From Diary 1, I now
get out in the deep end!
Day 5. Get up for a traditional English breakfast, which is supplemented with copious amounts of bread. Go out and explore the surroundings. This is a bean-breeding town. In most fields, sticks have been set up, so the little beans have something to climb on.
It is an old and unspoilt city. I explore the small town's narrow back-alleys, where brown buildings are more or less decaying. Here and there, there are domestic animals, and one idyllic motif replaces the other. I could shoot 10 photos here, and still wouldn't have captured the atmosphere of the place.
I start heading towards the Prespa lakes, and on the outskirts of town I come across a small WWF-sponsored museum. Here is geology, history, flora and fauna. Wild salamanders, 2 kinds of swamp turtles, land turtles, a unique goatfish species, pelicans of which they are mighty proud, otters and the country's largest concentration of bears and wolves.
Walking out the long road towards the lakes. There are thistles everywhere and they are filled with brightly coloured European Goldfinches; Carduelis cardueli. In the air above me swarms a myriad of swallows. Everywhere I come in Greece, there are swallows, different species, but numerous. Along the way, pristine ditch edges stand in full bloom. In a few meters, I can count 20 different species of flowering growths.
I get a short lift with a tractor, out of the long and stringy road, and get dropped off at the beginning of the swamp. Here is a massive sound wall of reed singers and laughter frogs. Suddenly I spot a screw of big birds. It turns out to be pelicans out over one lake. About 25 of these giant birds fly right over my head. Shoals, ducks, gray and cow herons, storks and other birds cross my head, on their way from one lake to another.
Along the roadside are numerous lizards sunbathing. I see some snakes and some frogs disappear quickly. The long straight road seemed endless (about 15km total), so I hitchhike with a pick-up, and get out to a military checkpoint, on the other side of the "bridge" between the lakes. Here it was supposed to be the most beautiful nature.
A little out on a bean field, right where it
meets the swamp, stands 2 storks. On the roadside, the first turtle
of the day comes madly wandering in its search for tasty flowers.
Countless birds fill the airspace over the lakes. It is teeming with various butterfly larvae, colourful beetles, big and small horn beetles, big black beetles, lizards and what do I know, in the grass around me. The soundscape is dominated by swarming flies, reed singers and laughter frogs.
I walk up a large rocky hill that not only
offers great views, but also offers a host of interesting
succulent-like flowering small growths.
It gives respect; Catching a frog with the bare hands is a test of humility for the young soldiers, and I did just that! I'm be offered coffee but I have a bus I need to catch now.
It takes 1½ hours to walk the 9 km to the gas station, where the bus should pass. Grabs an exceptionally tasty pork roast hot dog while I wait. The toilet is the first pedal type I encounter. New, clean, but with no door handle inside. Crawling out of a 30x30 centimetre window at 2 meters height.
Wait 1 hour for the bus and then another one, as it is delayed. I'm in a transition pretty nervous that I missed the last bus of the day. Finally it comes, and I sink into a seat. An Hoopoe; Upupa epops flies frightened up from a bush, as we pass.
Where there yesterday stood a good gentleman / uncle, is now a bunch of stazier. They pull 4 men off the bus and we others can drive on. What happens to the 4 I don't know, but I'm sure my pronounced upper-class English just saved me from an experience. Those who were to slow got rifle in the back, outside, they got the rifle in the head, is they were so slow to lay on their belly's. There is a somewhat depressing mood among us 3 that was allowed to continue. It is probably more moody with those who were not allowed to continue!
The bus winds its way through large wooded mountains. It is mainly beech, but also other trees, I do not know. We come to the ski resort of Florina, where I do not think there is anything for me to see. The next bus runs 3 minutes later and I join. I just manage to tear 2 cookies and a bottle of water to me. Water costs 2.20 DKK for half a litre.
Now we drive on huge grassy hills, which look extremely idyllic, until a gigantic nuclear power plant lets its colossally large cooling towers emerge, looming behind a fold in the landscape. These huge man-made monsters can be seen 75 miles away, and my goose bumps grow with them. We rush on another acorn comb, and as the nuclear power plant disappears, a valley of olives, peaches, cherries, tomatoes pops up and to my great surprise; rice about in the lush fields.
The idyll gets an extra notch, as a blue pyrol and a small gray owl cross my field of view. Then it goes downhill again, in more than one sense. Thessaloniki's large industrial district starts. Here, the EU's environmental plans are a joke. Streams are blue, white, red, green, black or gray and it has nothing to do with natural colours.
With its 750,000 inhabitants, it is Greece's second largest city. Not very idyllic, almost like Copenhagen. Walking off the main street until I reach the hotel Atlantis. Gets a room in the tower on the 3rd floor (then I have time to get out, when we sink!).
Take a walk in the neighbourhood to find a
restaurant. McDonald's, pizzas and other foreign, but a solid Greek
restaurant, I have to enter a murky side street to find.
Asking in the restaurant how to get to the
Petralone caves: I take a bus out to a bus station that is outside
my city map. Here, I catch a bus to the Haldiki bus station, and
here I find a bus to the neighbouring town of Petralone!
Scorched cornfields, green vineyards and kiwi fields. The flat landscape leaves little room for unspoilt nature. Get off just outside Eleohoria, and start walking the 5 kilometres up to Petralone town. Beautiful area with flowering roadsides, slopes with bare limestone, scraping ravens, giant flowers that have still fallen deep. There are a myriad of different flies and beetles in the flowerbed of the roadside.
From time to time, I get passed by big buses. Think it is tourist buses, but unfortunately it turns out to be school excursions. The last kilometre before the city, I get a lift with a local. Like so many older people, he prefers German. That is to say; the language, because we are thus better friends when I can speak only a little German, and therefore are not German.
Get a cup of coffee and a cookie, he has been to in the big city to pick up along with a large roll of wire fence. Fortified on soul and body, I walk the last 2 kilometres to the caves. From being a small unimaginable country road, the road turns to a boulevard-like street with flowering trees on the side and burgonvillias in the middle.
Restaurant, museum, seating, souvenir stands and a hell of a lot of screaming school kids. Get the ticket purchased and enter the tunnel-like entrance. Here are some of the finds from the cave. Most important is the scull of Homo Neanderthal (700,000 years), the first human in Europe.
Aside from the kids, the caves are amazing. Stalactites and monoliths cover the ceiling and floor above everything. Many consist of large brilliant crystals. There are sometimes narrow crevices that go up to 60 meters into the abyss. Elsewhere, underground springs help create the most amazing formations. Some look like plates in the wild.
I follow walkways that lead deep into the mountain. Got the guide in Greek, but meet an English company on the way out. Listens a little, but there's not much to learn. Instead, I try to catch the afternoon's only bus back to civilization. In this connection, the museum is also droped, and I begin to trot back to the city.
Reaching back just in time, but the bus has got a new
time schedule. Wait
1 hour or walk the 5 kilometres back to Eleohoria?. Choose the latter, as
it is beautiful scenery and the chance of a bus is greater down the
The bus comes, runs to Thessaloniki, city bus 10 to the other outside bus terminal. Arriving in 6 minutes before the bus to Katerina departs. Rice fields, sunflowers and not least; storks. Many lanterns, church towers and other high places have nests with half-grown cubs. On a hilltop, I see about 30 storks standing together. Elsewhere, there is a screw with up to 100.
On the horizon, the mountains begin to emerge from the haze. We arrive in Katerina and I take a taxi to the Dion terminal, about 400 meters, and only then I reach the bus. I give 8 kroner for the taxi, but do not get ticket for the bus, and the ride is for free.
Olympus, the home of the ancient gods, pops in between the clouds.
In Dion I immediately go down to the museum park. Big excavations
are underway here. It has been a great city once. Public baths, cash
registers, offices, housing, peat, food stores. A few copies of the
original statues. Many details like marble ornaments, mosaic floors
and various stone works can be seen everywhere.
I rush through the tourist trap up to the museum. A beautiful collection of clay, iron, bronze, silver, marble, gold and mosaics. Have seen enough, and walk up to the bus stop, where I wait 5 minutes. In Katerina the bus is 3 minutes late, which is the only reason I reach it.
Sitting and watching birds. Dwarf falcons, mouse
buzzards (or is it
wasps buzzards?), storks, blue pyrol and a sea of swallows and other small
Day 7. The day is set off to explore Thessaloniki. Starting
at the Archaeological Museum. Clay, marble, bronze, silver, iron,
gold - what can I say?
Have seen enough, and looking for Langada, where the bus to Kavale departs. Wait 8 minutes, then drive across the big plain. Many lakes and even more storks on the partially flooded corn fields. Looks like a donkey cart, but it's also the first.
Starts to see Kavala's fishing port, and then goes up to Imaret, an ancient palace that has been partially renovated into a cafe and restaurant. Then I see Mehmet Ali's house, and follow the extremely narrow and steep streets back to the huge aqueduct that dominates the cityscape. Another place is the old city wall preserved on a very large piece. It is about 12 meters high and very thick. Preserved sounds so nice; I think snare, they have been too lazy to tear it down.
Pile up at the top of the mountain out on the peninsular, and see the old Byzantine castle, which completely dominates the peak. No entrance, no tourists, but an exceptionally well-preserved castle. The entire hall is still covered with huge curved stent roofs. There's a single man up there. He sells coffee, and breeds pitt-bulls. They walk in the old rooms, which are around the totally overgrown courtyard. Watching a single Hoopoe, and a lot of European Goldfinches, which are echoed in the farm's thistles.
I trudge down and find the bus to Xanthi. Here I have to wait ½ hour, but then there is time for coffee and a sandwich. The bus arrivals, and we drive through Drama and Dialect. It's raining a bit in Xanthi, but what does it matter, when the two bus terminals are at either end of a giant covered market. The bus only leave in about 10 minutes, so I just reach a lap in the hall.
This is agricultural country. Corn, potatoes, beets and tobacco
dominate. Then we get to a swampy area where herons, storks and
terns fill the airspace.
Finds a great antique shop. An incredible number of small and big
things are crammed together. Everything is nice and fine, and
suddenly it is there: Today's turtle is in silver, and just the
souvenir I need.
Going straight from there to the nearest café, where I order coffee, as I do not get enough of that. When I say: Nezkaf likos i sakara, I get almost Cupertino. A cup usually costs 7-9 kroner, and then there is a free cold water with. Once I have to give 25 kroner, but then there is neither water nor cookies!
I hop on the bus towards Alexandropolis. The tour leads through an almost Danish landscape, here are just several storks and Turks. I spend an hour in Alexandropolis. Very modern city, lots of shops but roughly the same goods as in Denmark, just about 25% cheaper. Also, a loop down past the harbour, which is dominated by catamaran ferries.
On a new bus, destination: Didymotino. Looks pretty much military,
but we are also only 3 kilometres from Turkey and the situation is
pretty tense in Cyprus.
After calling home to Denmark, I suddenly feel unusually far from home. Otherwise, I never have that feeling. Home sick? No, just far away from home. Walk up on a hilltop on the outskirts of town. Here is a Byzantine castle (I think). It is completely empty of humans, but offers great views of the city, Bulgaria and Turkey. The seeded steps yield under my 58 kilos, so there has been no one here for a long time.
The castle is excavated. I am philosophizing that there are two types of caterpillar excavations. The ones where you are slowly digging through the ground, and the ones using an American bulldozer of the same make. Here, they used the American model. I find a sea of painted pots, and even end up finding an old bronze coin.
Other parts of the area are completely overgrown with weeds. The
flowers emit an almost aesthetic scent in association with the pines
The plan is to fly back to Athens. The flight time is 1 hour, with the bus taking 16 hours. The price difference is 100 kroner and I have seen the area. The airline has closed. I get a local to translate their opening hours. They open tomorrow, after the morning flight is gone. The next is 21;05. Crisis! Encounter a travel agent who is allowed to sell me a ticket for the morning flight 7;40. Pu-ha, I was afraid I was going to waste a day in this corner of Greece. They prefer cash, so they get almost everything I have. No, I can just raise in one of the city's countless ATMs. In theory - in practice this is not possible, as the system is down. Ugly feeling, standing here without a penny on your pocket for dinner.
There is a time when I curse over all the Greeks, and then the
system is suddenly up again. Raises abundantly, and then make a
small stroll in a back alley on the outskirts of town. After all,
I'm not here to eat McD!
Sitting and calculate: With the cheap hotel I live in, and
vegetarian food as well as a modest use of buses, I make money
faster than I use them.