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Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Streaking through Greece

The ethereal Greek coast from the Ferry to Igoumenitsa

Here is the journey so far in Greece with a select few of the images. As I wrote the first passages now we were hanging out in Appolyon Camping at Delphi, an expensive little camp site high in the mountains overlooking the coast about 1.5 kms from Delphi sitting in the mesmerizing heat waiting for the day to cool and planning a quick trip to look at the seat of the oracle first thing in the morning before taking a bus to Athens where we are booked to stay in Hostel Aphrodite.

The trip from Brindisi to Igoumenitsa was an uneventful smooth trip down the gulf separating the boot of Italy from Albania and then Greece's bare stony seaside mountains, punctuated by the appearance of the mountainous north of Corfu island, but arriving only at around 9.30 pm in the dark on the new wharf hundreds of metres from the centre of town.

Hotel Oscar our first night refuge looks weedy but was great value

Igoumenitsa ferry port to Korfu

We had no idea of where we were going to stay either, so we set off on a hot night looking for a cheap hotel and after a few false starts managed to get a room for one night at the Hotel Oscar, just outside the terminal for the ferries to Corfu, which was a neat 40 Euro option well below the hotel's listing price of 75, complete with TV, a private bathroom, electronic mosquito repeller and unbeknown to us in our tired haze, nice air conditioning which we only took advantage of of the morning.

Next day we walked across the road and just managed to catch the 10.30 ferry to Corfu which takes abut an hour and a half, something we had to measure for our return trip next day. On arrival the wharf was stinking hot and the bus station to Dionysus camping was nearly a kilometre up the road into the centre of town, so we succumbed and accepted a taxi for the rip off price of 20 Euros the the camp site direct after the driver told us a spiel about taxes and claimed the price had been 20 for 3 years despite the campsite e-mail saying 12-15.

Panoramas of entering Korfu

Korfu old town

In the late afternoon we took the number 7 bus from the stop right outside into town and did a stroll around the old town with its narrow streets and tree lined sea-front plaza, the Spianada, lined with French style houses.

A series of images of old Corfu town leading to the French promenade

Two panoramas of the Spianada

The old castle

In the morning we woke at about 6.30 and took off at a rate of knots at 7.15 at Christine;s instigation, catching a lat number 7 at 7.38 and transferring ingeniously to anumber 2 at the central plaza, managing then to catch the 8.30 ferry back to Igoumenitsa after walking half a kilometre along the wharves to catch it from the ticket office. When we arrived in Igoumenitsa there was another nearly kilometre walk firstly to the long distance ferry terminal on the new wharf and then out to the Minoan lines ferry away out on point 10.

Another stunning panorama on the ferry trip south


This ferry was a fully fledged ocean cruise liner complete with swimming pool, disco, helicopter pad and eight levels of decks. However, we were very nonplussed when we found it heading straight back to Corfu to drop off half its passengers there. So we could have saved ourselves an early start, at least one of the two long hikes, and 18 euros, if we had only known! However we had to go to Igoumenitsa office to convert our e-booking into an actual ticket and the actual ferry schedule was something it is anything but easy to find out, because the internet information tends to be snowed by travel agents with outdated and conflicting information and the genuine booking options like paleologos just allow you to book from port A to port B and provide next to no reliable information about current ferry schedules, which change frequently.

After that the ferry ploughed rapidly south, arriving in Patra dead on time at 8.00 pm, still in the late afternoon before sunset. After rejecting a taxi to avoid getting needlessly ripped off we walked the 500 metres or so through the centre of town and three blocks out to the famed Pension Nikos - number one in budget in Lonely Planet which fames it is scrupulously kept despite a slightly decadent exterior.

Eating out in Patras with huge souvlakis for 3.50 euros

Pension Nikos outside and in

On arrival I had to ascend three flights of twisting marble stairs, right to the top o get to reception who kept shouting reservation down the stair well and only when I got to the top did the hostess declare "No room" to which I protested that I had a broken hip and had had to walk all the way up and where was somewhere I could go. At first she said one bed only and then relented and gave us a lovely double on the third floor with a private shower. The pension is idiosyncratically decorated inside and a unique experience at the princely sum of 38 euros, for which we had free help to get our luggage up the three flights of stairs, power air-con, and a free coffee each in the morning.

Today we took off at around 11 am and trudged down to the KTEL 'suburban' bus station between the railway station in teh centre of town and the wharf, somewhat doubtful of getting a bus to Delphi because it was Sunday, and found there was a bus to Amphissa (23 kms north of Delphi) at 12.15 which we nearly missed after incorrectly being told it wasn't the right one until a minute before I double checked from the bus station information booth and got told - "get on get on"!

The bus wound its way along the rocky coastline with slightly desolate beaches and a few fishing and coastal towns and then unceremoniously dumped us off on the highway 1 km outside Amphissa. It took us about five minutes and some intermediate translation for us to understand that the bus to Amphissa didn't actually enter the town and that we were also now on the highway to Delphi as we had passed the intersection to Delphi some 6 kms back.

So after making a sign for Delphi and crossing the highway, by luck a bus from Amphissa to Delphi appeared about 15 minutes later ( which was probably the last for hours on a quiet Sunday afternoon) and we just managed to flag it down, while Christine was on the other side of the road trying to get the number to phone a taxi, and we got dropped off outside Appolyon camping where we are riding out the hot afternoon eating cold peaches, coffee milk and beer to wile away the heat of the day. In the evening we broke with tradition and had Mousakka and Greek salad in the restaurant with a panoramic view out over the sweeping bay below, spiced up with ouzo and bread slices spiced with pungent aubergine puree.

Next day we got up in the morning and took the little free 'eco-train' (a low geared tractors with three ersatz trailers that belched diesel fumes over the passengers) the couple of kms up to Delphi town and over the other side to the site of the Temple complex of Apollo. It was fiendishly hot in the sun and the site is arranged so you have to enter from the bottom and climb the slippery sloping stone staired pathway up to the temple of Apollo and the Forum and even higher the circus.

We made it up as far as the forum and temple and got good views of the complex and its surrounding alpine valley before heading back in the heat to town where we managed to catch the train again out to the campsite to pack.On the way back in the train driver unceremoniously dumped us at a bus park and told us we would have to walk into town.

Panorama from the Delphi campsite restaurant

Eating Moussaka at Appolyon

Panoramas of Delphi - Temple of Apollo and the Forum

Not wanting to miss the bus, Christine took off at a rate of knots just about giving herself heat stroke hauling the bags up to town where we waited in a group of hapless travelers waiting for buses to various destinations, which you had to catch on a wing and a prayer buying a ticket in the bus when it stopped (hopefully not full already).

Delphi village with the church in the background

We had an uneventful if hectic ride into Athens (the bus driver loved overtaking on corners at no passing zones and became obsessed with fooling with his cell phone on the free-way to the point he could see the traffic had banked up and we was about to run into a truck). Luckily we ended up at bus station B which had a straightforward connection by a local 024 bus to the hostel, except that when we got on the driver said yes yes to "Is this the direction for the Peoniou stop only to drive us all the way out to the terminal in northern Athens before putting us on another 24 bus for town which took us in the other direction from the bus station to the correct stop nearly a hot hour later - at least for free!

Tuesday: today we staggered into the local metro and rail station at Larissa (the really local metro stations are out for repairs) and down to the Acropolis where we wandered around the old neighbourhood straddling the mountain fortress and temple which was a bit expensive at 12 euros each and too high for us to climb in the heat and a bit of a cliche which is currently covered in reconstruction cranes.

However we did see and photograph the neighbourhood and a series of intriguing relics from Greek and Roman times as well as an old Orthodox Church so we did get a good cross section of what Athens had to offer.

Hostel Aphrodite is nearly as idisyncratic as Carpe Diem in Brndisi. It has free internet and air-con, but there is only one plug in the room so to keep the computer running you have to double time with the sir-con. Also we are in a four bed dorm so we have had to host firstly two French girls leaving at 4 am and then two Australian guys up on a drinking spree. Also they have an insane bunch of rules about no washing clothes and no food in the bedrooms which we are defying by making tuna salad brought from the supermarket round the corner for 2.10 euros a pop rather than the 7 euros the hostel wants to charge for ordering one in.

Green but sleazy neighbourhood of Hostel Aphrodite

11th century Orthodox church with ancient pillars below its base

The little park we rested in the shade by the ancient street of tripods.

Wednesday: Tonight we are happily bedded up in the Hotel Rea, a neat hotel offering a kind of backpacker service with doubles for 32 euros a night, free internet, fans and for us a private bathroom on the ground floor because the proprietor took pity on my fractured condition. Just had a sumptuous fruit salad with fruit from the little "supermarket" - a tiny corner store.

We had a very full-on day getting up a 7.30 packing and dragging our bags to Larissa station getting it through the underpass, taking the barely air-conditioned train to Piraeus port and then walking about a kilometre in the searing heat and sunshine firstly along the waterfront to the Minoan lines office and then out to the huge ferry which was really a fully fledged ocean cruise ship away out on the wharves beyond other huge vessels.

Two panoramas of Piraeus port

After that the journey was a six hour air-conditioned oblivion, editing pictures and playing Machinarium to wile away the time. Finally on arrival we managed to get a taxi for the courteous fee of 5.60 euros a kilometer or so to a drop off point on the main road 100 metres from the hotel - restoring our faith in taxi drivers after getting ripped off in Corfu under similar circumstances.

Tomorrow we plan to go to the Irakliou Archeological Museum which has the crem de la creme of the friezes and snake goddesses of Minoan Crete and then to Knossos whose ruins we very imaginatively restored at the turn of the last century by Arthur Evans.

Irakliou harbour Crete

Hotel Rea and the mini "supermarket"

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