“Today we finally can go home.” So read a message that Greek Reporter received recently from Ilse and Nikola Stadler, a mother and daughter traveling duo from Germany. The two had quite a tale to tell after being stranded in Greece for four months during the worst days of the pandemic.
“My mother has had a camper van since the days when she was a student, Nikola explained, “so I kind of grew up with this kind of travel, and my mother has been “doing the vanlife” for almost 40 years. So we are well-experienced I would say.”
That long experience came in handy recently when the mother and daughter globe-trotting duo experienced roadblock after roadblock in their quest to travel to Greece and beyond this past Spring.
“The funny part is that my mother already went with her mother (my grandmother) to Greece with a camper van around 30 years ago!” Nikola adds laughingly.
With her mother, Ilse Stadler, 67, already retired, her daughter, 30, decided in early 2020 to quit her job as a city planner to go on their long-awaited trip – which initially was actually supposed to be two separate activities.
“I actually had the plan to bicycle along the Silk Route,” explains Nikola. “So I expected to stay away for many months — at least nine months, actually. My plan was to start from Greece. So my mom had the idea to bring me there with the van, because she always wanted to go to Leonidio for rock climbing.
Ilse had planned to stay for just one month in Greece and then go back home alone. “From Leonidio,” Nikola says, “we had actually meant to split up and go our separate ways. But a few days after our arrival there, the lockdown started. So we had to stay there together in the van.
“Before the trip we honestly never expected this could happen. We knew about some areas to be in lockdown — for example, in Milano. But we never expected the whole world to close its borders and go into a lockdown. I guess nobody had seen something like this coming. It’s still crazy to believe.
“We arrived on the ferry on the ninth of March with our camper van. After we had a great time at first on Lefkada, the first disenchantment occurred when we arrived at Delphi — the first day when the government closed all the ancient sites and museums.
“We made the best out of it,” Nikola relates to Greek Reporter with her matter-of-fact attitude. She and her mother then “just walked around the area to get some views from outside… We never expected that everything would be changing so dramatically during the following months.”
The fearless duo then traveled to the ancient site of Thermopylae as well as Corinth, where they also were obliged to look at the buildings and ruins from outside the fence. They later visited the Ancient Greek city of Nafplio.
“Going on to Turkey was of course impossible. The ferry was not running anymore since the 15th. The email telling my mother that her ticket back home was canceled, arrived on the 17th of March,” Nikola continues.
“This,” she states, “was when we first realized we could not go home. But we always thought it might be a month or so. But then the next month came… and the next month.
“Some other campers in a van had to fly home and shipped their car (which costs about 2,000€, plus the cost of the flight). We decided not to do that because we felt safe and welcome in Greece and knew the situation would not be better in Germany.
“But after the third month the situation became harder and we really felt like going home again.” Nikola says wistfully.
“When the big lockdown came, we’d been in the mountains close to Leonidio, where we went for rock climbing. We’d decided to stay there, far away from the next town, because we didn’t knew if we’d get in trouble with the police for living in our van.
“Of course it’s not easy,” Nikola says about having to live with her mother inside a van having just ten square meters of living space.
It was also at this time that the mother and daughter discovered that their ferry trip had been canceled.
The Stadlers reported that the village was nearly deserted after the coronavirus lockdown.
“To drive overland, crossing at least 6 or 7 borders was also impossible. We were stuck in Greece from that moment on,” Nikola says.
Undaunted, however, the two traveled on to Kyparissi, where they were lucky enough to be able to stay on a beach that had a beach shower. “Running water is indispensable to stay at one place while camping. We found a beautiful spot on the beach where the locals accepted and welcomed us in a friendly way. So we decided to stay during the whole lockdown in Kyparissi,” Nikola explains.
“Later when travel restrictions had been weakened, but the ferry to Italy was still not running, we decided to make the best out of our situation and keep traveling. We visited more places on the Peloponesse, as well as Athens and also went to Santorini and Milos Island.
“For us, it was a unique experience to walk through the empty town of Oia, which is usually crowded with tourists. The Greeks were really surprised to see foreigners but always smiled at us, saying again and again: “You’re the first tourists we’ve seen since the pandemic!“ I think they saw us as a good sign that tourists would return soon.
“On the 15th of June we first became really disappointed because the ferry was still not taking us. The land borders opened on this date.” But, the women wondered, “can we really risk during this uncertain time to cross seven borders — some non-EU?
“We decided to keep waiting because we’ve read they finally take passengers on July 1st,” Nikola states. “So we tried to book the ferry. But our voucher that we got from Directferries was not redeemable. The company also turned off their hotlines and was not answering any email.
“We had to pay again, but at least we got the tickets for the ferry. After four amazing months in Greece,” she relates, the mother and daughter were finally able to board the ferry in their camper van and go to Ancona, from where it was just another seven hours’ drive back home to their homes on the German lake of Konstanz.
“Actually we are both used to travel for longer times and our family is used to it as well,” says Nikola after their long-awaited homecoming. Not only were they greatly relieved to be back in familiar surroundings once again but they had another reason to be joyful — the pregnancy of Nikola’s sister, who had “really missed” the two during her mother and sister’s Greek Odyssey.
Coronavirus times have doubtless given humanity many heretofore unknown experiences — but this fearless German duo made the most of their unusual circumstances and ended up having the trip of a lifetime.