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with two dogs!

A Greek Odyssey - with two dogs!

by Dave Brown

This all started a long time ago when we started island hopping in Greece, my wife and I. We would catch a flight to Athens and then get a taxi to take us to the port of Piraeus to catch a ferry. "What ferry?" the taxi driver would say. Any ferry that is going to an island was our reply. No plans and no schedule - that was the way it was that was best for island hopping. If you made plans they would never work because the timetable would change or you may not be able to stay as long as you want. The best way was, by far, to get on a ferry then get off when ready. Have a look around and then find out when the next ferry was leaving the island before booking your room. That way you get the next ferry to another island and do the same again. Hilary (that's my wife) and I have been doing this for many years with a view to finding an island we liked enough to settle on for our retirement. The first year we went to Santorini, Naxos, Folygandros, Sikinos and back to Folygandros before returning to Santorini for our flight home.

We had decided by now that two weeks was not enough so we went for 3 weeks the following year and went to Kythnos, Serifos, Sifnos, Kyimilos, Folygandros and Sikinos then back to Athens for the flight home.

By now we had decided we quite liked Sikinos but still had other islands to visit so the next year we flew again to Athens and now we know where to catch the bus (much cheaper than taxi) we caught the bus to Piraeus and went to Paros then on to Amorgos and then we decided to visit the small Cyclades and went to Iraklia, a very small island with only 90 inhabitants in the summer and about 35 in the winter. From there we went to Sikinos again. We had made many frends on Sikinos but still could not decide so for the next couple of years we hopped and saw all the islands we wanted. We finally narrowed it down to Sikinos or Iraklia but Sikinos won because it has more people in the winter.

Next, we set about finding a house on Sikinos. This was not hard as one of our friends was delighted we chose Sikinos and found three houses for us to look at. One was too big, the other too small and the last was a derelict that had not been lived in for 30 years and was three hundred years old. We liked that so we bought it very cheaply. We found a Greek lawyer to get the deal off the ground and she sent an agreement through the fax for us both to sign. We had agreed to a GBP1000 deposit but we were at the end of our holiday so could only give GBP50 with a promise to send GBP950 when we got back to England.

We had to go back to Athens a day early and meet up with the lawyer whom we gave power of attorney to so we did not have to keep coming to Greece to sign papers. The house did not have any deeds so it was a long drawn out process to have people go to court and swear that the house had been in the family for three hundred years and passed on from father to son. This was eventually sorted and to keep a very long story short we employed an architect who drew up plans we had given to him of how we wanted it. The plans would come to England, we would send them back with changes then they would come back after about 6 months - this went on for two years! Each year we would go and see the house that had had nothing done to it, then in 2003 the plans were agreed and the architect said we had to come to employ the workers. We already knew who the builder would be but we had to find a plumber, a tiler, an electrician and a carpenter as all the doors and windows had to be hand made.

We did this in June of 2003 and in October 2003 the work started. We had a call in March 2004 to say the house was finished. We booked a flight to go for Easter and off we went. Well the house was finished as far as the building work was concerned but the plumber had not finished and the electrician had only done the first fix so we could not stay there. This was not a problem as we now have plenty of places to stay on the island. I had to start to prepare the newly rendered walls for painting which I did and by the time we left a week later everything was ready for painting including the new wood which I had treated with oil against insects.

In June we returned for our three week holiday only this time it was all on Sikinos and was not much of a holiday as every day we painted until the end of the holiday. We had not managed to finish all the wood so I went back on my own in September to finish it which I did by working from sunrise to sunset every day. We still had no electric in the house but a friend let us stay in her house while she was away working in Athens. Anyway, by the end of September 2005 the house was fully painted but still had no electric or furniture.

In June 2006 we went again to Sikinos and everybody on the island was working really hard for us to try and get electric - you see you have to get three licences and then a paper from the island and then send all that with some money (of course) to Naxos for them to arrange a little man to come and fix a line to the house (there was a lot more to it but it could get boring). By the time the end of our holiday came we still did not have electric - all the lights and switches had been fitted but we had no way of knowing if they worked. We went home to England pretty disappointed that it was now nearly two years we had been waiting for electric. Three days after we arrived back in Blighty we received a call from our friend on Sikinos to say we now had electric and everything I had wired up worked. We were delighted so booked a weeks trip to the island in September so we could enjoy the house without working - it was great! We now had electric, water and had managed to get a bed shipped in from another island. We also had a fridge which we had sent over from Naxos in June. We were happy with our little house so we had the local priest come and bless the house and people from the island bought us presents.

This is when we started to think everything would be perfect if we had our dogs with us and started to plan a trip to the island with them...

The odyssey with the dogs

This all started last year when the house on Sikinos was finally finished. When we got home we started to plan this year's trip. The first thing we did was to see the vet to find out what was required for the pet passports. We also got a lot of information from a web site called Dogsaway.co.uk - these people help with chipping the dogs and finding you a vet in Europe for on the way back (more about that later). We took both dogs along to the vet and were told they had to have micro chips inserted which costs around GBP25.00 each. Fortunately we had had this done some years ago. The next thing was to have them injected for rabies and a couple of weeks later have a blood test done to see if they have enough antibodies to be able to travel in and out of the U.K. Once this has been done you can travel with your dog outside of the UK but you cannot return without quarantine for 6 months. We had the injections done then the blood tests - GBP100 per dog (it is the blood test that is expensive). We then waited for a couple of weeks to be told both our dogs had failed as they only had 3.75 and 4.95 of the antibodies required and they needed to have a minimum of 5. So we had to go again - another GBP200. This time all was well, they both had more than enough. Now we have to wait 6 months. This was done the first time in November then in December so you can see you need to leave plenty of time. We are travelling August/September. Now we had to start thinking how we were going to get to Greece by car. We decided the tunnel would be less traumatic for the dogs and is only 35 minutes so we went for that. A good tip if you collect points from Tesco - you can exchange these for deals and get the trip on the tunnel for nothing if you have enough points. You do however still have to pay Defra GBP30 per dog to come back into the country and you cannot use points for this.

We decided that we would go via Ancona in Italy to Patra in Greece by ferry so of course we needed to find out how often and at what time the ferry leaves each day. We used gtpnet.com, ferries.gr and openseas.gr for this and found what we were looking for. So now we had to work backwards to ensure we could get to Ancona in time to catch the ferry. We decided that we only wanted to drive 8 hours per day with a stop for the dogs every two hours for ten to fifteen minutes. We then said we would travel on the toll roads at between 65 and 70 miles an hour. Given these parameters that put us somewhere in France at the end of the first day. Not knowing France I have now got a tom tom with Europe on it and was able to find out from the caravan and camping club that the campanile chain of hotels allows dogs to stay in the rooms. So by looking at the hotels in the area where we would finish driving for the day I quickly found one of these hotels with the address and phone number. My wife found a web site called Campanile.com and we were able to book one nights stay online which cost about 30 for the night. We had to make sure, of course, that this hotel was in driving distance the next day in order for us to reach Ancona one hour before departure. By knowing the distance from the hotel to Ancona and using the 65 to 70 miles an hour we decided that we would have to leave the hotel by 08.00 the next morning in order to be able to arrive in time to get the ferry. We have now booked this ferry online through booking.com so all we have to do is make sure we get to Ancona on time. The ferry takes 22 hours and your dogs can stay with you on deck (so we are going to need sleeping bags). This ferry gets into Patra the next day at around 13.45 Greek time. We then have a two and a half hour drive from Patra to Piraeus in order to catch another ferry to the island of Naxos which is where we will stay for a couple of days. We have friends here who run a hotel and who have said our dogs are welcome. Total trip 3 days from leaving home to arriving in Naxos. We have now booked this ferry as well (online of course) at the web site Bluestarferries.com - very useful!

The trip back

The trip back is a little more tricky as we have got to see a vet no less than 24 hours and no more than 48 hours before coming back into the country. We have booked the tunnel for the day we want it and we have booked the ferry from Patra to Ancona when we want it . Now the challenge is to get to Patra at 17.00 on the day we want even if that means having to leave the island early and staying over night in Patra and yes we have found a web site for this: Greeceishome.gr. Very helpful and it has told us about a hotel just outside of Patra that take dogs. If we need it we will book it, it just depends on timing. When we get to Ancona we needed a hotel for the night. As we get in at 15.00 we only wanted to drive for three hours that day so we have found a hotel via Italymag.co.uk just inside Italy. We have also booked a Camernile hotel for the next night in France nearer to Calais and about an 8 hour drive away. However, on this leg we needed to see a vet so again I worked out how far we wil get from 09.00 to 100 and 10.00.to 11.00 and we decided that by 10.30 we would be the other side of the Mount Blanc tunnel. So we contacted dogs away and told them where we thought we would be around 10.30 and they have now booked us an appointment with a vet in that area for 10.30-10.45. This costs around 30 euros per dog, they have to be treated for ticks and worms as the ticks and worms in Europe carry some nasty diseases - more than ours in the UK. We then, if all goes to plan, have the vet fill out the necessary information in the pet passports and check everything three times because if there any mistakes the dogs are the ones that suffer and we are not having that. After the vet we travel as long as it takes to get to the hotel we have booked for the last night. Then in the morning we have a sleep in and leave about 10.00 and travel the 3 hours to Calais . We will have a couple of hours to get some booze and then on to the tunnel for 15.30, 29 hours and 30 minutes after seeing the vet so we should be O.K.

All of this is of course at the moment theory as we do not leave until late in August. But I thought it may help anyone who is planning this sort of trip to mention the things you need to think about. And do not forget frontline and a collar you can get on prescription that protects for six months from the nasty things that ticks and sand flies carry in Europe.

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