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GREECE  29/5-12/6 1998   DIARY  1

Map  Plan

                     Diary 1 2 3



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.
Walk for 10 minutes and finds a bank that, after a little talking back and forth, pays me some drachmas. Out of the bank, and into the first bus that runs to the centre. It turns out that you buy tickets at a newsstand next to the bus stop, not the bus. Free trip to the stupid tourist.

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.

Day 2. There is a bus to Delphi at 10.40 am, so it must be the next time I come bye, that I see Delphi. Instead, travel up through the country to Larisa, another half-sized town. Enjoy the ride through the sun illuminated landscape. The temperature sneaks up to 28C and - as it turns out to be a habit, I sit and sleep ½ hour after a 5 minute drive.

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.
Here is a ruin area that I explore for an hour. Then I take a walk out in the countryside, along a small road. It is a fertile area, the ditch edge is in full bloom. I hear a jigsaw puzzle, and to my great delight find a few Greek land turtle; Herman's Turtle; Testudo hermanni. I had one as a child, and I loved it.

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.
In a corner there is a hole in the floor. A short distance down is a mosaic floor from the 2nd century BC. You can't photograph, but they don't have postcards either, so I just shot a few photos, but without a flash. Besides me, there is only the little black-clad mother-little, who picked me up in the entrance.

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.
See more turtles, a few ravens and a bunch of goats with big bells around their necks. Back on the road, I see an escape adder slipping under a rock, just a meter from me.

When back in Clambake at 6 o'clock. Here I find that the next bus is running - tomorrow! Out to the main road and hitchhike. An old Greek hippy picks me up. We talk, and I tell him, among other things, that I have seen turtles. He goes crazy: Where, he wants to see that too. At first, I thinks he's pissing me off, but others are actually reacting the same way.

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 Greece.
We are in a real tourist trap, just without a lot of tourists. The locals walk in the square, sit in the cafes and talk. It's a little cold up here so I buy a sweat shirt.

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 scorching.

Day 3. The town turns out to be an unusually nice, well- (over) restored little mountain village. The shops have nice old-fashioned facades, even if they trade in souvenirs. There are also antique, wool, wood carving, food and clothing stores. Of course, restaurants and cafes are dominant. In the square stands a video / computer info booth, built into a giant wooden barrel.

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.
All the way around the city, you will see more or less barren mountain peaks, much like the Alps. I can't decide, if I thought the city was cosy or artificial.

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.
And there is! A huge stone bridge across the river at the bottom of Vikos Aoös gorge. A small path leads along the river to a partially inhabited monastery, in the far end of gorge. I walk out of the trail, but time after time is delayed by one breathtaking view after another.

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!
Spend the rest of the evening talking to the two Americans. One restores icons, the other teaches paintings at the university. They are only home in the US to save up for the next trip.

Day 4. I get up early and head up to the old part of town, where I see the sunrise from the ruins. A sea of ​​small birds emerges; red-backed swallows, flycatchers, garden singers and so many that I do not know.
It's time to jump on the bus. We drive through bare mountains, reach soft green hills and end up in Naples. An insane city, which I fortunately only have to spend an hour in.

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.
Otherwise, I had decided to drop the hitchhiking, but feel pressured. There are about 50-60 kilometres to my next destination; Prespa the lakes and I have 9 hours, before it gets dark.

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.
I come to an intersection and am quickly picked up by two - hmm, hunters? I ride with them all 7 minutes, the longest lift of the day! Walk again for 1½ hours. Along the way, a small stream runs. Here I first find tadpoles, then fire bellied frogs; Bombina bombina.

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.
I get to a new junction, it is 7.30pm and the signs tell me that I have just as far, as when I started at noon.
The sun goes descents. The landscape is meadows and small forests, intersected by streams and rivers. Really beautiful. Huge horned beetles sit on the road, and in the roadside's numerous flowers sit colourful small beetles.

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.
A couple of guys pick me up, but we reach the side road I need to get off after 4 minutes. Here's the police check. An uncle / gentleman-like officer wishes me a good walk.

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.
Was this excursion worth the trip, and the hazards worth? Read about it in

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