By: Paul S. Cilwa Viewed: 2/20/2020
Occurred: 12/10/1999
Topics/Keywords: #Travel #Ferry #Adriatic #Brindisi #Italy #Greece Page Views: 1597
Paul and Michael's voyage across the Adriatic Sea to Greece, 1999

Coastlines, Hilltops, and Marble

December 10, 1999 (afternoon)

The port of Brindisi, Italy Brindisi, Italy

Our Grecian adventure actually started in Brindisi, Italy, where Michael and I arrived after taking an afternoon train from Rome. Brindisi is the Italian harbor for the majority of ferries that run between Italy and Greece. The train station was just across the plaza from the ferry office, so we dragged our bags to it and got in line.

I had a printed ferry schedule from home that I had gotten off the Internet. However, the ferry representative took one look at it and told me to throw it away. "One of the steamship lines went bankrupt," he explained. "Now the ferry to Patris runs only every other day."

This was distressing news, because we had planned to take the ferry to Patris, then the train from there to Athens. However, our choice seemed to be either staying overnight in Brindisi, or taking the only ferry to Greece, to the island of Corfu.


We decided on the ferry, but we didn't have much time. Lugging our bags (why they're called "luggage", I suppose) to the docks took longer than I expected based on the simplified map the ferry guy gave us. Then we had to wait in line for the harbor police to stamp our passports. By the time we got to the sea wall where we were supposed to catch the water shuttle to the ship, I was frantic that we were too late—especially since there was no one else there. However, just as the shuttle finally did arrive, and now I was concerned that the shuttle would be late for the ferry, someone else pulled up in a car, and got out, with an incredible amount of stuff to be loaded onto the shuttle.

Now, this wasn't the United States, where fear of lawsuits would never allow passengers to load or unload their own stuff into the boat. Here, the boat crew did no work and we passengers were on our own for getting in and out. So, Michael and I helped this young newcomer get his things aboard: Shopping bags with miscellaneous items, hub caps, a garden hose, a dining room mirror and table (crated), Venetian blinds, and God knows what else. As we continued to load this stuff, even the crew of the water shuttle started showing concern that we would be late for the ferry.

However, we weren't; though there wasn't much time to spare. As the shuttle raced through the harbor to the ferry, which was docked at the far end, the guy introduced himself as Viet (rhymes with "Pete"), a Macedonian who worked in Amsterdam but was returning home for the week. His car had broken down on the way, which was why we were handling his packages manually.

We left him and his stuff in the hold of the ferry, whose huge side was lowered to allow the entrance of cars and trucks. I then left Michael on the fourth deck to watch our stuff while I tried to find out where we were to go.

On Deck 6, I found a little alcove that looked exactly like the check-in counter at a hotel. Sure enough, there was a woman who examined our tickets and assigned us a cabin and a bellman. When I informed him that our stuff was on Deck 4, he adopted an incredibly annoyed expression but located and unlocked (!) an elevator. It didn't stop on Deck 4, so Michael had to drag the stuff up a deck, anyway. We then crammed everything, including ourselves, into this amazingly teeny elevator cab and rode to Deck 7, where our cabin was.

The cabin was small, very, with two bunks, a closet, a small table and stools, and a sink. Across the hall from us was a bathroom, and a separate shower room. By the time we got our gear stowed in the cabin's closet we were already underway. We were hungry, though, so decided to locate the restaurant.

In our search, we encountered Viet, who did not have a cabin and was planning to spend the night in the lounge, drinking his way, as it were, across the Adriatic. He explained that, among the various business deals he turned, was the weekly purchase of an inexpensive used car in Northern Europe, the drive back home to Macedonia, and the subsequent sale of the car for a nice profit. He then took the train back to Amsterdam to repeat the process.

Was such a life lonely, we asked? Not at all, was the reply. "I have a wife and two kids in Macedonia," he explained. "And a woman in Amsterdam."

Sudden Departure

December 11, 1999

Dinner was excellent though I didn't recognize everything—it was served cafeteria-style, and we simply took what looked good. The beds were comfortable enough—I got the top bunk, and it did get a bit warm up there, but it was morning and I was awake before I realized it. It was still dark outside and, since neither Michael nor I had a watch, I pulled on my shorts and a T-shirt and left to find out what time it was.

The first person I ran into was Viet, who was preparing to disembark. "Where are you going?" I asked. "I thought we weren't landing in Corfu until around ten."

"I get off at…" and he named some place I couldn't pronounce, Igoumenitsa. "It's on the mainland," he added helpfully.

"The mainland?" My brain suddenly shifted into overdrive. "You mean, where Athens is? Can we get to Athens from there?"

"Yes, there is a bus. It is about an eight-hour ride, though."

The ferry leaves.

No matter. I was already running back to our cabin, waking up Michael and gathering up our stuff. Inside of twenty minutes, we were off the boat, standing on the shore, watching the ferry leave into the early morning darkness.

Of course, we helped Viet unload his stuff, too. And it paid off; the bus station was several blocks away, and Viet knew where it was—we never could have found it on our own. So I stayed to watch our collective stuff, while Michael and Viet ran off to find the bus station and get tickets.

It took several trips to get everything to the bus station, including one where Viet had to scale the fence, since the gate had been closed and locked while we were away. While we were doing that, Michael was arguing with the attendants at the bus station, who wanted to unload Viet's luggage unless Michael could produce Viet's ticket, which, of course, he didn't have. And then, while he made one last dash to the dock, I had to argue with the bus people who still didn't want to load his stuff without a ticket—but he had the ticket, and the bus guys didn't speak English and I didn't speak Greek.

Finally, Viet returned—his bus was already pulling out, he had to flag it down—he jumped on board and his bus pulled away, just as I spotted one of his bags that had, somehow, been left in the station. I tried asking people there about it, and they finally stored it in the baggage department, hoping that someday he would come back and inquire of it. There was nothing else we could do, and, if you're reading this, Viet—that's where your bag is!