An open-ended adventure by Joel
  • Day600

    Day 601: Meteora

    October 8, 2018 in Greece ⋅ ☀️ 21 °C

    Left early and spent the first couple of hours driving south-west to Kalambaka, location of Meteora, one of Greece's most famous spots. Meteora is an area with tall limestone pinnacles, topped with several large monasteries that have to be seen to be believed. It's actually kind of crazy!

    Drove into town, grabbed some lunch and then had a wander around. There's about eight key monasteries to explore, so we drove up into the clifftop areas and had a look around. We visited three separate monasteries which were all very impressive, although none of them really have significant monastic communities still there. Still beautiful though, and really have to be seen to be believed.

    We spent most of the afternoon driving around checking out the various monasteries, then headed to our apartment in the late afternoon. It was in a basement but despite the low ceilings it at least had windows! Quite nice all things considered, and we grabbed some supplies before staying in for the night.
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  • Day599

    Day 600: Vergina

    October 7, 2018 in Greece ⋅ ☀️ 21 °C

    Headed west from Thessaloniki in the morning, aiming for the town of Vergina, and another world heritage site. This one was a large archaeological site, focused largely on a handful of tombs. These were quite remarkable, as they were only uncovered in the 1980s and were completely intact, unlooted. But the most surprising thing was the occupant of one of the tombs: Phillip II of Macedon, father to Alexander the Great!

    This was the spot where his palace was located, and the theatre where he was assassinated was also located nearby. We spent quite a bit of time going through the burial mounds which had an excellent modern museum located basically on top of the burial mounds.

    Unfortunately for us, we weren't allowed to film inside and it was far too dark to film anyway, so hopefully the museum directors come through with some footage or images for me! Afterwards we headed up to check out the ruins of the palace and other areas of the archaeological site, only to discover that they were closed! No further information, just "closed".

    Classic example of both the best and worst of Greece. Incredible museum, very modern and fancy with well done exhibits. Right next to a fenced-off archaeological site that has absolutely no info about whether it's open or not, when you can see it or not, and so on. Fantastic.

    Since Phillip was the King of Macedon, I should explain a little as well about "Macedon". Essentially - Macedonia is a region. Although it's common trivia to say "Alexander the Great was Macedonian", that's true but he's not really associated with the modern nation of Macedonia. The ancient kingdom of Macedonia was a Greek-speaking city state, just like Athens, Sparta, Corinth, and all the others. Their territory was mostly in modern-day Greece (and there are millions of Greeks living in the Greek province of Macedonia who think of themselves as Macedonians), but it did also stretch into today's country of Macedonia (where it should be noted, the population are Slavic and speak Macedonian, a Slavic language). Greece and Macedonia have been arguing for decades about use of the name Macedonia, and at the UN they're officially known as the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. Apparently a compromised was recently reached which would see Macedonia officially named "Republic of North Macedonia". We'll see!

    Anyway, it was a disappointing site all up and we were finished by lunchtime. It was a pretty small village so we checked into our guesthouse and then sat around, both wishing we could drive on to the next place. Ended up spending a few hours at a cafe, then a few more hours in the room. Still felt like quite a waste of a day though, annoyingly.
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  • Day598

    Day 599: Thessaloniki

    October 6, 2018 in Greece ⋅ ☀️ 19 °C

    Left early this morning and headed north-west towards Thessaloniki, Greece's second-largest city. Navigated through the maze of streets downtown and managed to find a parking station, though it was a Greek style parking-station where an attended parked the car for you, door-to-door and nose-to-nose. Grabbed a quick lunch and headed off to check out the city's world heritage site.

    This one is a multi-location affair, with a bunch of mostly Byzantine-era churches sprinkled around the city in various locations, about 15 in all. The oldest was one that actually went back to the Roman era, so that was quite cool to see. A domed construction, similar to the Pantheon in Rome.

    We also looked at the largest church, from around the 10th century, and a couple of other significant ones. All covered in frescoes and mosaics and with interesting details as well.

    Thessaloniki feels quite different to Athens - much younger (people-wise, I think it's quite a student town) and not as grimy either. Definitely not many western tourists here!

    Our last stop was a monastery church up a hill just outside the downtown area, which we huffed and puffed up to, sweating all the while in the heat. Got there to find out it had closed at 4pm! Rather a surprise given that it was 3:45pm, but the man was quite gruff and unfriendly, so we departed slightly dejected!

    Quite unusual as well, since we've generally found Greeks to be quite friendly and welcoming, particularly if you mention you're from Australia. Almost everyone has family in Australia, or at least friends who have family in Australia, so they tend to know a bit about it and have sometimes visited themselves.

    Headed up right to the northern outskirts where our apartment was located. We were staying in the spare room of a friendly young guy, but he was heading off for the weekend so we had a quick chat with him before he departed.

    Didn't sleep that well as the school across the road had some sort of cultural performance happening. People dressed up in traditional costumes, traditional music and so on, but the volume was very loud, and didn't stop until around midnight. Was hoping to see some epic plate-smashing, but alas they didn't do that.
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    Trish Forrester

    Pity about the last stop... I guess he may have had a bad day, or had to go pick up his costume for a cultural event in the north ;) ?

  • Day597

    Day 598: Mount Athos

    October 5, 2018 in Greece ⋅ ☀️ 19 °C

    Couple of hours driving first up, southwards towards the town of Ouranoupoli. Our WHS for today was Mount Athos, a site that proves problematic for visitors! The site itself is a long peninsula of land with a large mountain at the end, and the coastline and flanks of the mountain are topped with a series of Orthodox monasteries. Many of them have existed for over a thousand years, and are super important to Orthodox tradition.

    The problem for us is that the monasteries are basically hermit communities, and basically off-limits! Women are not allowed to enter at all, and only small numbers of men each day - even then Orthodox pilgrims are prioritised.

    We knew all of this in advance of course, so our next best course of action was to do a cruise along the peninsula leaving from the closest town.

    So we arrived around lunchtime, and had a delicious Greek feast on a beachfront restaurant while we waited for our departure time. Not sure if I've mentioned before, but Greek food is such an integral part of Australian culture that you forget how good it is! Gyros, souvlaki, moussaka, dolmades, tzatziki, grilled lamb, lots of fresh seafood etc. We shared a few enormous entree dishes of Greek salad, grilled eggplant topped with feta and diced tomato, grilled haloumi, and several large grilled squid. Fantastic, and not too expensive either.

    The cruise itself was quite nice, under the spectacular cliffs of Mount Athos and marvelling at the monasteries although we couldn't get super close. It was way too windy out on the water to do any filming, so we did an intro/outro on the dock and I'll just do a voiceover later. Lots of great footage though.

    The cruise finished around 5pm and we just grabbed a couple of bread rolls for dinner before heading to our apartment in a building nearby. Off again in the morning!
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    Trish Forrester

    The cruise sounds like a great idea. Did you go right around the peninsula? Looks like a monastery on the northern side as well

  • Day596

    Day 597: Archaeological Site of Philippi

    October 4, 2018 in Greece ⋅ ☁️ 19 °C

    Early start again from Kavala, heading for the nearby ruins of Philippi, an ancient Greek settlement. Although we arrived at about 9:30am (it's not far outside town), we were dismayed to discover a car park full of tour buses! We were then mayed to find that it was for kids on a sports excursion, and they were using the nearby parks rather than the archaeological site - which we had entirely to ourselves. Not bad.

    There's not actually a whole lot to see here, it's probably the least preserved of the ruins that we've visited. But I still found it quite interesting because it's closely connected to many famous people from antiquity. Firstly, it's named Philippi after its first conqueror, Phillip of Macedon who was Alexander the Great's father.

    Secondly, during the Roman period there was a huge and decisive battle just outside the town in 42 BC. After Julius Caesar's assassination, an army lead by his heirs Octavian (later Augustus) and Marc Antony faced off against an army lead by Caesar's assassins, Brutus and Cassius. It sounds cliche, but Rome's history lay in the balance. Ultimately, Octavian and Marc Antony prevailed, ending completely the 500 year history of the Roman republic and paving the way for the Roman Empire (which Octavian would later become the first emperor of).

    And thirdly, during the Byzantine period Philippi became an important centre because of something that had happened hundreds of years earlier. Around 49 or 50 AD, the Apostle Paul had visited Philippi and preached the gospel. He was thrown in jail and miraculously escaped (according to a tale from the book of Apostles). In the city he also built the first ever Christian church in Europe, and also performed the first ever baptism in Europe, on a local lady named Lydia.

    So yeah, all up it was quite interesting, though not much to physically see. A ruined theatre, remains of the Forum, stones from early Christian basilicas, and that was basically it.

    Grabbed some lunch from a bakery on the way back to Kavala, then drove into the centre of town to have a look. Parking was Greek-style only (ie anywhere your car might fit), so we opted to just have a look from inside and then cruise back home.
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  • Day595

    Day 596: Driving to the Far North

    October 3, 2018 in Greece ⋅ ⛅ 20 °C

    Super long drive today. All up we spent about 7 hours driving, including stops to refuel both the car and our stomachs.

    Mostly headed north around the mountains, then out onto the plains of northern Greece where we skirted around Thessaloniki and bent around eastwards towards the Turkish border. Finally reached the town of Kavala where our most distant World Heritage site is located - we'll visit in the morning.Read more

  • Day594

    Day 595: Ruins of Delphi

    October 2, 2018 in Greece ⋅ ☁️ 19 °C

    Grabbed a quick early start, and our first free buffet breakfast in an awfully long time! Managed to arrive at the nearby ruins of Delphi before most of the tour buses had rolled in. Delphi is an ancient sanctuary, one of the most revered of the ancient world. The ancient Greeks consulted the Oracles here on all sorts of matters from around 800 BC right through until 400 AD when the practice was outlawed by the newly Christian Roman emperors.

    It's a fairly small site, but it was in great condition. In a super dramatic spot on the slopes of a mountain, upon entering you wind your way up the Sacred Path which leads past ruined temples and treasuries before eventually arriving at the Temple of Apollo. According to Greek mythology, this was where Apollo slew the serpent god Pythos who fell into a chasm in the earth. Ever since, the chasm has emitted noxious fumes, and the main temple was constructed over said chasm.

    Upon being asked a question, the Oracles (actually local peasant women) would take a deep breath of the noxious fumes, suffer what modern scientists think was probably an epileptic fit, and babble incoherently. A cabal of priests would nurse her back to health, "interpreting" her babble and translating it into a poetic prophecy that would answer the question - for better or worse.

    Thankfully there was no inhaling for us, but it was a fun place to wander around and imagine the ancient goings-on. There was a large theatre here too, since Apollo was also the god of music and poetry and the arts, and right at the top was another stadium like we'd seen a few days earlier at Olympia.

    Quite an interesting site all up, and the attached museum was quite good too - but we were finished by lunchtime. Grabbed some gyros at a restaurant in the nearby town (which seemed to be entirely made up of souvenir shops and tourist hotels), then drove back to our cabin and spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing. I had a quick dip in the swimming pool, though it was unheated and absolutely freezing!
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  • Day593

    Day 594: Monastery of Hosios Loukos

    October 1, 2018 in Greece ⋅ ☁️ 18 °C

    Up and out early again, driving northwards across the Peloponnese. After a couple of hours we crossed the Corinth channel via a new suspension bridge, back onto the northern half of Greece. Here we turned eastwards to a monastery.

    The monastery is a joint listing with the one we'd seen on our last day in Athens, for much the same reason - well preserved Byzantine mosaics. It was in a super dramatic spot, nestled in the mountains, and although it was a long tough drive to get there we both really enjoyed it. The mosaics were intricate and beautiful, very nice to look at.

    Another 90 minutes or so of driving after we left, and we arrived at the mountain town of Delphi where we'll check out the world heritage site tomorrow. Staying in a caravan park just outside of town, decided to have dinner at their restaurant which had a great view all the way back to the sea.
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  • Day592

    Day 593: Ancient Olympia

    September 30, 2018 in Greece ⋅ 🌧 19 °C

    Today's site was the ruins of ancient Olympia, home of the Olympic Games. These ran from around 800 BC right through until around 400 AD, so the modern era games have quite a bit of catching up to do!

    We spent a few hours wandering through the site - it's mostly dedicated to Zeus who was the patron saint of warriors, so there were temples and statues and the like. Also a large administration building which I thought was quite interesting!

    Highlight was probably the stadium which is still there, and where most of the events were held. The running track is about 180m long, though some events would have competitors doing laps. No seats, it was standing room only aside from a royal box of course!

    Finished off our video around lunchtime, grabbed a gyros in town and then headed home for the afternoon!
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  • Day591

    Day 592: Temple of Apollo at Bassae

    September 29, 2018 in Greece ⋅ 🌧 16 °C

    Left our hotel room amidst howling wind and torrential rain. We discovered later that it was a mini-hurricane that sometimes occur in the eastern Med at this time of year. The water isn't warm enough for a full-on hurricane, but it still gives it a right old go.

    First part of the drive was quite intense, as we headed westwards on tiny roads and mountain passes to Bassae. Here we found the Temple of Apollo Epicurus, dating from 420 BC and looking very similar to the Parthenon. It's in fantastic condition and has been an important sanctuary for years, but due to restoration work it's covered by a huge tent.

    We could go inside the tent, but with the wind and the rain it felt like the tent was going to blow away! Even though it was mounted on foot-thick steel poles embedded in concrete, the whole structure seemed to be shaking. It was far too noisy to film inside, so we just got some clips of the temple, filmed an open and close just outside and then retreated to the car.

    We had it entirely to ourselves again, as this is a very isolated area. We've both been quite surprised at how sparsely populated the Peleponnese area is, though it is admittedly very rugged as well. We pressed onwards to Olympia where we had a large house booked for the night.

    It felt quite odd to have an entire four bedroom house just to ourselves, but hey. It was comfortable enough once an issue with the wifi was rectified. The storm had mostly blown over by the time we arrived, so we could afford to relax a bit now.
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    Trish Forrester

    Looks very weird!

    Trish Forrester

    It definitely looks in need of restoration

    Joel Baldwin

    Imagine that the Parthenon is underneath the tent!

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