As we sit on this Tuesday evening on a campsite in Halkidiki, with the smells of Romania, Serbia and Bulgaria meat-fest food cooking all around us, we wonder whether we really are in Greece. Then our food-baby bellies rumble following the lovely fresh fish - dorado and calamari, Greek salad and tzatziki - we devoured for lunch and, alongside the beautiful Azure blue waters, we know we are very firmly back in Greece, at long last.

In fact, we have been here for over a week now and we have well and truly made up for it on the food front! We have eaten our weight in Greek salads (there are salads available in addition to the copious amounts of meat!) and are once again experts on the finer points of tzatziki.  Fresh fish, souvlaki and gyros are the mainstay of our daily food itinerary, with any remaining vegetables from life before Greece going very mouldy in the fridge…

Crossing the border last Monday was very nerve racking indeed. We thought we may have to backtrack over all the many miles driven thus far. The queues were as we expected, and the usual border chaos ensued, but with a quick flick through our passports and the Serbian stamp seemingly usurping the Turkish one, they simply waved us through.

We both breathed a sigh of relief, albeit short-lived, as the official stood in front of us pointed towards us and then backwards. Having no idea what he meant exactly, but with the understanding he seemed to be pointing more at me than at David or the van, I got out. He quickly gestured towards the health officials behind me and for me to go there. We knew there was random Covid-19 testing, so really it shouldn’t have come as any surprise that we might be tested.  The swab down the back of the throat was bit of a shock, but survivable, and not long after we were heading off on the road to the northern shores of Kavala.

Kavala is the hopping off point for the island of Thassos, the first Greek island I ever went to and we loved it so much that we’ve been there four or maybe five times. Unfortunately, the last time I was there it ended badly for my close friend Billy and I, well to be honest it could have ended worse. With many of the gang from those days gone, and including the more recent passing of dear Billy, I really wanted to re-visit the island and the fond memories made from there.

Of course, no place stays the same and certainly Thassos and Kavala haven’t, the wheels of tourism have certainly turned in these places. When we were there ‘back in the day’, the main tourists were the Scandiwegians, but there was no evidence of them now at all, just huge amounts of Romanian, Serbian and Bulgarian cars all around us wherever we went. But of course, despite Covid, why not? All are very easy drivable distances away. We know, as we’ve just driven from Serbia and Bulgaria ourselves! The allure of beautiful warm blue waters is enough to entice anyone, especially post Covid lockdown.

With the absence of our very close friends who were due to meet us in Thassos (cancelled due to Covid), we tried to make new memories and cycled many a kilometre around the island and again had the most lovely fresh, light food and felt the warmth not only of the sun but of the Greek hospitality. We were presented with small starters to help us make our choices or fresh fruit, ice-cream and pastries to fill any gaps we might have had after. There was one very poignant moment that did bring back not so fond memories, when, after enquiring about a cash point, the waitress said “Yes, there is a bank near the police station in Limeraria”.   Yes, I knew that for sure, only steps away in fact when you are being escorted from one to the other… A cold shiver ran down my spine as the memories came flooding back.

We left Thassos island on the Saturday, not at high speed in a police car thankfully, and we will return again next year, most likely with Patsy, Debs and Dave and I will revisit all the places from the Blackheath Gang of Eight days and shed a tear for those no longer with us. I will of course also not attempt any acts of forgery or fraud, as, without my gang of 8 how could I possibly pull it off!!

We headed on to Thessaloniki for a weekend break in a hotel. ‘Buster’, our Elddis Encore motorhome, being too big to park anywhere near the central areas. It was way too hot to try and randomly park, so we engaged the help of Urban Pillow and parked Buster up and headed for the delights of the metropolis that is Thessaloniki.

Maria at Urban Pillow guided us through the days and especially the culinary highlights of the city, from restaurants to patisseries and ice-cream parlours and not one of them was a bad steer. We should and could have done more culturally, but to be honest we were happy just wandering, sitting and taking in the vibe of a busy, trendy young city.

As we parted from Urban Pillow and Thessaloniki, Maria had another top tip for us (seriously we don’t know how she stays so slim, but loves these restaurants and places). ‘Go to Aristos Taverna at Ormos Panagias. It’s on the way and the food is amazing!’ she said. So, what could we do, other than stick the chilli back in the fridge and head there for lunch? Unfortunately, not quite a wonderfully blue-sky day to get the colours in the sea known in this peninsula, but a wonderful location and terrific food to feed the food baby bellies we’re growing at the moment.

We leave Greece on the 20th July and during that time we might actually do some cooking in Buster - we need to budget-wise – but the lure of grilled meats, pastries, all this lovely fruit and ice-cream is just too much!