On thro Greece and to Turkey

Saturday 22nd May
This morning we carried on driving along the inland route towards the sea and our destination for today, again we pass through real Greek countryside with villages clinging to the side of hills with our main road winding their way through these villages. Again the road was extremely winding ranging in elevation from 700 to 1200 m high, quite narrow most of the way perfectly through the villages where often an edge of a house defines the edge of a road, of course most of the way through the villages is one way, and if by some chance is a two-lane road you can count on one lane being blocked with parked cars.

We came across four herds of goats on the main road today, I guess there was somebody there looking after them but they were not in plain sight. It's interesting one group of goats decided to start running along the road and then one cut off up the cliff face and a whole lot of them basically ran up the cliff face so one gets the good illustration of "as nimble as a goat".

We passed through Aroanía and then Kalávrita which happened to be the destination of the train ride into the mountains we want to take in the next couple of days but driving from there often beside the railway line being able to stop to photograph the villages and the monastery's clinging to the cliff face made us realise that travelling by road was much better scenically and photographically.

We read turned to the campground at Akráta Beach where we were greeted like long lost friends of seven days ago!

Monday 25th of May
We stayed at the campsite a total of two days and we parked about 10 m from the edge of the sea.

This morning we headed off back towards the bridge, we decided to avoid the toll way after the bad experiences using it a week ago so we took the main road which took us through most of the villages on the way and then we passed through the town of Aíyion where we stopped to do some shopping and carried on to Aktaio where we got back on the motorway to crossover on the bridge and then we were heading towards Itéa on what I'd say was the motorway, and we saw a little bit of beach with a road going down to it near the village of Eratiní were parked 15 m from the sea under the shade of a eucalyptus tree.

I assume that as we are to move close to Athens we would see a lot more traffic but in reality the amount of traffic we have been seeing on the Greek roads up to date has been very low, now with Greece being smaller than the South Island of New Zealand, but has over 13 times the population density, I would have expected to see a lot more traffic but in reality we are seeing the low density we would normally see in the South Island.

Tuesday 25th of May
The country of Greece basically consists of beautiful beaches, beautiful villages clinging to the side of mountains and many, many mountains. To get around this country you are basically driving around the mountains at a height of between 400 and 1200 m. These mountains basically rise straight up out of the sea and it would appear as if goats are the main things that seem to survive in these hills and almost every day we see another herd of goats wandering across the road sometimes as many as 200+.

It was a delightful evening we  camped so close to the sea, this seems to be so easy wandering around Greece, yet so hard at home in New Zealand!

Always headed back on our travels passing through Pánormos and then on to Itéa where we took the road towards the monastery of Osios Loukas turning off the main road at Dhístomon and then driving through a village of Steiri. We came to a road sign and as these tourist sites are not on the tom-tom for Greece we have to resort to road signs, so I signalled that we're pulling over to the right, to let the pickup behind me past, and they pulled up to the driver's window and both signalled that I should be going straight and not turning left, with all obviously there's only one tourist destination that we could be heading towards so straight we went, and after a little bit of winding round the normal hills we can do a car park at the 11th century monastery, parked there and joined the others from the buses wandering around the monastery.

When we finished that has backed the road we came through the village of Steiri and to the village of Dhístomon on the main road where we headed in the direction of Delfi but first we had to go through a village of Arachova which was recently substantial village with a long narrow road running through the centre of a village that was built for horse and carts rather than cars and trucks.

Our first challenge was a 10 ton truck coming towards us and we both voted yes we can get past, and get past we did with room to spare, the next challenge was a right-hand bend in the middle of the village and we met a full-size petrol tanker coming in the opposite way. We both stopped, and I guess the rule is the smaller one has to give way, the first thing that happened of course was that all of the roadside spectators indicated there was plenty of room for me to get past, and I thought at least it deserved a try, but hard right angle bend, you've got to be dreaming.

The next effort was to back up and there was a taxi behind me and he didn't want to go anywhere, but after a little while he backed up and eventually I had enough room to pull over to the right and the petrol tanker roared past me, I then made my way around the bend to be greeted by a 50 seater bus coming towards me, heck that was easy, and a large delivery refrigerated truck followed by lots of cars, whoever said it was difficult driving in Greece?

So we carried on our way down the hill, almost turning in circles following the road heading towards the city of Itéa that we passed through earlier today, and the GPS advised us to turn right, all there was were roadworks there and the road no longer went that direction was a good spot to stop for the night so I followed the GPSs instructions.

Wednesday 26th of May
Our next destination was the city of Tríkkala about 160 km away, so we headed off again into the mountains zigzagging up and down and around the mountains from 200 m up to 900 m passing through the city of Ámfissa, and on the other side as we rounded a mountain we saw in the distance a small village sitting up about 400 m and a road zigzagging up the mountain to the village. I guess the villages were established up high on the mountains as a matter of security in times gone by, otherwise one would have thought that down in the valleys access would be a lot simpler.

Just after we passed Lamía we stopped at a British Cemetery from the First World War of about 110 graves, most of British regiments, but there was one there from Malta and about eight Russians who died in October 1918 (one year after the revolution in Russia) and they were part of the "2nd Russian Lab Corp" whatever that was, and is rather interesting to try to work out how the Russians got to Greece, how they got to be fighting on the side of the British to be buried in the British Cemetery. I was looking for New Zealanders are there were none in this cemetery of 1918.

Eventually we came down out of the zigzag road around the mountains to a very large flat plateau and about 100 m elevation, I'm guessing it would be at least 150 m in length and here we are seeing a lot of agriculture, and of course all the things that go with agriculture, lots of tractors harvesters and other farm instruments. So it's interesting where ever we go to seed the strong hold that John Deere has on the harvesting section of the grain industry, even in Russia where I would have thought it would have been quite simple to pull a John Deer harvester to pieces and with their talented engineers, (they must have talented engineers look at some of their war machines), build one as good or better, but no, we see these green harvesters in every country.

We then went on and passed through the city of Kardhítsa and on the other side we found a very large parking area, with what looks like a restaurant or perhaps a nightclub, they were parked ourselves in the back right hand corner and will wait and see what happens. Currently at 3:30 PM the temperature is 31°C, almost time we are heading north!

Thursday 27th of May
Our camping spot last night at the nightclub was a washout at about 6 PM when we were asked to move on, we carried on driving north for a couple of kilometres and came across a Carrefour supermarket so we parked round the back of that out of the way and had about 9 PM the security guard asked us to move around the front, which we did and spent the night there. The supermarket opens at 8:30 AM so I wandered in and have a look around, found a map of Greece that have a scale of 1 to 250,000 which was better than what we had and I bought some car mats and that was about all I could find which was about €22. I paid for this and the girl at the cash register asked me to wait, somebody came they could speak better English and told me that I had won a check for €30, so I went back to see if Luda wanted anything, and then went back into the supermarket and wandered around and collected about €31 worth of odds and sods, paid the cashier, they told me I'd won another €30.

So I went and got Luda and she shopped and got some bits and pieces, we went to pay for it and I noticed that they had closed the cash register that was giving the €30 away, maybe they figure that was like a slot machine, and maybe they were worried it was running hot.

So where on the way again towards the city of Tríkkala passing through this to get to Meteora an area of 24 monastery's of which six can be visited, but word of warning, they each have different days they are closed, possibly the one that is the most famous with the basket that lowers down from the top, was closed today, things have changed a little bit since this was built, as they now have steps going up to the front door so you no longer have to whistle for the basket to be lowered to gain entrance.

We are able to drive around all of these monastery's, all had good parking, however the most popular one at the top of the hill had four buses there when we arrived, I let Luda out and then with luck one of the buses left which gave me an ideal parking spot, and whilst I was waiting for Luda, with the motor and air-conditioner going, outside it was about 34°C, another six buses arrived and let off all the tourists so that was 10 buses in all and the 45 minutes we were there, goodness knows what it'll be like in the peak season, I'm glad I'm not here for that.

The map of our travels, we have on the side of the motorhome, attracts a little bit of interest, and one woman that looked at it asked if we were really from New Zealand, she was from Dunedin doing Greece in the three weeks they had for school holidays with her two children, another couple that stopped were from Canada, they had spent 12 months in Dunedin, three years ago, loved the country.

Luda had over 270 photos of the monastery's, so we figured we had enough, and we said in our new destination which was about 150 km away so that GPS was very kind, it directed us past the monastery we decided not to visit and we were able to photograph that from good advantage point. It was then on up the hills to 1000 m zigzagging in and around, watching the temperature go down as we went up and go up as we went down.

We rescued a turtle going across the road again today, and twice at 900 m we saw roadsigns warning people that there were bears and deer in the vicinity.

We're still seeing, an incredible frequency, the little churches that are memorials for those that have crashed along the road, when I say little churches, most of them are but some are quite substantial, almost end up for something to go inside to kneel in prayer, where most of them are larger than a good-sized letterbox. I saw one today, beside a fresh water tap in the country, that had a date of 1977 on it and another had a date of 1948, so that obviously been putting these memorials up now for a long time.

Eventually we found we had enough driving so pulled off in a work area where hopefully will be quiet for the night.

Friday 28th of May
After a noisy night on the main road we carry on our travels north on the motorway with a top speed limit of 130kmh, it almost seemed unreal.

We got off the almost deserted motorway at Siátista and went into the normal gridlock village with the normal parking being where ever your car happens to stop.

The city was founded in the 15th century and became famous for its fur trade importing remnants of sable and other furs from Russia and then making up into garments. Obviously the city is still well known to the Russians as Luda was able to see many signs, in Russian, urging the people that could read these signs to visit these shops.

We got off to look at this town because of its reputed large mansions, but after driving right through the narrow streets were unable to find anything so programmed for GPS for next destination, and you guessed it took us back through the narrow streets.

Our main destination was Mount Olympus, which with investigation turned out to be the name of a mountain range, but we found a old city by the name of Dion fed this into the GPS, and found us an easy path right to the door, or so it seemed. He first took us through Kozáni then across the main bridge over the lake Aliakmonas and was leading us through a large village called Velvendós when it wanted us to do a right turn which was not permitted in reality. So we did a left turn and went down a path with cars parked on the side and just enough room for us to squeeze past them, driving very slowly. We then relied on the GPS to pick up our route which did very easily zigzagging us through the streets until on one of the streets we could go no further because there was a house built at the end, so we backed up, turned her nose up the hill, and the GPS found our route on to our destination.

Or so it seemed, because as we rounded a right angle bend, the tar seal turned into a dirt road, and I guess it may have led us to our destination, but we decided to turn back.

This of course took us back through the narrow streets in the town, until we got to the other side and the road carried on around the edge of the lake, hugging the edge of the cliff, which was very unstable, if one looked at the edge of the cliff that went up from the road it was easy to observe all the rocks that are ready to come down on the road given the right circumstances, it was a two-lane highway but has had very little maintenance, and the grass and bushes are encroaching the road so that in most places it becomes a one-way road particularly when some of the rocks decide they would be better on the road.

It is quite a scenic drive around these cliffs, and we were aware it would probably take us over the mountains at some point, and then we got to the turn off which was going to do this, surprise surprise, another shingle road, climbing almost straight up the hill, with the tar seal road going steeply down to the lake, so we turned around and went back the 30 km, back through the village we got lost in, but this time it found us the main road running straight through, and whilst the road was narrow, it presented no problems.

After this we decided to reprogram the GPS for a major city and we selected on Lárisa, we're doing fine until the GPS decided it could save 5 m by sending us off to the left along a goat track which we were having no part of. So we carried on straight, and then said no we saw a turn off to Lárisa 1 km back, so back we went, down the road with a sign post, and then we found we read the sign post wrong, so round again we went and back again we went with the GPS telling us we were going wrong, and then all of a sudden it decided this way will do!

So we carried on over the hills and then we found a little church off the main road, with a parking area outside it, just outside the village of Tsapourniá, so that our destination for the day.

Saturday 29 May
We resumed our journey to Lárisa travelling on a freeway a four Lane motorway again with a maximum speed of 120 km, when we arrived we found a very large Carrefour  superstore with a Marks & Spencer attached, we stopped there and browsed through some of their products before we carried on North towards Platamonas where they were meant to be several campgrounds with WiFi. We arrived at the first one which was meant to have WiFi over 80% of the campground which translated from Greek into English to an area of 20 m around reception, so we carried on to the next one which was no better and so we went on up the coast, one promised us WiFi next time we came back as they would have installed then, so we'll keep that camp site in mind for next time, if there is a next time!

We turned off the motorway to view a large open-air theatre that was mentioned on the poster, what we found looked like a new one so I'm not sure where the old one was, we've noticed that the signposts tell you something is close, but they leave you to find it!

The town were going through in a magnificent castle on the hill overlooking it, we were able to get the view from several different angles so that another castle to add to the list.

We eventually ran out of roads that lead to the beach, so we got back on the motorway and off at the next exit, again no luck, most of the land at the edge of the sea was being taken up by redevelopment of townhouse type buildings. Eventually we came to an empty piece of land and saw a couple of cars parked there so we drove on to that towards the cliff that was about 20 m above the sea, found a level spot and hope there is not too many romantic couples heading towards this parking spot this evening.

On one part of the motorway that went through a gorge we saw two memorials to what I guess must have been to bus smashes about 3 km apart, and I'd guess at different times! One had a obelisk type stone with the names engraved upon the front surface, and the other a large oval stone with portraits of about 15 people around the edge.

You start to understand a little bit why there are so many memorials on the roads in this country particularly like today we were sitting at the red traffic lights with one lane and turning left, and as soon as the light turned green two cars that were sitting on my right accelerated to a high speed and whipped in front of me, yes this time they made it. A little bit later were travelling at about 80 K and a motorbike went past me and about 110 K, went past so fast I did not get look at him, I wondered if he had a crash helmet, as many the ride motorbikes in this country don't, and then I thought at the speed he was going perhaps it would have been better if he did not have a crash helmet as in that case if he had an accident he certainly wouldn't have to worry about spending the rest of his life in bed paralysed!

Sunday 30th of May
We headed back to the motorway and would only gone a couple of kilometres before we saw the sign post to Dion Museum, this is a collection of all of the archaeological finds that they have found on this ancient city, and now all laid out nicely for to be seen, however we both preferred the same archaeological finds in their natural surroundings that we saw in Turkey. Yes Turkey is the real destination if you want to look at the ancient Greek -- Roman world.

We were about ready to leave when we saw a signpost pointing further up the road to a gorge and a waterfall, it mentioned nothing about the road you have to take to get there, they presume you will find this out for yourself, so you zigzag up the hill and eventually come to a point where the tar seal turns into shingle which is an ideal place to turn the motorhome around to go back down again, however I did let Luda out so she could walk to the waterfall, about 120 m away when she took many photographs of this cute little waterfall and a little lake in fell into.

So it was a slow trip back down the mountain and we went the back roads to the city of Kateríni, we needed more LPG but there was no indication in any of the service stations we passed so we kept on driving to the second major city in Greece Thessaloniki is shown on the order route map as Salonica but the guidebook knows by the former name for all that is worth, the GPS took us through the middle of the city of about 1 million people, many of the roads more suitable for horse and cart.

Going south we passed through many acres of rice paddy fields, no picturesque scenes are available however like one would obtain in China but I guess the product would be similar.

We were unable to rescue a very small turtle today, we passed by him before we realised, hope he made it across the road!

Fortunately on the motorway we saw the Shell service station that sold auto gas, Shell's name for LPG so we are filled our cylinders and drove on until we wondered whether we gone too far and got off the motorway near Néa Kallikrátia, we found no we had not gone too far and then spent the next two hours trying to get back, motorway, you say what about the GPS? Well no matter what destination we put in they all wanted to go through this motorway junction which was incomplete which meant the road was closed at this point so after going around in very large circles for awhile I cheated and drove down a different road which after about 6 km took me back to the motorway we stayed on this into we got to Kalamariá and we went out on the Kassándra Peninsula which according to the guidebook is noted for its volume of road accidents and what impressed us about this Peninsula was all of the new developments that have sprung up and possibly the last two years and there is a lot of redevelopment still happening at the moment with a lot of dusty open areas which eventually will be nice..

What was once a beautiful motor camp, is now an extremely large development of townhouses or looking out to sea. On this Peninsula is useless trying to find somewhere to park overnight beside the sea, anything that is it that good already has a house sitting on it. We drove down as far as Foúrka were at that point we decided to get the seaside parking and let us go to a motor camp 28 km away supposedly by the sea.

Were heading back that way when we lucked upon this massive car park, room for 300 cars, with another equally sized car park 20 m away, both are being encroached on the edge by grass and bushes and the only thing that I can think of if these are of current use this is that it is parking for the beach some kilometres away with buses running to and from! However it suited us for the night.

Monday, 31 May
There's a beautiful quiet spot the parking lot, this morning Luda took the wheels of the motorhome and was surprised at how easy the big lumbering thing is to drive so next time the roads get too tough for me I will pass the wheel on to Luda.

So we went on to our next destination and so we drove back via Néa Moudhaniá and pass through Nikítas out onto to the Sithonia to what looked like a beautiful campground at the end of the Peninsula at Kalamítsion the purpose for this was still a had wireless wi-fi and not all campgrounds have gone on to this technology.

But driving 55 km to the campground over hill and dale around the edge of mountains past goat farms were arrived at this beautiful beach and no, they don't have WiFi, it was a mistake in the book! Well without WiFi the campground was just another campground so we drove back the 50+ kilometres and out on to the Mount Athos Peninsula to the town of Ouranópolis.

Our friendly GPS gave us an easy route to our next destination, but just to keep it interesting it including about 10 km of dirt road which led us out onto what was the main road from the last city, we did ask it for an alternative route, but told us the equivalent of trust me! you'll have no problems!

We eventually found the campsite which was on the beach and our motorhome was parked about 20 m from the sea, in a location that we cannot see the sea, but we know it is there. We're hopefully tomorrow we will be able to take a boat trip to look at about 20 monastery's from a distance, we note on our high scale map there is a road passed all of them, but after the road we went on today I think the boat may be in easier bet.

I've come to the conclusion that the ideal GPS would probably have an 8 inch screen and would show all of the roads around the direction that you were travelling in or be very easy to see when the GPS was sending your on a road that was saving 5 m on your travels, however when I get the truck software for the tom-tom this may eliminate some of the problems, but I still think 8 inch screen would be nice.

Tuesday 1st June
This morning we walked into the village to catch the tour boat that did the cruise past about 10 monastery's. There's about 20 monastery's still in use on this part of the Peninsula, a Peninsula that is patrolled by the police on land and sea and where it is forbidden for any woman to go anywhere near a monastery and men are only permitted through proper channels in small numbers. The closest the tour boats can get to the shore is 100 m so this means the closest woman can get to a monastery is at least 100 m so I guess the monks consider themselves safe from this form of temptation.

It was an overcast day, but the monastery's were still very impressive to look at, some were almost fortresses, which one considers the history of the Pirates raiding the monastery's in the very early centuries and then the Turkish problems when Turkey was in control one understands the fortifications.

From what I understand the most populated monastery and about 100 monks and there are several different types of monastery's including a Russian Orthodox one that had all the domes on the church that one normally associates with Russia.

There were four of us to start with on the boat and then 2 or 3 tour buses arrived which filled the boat up.

Wednesday 2nd June
After two nights in the same location this time to be on our way so we headed back up the Peninsula past Stavrós and then we drove along the beachfront and round the village of Karianí we just pulled onto the beach overlooking the Gulf of Strimonikós.

Thursday 3rd June
This morning we carried on our way towards the Turkish border passing through the cities of Kaválla onto Paralía Avdhíron where we saw the excavations of a ancient city, then through Xánthi where we saw the remains of a 16th century aqueduct built in the time that the Turks controlled this part of Greece.

Driving on to Komotiní we passed a large lake called Lake Vistonida where we stopped to photograph the older monastery of Agios Nikolaos and then just down the road we saw a flock of flamingos feeding in the marshy ground, the good thing about Greece is there is very little traffic so you can always stop on a main road without any problems, so stop we did and achieved a good series of photographs. Onto the city were we did our last shopping in Greece and bought a good supply of ham, cheese, and a bottle of vodka, none of these things are easily available in Turkey.

It was too late to wander across the border at two o'clock so we headed out towards Ímeros beach and founder of quiet camping spot on the edge of the Aegean Sea.

Friday, 4 June
We left our delightful camping spot by the sea and headed towards Turkey on an almost empty motorway have allowed us a top speed of 130 kph which is a massive change from the 30 kph that we've been doing most of the time around the winding roads of Greece.

Our crossing point and Turkey was at Sultanköy, Luda needed to buy a visa which cost 15 Euro, myself being a New Zealander we do not require a visa. We then drove on South crossing the Dardanelles at Gelibolu and then drove on towards Hamidiye where we found a camping spot on the edge of the Dardanelles so have parked with our motorhome door facing the sea hearing the waves lapping in getting the benefit of the cool breeze off the sea.

Saturday, 5 June
We set off today to cover a little bit of the area that we covered last year on our way to Lake Van and we did almost 400 km which was quite a change from Greece whose roads mainly zigzag in and around the hills.

We stopped at a petrol station to get diesel and found that it, like most petrol stations in Turkey, and WiFi so we downloaded all of our mails and then carried on our way

The first major city was that of Izmir which took about 30 km to pass through on a motorway that considering the population of the country had very little traffic. This was a city last year where we met a conman who tried to convince me that I needed a new bearing in my rear wheel, but he did not get up quite early enough, was interesting, as we pass through the city, we had somebody else pointing to our real wheel, but this time we did not stop.

Around four o'clock we decided on the destination of Selçuk and opted for a motorhome site on the edge of the Aegean Sea.