Sunday, September 4, 2011

Greece!

The ferry ploughed the Aegean towards Greece. Soon we were standing in a new country. J and I walked north from the town past a series of ruined windmills to a rock beach. J went for a swim with some local teenagers, I snoozed! A bus back into town and we met some fellow travelers for dinner. T and A were interns in Turkey from Germany and Serbia respectively. Soon, it was time to board the ferry. We met two more travelers trying to hitchhike back to Poland without money! J and I slept on the roof for a better view of stars and freezing wind.

Next morning we docked in the charmless Athenian outpost of Piraeus. We made our way into the city and rushed up the Acropolis before the hordes consolidated. Later that day we could barely see the mountain at all for the surfactant tourist coating! We also saw the new Parthenon museum, had a nice lunch, and disturbed a phalanx of waiters by charging and using my phone for Internet in the cafeteria.

That evening we saw students occupying a university building in the city, and the parliament guards doing funny stuff. We took a sleepy tram to the water front and met E, our CSer. After dropping our stuff we made up for not eating much since Chios by eating 3 amazing souvlakis each, followed by a walk along the beach in the sunset.

Next day we woke early and took public transport for about 5 hours to get to Delphi. Highlights of the trip included a 10 minute run to catch a bus! The trip out also showed us many new wind generators installed all over Greece. From modern Delphi, we had an incredible view over a valley of olive trees to the water, many miles away. The Delphi museum is filled with treasures from the site, mainly gifts from kings as distant as Pergamum seeking priority in receiving an oracle. The site is large and full of rocks. Occupying a shelf half way up the mountain, the main sanctuary is thought to be built at the intersection of two fault lines, which in ancient times permitted the evolution of a unique spring where chemical reactions liberated ethylene. The priestesses became intoxicated and mumbled; a nearby priest wrote some fairly non-committal prediction. Springs still exist in the region, but drinking from them produced no unusual effects.

Waiting for the bus we met three interesting people. A Greek man and his Mexican pen-friend/Spanish interlocutor/wife, and her friend. J had a good chat in Spanish!

Back in Athens we ate Kalamaki for dinner, packed, and prepared to leave.

Next day we were aiming for the Kifisou bus station, but got lost. In the process we found a Russian supermarket and bought some biscuits for breakfast. I chatted to the girl working there in my basic Russian, but evidently said the right thing because we were gifted with two ice creams!

Dodging aggro beggars at the bus station we headed for the Isthmus, and were rewarded with a view of the Corinth Canal cutting the land in half.

We visited Ancient Corinth, which was pretty cool, and saw the pottery in their museum, which was extraordinary. We took a bus to Nafplio and spent the night watching castles, street performers, distant lightning, and yachts.

Next day was a long haul to Pyrgos on the opposite side of the Peloponnese. We met our CSer G, walked around the town, then got our Greek on by spending the entire evening in a coffee shop by the square talking with people. G told us crazy CSing stories about sleeping overnight in a room full of magic mushrooms under lights, and fare evasion by speaking in imaginary languages. He also told us about an expected hitchhiker from England who was spending a month in Greece, but already took 2 weeks to get from Thessaloniki to Athens! Apparently he came back to his Athens CSer, took off only one shoe then passed out for 18 hours from sheer exhaustion. He woke at 8pm the next day and said "I'd better go while it is still morning." =P

Next day we took the train to Olympia, a large and well preserved site. The museum in particular had some extraordinary remnants. J and I raced twice the length of the stadium, then indulged in some wrestling to even the score. There were nearly as many tourists as at the acropolis of Athens! In the evening we took a bus, ferry, and hitchhike to Sami, on the island of Kefalonia.

Kefalonia has had a number of large earthquakes in the last century, leveling nearly everything. Geographically, however, it is green and mountainous, ringed in crystal clear beaches, riddled with caves and mystery. That evening we walked to Antisamos beach, and swum in the evening light. I had brought goggles, and could see the bottom to a depth of 20m or so. Looking at it past my feet induced mild vertigo. Soon we were surrounded by fish of all different kinds. That evening we chilled by the docks and sipped our drinks.

Next day J headed for the beach, and I took a cab across the island to the low-lying Paliki peninsula. On the way I was rewarded with dozens of incredible views, including a mirror smooth Lefkadi gulf and lots of folded limestone. At Atheras Beach I went for a swim, enjoying a sandy beach. On the eastern side of the bay a spring coated the warm sea water in a layer of cold about 10cm thick, with an amazing filigree mixing zone in the sun. I walked up to Atheras, a strong candidate for the true location of the Homeric Ithaca, and met a girl in a shop who seemed to have walked straight from the pages of Captain Corelli's Mandolin, which is set on the island. All too soon it was time to bid Pelagia farewell and return to Sami. A walk along the beach was punctuated by the first storm of the season, and followed by a trip to the Melissani Cave, a flooded sinkhole cave with crystal clear brackish water flowing under the island. With rain falling through the roof hole it was pretty amazing. On the way back I met some Australians on a cruising regatta in ~50' yachts around the Adriatic sea. I turned a shade of green! That evening we compared notes, ate, drank, and prepared to leave.

Next day we took a ferry to Patras, about which it can be said that it has an amazing bridge. Otherwise, we found it cramped, busy, noisy and smelly. After a 2 hour wait, a bus left for Ioannina. The bus wound between ever-present wind turbines and mountains, while the radio proceeded to Rickroll us. We met our CSer Y (organized by J), walked through the Turkish fortress and around the lake before retiring for a pasta dinner (thus breaking the run of souvlaki) and watched a few episodes of 'Shameless', a rather questionable though hilarious TV show. Y had a frighteningly large computer monitor/TV, which was a stunning contrast to my broken iPhone screen on which I have been depending! J commented that only four days before we'd been at the beach in Nafplio!

Next day J and I left early to catch the bus to Kalambaka, chatting to two French backpackers we found on the way. At the town we were immediately confronted by enormous spires of rock that make the Meteora region famous. Between them we got a terrific echo effect, and watched a few brave slack-liners tackle the voids. J and I set off and in 4 hours managed to walk to all six publicly accessible monasteries, though we entered only St Barbara's. While small, it is an architectural gem, with many handmade fittings, access by rope basket, terrific iconography, and terrifyingly awesome views. J thought it would be a terrific place to survive a zombie apocalypse.

Back in Ioannina, Y took us up the mountain for a view of the lake, island, and sunset. We ate traditional food and drank traditional spirits as the sun set, and later heard some traditional (and rather strange) music.

Next morning we woke early then took off with Y towards the mountains; a series of stone-built villages strung out along the edge of an enormous canyon with the dawn breaking over the top. At the bottom, turquoise water spanned by ancient arched bridges. At the top, tiny houses and churches, interspersed with places selling coffee. Each house had a wooden door within a slate roofed gate, colourful windows, and a vegetable garden. Later we visited a monastery perching on the edge of a gorge about 1km wide and deep. Much deeper and narrower than the grand canyon, with echoes to match and impossible trees beginning to turn orange with autumn.

All too soon it was time to return, collect our bags, and buy a bus ticket to the Greek-Albanian border. As the bus wound through the mountains I demolished an enormous slice of chicken pie and prepared to leave Greece behind, for who knows how long?

UPDATE! Photos.


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