lightly, as if you already might have down trousers. I managed to get the trousers and jacket for a mere 150 quid from eBay. The rest was harder though.

"1 pair overboots. The brand -40". Succinctly put. Overboots, for those like me who had no idea, are sort of monster gaiters that your entire boot goes completely inside. They're made of neoprene (diving suit material) and the Forty Below ones in particular have a double titanium shell to keep the heat in. They are 125 quid. Ah hum. Can probably wear them to the shops once I've got them, as long as I'm wearing my double-skinned plastic mountaineering boots. Actually the boots aren't mine, I borrowed them from Andy Arden who had a baby and doesn't need them any more. But you get my point.

The "gloves" section is so amusing I'm including all of it:
"1 pair liner gloves (polypro)"
"1 pair medium weight fleece gloves"
"1 pair nylon shell gloves"
"1 pair wool, fleece or down mittens"
"1 pair overmitts. If they do not have wrist straps consider sewing one on so that you can either attach it to your jacket or cinch the strap to your wrist so that you do not loose your mittens in high winds"

I had, hmm, two of these items. The overmitts, to save you looking it up, are eighty quid.

"1 expedition weight balaclava"
"1 lightweight balaclava"

This is going to be chilly, isn't it. Oh, and in addition to a "normal" down sleeping bag, I need "1 down sleeping bag (rated to – 30 F or below)" - this is minus forty in new money. The first sleeping bag I found rated to minus forty was five hundred pounds. The one I have with me is borrowed, fortunately.

"2 large (7, duffel bags for gear. Must be durable for use with pack animals". This is 110 litres for non-Americans. I already have an enormous kit bag, but it seems it's not quite a hundred litres. A mere hundred quid for an even larger one which will manage life on a camel.

"1 pair mechanical ascenders". Eighty quid. And will come in handy when... hmm... taking too much gear on an alps expedition.
"3 one Liter water bottles, one is a pee bottle". I only have one right now and, well, I want to keep using it without wincing.
"2 water bottle insulators". You have to be kidding! I don't give a toss if my pee free... hmm... ah, only two...

And so it goes on. See for the whole trip itinerary, and the comedy kit list.

I was nervous about this trip a few days ago, mostly because I read Norman Croucher's account of the first British attempt on it in 1982 (where someone died) and Sven Hedin's account of the very first attempt in 1880, where they gave up and returned because the snow was too deep. I'm a little concerned on the snow front - I'll be keen to find out exactly how many people are skiing, because I'm certainly not. Oh yeah, the snow shoes were a hundred quid too. Anyway, after packing my stuff the nervousness has mostly gone - I think I'm as prepared as I ought to be, and I have at least a good chunk of the experience I'll need to manage it. I think my greatest disappointment would be to feel that I overshot my attainable goals in giving it a whirl, and I don't think I'll feel that. We shall see.

And speaking of money, I now have an independent income. I put some blatant links onto asking people to buy me a pint and, would you believe it, five people have in the last three weeks. It's odd, but actually recieving money for something I've written has made me feel rather pleasant lately - I even pretend to myself in bed at night that I'm a creative sort of a person. Not in a dirty way.

I did the last of my equipment purchasing whilst Kiki's hen-do took place in Milan. I know very little about this apart from the fact that David Hasselhof accompanied them for a small part of it. Photos attached. The last time I left Kiki alone she was propositioned by Rick Astley in a dingy nightclub in Cannes. I reckon she has a real talent for picking up fiendishly successful men.

And so to the dewy-eyed trip summary. I'll try to keep it brief, mainly because right now I feel not so much dewy-eyed about caravanning as a little apprehensive about the China trip. We have, however, had a splendid time. As we left the UK there were a great deal of unknowns. Would we like travelling at all? Was our relationship hinged around living in London and eating out every night? Could we live in a caravan? Should have got a motorhome instead? We'd never been caravanning before - how far would we really want to travel in a day? Would all our stuff fit in? Should we have left longer for the trip? I think the few weeks before we left London were the most stressful of our life together so far, made perhaps worse by people repeatedly telling us how lucky we were.

In the end, most of these questions are somewhat grey areas. Who knows if we'd have preferred a motorhome - in the event we kept congratulating ourselves on getting a caravan so that we could leave it somewhere and drive around in the car. But then we'd probably have been congratulating ourselves on buying a motorhome so that we could drive at over 95kmh on the motorway. We overestimated how far we could travel in a day, and the car broke down, which largely scuppered Norway and Sweden, a part of the trip we were both looking forward to immensely. We stayed too long in Switzerland, which meant we didn't spend nearly long enough in Eastern Europe, which was the main part of our route that neither of us had spent much time in. Kiki says we didn't spend long enough relaxing, and also that we didn't see enough Tourist Sights. Ti na kanoume, I might say in my near-perfect Greek. Probably the most important thing I personally have to draw from this whole extravavgant jolly is the fact that, after two months in a caravan, Kiki and I are getting on better rather than worse. We've had a few trials and tribulations (contrary to popular opinion, you still have to try quite hard to have a nice time when you're not working), we've had decisions to make together (such as how many handbrake turns to do in the rented beach buggy, and which clothes to pack) but after spending two solid months together I can't help feeling that I'll miss her more in China than I would have done if we'd not taken this trip.

I was hoping to end that paragraph on a thinly-veiled dig at the Future Mrs Rae, but I'm uncharacteristically tongue-tied.

Distance travelled: 10942km car, 1115km train
Books read: C:5, K:11
Bottles of wine remaining: 1
Countries visited: 12 (UK, France, Switzerland, Austria, Lichtenstein, Germany, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Slovenia, Italy, Greece)

Next: On when there'll be an update
Previous: Slovenia and Italy with Ed

Diary Photos

Feeding goats

Kiki`s mother stealing goat food

The boot of our car

Still life

Real gipsies...

Too hot for me

Our pitch in Evia

David Hasselhof

David Hasselhof and Kiki`s Hen Do

Dressed for 7500m

Real mountaineers...

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