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Greece – Country #35 in 2022!

December 1st, 2022

Currency:   Euro

Beer:   Alfa

Diesel:  1.84 eu per litre which is $7.25 US per gallon

EU Plate letters: GR

Greece, officially the Hellenic Republic, is a country in Southeast Europe. It is situated on the southern tip of the Balkans. Greece shares land borders with Albania to the northwest, North Macedonia and Bulgaria to the north, and Turkey to the northeast. The Aegean Sea lies to the east of the mainland, the Ionian Sea to the west, and the Sea of Crete and the Mediterranean Sea to the south. Greece has the longest coastline on the Mediterranean Basin, featuring thousands of islands. The country consists of nine traditional geographic regions, and has a population of approximately 10.4 million. Athens is the nation’s capital and largest city.

Greece is slightly larger than half the size of the United Kingdom, or somewhat smaller than the US state of Alabama.

Greece is considered the cradle of Western civilization, being the birthplace of democracy, Western philosophy and literatures, historiography, political science, major scientific and mathematical principles, theatre and the Olympic Games. From the eighth century BC, the Greeks were organized into various independent city-states, known as “poleis” which spanned the Mediterranean and the Black Sea. Philip II of Macedon united most of present-day Greece in the fourth century BC, with his son Alexander the Great rapidly conquering much of the ancient world, from the eastern Mediterranean to India. The subsequent Hellenistic period saw the height of Greek culture and influence in antiquity. Greece was annexed by Rome in the second century BC, becoming an integral part of the Roman Empire and its continuation, the Byzantine Empire, which was culturally and linguistically predominantly Greek.

The Greek Orthodox Church, which emerged in the first century AD, helped shape the modern Greek identity and transmitted Greek traditions to the wider Orthodox world. After falling under Ottoman rule in the mid-15th century, Greece emerged as a modern nation state in 1830 following a war of independence. After European powers initiated periods of monarchial rule by a foreign family, the country fell to a military junta in 1967. Subsequently, the junta collapsed in 1974 and Greece returned to democratic governance, which has continued to this day. The country’s rich historical legacy is reflected in part by its 18 UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Greece is a unitary parliamentary republic. A founding member of the United Nations, Greece was the tenth member to join the European Communities (precursor to the European Union) and has been part of the Eurozone since 2001.

Blue and white are the national colours of Greece, as blue symbolizes the sky and seas and white denotes the purity of the Greek independence struggle. The cross represents the Christian religion.

Aaaah, Greece, our final European country this year.  Since March we have travelled through 32 countries; 25 of them were new to Fran and 30 to Doug.  If you add in the three countries we did in Africa before March, we’ve travelled through 35 countries this year – we cannot imagine we’ll have a year like this again.  To clarify this a bit, we have not fully visited 35 countries though as we did not explore much of France except around Sens, where we bought Minou; saw only a little of England as we plan to go back; only passed through Belgium; touched a tiny bit of Italy; and only really visited Darmstadt in Germany.  So we intend to return to those five countries in the future.  

We arrived at the border of Albania and Greece at 8:19 am with two cars ahead of us and were through in five minutes with no vehicle inspection.  We are back in the land of good European roads again – yeah!  There are toll highways in Greece and we expect to travel on a few of them over the next three weeks and then again in March when we return.

Upon entering today, we did not need cash nor SIM cards as Fran will continue to use her Airalo Europe SIM (which impressively switched over carriers within minutes) and Doug went back to using one of our EE SIM cards.  As we are back in “western Europe” per se, the GPS we purchased in England is now usable again (it had no eastern European countries on it so we’ve been using Doug’s phone for navigation since Estonia).

The time jumped ahead an hour when we crossed the border.

Our first visit today was to see the Papingo Rock Pools.  This took us off the main highways through a couple of small villages.

With lovely scenery and snowcapped peaks.

There were many switchbacks just before the town of Papingo.  There was a lookout before the town and we stopped for pics:

This area of Greece is in fall (after chasing summer for a few months we now seem to be chasing fall colours!) and the views even without the sun are quite beautiful.   The temps are warming up ever so slightly as we head south but it’s still quite cool at night.  We hope that improves too as we still have to use the furnace.

We parked by the bridge and walked the short distance to the pools. It was like a miniature Sooke potholes with clearer water!

The pools are in a stream known as Rogovo and the small linked pools are natural.  In the 1960’s the local residents intervened in the landscape by building two small stone barriers which creates an even larger pool ideal for swimming during the summer months.  (While we were here in December, the “doors” had been removed and no “swimming pool” was created.)

If only it had been summer, they would have been blocked up for swimming pools and probably lovely for a refreshing dip in the heat.

We then made our way to the city of Ioannina – known for its lake and castle.  While the lake looks good from a distance, we don’t think we’d want to swim in it!

It has an island whose claim to fame is that it is the only island in a lake in the world that has no name – mmhhh.

We wandered inside the castle walls for a while.  They believe the foundations date back to the 6th century and was rebuilt in the 11th and came under Ottoman rule in the 15th century most notably under the rule of Ali Pasha who reconstructed it once again.

and then went into old town for some lunch.  In Greece, you gotta have a gyro so that’s what we did.

While walking we saw where Santa hangs his laundry:

We were offered chicken or pork; and toppings of: tomato, tzatziki, lettuce, onion and it comes with French fries inside the pita.  They were the best fries we’d had in ages so we picked them out and ate them first!

Now we wanted something sweet and Fran asked the restaurant owner if the sweet shop across the street was any good; he said he’d recommend another place about two blocks away (in the direction of where we parked) and we went there stopping first at a shop to get some stocking stuffers.  Well this place, was amazing; too many things to choose from but we limited ourselves to a toal of 3 each.

Since the overnight options were slim we decided to push on to Kalabaka but maybe not all the way.  We found a wild camp off the highway less than 20 km / xx mi before the city and got parked shortly after 3pm to have a bit of down time before dinner.

We are back in the land of tunnels (partly because we chose the toll roads today) and we passed through 18!  We paid two tolls: €3 and €3.50 respectively but we saved a lot of windy climbing roads we figure.

Friday morning was a glorious cloud free sunny morning – perfect for doing some outdoor sightseeing.

We planned our route through Meteora and hit the road towards Kalabaka.

The Meteora is a rock formation hosting one of the largest and most precipitously built complexes of Eastern Orthodox monasteries, second in importance only to Mount Athos. The six (of an original twenty-four) monasteries are built on immense natural pillars and hill-like rounded boulders that dominate the local area. Between the 13th and 14th century, the twenty-four monasteries were established atop the rocks.  Meteora was added to the UNESCO list in 1988 because of the outstanding architecture and beauty of the complex, in addition to its religious and artistic significance

The name “meteora” means “lofty”, “elevated”, and is etymologically related to the word meteor. 

Beside the Pindos Mountains, in the western region of Thessaly, these unique and enormous columns of rock rise precipitously from the ground. But their unusual form is not easy to explain geologically. They are not volcanic plugs of hard igneous rock typical elsewhere, but the rocks are composed of a mixture of sandstone and conglomerate.

The conglomerate was formed of deposits of stone, sand, and mud from streams flowing into a delta at the edge of a lake, over millions of years. About 60 million years ago during the Paleogene period a series of earth movements pushed the seabed upward, creating a high plateau and causing many vertical fault lines in the thick layer of sandstone. The huge rock pillars were then formed by weathering by water, wind, and extremes of temperature on the vertical faults. It is unusual that this conglomerate formation and type of weathering are confined to a relatively localized area within the surrounding mountain formation.

Vegetation grows thickly out of the vertical rock walls mainly due to the water that one is able to find in the cracks and crevices that scale the cliff. Over the past several hundred years, the reports that the Meteora was easily accessible by foot have changed because now one must pass through a impenetrable jungle.

The exact date of the establishment of the monasteries is widely believed to be unknown, however there are clues to when each of the monasteries were constructed. By the late eleventh and early twelfth centuries, a rudimentary monastic state had formed called the Skete of Stagoi and was centred around the still-standing church of Theotokos (Mother of God). By the end of the twelfth century, an ascetic community had flocked to Meteora.

In 1344, Athanasios Koinovitis from Mount Athos brought a group of followers to Meteora. From 1356 to 1372, he founded The Great Meteoron Monastery on the Broad Rock, which was perfect for the monks; they were safe from political upheaval and had complete control of the entry to the monastery. The only means of reaching it was by climbing a long ladder, which was drawn up whenever the monks felt threatened.

At the end of the fourteenth century, the Byzantine Empire’s reign over northern Greece was being increasingly threatened by Turkish raiders who wanted control over the fertile plain of Thessaly. The hermit monks, seeking a retreat from the expanding Turkish occupation, found the inaccessible rock pillars of Meteora to be an ideal refuge. More than 20 monasteries were built, beginning in the fourteenth century;[17] only six remain today.

In 1517, Theophanes built the monastery of Varlaam, which was reputed to house the finger of St. John and the shoulder blade of St. Andrew.

Access to the monasteries was originally (and deliberately) difficult, requiring either long ladders latched together or large nets used to haul up both goods and people. This required quite a leap of faith – the ropes were replaced, so the story goes, only “when the Lord let them break”. In the words of UNESCO, “The net in which intrepid pilgrims were hoisted up vertically alongside the 373 metres (1,224 ft) cliff where the Varlaam monastery dominates the valley symbolizes the fragility of a traditional way of life that is threatened with extinction.”

Until the seventeenth century, the primary means of conveying goods and people from these eyries was by means of baskets and ropes.

In 1921, Queen Marie of Romania visited Meteora, becoming the first woman ever allowed to enter the Great Meteoron monastery.

In the 1920s there was an improvement in the arrangements. Steps were cut into the rock, making the complex accessible via a bridge from the nearby plateau. During World War II the site was bombed.

 We drove first to the furthest of a group of three monasteries and the largest known as the Holy Monastery of Great Meteron first.  There is a very large parking lot next to the second largest monastery very close by and we first parked there and walked up the road.

We had decided we’d only enter one because, like castles, they are more interesting from the outside….  You go down a number of stairs and then up even more to the entrance.  The entry fee was €3 and we spent about twenty minutes inside where, naturally, no photos are allowed.  We saw the cooking area, the hallways, the small church (very ornate and the ceilings and walls were all painted).

But our friend, Google, had this one:

We could see The Holy Monastery of Varlaam nearby and this one from the parking lot:

The rock formations themselves are quite cool looking too.

Enroute to the Monastery of St. Nicholas, we stopped at a lookout and saw The Nunnery / Holy Monastery of Roussanou perched up high:

At St. Nicholas we realized the view had been better back at the lookout and did not even enter the grounds.

We then turned back and found the road to the final two monasteries stopping at several lookouts enroute:

Here’s The Holy Trinity Monastery

And this one is St Stephen’s:

It was a lovely drive and a perfect day for it.

We have a longer drive to get down to Delphi in central Greece so we decided to do a bit of it today before stopping mid afternoon.  Before leaving Kalabaka we pulled over and had breakfast and then pushed in through Trikala to a small village called Rizovouni that has a cemetery with a small parking lot (as well as a proper bathroom and tap with potable water) where we spent the night.

We started the drive on toll roads but after paying about €10 to go less than 70km / 45 mi we got off them.  But still at one point, we had to pay another €1.55 for a very short stretch.   This stretch of central Greece is quite mountainous

We arrived at Delphi – the site of Apollo’s Temple and got parked on the street – for such a hugely popular place, there is little parking although maybe most people come on a tour from Athens – but the parking that there was, was very full when we left around noon.

Delphi, in ancient times was a sacred precinct that served as the seat of Pythia the major oracle that was consulted about important decisions throughout the ancient classical world. The oracle had origins in prehistory and it became international in character and also fostered sentiments of Greek nationality, even though the nation of Greece was centuries away from realization. Apollo was the god of music, harmony and light an occupied an important and prominent position in the Delphic Sanctuary. Inside this temple is where the Oracle operated. 

The ancient Greeks considered the centre of the world to be in Delphi, marked by the stone monument known as the omphalos (the navel). According to the Suda, Delphi took its name from the Delphyne, the she-serpent who lived there and was killed by the god Apollo (in other accounts the serpent was the male serpent Python.

The sacred precinct occupies a delineated region on the south-western slope of Mount Paranassus. It is now an extensive archaeological site, and since 1938 a part a national park. The precinct is recognized by UNESCO as a heritage site in having had a great influence in the ancient world, as evidenced by the various monuments built there by most of the important ancient Greek city-states, demonstrating their fundamental Hellenic unity. 

So the first thing you do upon arriving here and paying your entry fee of €6, is visit the museum which is full of statues etc. found on the site.  Some are in pretty good condition for 2000+ years old and others have been restored and still others are fragments.

The Demonic Sphinx – head of a woman, body of a lion with outstretched wings:

Unfortunately the stadium was closed which was disappointing but we did wander the ruins for about an hour.  The best preserved/restored building is the Apollo Treasury – (use?) and the temple itself is not in great shape by the floor area is there as are columns at one end.

The theatre is in pretty good shape but you are not allowed to access it.  We read that at times they do put on Greek tragedies here.

The main attraction here is Apollo’s Temple:

From this high upon on the slope we could see another site down the road a bit so after finishing up here, we walked over there.  There is a large area that is mostly just rocks and includes a gymnasium

And at the far end is Athena’s pronaia / temple / tholo which looks pretty cool.

The Temple of Athena Pronaia was a temple at the ancient site of Delphi, in the Sanctuary of Athena Pronaia, a group of buildings comprising temples and treasuries as well as the famous Tholos of Delphi – a circular building supported by Doric columns. In addition were a number of physically independent altars and a few treasuries, or buildings used for financial purposes, mainly storage of items used as currency. There were in fact three successive temples built at the site. The earlier temples referred to as A and B, were built in the 7th and 6th centuries BC respectively and were made of porous stone; a third temple was built of limestone in the 4th century BC, although it is not certain that it actually was dedicated to Athena this time.  The sanctuary of Athena “Pronaia” (also spelled Pronaea, meaning ‘the one before’ the temple of Apollo), was the first one met by the visitor who came to Delphi on foot from the eastern road, hence its name.

After returning to Minou we decided to find a place to eat in town as it was nearly 1pm and then find a place to camp for the rest of the afternoon and night as we’d already driven nearly 200 km / xx mi.  Fran found a deserted beach area that others had wild camped on and we headed there after lunch in a restaurant enjoying some Greek food and beer:

The Delphi beer was a pilsner and not so good by the Alpha beer was a nice lager.

We arrived at Agios Vasileios and there was a row on the left of closed up trailers and a couple of shuttered houses with possibly a closed beach bar.  There was one German van down on the left side at the end so we parked between it and the road – a good distance apart.  There had to be about eight cats wandering around here meowing and begging for food – guess they are used to being fed cause they did not look starving at all.

Doug keeps some dog food around for feeding strays at times but we didn’t feed these cats but saw others doing it.  They are kinda annoying as they jump into your camper if the door is open for a few seconds.  We were adjusting something behind Fran’s seat and in jumped one.

After a walk on the pebble beach we went over to the Germans to meet them.  Kitty and Marcos had been travelling about 18 months and are headed the same direction as we are so we may meet up again.

After some online time and reading time, two other campers arrived: one from the UK and another French one.

Saturday we passed through two tunnels here in Greece.

It was a wonderfully quite night with the only sound being the small lapping waves.  Doug went for run Sunday morning, Fran exercised and did a couple of beach walks with her morning cuppa and the sun came out.

We left this lovely little beach in the sunshine with a plan to enjoy some of the coastal drive in the good weather.  We went as far as Nafpaktos where we found another beach wild camp just outside the main town.

The weather unfortunately, got wet but we went for a walk into town anyway as it was really only sprinkling but it was quite blustery.

The rain stopped and we tried to find a grocery store for a couple of things with no luck – could be cause it was Sunday.  We returned to Minou, Fran did some more walking and then we had a quiet rest of the day.

Monday morning we awoke to mixed weather and made our way to Antirrio where there’s a huge bridge across to the peninsula of Peloponnese.

The Rio–Antirrio Bridge officially the Charilaos Trikoupis Bridge, is one of the world’s longest multi-span cable-stayed bridges and longest of the fully suspended type. It crosses the Gulf of Corinth near Patras, linking the town of Rio on the Peloponnese peninsula to Antirrio on mainland Greece by road. It opened one day before the Athens 2004 Summer Olympics, on 12 August 2004, and was used to transport the Olympic flame.

The 2,380 m (7,808’) bridge dramatically improves access to and from the Peloponnese, which could previously be reached only by ferry or via the Isthmus of Corinth in the east. Its width is 28 m (92’)—it has two vehicle lanes per direction, an emergency lane and a pedestrian walkway. Its five-span four-pylon cable-stayed portion of length 2,252 m (7,388’) is the world’s third longest cable-stayed deck; only the decks of the Jiaxing-Shaoxing Sea Bridge in Shaoxing, China and the Millau Viaduct in southern France are longer at 2,680 m (8,790’) and 2,460 m (8,071’), respectively. However, as the former has a shorter length of main span (the length of the main span is the most common way to rank cable-stayed bridges, as the size of the main span does often correlate with the height of the towers, and the engineering complexity involved in designing and constructing the bridge) and as the latter is also supported by bearings at the pylons apart from cable stays, the Rio–Antirrio Bridge deck might be considered the longest cable-stayed “suspended” deck in the world.

This bridge is widely considered to be an engineering masterpiece, owing to several solutions applied to span the difficult site. These difficulties include deep water, insecure materials for foundations, seismic activity, the probability of tsunamis, and the expansion of the Gulf of Corinth due to plate tectonics.

Since we wanted to SEE the bridge, no necessarily drive on it, we took the ferry across (which for some reason still runs and is much cheaper than the bridge toll: €11 vs €32.

The ferry runs about every 30-45 minutes and we drove straight on and within ten minutes we left (about 9:45am).  It’s a fifteen minute or so sailing. Before leaving we went up to the windy top deck and took this pics – the bridge passes right over some castle ruins on this side and there is another castle just east of the other end of the bridge.

As we were entering the 3rd largest city in Greece, Patras, we stopped at a supermarket to get a few things we needed for the next couple of days.  We had a campsite in mind:  Taverna Faros.  It’s a restaurant with a parking lot sort of set up for RV’s in the tiny coastal town of Arkoudi.  George offers power, water and Wi-Fi, dumping and showers?  For €15 a night so we had a plan to spend two nights to get caught up on online things.

There was a German couple here and no one else; even the owner was away and his associate (?) told us he’d be back in an hour and then 5 minutes he brought his cell phone to Doug with George on it.  He told Doug he’d be back in 2 hours and we got settled.  We both went for walks and then began to do our catch up.  The afternoon stayed dry and we watched sunset on one of the many “terraces” at this place – the one closet to the water.

There is a sandy beach about 3 minutes’ walk away and the town is pretty dead.  The German lady, Andrea, told us that there is one grocery store that is only open from 5-7 each evening and pretty much everything else is closed up.  She said even George didn’t open his restaurant a lot and when he does, only 3 dishes or so are offered.  We never did meet George that day.

We took one ferry and passed through 5 tunnels.