My Journeys

Greek Stones, 2013

LITOCHORO

Tha Balkan Peninsula covers 12 countries, of which Greece would be regarded more popular than others. The bautiful country with impressive ancient history, amazing mountains and impressive artecrafts. The focus was on conquering the Olympia mountains and unique Meteora in Kalabaka. The ancient capital, Athens should not be missed by anyone once found themselves in this part of the Balkans. And it hadn’t.

After hiking the Rila mountains in Bulgaria, Olympia seemed like pretty obvious choice, especially for somebody with keen passion for mountain walking. Therefor my firs steps were directed at Litochoro, the starting point for every true mountaineer. I popular tourist destination, Litochoro offers what major mountain towns have. Plenty of hotels, traditional food restaurants and bars, souvenir shops, night clubs and more.

The long 27h bus journey ended just outside the main road near Katerini. I kindly asked the bus driver to be dropped off nearer the village. From there it was a matter of five short miles to reach my base. I got to my hotel Mirto, at Agiou Nikolaou 5, relatively easily. Just behind the police station. The view from a balcony was astounding. Peace and tranquility overcame me once I unpacked and showered. For a reasonable price of 40 Euro I could enjoy a big room with decent bathroom and mini bar and TV. But again, the windows overlooking the Olympia were worth every penny.

The hike to the Olympia mountains were anticipated and was soon to be materialised. Or not? The evening was spend wandering narrow streets and window shopping. The next day was a big day

The hike to the Olympia mountains were anticipated and was soon materialised. Or not? The evening was spend wandering narrow streets and window shopping. The next day was a big day. Already ordered a taxi recommended to me by the receptionist, a nice and helpful chap. It was supposed to be a very early start. the cab was ordered for 5am, early enough to secure myself enough time to safely cover the distance to the summit and back. Things did not go exactly as envisaged. The Greek driver, obviously experienced enough, directed me to the best spot I would start my gruelling trek. Time calculations also failed me as at 6am it was still very dark to safely wade through mountain foresty hills. But that was not the worse part. On that very day, the fire broke out in some sections of my route.

We were pulled over by the local mountain rescue patrol and strongly advised to retreat. How unfrotunate! Time was running out and decisions had to be made. Either I should abandon the idea of exploring Greek mountains or choose a different, unspecified route. I had just one day and postponing it to the next day was not an option. The Greek cab driver had some propositions at hand as, undoubtedly, he knew this area very well.

His idea proved sensible. I should approach the mountain from the other, longer side but offering better views and more resting points. There was no time to study a map. Equipped with mobile phone with GPS I felt fully at ease. Anyway, I mostly relied on instinct and signs. The routes were conveniently marked. The next six hours were nothing but steady brisk walk with moments of respite to replenish energy, hydrate and take a few photo shots. The aim was to reach section Prionia – Spilios Agapitos refuge. The last permanent cottage before setting off for an ultimate hike to Olympia summit. I got there just after 1pm. Already exhaused, I had to reconsider my next move as time was of the essence. I had just 5 hours to get back to the hotel. I had to catch the evening train to Kalabaka.

The 6 hours trek I had already made proved to be a real feat. It was more like gruelling army excercise testing my stamina and determination rather casual hike others with more time would normally have. I was definitely pressed for time. As much as satisfied I had been with my accomplishment, I had to take into consideration the possible reroute. Ascending the summit had to be called off for that day. There were other attractions in waiting.
After a short celebration with the delicious mug of coffee and a ham sandwich I hiked back to Litochoro. The climb took its toll, though. I suffered serious blisters and nearly twisted my ankle. I applied – can do attitude- and by 4pm I was already back in the village sipping chilled coca cola with a traditional greek hut I purchased at the local souvenir shop. 15 minutes later I was throwing my rucksack in the bonnet of the cab.

Time to head south, well almost. Katabaka was 170km away or 5h on a direct train. The train cars were packed with Greek folks and many international tourists, successfully preventing me from a sitting position. Standing by the window and staring pointlessly at passing objects in far distance, I tried to gather positive thoughts. Thoughts that pictured me in my Kalabaka lovely hotel room lying on my bed and sipping a properly chilled can of beer. That very thought kept me going until The train pulled up at the desired station, Kalabaka.

Litochoro is a town and a former municipality in the southern part of the Pieria regional unit, Greece. It is located at the base of Mount Olympus, on the western shore of the Thermaic Gulf. The town is a popular destination for those wishing to climb Mount Olympus as almost all climbing routes begin to the southwest of the town.

Litochoro town, Greece
Litochoro town
Litochoro town, Greece
Litochoro town

KALABAKA

The word “kalabaka” originates from Turkish and means “strong fort”. The ancient city Aiginio, which was called Stagi (a name that the Metropolitan church still carries) during the medieval times, was located at the same place.

Meteora, Kalabaka, Greece
Meteora monastery
Meteora monastery Kalabaka, Greece
Meteora monastery
Meteora monastery, Kalabaka, Greece
Meteora monastery
Meteora monastery, Kalabaka, Greece
Monastery
Kalabaka monastery, Greece
Skulls in monastery

A quick phone call to the hotel to confirm I was just the corner and there I was, dragging my recked body up the street for another 2 miles. I passed by colossal rock formations, which happened to be boulders of some kind. Huge lamps directed at them added special effect to their enormous size and closeness with town houses. I quickly checked in and was escorted to my room by a lovely the hotel owner. It was a family run guest house, actually. I loved it. My train dream had come true. 30 minutes later I was resting my bruised body on a comfy bed with a cold drink in my hand, watching some blockbuste movie with Greek subtitles. I regained my energy and decided to have a short walk to nearby shop to replenish my provisions. A shop assistant was a charming elderly lady so keen to chat every customer. She talked me into buying some local delicatessen. I liked a chocolate bar a lot. Yummi stuff. Ok, it was about time to let my legs recover and get some decent sleep. The next morning I was to explore one of the most outstanding monasteries that have ever existed in Europe.

Meteora is an iconic place in this part Balkans. It is a pride of Greek nature. Set high on the sandstone cliffs, the Greek Orthodox monasteries of Meteora have looked out over the valleys of Thessaly since the 14th century, but the religious history of that place is much older.
Monstrual monasteries built on massive rock formations were a true delight. Before setting off for the long walking day I ensured a decent breakfast was had. I opted for walking version than a local bus. Fully equipped with mobile, camera, 2l bottle of water, snacks and a map, I felt I was well prepared for another long trek if needed. The route was yet to be specified but I knew which direction to go. It was just in front of me – gigantesque rocky boulders were clearly visible in the distance. Now it just required the right approach in order to get to as many monasteries as possible.

The unique landscape of the Meteora rocks is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Again, I hoped to get the chance of seeing them from angles not too many other visitors would ever see. I looked for the ancient trails that only the locals know about, like the footsteps of the first hermits and monks who apparently originally arrived here more than 15 centuries ago.
The marvelous hike started on the foot of the Doupiani rock, right beneath the old ruins of Pantokrator monastery, then crossing the massive rock pillars of Meteora towards the northern side of the rocks, following a trail that led to the hidden monasteries of Ypapanti and the ruins of St. Dimitrios. This was where a batlle during a local uprising against the Ottoman Turks took place in 19th century. I soon found myself gazing at the impressive monasteries of Great Meteoron and Varlaam located on a higher level.

At some point of my walk I decided to deviate the orignial path and ended up in an abanded village just by the massive hill. Nearby there was a fully constructed inside a large cavity of a rock, Ypapanti Monastery. Very indicative of its kind is currently unsettled and belongs to the Great Meteoro Monastery. Apparently, in 1367, two onks, Nilos and Cyprianus founded and owned the monastery. In 1809 it was destroyed when the local rebel and hero Papathymios Vlahavas was arrested here by the Turkish army of Ali Pasha.

Great Meteoro Monastery remains the biggest one. It was founded by Saint Athanasios the Meteorite, born in 1302, who was the first founder of the monastery and organiser of the systematic koenovion. The main cathedral in its central courtyard is embellished with beautiful 16th century frescoes. I saw some of the best samples of Greek Byzantine art and visited the museum displaying historical codices and religious icons. The view were someting to remember. I must admit I got lost a few times but that only spiced up a day adventure.

The distance from Kalabaka to Athens was roughly 6h train ride. It is apopular route as many would spend one long day in Kalabaka, see Meteora Monasteries and try to catch the direct train to Athens. I happened to be one of them. This time I was luckier. As I had a seat reservation on this train journey, it was an excellent opportunity to get some rest and catch a few winks. Just enough time to recharge my energy levels before another intense day of
exploration in Athens. Air-conditioned and comfortable carriages made the journey even more enjoyable and pleasant giving the opportunity to study the last leg of my trip – Athens and Cape Seunion.

ATHENS

I arrived in Athens train station at around 11pm. I had already booked a motel which was situated in the centre of the city. It was a bargain considering the location and standard. IT was not a typical hotel, rather a youth hostel with own room, large kitchen and several
bathroom at our disposal. I had virtually 23 hours before my return bus to Katowice, Poland. My hometown. I was very excited with the prospect of experiencing the sunrise and sunset in this ancient city full of marvellous archtecture and hills. I checked in at midnight and was practically ready to start exploration. I felt I had better get some sleep before I sightsee the city’s attractions. I could not any. The adrenaline kicked in long before the train had terminated at the station. I decided to indulge in a very early breakfast on the balkony overlooking the city’s main streets. I particularly enjoyed the coffee and a brawnie cake. I packed all the essentials in my small rucksack, changed clotches and charged batteries.

An early walk to the hills to admire the beautiful sunrise was a true delight. Just before 5.30am I was on the top of Lykabetos Hill. The 278 meter Lycabettus Hillis located in the centre of Athens, covered by verdant and heavily overgrown vegetation and a temple dedicated to
Zeus. I could admire the amazing view of the Acropolis, the whole city and the sea.

According to mythology the goddess Athena wanted her temple in Acropolis to be near the heavens. One stormy night she went to Mount Penteli, and took a large rock with the purpose of placing it on the existing rock. As she transported the rock, two black birds approached her, bringing her bad news regarding something she had to take care of immediately. At her rage and haste, the rock fell in the centre of Athens.

The first part of the climb, among shrubs and small trees, is relatively easy. The zigzagging stairs were laid out at a low angle to make the ascent easier but longer. At the top I could rest a little and have a drink outside a terraced restaurant near the observation deck to enjoy a breathtaking panoramic view of Athens unlike any other vantage point in the capital. I bumped into two Greek folk wandering around with no other purpose but sipping beer and
discussing their current ills. There also was an Marokan guy enroute to Bulgaria, but having one more day to kill in Athen before a scheduled flight, he had decided to exprience the similiar – beautiful scenery at sunrise. We shared the stories of our travel experiences in Greece and had a cup of tea.

At 8 am I returned to the hostel to replenish my rucksack with provisions to keep me going for the rest of the day. I jumped in a new set of outdoor clothing and had another cup of coffee. There I was, prepared for city’s ancient attractions, starting with a must ones.

The Acropolis Hill, referred to as the – Sacred Rock of Athens , is the most important site of the city and is regarded as one of the most recognisable monuments of the world and the most significant reference point of ancient Greek culture. It represent the apogee of artistic development in the 5th century BC. During Perikles’ Golden Age, ancient Greek civilization was represented in an ideal way on the Hill. Some of the architectural masterpieces of the period were built on its ground.

The monumental entrances of the Propylea is the sacred area dedicated to Athena, the patron goddess of the city. To the south west of the Propylaea there is the Ionian temple of Apteros Nike. Over the centuries, the rocky hill was often used, either as a cult place or as a residential area. The inscriptions on the numerous and precious exhibits to the sanctuary of Athena include marble korai, bronze and clay statuettes and vases, indicating that the cult of the goddess was established as early as the Archaic period (650-480 B.C.).

The visit was one extraordinary experience despite the fact that it was an annoyingly hot day and I was accompanied by hundreds of other tourist, school trips and partas of the museum being cordoned off due to restoration works taken place.

Not too far from the Acropolis is the ancient gathering place (agora) of Athens. Once the center of the city, where commerce and political activities took place. While I was at the Acropolis, I could see this wide open field with a concentration of tall pillars which turned out to be the Temple of Olympian Zeus.The Olympeion was an enormous structure, the largest temple in Greece, exceeding even the Parthenon in size. It was built on this vast complex in 515 B.C. during the reign of Peisistratos. Completing took many centuries until 2nd century AD. In the Hellenistic and Roman periods it was the largest temple in Greece consisting of
104 columns, each 17 meters high, made of Pentelic marble. Only 15 of the Corinthian columns remain standing to give a sense of the enormous size of the temple which would have been the size of 96 x 40 meters.

The arch, built of Pentelic marble, bears two inscriptions. The one on the side facing the Acropolis reads – This is Athens, the ancient city of Theseus – while the other, on the side facing the sanctuary and the extension of the city by Hadrian, reads – This is the city of
Hadrian and not of Theseus. Truly, this is a masterpiece of ancient Greek architecture.

The very last leg of my Greek journey was a visit to Cape Seunion with the remarkable Temple of Posejdon facing the Mediterrean Sea. The sanctuary of Poseidon at Cape Sounion is one of the most important sanctuaries in Attica. The site was inhabited in the prehistoric period. Sounion Hiron was first mentioned in the Odyssey, as the place where Menelaos stopped during his return from Troy to bury his helmsman, Phrontes Onetorides. The Temple is strategically located and served as a lookout point for ancient warriors. It is known to have been the centre point of three major battles. A battle of the Giants, a battle of the Centauri, and the feats of Theseus, undoubtedly one of the most ancient heroes, former King and
ruler of Athens.

The place has become a popular tourist destination for every traveler visiting Athens. One can find there a decent restaurant and a souvenir shop. Although it was a scorching temperature I opted for a cup of coffee instead of cold drink, just to keep my concentration level high.

Bus service was readily available from and to Athens. As it was October I had to skip the sunset experience. I feared to have been late for my scheduled bus home. I took the next bus back to Athens. At 7pm I still had a chance to admire the gorgeous sun setting from one of
Athens hills.

Again, the idea was shared by many other tourists which congregated at the top, all equipped with cameras and camcorders. There professional photographers, couples wanting to express their affection students’ groups and lone travelers, like me. Spectacular views were guaranteed.

2 hours later I was on my way to the couch station filled with total satisfaction but also a portion of regret, wishing to stay in the city longer. Maybe next time.

Athens is the capital and largest city of Greece. Athens dominates the Attica region and is one of the world’s oldest cities, with its recorded history spanning over 3,400 years and its earliest human presence starting somewhere between the 11th and 7th millennium BC.

Athens, Greece
Athens, Greece
Athens ancient ruins, Greece
Ancient ruins
Athens, ancient ruins
Ancient greek history

CAPE SEUNION

Cape Sounion is the promontory at the southernmost tip of the Attic peninsula, 8 kilometres (5.0 mi) south of the town of Lavrio (ancient Thoricus), and 70 kilometres (43 mi) southeast of Athens. It is part of Lavreotiki municipality, East Attica, Greece. Cape Sounion is noted for its Temple of Poseidon, one of the major monuments of the Golden Age of Athens. Its remains are perched on the headland, surrounded on three sides by the sea.

Poseidon Temple, Cape Seunion
Poseidon Temple
Poseidon Temple landmark, Cape Seunion, Greece
Poseidon Temple landmark
Poseidon Temple, Greek architecture
Coffee time

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