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Two People, Fourteen Months, One huge world!

Greece - Part One - Central Greece

GREECE | Thursday, 22 October 2015 | Views [787] | Comments [1]

After a decently long time in foreign climes there is nothing better than meeting with friends and/or family to be able to relax and enjoy a meaningful conversation. This was our pleasure as we alighted from the Etihad Airways flight via Abu Dhabi into the calm of early morning Athens.

My cousin Jenny was there to meet us even though we had arrived an hour early. She had followed the flight on a tracking app and, having spent the night sleeping under the stars, watched us fly across the sky from her house in Saronida which is a lovely small coastal town just outside Athens. It did make me wonder why it is that certain Ukrainian rebel / Russian soldiers even bother pretending that they did not know the plane they were shooting down was civilian when a retiree can track and identify our flight correctly using an iPod and a free app!

We spent a very pleasant few days at Jenny's home together with her Cypriot husband Andreas. A typical day involved chatting and reading until such time as we were exhausted and then retiring to the beach for a swim. To keep the muscles in shape we managed to fit in a good many walks as well as a day in Athens.

Athens has a bad reputation with the rest of the Greeks but we really enjoyed the central area. As we had previously visited the Acropolis we opted this time to take a long walk around the perimeter of the Acropolis grounds and up onto the neighbouring hill which is home to the observatory. This vantage point gave a great view over Athens and the Parthenon. As we wandered on we stumbled upon an exhibition of the inventions of the Ancient Greeks, all of which have been recreated from the drawings and descriptions and brought back to life. These were really quite remarkable and included automatons such as a mechanical theatre complete with fire and water, singing birds, astronomical clocks, an automatic bow and arrow etc. They really were a playful and inventive lot. It strikes me as fascinating how every person who has ever lived was living in modern times! This must have felt space age to those guys. Find out more at http://all-athens-hotels.com/english/attica/list_view/herakleidon_museum_ennex_eng/2631

 One thing conspicuously absent from Athens were refugees which the news reports informed us would be everywhere. I cannot say that I even saw one and that was also the case as we travelled far and wide through central and northern Greece and Turkey.

Jenny, Andreas and ourselves soon took off on a driving tour of Central Greece which delighted at every turn. On our first day we were treated to the beauty of the springs of Livadia which have been channeled through man made cascades and which provide a very soothing musical backdrop to lunch. From there we continued up into the mountains until we reached the centre of the world. According to Greek mythology two eagles were released by Zeus, each flying in different directions. Where they met was deemed to be the centre of the Ancient World and so this was where the Temple of Apollo built, high in the mountains in Delphi. Where a temple was built houses, a theatre and an arena where the Pythian games were held (second only to the Olympian games) followed. The views were spectacular; just where I would choose to live if I were an eagle. Our day ended in a beautiful port town named Galixidi. This had a very protected harbour surrounded by tavernas. We found rooms in a waterfront guesthouse and settled down to a very pleasant sunset followed by dinner on the harbourside.

Dinner in Greece is never before eight o' clock and normally around nine. This took a while for our bodies to adjust to but is all to do with the weather and normal working hours for many Greeks which often end at 7pm. A lot of Europeans have formed the opinion of Greeks as being lazy and unproductive - hence their crisis. I cannot agree with the first of these accusations as everywhere we went we met people who had been at work from 8 and would not finish until 10. Every day. it has to be said though that most of those people were not actually doing much but they were required to be there so it counts as work. Surely there must be a more productive use of time! The rest of the world accepts that shops close in the evening and so they make sure that they go when the shops are open. In Greece every hour closed represents a potential missed customer and so they live to be at work. At the end of October a huge proportion sign on for welfare as the holiday makers head back home. This does not pay much but for the winter months an incredibly high percentage of Greeks will not be working at all. Perhaps this explains the summertime double time!

Wandering aimlessly is a great way to approach a driving holiday and this is how we approached our time in Greece. When it got close to 7pm we picked a place and looked for accommodation. This is how we found ourselves at Ammoudia Beach, a lovely cove on an otherwise endlessly straight coastline. This relatively undiscovered beach is at the mouth of a river and our rooms overlooked both the river and the beach so we were able to sit and watch the river boats come and go as well as the fishermen returning from their day's work. Later we walked the length of the beach and the breakwater, once again enjoying the sunset.

The next day we indulged in a swim in the clear, calm waters and decided against a riverboat trip to Necropolis, instead we drove there and explored the "gates of hell", a pit in the ground with a rather exagerated grandeur. Meandering on from here we came to the Springs of Acheron. The extraordinary beauty of this place caused great consternation to Andreas as he speculated why such a lovely area is not better publicised. This was Andreas' first visit but it was clear that at least some people had heard of the place as it was well patronised.

The crystal clear water looked so inviting but was bracing to say the least. When first your foot entered the water it became semi-numb very quickly but when you approached the source of the water - the abundant spring - the temperature rapidly declined, so much so that swimming back into the main flow of the hitherto freezing river now represented a return to warmth. It is fascinating how the body adapts! With a backpack full of newly recharged water bottles I lay back and allowed the force of the river to sweep me back to my starting point. As I sat on the bank fully refreshed I discovered that I had left my passports in the secret pocket of the backpack. Dread turned to relief as miraculously they had not been water damaged despite the full immersion of the pack! That could have been very bad!

Our day ended high up in the mountains in a village called Monodendri. It is hard to describe this little known place except to say that my soul seemed to be at rest there. It was so peaceful and the views were spectacular. Our room in the family run hotel came complete with a baronial fireplace and we were able to relax sitting on the wide balcony wall overlooking the pool whilst picking grapes from the vine below us. The next day Tamara and I set off to explore the ancient pathways and wandered down to the nearby monastery located on the edge of the Vikos Gorge. This gorge holds the world record for the deepest gorge at around 1km vertical from top to bottom and we found ourselves wandering some way along a goat path 1m wide just 100m from the top. The fall was immediate and precipitous and the simplest step was suddenly something that was easily over-thought.

Central Greece is an area packed with delightful experiences but one of the clear highlights for us was as we took a back road to Meteora. We rounded a bend and crested a rise which together had combined to conceal the view of the village of Kastraki nestled beneath the huge granite mounds which form the area of Meteora. We rapidly stopped the car and hopped out to bask in the view as it was lit by the late afternoon sun. A little later we had negotiated a couple of rooms, each with a balcony view of the landforms. The next day we were up early to explore the monasteries which cling to the tops of these perilous bare cliffs and it was a good job we were early as later bus after bus of tourists on day trips from Athens helped to swell the already impressive coffers of these humble monasteries. At €3 per person per monastery this would amount to a tidy sum. Not bad for sharing your wee get-away-from-it-all with others. To be fair it is easy to understand what attracted the early monks to these locations and it is only recently that they appear to have sold out to commercialisation.

From Meteora it was a relatively short trip to the peninsula of Volos. After a lovely afternoon tea on the Volos waterfront we continued a little along the coast and stopped at the tourist village of Kala Nera where Jenny and Andreas had spent many a happy summer in the camp site. The village and beach were a little crowded for us but we were fortunate to find rooms in a hotel from which we could sit on our balcony and watch the waves lap in and the sun go down. We had a lovely swim here and the next day Tamara and I walked up a seemingly long forgotten path which wound its way through tiny farmsteads and alongside a stone watercourse until we were sufficiently high above the village to have a wonderful view over the coastline.

This was to be a very long day's drive but a fun one as we started by continuing around and over the peninsula stopping to enjoy several of the lovely hill villages each with its own village square under a giant plane tree. The age of the tree seemed to increase the further we travelled and it was easy to believe the claim of 1000 plus years for the largest of these whose boughs were each propped up with masonry columns. Often these trees were hollowed out by a disease that came through many years ago but the trees are still alive and seemingly well. It is said that in some villages poor families have actually found permanent shelter within the hollowed trunks in centuries past. For now the trees provide shade to the many taverna tables that sit beneath the spreading boughs.

And so it was that our path wound its way back to Saronida where we have been able to rest for a couple of extra nights before we board a plane for a quick ten day visit to Turkey. We shall let you know how we get on in Turkey in our next article. For now we fully recommend a week driving around Central Greece and staying in the locally owned accommodation. There is another amazing place and site around every corner. The food is great, the views at times stupendous, the locals friendly and distances are reasonable between each highlight point.

Until next time.

Tags: car touring, central greece, sunsets




It sounds like a very tough life indeed that you were leading in Athens!

  Frances Feb 20, 2016 1:01 PM



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