From Diary 2 I
now get to the southern part of the country.
Day 9. Taxi to the airport, flying to Athens, where I have to wait for 2 hours on the train to the Pennelope Peninsula. Time spend with trying pants in the pants quarter. Train on time. My sideman is an Albanian officer, who sits with his translater and uses me as a sample cloth. No I'm not married, yes it's hot today, now you're in a good mood. That's what I'm thinking of, because of Monty Python's sketch on the same subject.
Athens' industrial district extends far along the railroad, but eventually fields takeover between the heavily polluting factories. We pass several major refineries and other heavy industry such as shipyards. Finally we get to plantations, small towns, meadows and pretty barren small mountains.
I share the wagon with a bunch of back-packers, the first group I've seen, and they are from the US. Suddenly we cross the long-awaited Corinthian Canal. It's really BIG. There are more and more citrus plantations , the temperature is rising slightly and many living fences are of cactus or agave. The hillsides along the road are fairly barren, but there are many pillar-pines, between the white limestone.
I had taken it for granted, that the Americans were leaving at the same small station as me. Here is one of the peninsula's sights namely: Diakofto track. I'm over before I discover it, and no more trains are guaranteed today, and even if there were, the last Diakofto train will be run. Instant planning, and I can see the track on the way back.
Drive for free to Patras, the 3rd largest city in Greece. There are 2 hours for the next train, so I'll hit the town. The mandatory castle on top. The most exciting thing is a Wall-gecko. Huge church with frescoes everywhere. Ruined by Odeion and Galan o 'Polo's rich villas.
The town is pretty Saturday closed so the 2
hours were appropriate. However, the train is delayed after a short
drive; some accident. In the fields, wine and corn are dominant.
Pyrgos, I walk across town to the bus station. Why lie train and bus station next to each other when there is a small unimaginable back alley, well hidden by the road where there is no space. In the 1½ hour that passes to the bus, I get to see all of Pyrgos closed business district, the huge splendid square, 2 weddings, the elderly residents' promenade in black clothes and the young's tight colourful clothes.
Arrive at Olympia city tourist trap
long after dark, but find a humble hotel and dinner. Sitting and
watching the passing locals and tourists from my balcony, ½ meter
above street level, and straight out as I write a diary.
The entrance to the original Olympic
Stadium is well preserved, but inside is only a start and finish
line for the 120 meter race, the judge's seat and some grassy slopes
that have been stands.
Inside the city, there are no tourists and only one other back-packer. He has totally ignored me since we arrived last night. Last night, when I arrived, the tourist office was closed, and today Sunday, it still remain closed. Outside sits a blackboard with information on the busses. I will continue to Tripolis, and according to the board, there will be buses 8;40, 12;40 and 17;40. If I had known that Olympia was so easy to see, I probably would have bet on the morning bus. Now I slept for a long time, see Olympia (both old and new tourist hell), and it was only 10. Arms with patience, I can't be lucky every time.
It turn 12;40 and then 13;40. So the noon bus does not run on Sundays. Strolling out into nature, through olive groves, over sheep fields and through small forests. It is very hot, the sun is shining from a cloudless sky, the insects are buzzing, the turtles are in the shade. I have walked a long way, am tired, and at a weak moment I am actually considering going into the air-conditioned museum. I resist and take a cup of coffee in the main street. Re-planning my travel plans. The patch of Diros caves and Viatha down on the Mani Peninsula are dropped. I also drop the Amphitheater in Epidaurus, not so much by time, as by lack of desire. Sure, Athens brooches will be enough.
The city is not really that pleasant to be in.
There are only tourist shops (but no tourists, other than me). In
addition, they are putting electricity lines in the ground, so large
machines work and ooze everywhere, even on a Sunday.
It will be an unforgettable trip through some wild mountains. Narrow canyons suddenly open to valleys, where you can see 100 kilometres. A new turn and you drive in the middle of a vertical hillside, several hundred meters down to the rushing river, while the mountain protrudes over the bus. We snail around the turns, which are built for smaller vehicles.
From time to time we come to small terrace-cultivated fields that warn a small mountain town. One of them is called Dafni. Watching harlequin quails, a hare and a lot of birds. A valley is completely dominated by up to 1000 bee hives. In between, locals get into the bus, which simply drives to one of the next small towns. One has a cassette tape with which we hear at the bus facility. Like all other music: Musakka, but in a very modern design.
After 3½ hours of incredibly exciting driving, we end up in Tripolis. I simply have to shake the driver's hand, and thank him for the coolest ride I've ever had. I've seen mountains that are 3 times as high, mountains that have been completely covered by impenetrable primeval forest, mountains that have been far more wild, but never had a more beautiful and exciting ride.
Arrive at one of Tripoli's bus terminals
20;47, and by taxi, I reach the last bus to Sparta 20;50. Here I
arrive at my hotel so I can see Jan Magnussen driving in destination
number 6 in the Le Mans.
Inside the city again, I find the bus stop to
Mystras. Here are 4 Dutch gray-haired ladies. They have seen a great
deal of the world, and have a view of life that seems familiar.
Get a lift down to the village with a motorbike. Have a cup of coffee and see the city's 15 houses, while I wait for 1 hour on the bus. Sometimes I feel that I spend more time waiting for buses, than watching the sights I race around. I have no doubt that I spend more time on buses, but I see a lot from the buses.
The bus driver is nice, and drives me all the way down to the other bus station. Talk to 2 Italians in the 10 minutes I wait for the bus. Driving to Tripoli, and had been planning to take a taxi to the other station. It turns out this bus continues. I am so surprised that I forget to buy a ticket.
On the way to Corinth we pass the castle ruins of Nemia and Corinth, each on its own summit. So if anyone asks, then I've seen them...
We get to Corinth, and are I jump off right by the canal. Taking a taxi to the train station, where I have to wait 7 minutes for the last train of the day, which even goes by express to Diakofto. This time, I'm watching closely, so I'll get to the right place.
In Diakofto they have been good at waiting for my delayed train, so the
last departure of the day is a ½ hour delayed. There is just no one
but me, and then an elderly couple, who have been waiting a long time
to come along.
We mainly run in a 50 meter wide and 300 meter deep gorge. Many tunnels, half tunnels on vertical hillsides, the river at the bottom showers over large boulders. Small flimsy iron bridges cross over and over. There is a small station halfway, and a few more passengers arrive. The trip is fantastic, but after yesterday's bus trip, I'm hard to impress.
Driving back to Diakofto, where I try to buy a ticket for today's last train to Egio. The station can't give back my 5000 drachma banknote ($ 120), nor does the grocery store, so I have to go into the bar to exchange. I think I just misses the train, but it was fortunately ½ hour delayed.
Talk to 2 German girls, who are on their way home from Israel. Gives them a few tips on what's exciting in the area and borrows their guidebook. There is also no line about Egio. The reason I want to Egio is; there is a dotted line to the mainland which I believe is a ferry line. If that's true, I can save the trip over Athens to get to Delphi (4-500 km). So I gamble, and drive away from Athens. Interrupt the pleasant talk with the Germans, and jump off at what I think is the right station.
That it is, and the port is easy to find. The darkness is closing in, and I dare not hope more ferries go. It does, because it waits for a truck that sails every night. Sitting on the sun deck in the last rays of sun, with a gingerbread and a cup of coffee. Standing on the bridge looking out over the strait as a small flock of dolphins suddenly appear along the ferry.
After an hour, we land in a small port city where my luck eventually runs out. There are no more buses today. I finally finding a place to sleep: 2 bedroom apartment with kitchen and all. 130 kroner for one night! Have dinner at a nearby snack, where they think the first bus of the morning is at 7 o'clock, the next at 10 o'clock
Finally in Delphi, which is dominated by the Acropolis Rally. It is part of the World Cup Rally, and is considered the hardest. The cars are there, the helicopters are there, the the lines are there, the whole circus is in place. I see a little race, and then take the bus out to the old Delphi.
We get set off in the tourist town of Old Delphi, and then with the help of a single sign, find the ruins. I'm accompanied by a British lady, who is exceptionally great. We get out the wrong way, but see a lot of flowers and the largest Greek land turtle, I have ever seen. She tells me that the Lord and her sail 9 months a year, and are only at home (OK - the castle) in the middle of summer. Incidentally, it is only when she refers to the man as the Lord that she admits that she is really a lady. She is light-heartedly intelligent, has a great ability to watch and a bubbly humour.
We finally find the ruins, she buys a photo-filled book about the area, and we explore it together. What I find most exciting is Sybil's Stone. A large limestone boulder that is overgrown with ivy. It is, according to the legend of this stone, that the first divination was uttered, 1600 years BC.
There are shrines, treasuries, temples, the Senate, paved streets,
great walls and the amphitheatre. Then there are lizards, large
zebra striped butterflies, chickadees, a small kneel mantra and a
We say goodbye and I hop on a bus to Arkova. Here I wait 15 minutes while a thunderstorm comes rolling between the mountains. Heading towards Athens, where first large wildernesses is dominated by flowering broom, then sunflower fields and little plantations, then industry along the road. When I think about it now, there are astonishingly few cows and pigs I have seen in Greece.
In Athens I find a city bus with a German. We drive into the
city centre, and I find the hotel Tempi. Here I get a room right
upstairs under the ceiling on the 5th floor. Here is quiet, bright,
fresh air and great views of the Acropolis hill.
Sticking my nose into a couple of churches, including the cathedral, but I thought they looked alike. Going through tools and plain clothes, on my way up to the Acropolis mound. Here I see the partially restored ruins of the Acropolis and Parthenon temples. There are also a nice views down 2 amphitheatres, but not much longer. The smog is so dense, even so early in the day, that horizons are completely gone.
I step down from the mound, and find a statue that bears the oldest Corinthian script (334 BC). I just can't find any letters, so I move on through narrow white painted alleys. There are an awful lot of cats in Athens and they are being fed with fish residues here and there.
Coming to the botanical garden, which is more of an inappropriate park of unpowered large trees. A small zoo and an even smaller botanical museum. Returns to the famous flea market, which finally opens. Flea market is so much said, it is rather a street with more or less discount shops.
There is, however, a small square where furniture remnants work, and a small stretch of the street where there are some great antique shops. Then there are a few bikes with all kinds of used metal products. Otherwise it is mainly new clothes, gold / silver, music and souvenirs.
Make a big loop around the centre, but without finding anything new. Even the two back-packers I come across, I have talked with before. These are the Italians and they give me a welcome, that I would have reserved for my rich heirloom.
Outside the tourist centre, the city seems
pretty homogeneous. The stores close early, and I have seen most of
them. When I see Thomas Cook's travel agent, I go in and book an
excursion to Cape Sounion tomorrow. The good Lord Byron has written
so astonishingly positive about the sunset there, so I must see it.
Going back to the tourist centre, which is
apparently the only place that is just a little action. A girl is
trying to give me a card for a nightclub. We talk, she offers
dinner, and we sit out in a square as her boss arrives. No guests
have come with her card for 2½ hours. She works on, I zig-zag home
There are simply ruins everywhere. Pots,
marble scraps, mosaics and lead-glazed glass float everywhere. A few
turtles also emerge as the sun's rays become more powerful.
On my way through the city, I encounter many excavations of Ancient Athens. Check the airport bus stop and time as well as flight time. Get to know, I have to be there 2 hours before departure. Or not; so exciting is their airport not.
Walking around new areas without seeing new things. After all, 2 days turns out to be plenty to see Athens. Must be picked up for the Sounion ride in front of a large hotel. Here is a Maserati with the alarm running. 120dB, so I pull a little down the street. Ask a trader ask how long the alarm has run? Since this morning, and now is 15 o'clock.
Talk to the hotel manager. We lock ourselves in the car, I open the engine compartment and while I stuff a T-shirt into the horn, a somewhat excited Italian comes rushing. He allows himself to be swindled by me and the director.
I've waited an hour, and haven't seen a tourist bus in the street yet, so I walk up to Thomas Cook and ask if the ride is cancelled. She calls, and I am told they have been waiting for me for 10 minutes. The wait, the alarm, the Italian and now this makes my mood turn into controlled anger. I get the phone and explain to the guy at the other end, that I've been waiting close to the entrance to the hotel and there have been no buses other than city buses. He says; no of course, I came walking. Then I would guide you over to the square where the bus stops. Why the hell couldn't I meet him there? He switches to Greek. I speak very loud English, or speak American, those words are not heard in English movies!
The company policy is that you can't get money back, so I feel like a little victory, as I walk from there with mine. Walk to the bus stop for the public bus to Sounion. Wait for 50 minutes and then drive for a few hours. The first in Athens, the second on a beautiful coastal road. We get to Cape Sounion, which has been inhabited for the past 12,000 years.
I take a stroll around the totally deserted peninsula. The sea 50 meters below me is bright blue, the emerald lizard strolling around the wind-shaped small bushes. A couple of falcons patrol, the swallows chirp, and despite the sea breeze and the low sun, are wonderful here. On my way back to the ruins, I pass the site's only new building; a restaurant. Here I get the most expensive coffee of the holiday; 25 kroner, and then without water!
The sun descents between the pillars of the temple and everything breathes idly. Tonight's last bus pushes down the turning ground and I roll back to Athens. Here I finally find a restaurant that serves tzatziki. It's in the middle of the tourist street, but the bill surprises me anyway. Bread, tzatziki and cutlery. 3 sums, each of which could have bought me a 3 course menu. And then, by the way, it didn't taste like anything.
It does not matter; I am heading home tomorrow
: I have had enough of Greece and Greeks. I spent a total of about
55 hours on busses, been out in all corners of the Greek mainland,
sailed, flown, trotted and drive various vehicles.