Vólos, Thessaly, Greece Saturday, October 4, 2008
We headed south from Kavala, aiming to stop at Platamon, on the narrow strip of coast between Mount Olympus and the sea. However the journey was quicker than expected and that same narrow strip of coast was shared by a
motorway and a railway line, so we decided to continue south towards Volos. This meant going inland at first, through the beautiful Vale of Tempe, the narrow gorge between mounts Olympus and Ossa, then across the Larissa Plain.
Volos is a large city situated at the head of the Pagasitikos Gulf, a huge inlet of the Aegean which is almost landlocked, making for calm warm waters. The arm of Thessaly which creates this is most picturesque, consisting as it does of a chain of mountains peaking at Mount Pelion, mythical home of the Centaurs and summer resort of the Greek Gods. Volos was in ancient times known as Iolkos, the port from which Jason set sail with the Argonauts to find the Golden Fleece. It is still a major port, the third largest in Greece, and it is a nightmare to drive through, even without a caravan!
South of Volos, 15 miles along the Pelion peninsula, we found Camping Hellas, a delightful site in an olive grove right on the beach, based round a lovely taverna. Sadly, being end of season, the taverna was closed, but the bar was still open and wi-fi was available, which gave us a chance to update the last two blogs. There were about a dozen other campers, all German. The Pelion peninsular is yet another lovely area of Greece that rarely appears in our holiday brochures but is well-known to the Germans.
The spot was idyllic but for two
things: camping in an olive grove provides great shade from the heat of the sun, but in wind and rain the sound of hard olives falling on to a caravan roof is a tad disturbing. Secondly, being a seasonal Greek site not much attention had been paid
to drainage, as during the long hot dry summer it is not needed. However the previous week's stormy weather and heavy rain on our first night showed up the inadequacies of the drainage! During our travels we have been very lucky
with the weather, particularly when we hear of what is happening back home, but when we have had rain we have certainly had it in one of its extreme manifestations. That night in came down in sheets, and the roar of thunder was continuous as it echoed
round the mountains behind us. At the peak of the storm we had a lightning flash right above us, with a crack of thunder that sounded like a huge explosion. Given the Greek air force activity during the day we wondered if we were being used for
target practice. We emerged next morning to a wet muddy site, with one motor home surrounded by sandbags and another where the occupants had had to dig a ditch around it to prevent them being flooded! Our awning was under water, but fortunately nothing was
damaged, it soon dried out and for the rest of our stay the weather was hot and sunny.
We didn't feel like doing a lot of driving, particularly along Greek mountain roads with Greek lunatic drivers, but the second morning we had to visit a supermarket, so took the opportunity to go up above Volos to Portaria, a charming village full of springs and traditional Peliot buildings. From here the views over Volos were superb.
On Friday morning a call to the Alexandroupoli camp site revealed that our replacement mover motor had finally arrived, so we set off straight after lunch for the long drive back to Alexandroupoli, arriving there at 8pm. We checked into a small
hotel and went into town for a delicious fish meal. Saturday morning we went to the site to be told that there was no parcel. I erupted, as only I can. Eventually another member of staff produced a key to the office and there it was.
What a relief.
We set off back towards Volos, 340 miles away, but decided to make some detours, which we could not have made with a caravan in tow. First were the wetlands at Amphipolis, just off the motorway, where herons and flamingos waded side by side.
Then, after Thessaloniki, we diverted to Vergina, site of the palace and tomb of Phillip II of Macedon. Phillip's claims to fame are threefold. Most importantly, he was the one who first united Greece into one state in about 350BC. Secondly he was the object of many speeches by Demosthenes, the great Athenian orator, from whom we have learned so much of the classical Greek language and on whose works Cicero based much of his writings and most modern oratorical style has been based. Thirdly, and for which he is most well known, he fathered Alexander the Great. The tomb at Vergina, which cannot be categorically proved to be his, is, in the opinion of most archaelogists, most likely to be Phillip's. From the outside it is just a tumulus, nothing special, nothing to shout about. Under the tumulus are chambers much like an Egyptian pyramid, which were found to contain immense treasures. The Greek authorities have turned the tumulus into a museum, with the burial chambers on view and the space between them housing the treasures nin excellently laid out display cabinets, which are absolutely magnificent. The suits of armour decorated with gold, the ceremonial weapons (and the real ones), the intricate gold wreaths, the silver dinner services, each and every piece worthy of study. Close to the tumulus is the theatre at which Phillip was assassinated in 336BC.
Back to Camping Hellas for a welcome swim. On Sunday we decided to go for a trip on the Pelion Mountain railway, a narrow gauge steam train that winds its way up from Kato Lehonia to Milies. Disappointingly the steam train is replaced by a diesel out of the main season. Our disappointment was soon forgotten though when we saw the views from the train. Taking an hour and a half to do a trip of about 35 miles, it is not exactly an express, but when one sees the engineering that has gone into taking the track round each valley head, round each headland, climbing steadily all the time, pace does not matter at all.
At the head of the line is Milies, a lovely little village dominated by a central square with an excellent taverna for lunch. Lesley had roast goat (I kid you not), while I stuck more conservatively to lumps of pork in grease. Both were delicious. At the edge of the square was a super little church. It looked just like a barn or a village hall, disguised during the Turkish occupation, as so many churches were.
Inside is the lifetime's work of a monk from Mount Athos, who dedicated himself to painting the walls and ceiling. In order to prevent sound escaping to the outside world there is a complicated system of empty wine jars in the roof and wells under the floor. When the building was slightly damaged by a quake a few years ago the Greek government, in assisting with its restoration, discovered that these wells and jars left the inside of the building acoustically perfect, the wine jars acting as tweeters and the wells as woofers, the most acoustically perfect building in Greece or even in Europe. (Well that is the tale of the caretaker. It is perfect or it is not, it cannot be more perfect!).
On Monday I replaced the mover's motor, and although the new one had been damaged in transit, it worked. What a relief, no more back-breaking manual manoeuvrings. On Tuesday we decided to head down the coast, to see what else Pelion and Magnesia (the name of the region) had to offer. Plenty, enough to spend several weeks if we were that way inclined. Lots of little bays, harbours, beaches, marinas, and all unspoiled by mass tourism.
Then it was time to decamp and head south again, towards Athens. Just outside Volos, on the road to the motorway, we went through a normal non-descript town called Nea Anchialos. Non-descript that is until right in the centre we came across a massive excavation of a Paleo-Christian basilica and associated buildings.
A huge site, not mentioned in any guides that we could see. Unlike some sites, it was well-maintained and in fact there was still some excavation work going on in one area. Well worth a wander round (and a coffee break of course). Then down the coast and round Maliakos Gulf towards Marathon. We passed the site of Thermopylae on the new motorway, but saw nothing. The old road used to go past a huge memorial statue of Leonidas - I was here with my family in 1965 - but it is too far from the original site to see now.
We reached Camping Ramnous on Marathon beach late afternoon to a rather cool reception. The pitch was small, the facilities below par, hot water available only between 6pm and 9am, no lights in the washing up/laundry area, etc, etc. It was on a nice beach though! Next morning we decided to scout the three Athens sites to see if there was anything better. With Helen coming to stay next week we wanted somewhere nice. We had thought of the site at Sounion, but memories of the journey from Athens to Sounion many years ago had put us off. But there is now a new road, a continuation of the new airport motorway, which cuts the journey time dramatically. So we visited camping Bacchus, owned by a charming Albanian called Dionysus, and found a friendly atmosphere, good facilities and a short walk to a lovely beach. That would do us. We went straight back to Marathon, packed up and left. The site manager did not even ask us why, when we had booked in for two weeks, we wanted to leave next day. That just about summed it up. Dionysus tells of many guests he has who have come from Marathon, some even willing to give up large deposits. It cost us just 20 euros to escape.
Bacchus is a tiny site, approached by a narrow unmade up road, with tight level pitches in a sloping pine forest. It took us, with the help of Dionysus and his team, about half an hour to manoeuvre the caravan into place (which involved the demolition of a small wall!) then a couple of ouzos to recover, but now we are here it is worth it. There's a nice atmosphere, very relaxed, and once more we have lots of feline friends to keep us company!