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To the Pelion peninsula

Home -> Europe -> Greece -> Travelogue Greece -> 21 to 25 May 2019

Tuesday 21 May, to the Pelion peninsula

When we have packed the car we drink coffee with Kiki and Michael and promise to come back at the end of the journey. We have no idea when exactly that will be but somewhere at the end of June, we don't want to think about that, yet. That is the beginning of the end of this vacation and we have just started. Around 11 o'clock we set off for Thessaloniki.
The former Heptapyrgion prison in Thessaloniki Model of the Heptapyrgion prison in ThessalonikiBecause it lies right along the ring road of the city, we turn off at the Eptapyrgio which literally means '7 towers'. It is a neighborhood on the outskirts of the city, high against the hills, but specifically also the old castle and the imposing city walls around it. In the 15th century the castle was built by the Venetians on top of earlier structures and later expanded by the Ottomans. In colloquial language it is also called Yedi Kule as the Ottomans called it. From the end of the 19th century to 1988 it was used as a prison and today it is a kind of cultural center. We don't know why it is called 7 towers, because there are 10.
The ancient walls of ThessalonikiThe building is regularly mentioned in rebetika songs, a music movement that emerged at the end of the 19th century. Resistance fighters and later also political prisoners were detained here and regularly tortured, men and women. You can enter the site for free during the day although not all parts are accessible because excavations are still being carried out. There are 2 rooms with exhibitions, but unfortunately you will find almost no information about the history, in that respect it is a bit disappointing.
Thessaloniki from the Heptapyrgion prison The Olympus mountains from the Heptapyrgion prison in ThessalonikiFrom the sea in the center of Thessaloniki it is a climb of almost 3 kilometers through the old town to the fort that is high on a slope (we did that a few years ago but then we could not get inside) and you should not do that on a hot day but there are also buses going there. From the walls you have a magnificent view of the city and the harbor.
After more than half an hour we are getting bored and walk back to the car. No terrace nearby so we drive straight on.
We are approaching the Olympus MountainsWhen we drive to the west, we can already see the Olympus Mountains in the distance with snow on the tops. We decide to avoid toll roads and take an alternative route around Mount Olympus. It leads us all the way behind the mountains through the interior. Fortunately, most roads are pretty good. When we get to Larissa after 2 hours, we decide to take a coffee break there. A waiter with whom I had a whole conversation in Greek last year and with whom we sometimes have contact, comes from there. And we have never been there before. In Greek, by the way, it is written with only one 's', so Larisa.
The hinterland of Mount Olympus is not very exciting as you can see on our YouTube channel or watch in the video below:

Sanctuary of St. Nectarios in Larissa Monument on the square of the martyrs of the Jewish holocaust in LarissaLarissa is the capital of the Thessaly region and probably there was already a city in 2,000 BC. on this spot. But today we do not take the time for archaeological visits (such as the tomb of Hippokrates, the father of modern medicine) and look for a terrace in the modern center. On the square is a monument for the 235 Jews from Larissa who were deported to Poland along with some 2,000 Jews from Ionannina. A total of around 60,000 Jews from Greece were killed in World War II, most in the gas chambers.
It has now become 29 degrees and we turn on the air conditioning in the car for the first time. At night we did not need air conditioning until now. When we have passed the city of Volos we are on the Pilio peninsula (also known as Pelion) and we are not progressing as fast anymore, the roads are winding and getting narrower, sometimes through mountainous areas. The last part from Argalasti is a descending and narrow road that leads to the coast. You can see the video of our dashcam on our YouTube channel or watch it below

Terrace at the bay of Volos on the Pelion peninsulaBut finally we arrive in Kalamos, along the Gulf of Volos. We already know the apartment that we have booked here, it is from Yannis, a Greek who taught me Greek every night 2 years ago, so I learned a lot. I was just starting out and now I want to demonstrate my current knowledge of the language. When he arrives, we immediately start a conversation in Greek and I am happy that I have made good progress. Then we first have a bite to eat on the beach. We get the choice of 3 things and opt for moussaka, a kind of lasagna but with layers of eggplant, potatoes (sometimes replaced by something else) and meat sauce.
The village of Kalamos is not that big and there is not much to do except take walks. So early in the season there are only 2 restaurants open, but there are already quite a few tourists, mainly Germans. We are just in time because after we have placed our order a large group enters the restaurant.
In the evening I have an extensive chat with Yannis and we do that a few times a day every day afterwards. In the evening I try to tell him in Greek what we have done and where we have been. In theory I already know a lot of words, but they only really stick when you use them actively. And so I can also practice all conjugations and inflections of Greek words and verbs because they make the language difficult, aside from the fact that Greeks generally speak very quickly. I continue to find it a difficult language, although I especially like it that I am getting better at it and that I can manage quite well.

Wednesday 22 May 2019, driving around on the Pilio

We slept badly because it was very cold and we did not think that we could have used the air conditioning as heating as well. We would like to lie on a beach again for an hour or so, but even in the middle of the day it doesn't get warmer than 22 degrees. The coming days will be better so we first go to the southeast of the peninsula, we have not really visited that part yet.
Damaged road at Theotokos beach, PelionFirst we go via Argalasti, a small town nearby, to the east coast and then from village to village. The peninsula is named after the highest peak in the north and the south is less high but it is still hilly. There are not many through roads and regularly we have to drive back a bit because the road ends in an impassable sandy or cobblestone path. When you drive on, you have to count on it that you can do not more than 30 to 40 kilometers per hour. The paved roads also can be bad, sometimes due to lack of maintenance and sometimes due to damage caused by earthquakes.
A tourist boat arrives on a secluded beach on the Pelion peninsula Beach in the southeast of the Pelion peninsulaIn a small hamlet, Katiyorgis, all the way in the southeast of the Pilio, we find a terrace on a beach in a bay that is open. To our surprise, almost all the other restaurants and bars that we encounter are still closed, the tourist season has clearly not really begun here even though after half an hour a boat is moored from which about 50 tourists are pouring out across the beach. We hear various languages, but mostly a lot of German. Time for us to get back on the road, it is getting too busy in this corner.
Along the way we come across a group of small puppies along the road, far from all habitation. Stray dogs are found everywhere in Greece and most of them are dumped by people. Especially in the vicinity of villages and towns, they live in packs and can cause considerable nuisance. There are many adoption programs for Greek stray dogs today, but the biggest problem is still the mentality of many Greeks who see animals more as a thing than as a living creature. That is probably a legacy from the past when animals were only kept if they were useful. A dog can be fun at first, but if you want to go on holiday yourself, it suddenly becomes a nuisance and the animal is just put on the street. Municipalities are responsible for the stray animal problem but give it little priority in the absence of money. Fortunately, there are more and more volunteer initiatives that both provide information at schools and take care of animals.
Grave monument in Sipiada, Pelion peninsulaWe try to stay near to the south coast as possible, in the direction of Mikro, but again the road turns into a bumpy sandy path with thick boulders and when we think we have found a detour the road is closed. Ultimately we have to drive back a large part of the same road. Occasionally we see a chapel or monument along the road such as this grave monument. They are often placed in places along the road where someone died in an accident. In 2017 there were just over 700 road deaths in Greece, still a lot but only a half compared to 10 years ago.
Brightly painted walls in a chapel near Argalasti Painted ceiling in a chapel near ArgalastiWe now enter Argalasti from the south and just before the city we see a chapel in a meadow, the Holy Metropolis Dimitriados, a mouth full for such a small sanctuary. The door is open so we walk up the stairs and enter. The murals look so fresh that it looks as if they have just been made. Next to the chapel is a sign with the names of the founding committee outside so it is probably a completely new chapel. Fifty meters away, there is already a church, so we wonder why they would have built a chapel here as well?
We are back in time at our apartment where it is fresh. This time we turn the air conditioning on for warmer air, the very first time we have to do that in Greece!

Thursday 23 May 2019, a lot of Dutch people but little open restaurants

Beach path for wheelchairs, Kalamos The wheelchair path to the beach in KalamosToday seems to be a beautiful day and we leave the village early. The beach on the west coast of the peninsula consists of thick pebbles and is not very nice so we go to the east coast where there are sandy beaches. When we drive out of the village we suddenly notice a traffic sign with an invalid car. It appears to be the indication for a sloping path to the beach. Downstairs, however, it becomes very narrow and you end up on the pebbles. I'm sure this has been thought through very well, typically Greek. Probably with money from the European Union or maybe one of the EU rules is met so that some money can be claimed from the EU. Does this sound cynical? No, even the Greeks themselves say it works really like that.
The beach at Potistika, Pelion peninsula Military training flight along the coast of the PelionAt Potistika is a beautiful beach where we were a few times two years ago. Along the way we come across Dutch campers several times and even on the beach there is one standing. But it is not very busy on the beach, there are about 10 people. According to the car's thermometer, the mercury has risen to 27 degrees, a great temperature for sunbathing and swimming for a few hours. At a certain moment we are startled by a heavy buzzing sound and not much later an army helicopter appears just over the rocks and the beach, probably a training flight. But what a noise it makes! From the car we made a video of the road along the beach:

Dromedaries on the road in Greece? Kangaroos; s on the road in Greece?I used to be not a beach person but in recent years I can enjoy it more and more often it is now Elisabeth who says she is ready to go. I have about 20 books with me and I want to finish them all before we go home, of course. Elisabeth has an e-reader, which saves a lot of luggage. But after a few hours we get back in the car to drive around.
A little outside of Potistika we see traffic signs on which someone has made some adjustments: watch out for dromedaries and kangaroo. You would surely be surprised when you would come across them in Greece!
A terrace in a mountain village on the Pelion peninsulaAnd then we look for a terrace to have a drink, but all restaurants still seem to be closed. In nearby Xinovrysi, a characteristic mountain village but also in the villages around it. A family is eating at a restaurant in Paltsi, but they are the owners. When I ask if we can also eat or drink something, they say that everything will only open in a week. Or a little later, from 1 June. There are no tourists yet, sir. Well, the Dutch do, because we come across even more as we drive on.
The Agios Konstantinos beach on the Pelion peninsula A snake crosses the roadEven at the beaches where several restaurants can be found, everything is closed, we will really have to find a larger place and drive back to the west. All of a sudden we see a snake taking a sunbath on the road. The asphalt gets much warmer in the sun than the surroundings and as long as it's not too hot, it's ideal for a snake because they are cold-blooded creatures. There are several species of snakes in Greece but only the sand viper is poisonous (and aggressive). This appears to be a non-toxic four-pointed snake that can reach over 2 meters in length. After the second photo the snake disappears quickly on the roadside. Unfortunately, we regularly see dead snakes on the road.
Along the sea in Milina, the Pelion The coast at Milina on the Pelion peninsulaOn the west coast we go to Milina, a somewhat larger coastal town where a whole row of taverns, bars and restaurants are situated next to each other along the beach, but here too most are still closed. Eventually we find a bar where we can eat a sandwich. Around 6 o'clock we are back in Kalamos and that is just in time because it suddenly starts to rain and the temperature drops quickly. Still I sit down on the covered balcony (with a sweater on) for a while while Elisabeth is fighting inside with an aggressive mosquito that cannot be caught.
Luckily we come across more and more apartments where people have screens on the windows and doors against vermin. I myself find the humming of mosquitoes very annoying but Elisabeth can suffer from a bite for weeks, although that seems to be worse in the Netherlands than here in Greece. Yet you should be more careful here for mosquitoes because in the warmer climate there are also mosquitoes that transmit the West Nile virus, in 2018 even 50 people died in Greece.

Friday 24 May 2019, throug the Pelion mountain range

Derelict cable car at the ski resort on the Pelion peninsulaIt is still cloudy but dry and the day starts with 19 degrees. Today we are going to the northeast of the Pilio, a longer ride on narrow and winding roads through the mountains. The mountain slopes are densely covered with forests and near Chania you can ski in the winter although the ski lift looks a bit tatty. There is usually enough snow from mid-December to mid-April. There are several pistes, including a black one, together about 5 kilometers long, so not as extensive as in the Alps for example. But you do have a beautiful view of the sea from the snow.
View from the Pelio mountain View of the east coast of the Pelion peninsulaToday there is no snow anymore, the landscape is completely green. When you drive on the narrow roads, the many hiking trails are hardly noticeable, but the Pilio has an extensive network of so-called kalderimis or donkey trails. They used to be built and used to bring local products to the villages below and the ports, but nowadays an international walking club (mainly foreigners who have a house here) is working hard to clear the paths again. On pilionwalks.com you will find a lot of walks with coordinates.
This time we didn't forget to turn our dashcam on and we have placed a piece of it on our YouTube channel or you can just watch it below:

Agios Ioannis on the east coast of the Pelion peninsulaWe reach the coast at Agios Ioannis (there are dozens of places with that name in Greece), a somewhat larger tourist resort but also the restaurant where we had a nice conversation with a waiter, Vassilis, 2 years ago, but is still closed. We will later hear via Facebook that he is working elsewhere this year, on some island. The bar where we were regularly last year is open and we have a drink there before we head south, through Tsangarada. We do not stop there, we have done that twice before but continue on the winding roads to Potiostika where we spend the afternoon on the beach. It has now become around 25 degrees.
When we are lying on the sand, we talk a bit about the narrow and sometimes downright dangerous roads and we realize that we have again forgotten to turn on the dashcam while we have purchased it exactly to have these types of roads on film. And that will happen to us for a large part of the holiday. It is also a bit of laziness. If the camera were switched on continuously, I would also have a lot of work afterwards to sort everyting out. But we will certainly do that on our next vacation.
And after that we go looking for a restaurant to eat something but everything is still closed. Avrio (tomorrow)! Even in Argalasti, a town with a square full of terraces, we can't eat anything because political meetings are being held because of the upcoming elections this weekend. People can vote for the European Union parliament but also vote for city councils and provincial councils, and although the average Greek has little faith in politicians, there is a lot of campainging going on. For years, Syriza has been in power, a left-wing party that has kept few promises, but could do little in the aftermath of the crisis and the demands of the European Union and the IMF. There have been a lot of cuts, all kinds of taxes have been added and people are tired of it. The forecasts announce that Syriza is going to lose quite a lot and that the New Democracy party (which was more or less responsible for the financial crisis in Greece) is on the rise. Prime Minister Tsipras has already announced that he will hold new national elections when he loses too many votes next weekend.

Saturday 25 May 2019, to the Saturday market in Argalasti and then to the beach

After an long chat with Yannis we drive to the market of Argalasti which is held every Saturday. The first part of the road is very narrow and there are a few scary parts in between. We rarely come across anyone, although sometimes a truck comes by. This time we do not forget to turn on the dash cam and we will post that video here shortly.
At the market it is very busy and we browse around the stalls where you can find anything and everything. I finally buy the Da Vinci Code but in Greek. Good for my language knowledge and I can easily put it next to my Dutch copy. Greeks do not seem to read much and because there are not such large quantities printed, the prices are on the high side. Even second-hand this book still costs € 10.
The beach at Potistika, Pelion peninsula The beach at Potistika, Pelion peninsulaIt is quite hot today and we are happy to be able to turn on the air conditioning in the car on the way to the beach. There we notice that the seawater is also starting to heat up. It is weekend and you can tell immediately because there are many more people on the beach than in recent days. There are now 30 or 40 while yesterday they were no more than 10. Greeks like to go to the beach in the weekend and then eat out extensively. The beach is a few hundred meters long so you can't call it really busy.
And indeed many more restaurants are open during the weekend, such as one on the hill above the beach. It is quite expensive by Greek standards, but we are in a good spot with a beautiful view of the sea and the beach. Just like in Chalkidiki, we also had some quiet days here with some nice trips through known and unknown areas. So far we have done it much more relaxed than previous years in which I always had a lot of sightseeing on my bucket list. Now we take a little more 'Fiji time'.
Tomorrow we are going to a completely new area for us, the south of the island of Evia to the west of Athens.


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