Ferry time – Italy Ho!
It’s 06:30 in the morning – or at least I think it is – as I don’t know for sure if we’re on Italy time or Greek. But I’m guessing Italy because through the ferry window I can see the lights of a town glinting dully through the early morning low cloud. Everything is grey, and I’m hoping that it really is just morning cloud and not an actual rainy day. It’s only been a week since the weather turned fine and I’m really not ready to say goodbye to the sun again already. Time enough for rain when we get back to Britain.
Today we are travelling on a ‘camping on board’ ticket which allows us to stay in our van throughout the voyage. Jay is still there now, fast asleep with Marley, and I have crept out to write. From the quiet calm of the camper deck into what looks like a scene from a zombie apocalypse movie. Bodies (aka ‘deck class passengers) are scattered in unnatural positions across the chairs and sofas of the café and lounge. Diagonally opposite my seat, a man’s heavily bandaged hand is sprawled across the table. The rest of his body twisted and bent, lies face down in front of the window. Bags, blankets, jackets and other random belongings are strewn everywhere.
Through the spray-stained porthole, I watch a small fishing boat glide past. The sunlight sparks off its radio antennae. In the background the cloud burns away, the lights turn off, and far off buildings ooze into view on the shore. The sound of voices increases. My phone signal clicks on, and time turns back one hour. It is 06:05 – Italian time – and the zombies are awakening.
I spot an electronic board on the wall beside me announcing our arrival in Bari is still 09:00. I’m not sure if I trust it – we were 90 minutes late leaving Igoumenitsa last night after all – but it’s not the end of the world if we’re late. There is no rush, no hurry. There is nowhere we are trying to get to. Not yet at least.
Yesterday I crunched the numbers while we were waiting for departure on the pier in Igoumenitsa ferry port. There were a lot of numbers to crunch. Distance from Edinburgh, diesel, ferry to Dover, tolls, vet fee for Marley’s worming tablet. Then there was the cost of our planned summer trip to Spain, and the Schengen clock to work out for going away again over the winter. Plus, how much time we need to be in Scotland making money to pay for it all.
The numbers and I reached the same conclusion… we had just twenty-three more days to go before we would need to cross the channel. We took a few moments to put on sad faces. I tried pouting but it made no odds. The numbers had spoken, and I set my shoulders, took a deep breath, and booked the ferry home. Running a few more numbers in my head I quickly worked out that we would reach Scotland eight weeks and five days after we had left. Five weeks later we would head back out for a six-week tour to Spain and back. Everything was good. Better than good. Everything was splendid.
The cafe is getting busy now as more people awaken, and a crew member comes and tells me I must move. Breakfast is starting to be served and the place where I’m sitting is now for drivers only. The other seating areas are still full of the zombie sleepers, and it is difficult to find anywhere appealing to sit. The sleeping are disturbed by the early risers. The balance starts to shift to ‘awake’ as people shuffle furniture looking for space. I fidget to leave and cast about in my mind for anything from the past twenty-four hours that I still want to put down on the page.
It was an easy day, a pleasant day, a lazy day. We sat in Iggy with the windows open against the heat. Marley stretched out on the sofa, Jay read his new, riveting, book, and I flicked through photos and looked for a likely place to stay for our first day in Italy. We walked along the beach path away from the town until we found an open taverna. Purple flowered Judas trees peppered the trail, and we drank takeaway cappuccinos in the shade of towering eucalyptus trees overlooking the sunlit bay. It was, we agreed, a really enjoyable stop, and we looked forward to coming back one day, to stroll along the bay again and catch that boat to Corfu.
The hours slipped away until it was time to head to the ferry port and check in for our trip. They had said to come two or three hours early for a midnight departure, so we arrived just before 21:00. The parking at the terminal building is almost non-existent, but we managed to find a spot and went inside to queue again at the Superfast desk for our boarding passes. The queue was still short, but everything ground to a stop very quickly. The man in front was part of a large group of motorcyclists – a club travelling together it seemed – and it was taking an age for the desk clerk to get him sorted. Finally, things began to move again, and once it was our turn it only took two minutes, and we were done.
‘Go to dock 8’ the clerk smiled at us, passing back our documents, tickets, and two labels for the van. One was marked ‘Camping Onboard’ the other said ‘Bari’ in large white letters. Our ferry stopped first at Bari and then carried on north to Ancona. The label was needed for the deck crew to load the Bari vehicles last. The Greek ferries are not roll on roll off like the channel ones – there is only one way onto the decks – so the vehicle that is leaving first has to be loaded last. Reversing down the ramps always makes me feel as though we might inadvertently drive off the side and end up in the sea. But that gnawing twinge of fear is all part of the journey. The uncertainty, the being alive in the moment. We grin back, say ‘efharisto’ (Greek for thanks) and head back to Iggy to find the dock.
We’ve travelled through Igoumenitsa before, but in the other direction, arriving from Ancona in October 2020. This was our first time going to Italy from here, and we were in for a surprise when we reached the security gates just a little further along the road.
‘Passports. Tickets.’ said the young officer, and I dutifully handed them all over.
He scanned through the documents and then said my name.
“Yes?’ I replied with the friendly, relaxed smile I reserve just for border crossings and uniformed people of any kind who are judging whether to stop and search me or not.
He held my passport and ticket back out to me and smiled back just as pleasantly. ‘Not you. You must go back to Terminal One.’
“What? Why? What’s the problem?”
‘Go back. You must go back to the terminal.”
‘But, but…’ I spluttered, feverishly wracking my brain to understand what could possibly have gone wrong. What was happening? Why just me?
’But they told me to come here! At Terminal One. They gave me the ticket and said to come here.’
‘No! Only driver. Only driver come here. You go Terminal One!’
The smile had disappeared, and the young man was flipping speedily from pleasant to downright aggressive. I asked him why I had to go. I tried to ask him when I would return to Iggy and Jay. He didn’t like being questioned. Didn’t like my lack of instant obedience it seemed. But also, his English was not very good, and my Greek is almost non-existent. It was too difficult for him to deal with, and he was getting stressed.
Luckily at that point another young security officer with excellent English stepped forward and intervened with all the soft, endearing charm for which the Greeks are known. It was no problem he said. Everything was normal. Only drivers were allowed through this checkpoint. Everyone else had to go through a security gate in the terminal on foot. It led straight out to the dock and Jay and I would meet there in a few minutes.
Satisfied that I knew how to find everyone again I thanked both guards, taking extra care to give a big thanks and smile to the hostile one who quickly became friendly again, and jumped out of Iggy with my passport and ticket clutched tight in my hand.
It felt weird and ever so hugely wrong to be walking away from Jay, Marley and Iggy while they carried on through the gate without me. There was no reason why anything would go awry, but to be separated in this way at an international port felt hugely and intrinsically wrong. Disoriented and with no signs to show a footpath to the terminal I opted for slipping through the truck parking in the general direction of the building. It was only a few hundred metres away and as I’d hoped the parking took me straight there without having to go back out onto the road.
Once inside I quickly found a sign pointing to departures and the security gates. Luggage was backed up on the belt for the x-ray machine and one woman stood waiting for I knew not what beside the unmoving bags. A female guard appeared and stopping me from putting my handbag in the x-ray trays she waved me forward. Silently she ran her eyes over me as she pulled a pair of see-through plastic gloves out of a box and slowly slipped them on her hands. She stared into my eyes, face expressionless, and I just had time to wonder if I was getting strip searched before she said,
I handed them over and she gave them a quick, efficient check, then shrugged her head towards the metal detector gate standing between me and the departure lounge.
‘Go. Metal don’t.’
On automatic pilot I started through the gate – there wasn’t really another way to go – but her word ‘don’t’ was just registering on my still flustered brain and I realised she didn’t want me to go through it. I rebounded a second too late as it started beeping at my presence, shot her a quick glance for approval, and shimmied through the small gap at the side of the machine and onto the departure concourse. The guard smiled approval, the beeping stopped, and I scanned the room in search of a way out to the docks and back to Jay.
And that, pretty much, was that. The terminal is small, and I found my way to the departure doors with no further issues. A man behind the desk checked my passport and ticket, the glass doors swooshed open, and I was standing back out in the night watching Iggy’s taillights moving away from me towards the big number 8 beside the pier where our ferry would later dock. As I headed up the dock behind the most welcome sight of our van it slowed and swung around, heading back down the dock towards me. Jay was driving in circles between the terminal and the pier in search of me, anxious to find me and get me safely back in the van beside him where I belong.
It is now after 08:00 and back to the van where I belong is exactly where I am going again. Jay will be awake and it’s time to do morning things and get ready for our arrival in Bari and whatever this new day will bring. I’ve set our co-pilot app to take us to a secure parking just fifty minutes drive from Bari in the little town of Trani. It looks pretty on Google images and that is all I know about that. A new place, Iggy, Marley, and my ever so, always, darling Jay. The morning is bright now, the sky and the sea are blue, and the road is waiting…