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(>Pictures at the bottom!)
…finally we are in the South
Somehow we were relieved after crossing the border into an EU country and from Greece you only hear positive things: sun, sea and great people. We were happy. The first night we spent – together with German campers – on a lonely beach, which we had for us alone. Wishlessly happy we let ourselves be rocked to sleep by the surf.
As soon as we got used to the sun and the sea, we turned east and drove up into the mountains. The surrounding sugary peaks did not affect our trip into the mountains. Our way to the monasteries of Metéora led us through many lonely mountain valleys, which were practically deserted at this time of year and often left the impression of a ghost village.
In Ioánnina we not only experienced a wonderful old town but also a very fresh night and let us have a short foretaste of what we might be facing in the next time; cold and humid nights. We also had no idea about the winter conditions on the Katáras Pass. But the motorway tunnel was not an option for us. Full of confidence we drove up the pass road and were first surprised that there was no traffic on the road. In the end it was really only possible to drive through the 30cm high snow, on roads over the pass and on the eastern side downhill thanks to 4-wheel drive and limited slip differentials. The roadblocks on the eastern side didn’t really surprise us, probably they just weren’t set up on the western side yet. Welcome to Greece; also here, things tick differently than usual!
The Metéora monasteries were not as spectacular as the Agent 007, but the monasteries in the rocks or high above the valley inspired us despite the lack of action on the part of the top agent. Unfortunately we missed the right visiting hours, at other monasteries the crowd of visitors was too big for us and we didn’t feel like waddling through the walls in single file. So we enjoyed the monasteries and the wonderful landscape only from the outside.
From Metéora/Kalambáka we followed quite in southern direction, over many backroads, alpine paths to reach the strait at Pátra on Peloponnes.
For us it was really a journey across a country, which was completely deserted in places and we had the wide world for ourselves. We roamed areas where probably even during the high season only few tourists get lost.
The demanding roads were demanding for the vehicle as well as for the navigator and the driver, but as an “off-roader” such a thrill sometimes belongs to it. Even I sometimes could not breathe: on the left side it went down vertically, on the right side up the vertical wall and in between there was a lane where often only the track width of our jeep had room. While Chantal held on to the grab rail, I looked awestruck into the depth. All without a net or a crash barrier, which might forgive a driving mistake if it would hold. The pre-Christmas thunderstorms and heavy rainfall left many a trail with small to large washouts.
But we always found cozy places to stay overnight, which could hardly be surpassed in exclusivity. The only disadvantage; for the every evening camp fire we usually had no time to collect the necessary amount of wood, because already at 5 pm the night broke in, or a fire would not have been responsible due to the strong wind.
The closer we approached the coast again, the more life we found in the villages and settlements. Everywhere they worked diligently in the olive plantations and harvested the mandarins at lower altitudes. The beginning of the hunting season always provided special moments in the morning; the cattle dogs probably wanted to drive our jeep to the hunter. Whether then this American car icon would also find a place of honour among the hunting trophies, we could never find out.
West of the Corinthian Sea, we took the ferry, as it should be for travellers, to the Peloponnesian peninsula; we were really in no hurry and the boat trips were for us the alternative to the motorway bridge.
The second biggest agglomeration Greece welcomed us with rain and winterly storm. Well, the sun and warmth moved again a little further south.
In order to get in the mood for the Olympics, we used a part of an approach path that led from Elis across the hilly landscape to the original site of today’s Olympic Games. For more than 1200 years sporting competitions were held there, before they were banned by Rome as a pagan ritual after 300 AD. What was interesting for us was that in those times, which were not always completely peaceful, there were no wars before, during and after the games.
We spent Christmas almost at the southernmost point of the Greek mainland, Peloponnese is a peninsula despite the water channel near Corinth, before we went to the southernmost point, where only a few people moved on the streets and paths on this Christmas day. Apart from the few shepherds, there was really not much going on and we had the headland almost all to ourselves again.
After a short trip to the sea we wanted to visit the ruins of Mystrás. Beside many other visitors, we also stood on the 26th before closed doors – holidays are holidays. One day later we made up for what we missed and we were amazed about the historical ruin and what was once built here. I was also very surprised about a 600 years old book, which is exhibited in the original version. I also wondered immediately whether in 600 years our descendants will still be able to read our digital records, or whether everything will be just electronic garbage after a few years.
After so much history and past we roamed the mountain range of the Oros Parnonas, dived again into deserted Greece, where in the morning only the hunters’ dogs would get us out of sleep and would not allow us to sleep again.
While at night the stars often shone down from the sky, it was always – for us at least – eerie quiet.
In the eastern part of the Peloponnese there are again innumerable antique sites, which convey an eventful past. Here we limited ourselves to a few places, but we took a little more time for it. Other places were closed again due to the New Year holidays and as already experienced in Mystrás – holidays are holidays!
Even in ancient Corinth, where Paul spread the Gospel, the gates remained closed and we could only admire the excavation site from outside the grounds.
The Canal of Corinth was already a wish of the Greeks and sailors of the time in ancient times, but it was only realized a little more than a hundred years ago. The view from the bridges to the straight water course impressed us very much, but we were too early for a boat trip in the canal; the season is being prepared and even the jump masters for bungee jumping were still on Christmas vacation.
So we headed towards the coast along Athens. The traces of the pre-Christmas storms could still be seen here in many places, where work is being done to restore the infrastructure and for a normal everyday life. Actually very impressive, what water masses, which are constricted too strongly or prevented from free run, can do everything in damage.
After a short island hopping over Salamina we reached Athens and another hotspot of ancient times. It is almost a must to climb up to the Acropolis and so we also joined this almost endless stream of people and stood in line for our tickets for over an hour. Despite the crowds of people it was again overwhelming what was decided and built here by the people at that time. Despite the icy cold and strong wind, the panoramic view of the city and the mountains behind it, covered with snow, was impressive. The Acropolis Museum impressed me almost more than the many old walls on the adjacent hill. The big building was built on piles on a part of the old city, where one can gaze at the old walls through glass floors. In the museum itself there are innumerable parts of excavations on display and the attic is at the same angle to the Panthenon, where also the whole circumambulation of the temple is shown to a large extent.
In the adjoining district, where it goes to and fro like in oriental souks, we strolled leisurely through the alleys. Between junk there are also wonderful things to admire and buy.
At this moment we did not know that I (Tom) would become the victim of a pickpocket on my way home in the crowded Metro and that the evening would end at the tourist police.
Thus, the visit of the Greek capital was limited to one day; we had to do some administrative work due to the theft and therefore we did not want to drive into these crowds of people anymore.
Beside what we experienced, the cold and the wind strongly influenced us and our mood was sometimes a little irritated. Where should it actually be warm or a little warmer like here? Where else do you experience something like sun, sea and warmth?
We planned on our onward journey and found that Crete and Rhodes could give us something of what we wanted after all. Quickly a ferry crossing to Chania/Crete was booked and in the evening we were already in the ferry port of Piraeus. For a long time we stood around the harbour a bit awkwardly and nobody could tell us exactly where we had to stand or what exactly would happen. The delayed arrival of the ferry due to the weather, the whole pickup traffic of the passengers and the unloading of the semi-trailers and trucks caused a huge tangle of trucks, buses and cars. In between, motorcycles and scooters drove in slalom around vehicles and pedestrians. Officials from the port or shipping company were not present, or we did not recognize them.
After waiting for three hours and marveling at this drama in several acts, we had enough and simply drove to the loading ramp of the ferry; as the Greeks do and sometime we could park our jeep at the very bottom of the ship. In millimetre-work, we were parked accordingly, so that many cars found a respective place and possible slipping through the waves limited the space of movement of the vehicles. Let’s hope that there will be a calm night without big waves.
In another two hours, the harbour quay was empty; everything that was standing outside there a short time ago somehow found a place on this ship; no matter if container, truck, bus or other vehicles – everything was loaded.
After a delay of more than six hours, finally, the ropes were loosened and the ship steered out into the dark night and we, hoping that the island hopping will bring us something of what we are looking for; we want to beat the cold and rain a little.
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