LEG 6 GREECE
DAY 1 FRIDAY 28TH SEPTEMBER.
Alexandroupoli to Samothraki, an island in the northern Aegean Sea.
In the last post for Turkey I omitted to include the map showing the route from Istanbul to Alexandropoli so to keep the records straight below is the map showing that day and the ferry route to Samothraki from Alexandropoli.
Last night was peaceful as there were no garbage trucks rumbling by and no street sweepers. There was a catfight at one stage but I don’t mind the sounds of a good fight as there is something very primitive about it. As a child I slept in a closed-in veranda and cats used to fight under my window. I was dead scared and I clearly remember shaking and sweating in my bed as the cats growled and fought.
As the ferry didn’t leave until 3pm we left our bags at the hotel and walked up town. There were many bars and cafes along the main drag and all were packed and it wasn’t the weekend either. We hear about the present financial crisis in Greece but I didn’t see any signs of it today. The Greeks are either blowing caution to the wind and partying on or the people we saw today are cashed up and will see the crisis through. I dare say what we saw today is not the full story.
The reason we are going to Samothraki is because the island does not get a mention in the Lonely Planet guide for Greece which means it may not be populated with tourists. I have read it is the ‘nature island’. I hope it’s not a poor destination choice.
Bought a map of the island at a bookshop this morning and Bev asked the girl if she could recommend a place to stay on Samothraki. She was only too pleased to help and was on the web immediately, showing Bev various places we could consider. She telephoned one place for the cost of a room and the lady said to make an offer, Bev offered 20 euros ($25). That sounded reasonable so a room was booked and one of the two island’s taxis was organized to pick us up at the ferry.
Note: The location of Lone Pine near Anzac Cove where my grandfather was fatally wounded and the position of the Greek/Turkish border.
It is about forty-five kilometres from Alexandroupoli to Samothraki and takes about three hours. The fare was $20 for the two of us. Bev and I found an outdoor spot forward and dined on bread, cheese and tomatoes. Food such as this is easy to carry and is inexpensive. Also there is certain nostalgia for us as in 1971/2 I think we just about lived on this sort of tucker.
Fred and Bev Bear is a nickname endowed on us in Spain 1973.
From a geological and physical point of view the island is amazing. It’s as if part of the Swiss Alps has been plonked in the Aegean Sea. The highest point, Mt Fengari, is 1611m above sea level. The capital is Chora and is perched high in the mountains just to the right out of the picture.
Arriving at the port we met the taxi and Matt Pepper Spray squeezed in with us because he was heading for a camping site in the direction we were going. He travels without a tent, just a sleeping mat and if it rains he either puts up a tarp or crawls into a hollow tree or log. Island authorities don’t discourage free camping; in fact at some locations there are showers and toilets provided, very different to council attitudes in Western Australia. Our destination was Aleka Studios about 30 kilometres east on the northern side of the island.
Because our location is self-catering we walked to the closest village, Therma (pop 100), about two kilometres away for shopping. An onion, a couple of tomatoes, some eggs and rice would make for a good brew up. The track to the village is lined with chestnut, walnut, olive and pomegranate trees and the creeks with Oriental plane trees.
All travellers to Europe have fond memories of buying roasted chestnuts from street sellers.
Therma is a popular destination for people who want to take the therapeutic thermal waters.
DAY 2 SATURDAY 29TH SEPTEMBER.
Exploring Samothraki Island.
This morning I cooked rice and banana for breakfast. We dawdled over breakfast and discussed the days ahead.
Cooking at Aleka’s is in an outside kitchen, a very sensible arrangement, however you have to keep watch otherwise the cats get into your tucker.
Decided we need wheels. The bikes supplied at Aleka’s have flat tyres so that’s not an option. We could hire a couple of motor scooters but the problem is Bev has never ridden one before and I think our insurance policy does not cover riding motor scooters. The only alternative is to hire a small car but tomorrow being Sunday it is unlikely we will get a car before Monday. So the plan is to catch the school bus to Kamariotissa (where ferry came in) on Monday morning and see what sort of a deal we can do.
Late morning we went for a walk to the local village again and sat for a while under an old gnarled walnut tree. Passing locals said hello and some stopped and chatted. It is a relief knowing that when a local approaches you they are not wanting to sell you something, like in Turkey.
While sitting under the walnut tree one imposing character stopped. We learned a lot about the island and his approach to life and we told him about our travels and our life philosophy. He was most interested in ‘This is it, this how it is’, ‘Whatever’ and ‘Shit happens’.
The village is in winter mode now so most of the shops, cafes and bars are closed. The official summer season finishes at the end of August. Holiday homes have the shutters drawn and plastic wrapped around the exterior lights. However there was one taverna open where we had lunch. I had sheep shanks and Bev had chicken with pasta. With the meal came copious amounts of wonderful bread and a broom. The broom was to hunt cats that were persistently begging.
DAY 3 SUNDAY 30TH SEPTEMBER.
Today we drifted into an island lifestyle. The day was spent relaxing, blogging, writing and emailing. Doing our travel blog certainly takes a lot of time. I write and place photographs into position then it’s over to Bev who edits and prepares a draft for posting. I estimate doing the blog slows us down by one day a week getting from one destination to another (not all that bad though).
Walked to the village again and bought lunch makings, found a table and chairs under a huge plane tree and picnicked.
We visited the village Greek Orthodox church, I thought I had better get into the religious aspect of Greece, seeing I did so in Thailand and Turkey. Of course in all Christian churches Jesus is always there.
In the Gospels there is no description as to what Jesus looked like. The first painting depicting the image of Jesus showed him as being a short bald headed chap. So how come he is always portrayed as fine featured and handsome? The answer is the image is a creation of those spreading the word. If he had been portrayed as an ordinary looking bloke it would have impacted on the attractiveness of the new religion. It took several centuries to reach a conventional form of his physical appearance with a beard and long hair. A final appearance was established in the 6th century.
It is generally agreed that John the Baptist’s head ended up on a platter because he had a disagreement with Herod Antipas (1st century ruler of Galilee). J the B suggested to Herod that he shouldn’t have divorced his wife and married his brother’s wife. Herod took offence and John was beheaded. I expect it was a bit more complicated than that but that’s the basis of it. In the church these days the story relates to the moral aspects of divorce and remarriage and that is why the image appears in churches, just to remind the parishioners not to repeat what Herod did.
DAY 4 MONDAY 1st OCTOBER.
Hiring a car and visiting the capital Chora.
Began writing early but went back to sleep around 6-00 and didn’t wake until 7-30 which meant we missed the bus to town. No worries, we had another option and that was to catch the 2 o’clock bus from the nearby village until we learnt there was no bus at that time as somebody thought. Our only alternative was a taxi. The local shop owner telephoned Nikos the taxi man who arrived soon after and dropped us at the car hire office.
Often my first impressions of people are right and they were today when we met Kikos (sounded like kickoff). He was a cool flashy looking dude who I though would be pretty hard-nosed when it came to doing a deal. A sheet of paper informed us that the rates were 75 euro a day in the high season but because it was low season he would give us the car for 50 if we had it for 3 days. I was thinking more 30 a day but not to be.
For non Australian readers we often call a small car a bus. The reason I put this image up is because I love the bush fence. I’m not going to use wood like this in the fire when I get home. I’ll keep it to make a Samothraki fence.
Wasting no car hire time we headed for Chora, the capital of Samothraki located high in the mountains. Chora is known as an amphitherical town because houses are built all facing in one direction on an arc. The reason for such an emplacement is security, invaders could only attack from one direction and that was from below. The streets are winding and narrow.
Nearly every village photograph you take in Greece has a cat in it and this is no exception.
Older houses such as the one above are being bought by German and French people and restored for holiday homes. Also the villagers are stripping the white paint from the buildings and taking them back to the original stone.
Note the squared stone front and the less costly random rubble side walls. The beauty of old houses in Greece is the builders used whatever local materials were available. This gives village buildings a distinctive regional flavour.
Eating your way around the world could become a very acceptable activity.
Chora was such an absorbing place that the sun was getting down by the time we left.