In recognizing of that I have actually seen
astonishingly little of Europe, my next trip into the great and wild
world was to go to a European country.
Greece offers mountains, rugged nature, well-known classic ruins and then it could be fun to meet some other EU citizens and see how they live.
Day 1. Up 4.30, first train to Central Station, bus to CPH, arriving 2 minutes before the last chance - no queue. The Premiere plane is almost full of charter tourists. At the risk of sounding arrogant; that's the mob I fly with. Informal bodies, excessive makeup and bleaching, tattoos, advertising T-shirts, rough language and excessive alcohol consumption. I've felt more homogeneous in a Chinese village market, or in a local restaurant in Ecuador.
After 2½ hours of flight, we land at Athens
Charter Airport. 23C, cloudy and then their ATM are down. No money
for the bus, but during the in-flight, I noticed that the airport was
right on the edge of town.
Unfortunately, since I couldn't get my favourite guide book in CPH, I have to find a bookstore here, which has Lonely Planet. Having succeeded, after seeing little of Athens' business districts, I feel substantially better equipped for a thorough exploration of Greece's more and less explored regions.
The smog is thick, so I take bus 024 to bus terminal B and buy a ticket to Delphi. It passes through white mountains, over red soil, and through green olive groves. Turns out I'm on board the wrong bus, as I finally get my ticket checked. Get off in a remote village and wait 45 minutes at the local bar. Here the men sit and play cards and drink Turkish coffee (which they call Greek). It darkens and the rain pours down. Don't have the best feeling.
Returning to Lamia, which is the
nearest large city. Arrive at 8am, book into hotel Neon, and head
out to see some of the city. It's stopped raining and I'm in an "Art
Deco" area, just without tourists. It doesn't really seem as strange
as I expected.
Larisa offers some very ruined ruins and a narrow river with 10 bridges over. Some of the bridges are beautiful stone or cast iron structures. Is sometimes prosecuted in Greek; they think I'm local. Black clothes, sailing shoes, reasonably tanned and maybe even the nose? Greek is difficult - very difficult. A column in an English-language newspaper is named: How to learn little Greek - in 25 years!
Merchants, flower markets, cafes but no real
sights, so I keep going. I just to hop on the bus to Trikala. We
drive across flat fertile plains and soft semi-arid hills. In
Trikala I find another bus. Jumping off in Clambake.
Reaching Meteora, which is a really old town. Beautiful houses surrounded by a sea of flowers. In front of the church there is a sign with: This is not the old church, walk 500 m ->. Well, the time has to be spend with something, even if churches don't fascinate me that much anymore. After finding a ruin with a great view, I also find the little old church.
It is in its present design built in the 7th
century. Walk around it a bit, and decide, after some hesitation, to
pay to get inside. Woow! All walls are covered with frescoes from
the 14th century. They are incredibly dark by 600 years of oil lamps
and wax candles, but that just makes them more fascinating. In the
middle of the church stands a totally dominant pulpit in (once)
white marble. Along some of the walls there are old chairs.
Head back out into the bright sunlight and walk up to the characteristic cliffs for which Meteora is known. Some of them are hollowed out like a Swiss cheese, and have given their name to Meteora. Several monasteries have been built on the sides or peaks of these columnar rocks. Close up looks like the old concrete, made of gravel, sand and with too little cement.
Walking up a long and steep path to one of the monasteries, taking a look, and then heading for the next one. According to the Book (Lonely Planet guidebook), there should be a small unused path between the monasteries. I find it. It is the original paved walkway. Through scrub-like forest, masses of flowers and rocks.
I hear some puzzle and leave the path. After the heartbreaking climb, I finally encounter a turtle. I guess, I can catch the path further up, but no, it must be turned off and go the other way around the mountain top. Once again I get lost and once again, it is in thorny growths. Blackberries, dwarf holly and thistles. Find some rubble, and mistakenly think I'm approaching civilization. Both and - they are dumped from a vertical 150 high cliff that towers up in front of me. I munch on through the crooked oak and come to some caves, where I can hear voices.
It turns out to be two Englishmen who got lost, from the other side. We talk a little about who has been through the most inaccessible, and each goes his own way. They have gone through some caves and after much climbing in them I finally find a path.
Drops the other monastery and walk back along
a stream towards Meteora town. Here are some giant flowers. A
variegated stem of ½ meter, with some large flanged leaves ending up
in a 40-50 cm long black lily-like flower: Dracunculus vulgaris.
Repeating studies show that the "onion" sits very deep in the
rock-filled concrete-like lime soil.
He has to turn off ,and I walk off the
beautiful mountain road for a very long time before a French married
couple in a camper picks me up. We pass by green mountains, some
completely covered with deciduous trees and pine. We make our way
through the sharp turns, up over a 1690 meter high pass, and end up
in Metsovo. I would have liked to have gone on, but the
darkness is approaching, and I do not believe much in barking in
I find the hotel Acropolis, which in
recognition of the lack of guests gives me a 50% discount. The
tourist season only starts in 2-4 weeks. I do not get it; now
everything is beautiful green and all the flowers are showing off
the most beautiful side. The sun is shining and it is between 28C
and 30C. In 3 weeks, the killing is hot and all vegetation is
The locals are on their way to church, wearing
local costumes. Consistently black, but with brightly coloured
scarves, shirts or vests. As they walk up the city's paved streets,
they exemplify the idyll of past times.
I take the first bus of the morning to Ioannia. We drive through the fantastic basalt and limestone mountains of the characteristic good roads for Greece. The only one I encounter with bad asphalt is during straightening and renovation. Enjoy the many different flowering growths on the hillsides and ditch edges. Many look like alpine flowers. I also sees two turtles trudging around the roadside. They can't be that rare!
Arrive in Ioannia, where I immediately go to the archaeological museum, which should be something quite special. Students come in for free, so for fun I show my driver's license, then I've used it for something. Somewhat surprisingly, they accept it, and I'm in a relatively small museum with various marble, iron, silver, gold, glass and clay works. Some very nice ones, most like all other museums' relics. Stone and bones from 40,000 years BC, clay from 2,000 BC bronze 1,200 BC, iron 700 BC, gold 400 BC and painted vases 500 AD.
Out to have a walk around the city. A huge city wall cuts through the city, and a lake forms a natural boundary to the other side. The shops are like any other city, so I search down to the bus station. Unfortunately, there is no bus to Monodendri, so I can't get out and do a 7½ hour trip in the Vikos Gorge until tomorrow. When I feel; things take longer than intended at home, I delete this point from the plan, and proceed directly to Konitsa.
On the long bus ride, I talk to the girl who sat on the seat next to me. She studies tourism, and can tell me a lot about Greece, also things that she has learned, tourists don't ask about. We pass through tobacco fields and, like so many other places in Greece, the hillsides are covered with flowering brooms. The most common birds are crows and magpies.
I jump off at the city border of Konitsa,
and walk out of the city by a small dirt road. According to the
book, there should be something to see out here.
After 2 hours, I am nowhere near the monastery, but many magnificent impressions richer. You can sometimes see the fish down in the river, a scorpion crossing my path, small birds chirping in the bush, a bird of prey crossing the narrow strip of sky above my head. A blindworm; Anguis fragilis sneaks in among some fallen rocks, while colourful butterflies fearlessly flutter around in the afternoon sun's warm rays.
I return to the small town, where unfortunately no more buses leave today. Book in at Dentro Guesthouse. Washes clothes, and place myself out on the patio to sew on my latest invention; combined photo bag / purse / watch / compass. There is a fantastic view of the valley to one side and you can glimpse the snow on top of the mountains to the other. Albania is seen 8 kilometres away.
The innkeeper shows up after his afternoon nap. He sits down at my table and we chat for an hour. Suddenly he says; can you use a fax? Yes, I guess so? He has a Danish friend whom he should have visited, but did not get to. We cook a letter together in his large kitchen, and fax to Michael at Frederiksberg, in Danish of course. We eat some cake and then call the duties.
I trot up the town to find the Natural History Museum that the local hunting association should have. It is fairly closed and empty, only a peacock can be seen through the panes. The rest of the city is mainly residential. Steep and narrow paved streets lead up the mountain. Behind the high stone walls, one flower-filled garden reveals itself after another. Others use their garden at night time for their goat flock: It gives a different smell. The houses are also built of natural stone and have slate roofs.
In the upper part of the city, I encounter the ruins of two wealthy villas. They are under excavation and restoration. There is a very special atmosphere, as I am on the spot at dusk. The views of the valley are stunning, chirping, nightingale and other birds sing the best they have learned, a bunch of goats come by with their bells and the bats replace the swallows.
Back at the inn, it's time for dinner. The
book, and the two Americans I speak with, recommend the specialty of
the place: Grilled feta and tomato with chilli. It gets full of
grilled pork. Absolutely great!
On my way further on, I see a sheep transport. On the lift of the truck stands a saddled horse. Another livestock transport runs with live pigs. Except the one that hangs blood dripping from one post. The other pigs are sprayed with its blood. I imagine the mood on board that truck is a little depressing! It is significantly more enlightening to consider a large green flagpole following the bus for a while.
The next city I jump into is Kastonia. It is wedged between two large lakes. There are some hefty rises in the city streets, some nice houses and streets, but I do not understand that they have declared it as the nicest city in Greece?
After 1½ hours I have had enough, and will
continue. It's just past noon and no more buses are leaving until
tomorrow! Incidentally, they do not go where I want, but to a city
far away, from where there is a bus to my destination.
Stride purposefully out of the main road, where I overtake a turtle. A long way out, I am finally picked up by a lady. We quickly reach a Y-junction. Both roads lead to Florina. Since my map is not detailed enough, I follow her advice. (Stupid! I get out of the lane for trucks; 20-25 kilometres extra!)
She's going to a small town, and I'm set off by foot again. I drove here with her in 5 minutes, and have been lured to a detour of 4 hours, as the truck road is so little travelled. Only 2 trucks pass me. An MC picks me up, but once again, it only gets to 5 minutes.
Here is desolate, very desolate. I walk for 3 hours without seeing a human or a car. Large soft, fairly fertile hills, which everywhere are broken by upright limestone. It is teeming with emerald lizards, and even the turtles are so numerous that they lose their fascination.
Suddenly a very deep growl sounds. A bunch of dogs are on the roadside. I roar as loud as I can, and fuck the big beasts. They run 20 meters away, but then stop and follow along for a while. Suddenly I felt very hot.
Coming through some small towns that look like
the 16th century. I don't see a soul, only the city dogs show up.
Ghostly, but strangers must be looked after, up here in the corner
between Albania and Macedonia.
There is a massive bird song from the scrub
and fields. At first, the hot summer afternoon, with the buzzing
flies and singing birds, is really nice, but it starts to pinch
after 30 kilometres.
A guy picks me up. He talks on the cell phone
for the 6 minutes I drive with him. He turns off to the border
crossing to Albania and I walk again.
Walk while darkness closes in on me. The nearest hotel is perhaps 15-20 kilometres away. The few cars passing me slow speeds up, as they approach and passes me. From the bush you can hear bark, bell frogs, chickens, thrushes, nightingale and the whistle of larger animals.
I calm my selves; no reason to get agitated. Well, later I learn: This is the area in Europe that you most likely to meet a brown bear or wolves. A thought that may seem exciting during the day, but which gets a different tinge of excitement over it in a pitch-black night.
I have a hard time seeing the road, and sometimes end up in the shoulder, until the moon rises. Takes a few hours and finally I reach the black Agios Germanios. Walking through the village without finding a single hotel. The only place that is light and people, turns out to be at the police station. Go in there and ask if they can recommend a good hotel.
Two officers drop their lower jaws, two others take a firmer grip on their automatic pistols. It's quiet for a while and then to of them relax. On do understand a bit English, and start calling around. Eventually he find a hotel owner to pick me up at the police station.
We drive a few hundred metres, and rush into
the huge gates, which are closed immediately. In bed without dinner!,
and then just past midnight. At least, here are some well-water, and
I have had nothing to drink since noon.