Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Mount Olympus.

Tuesday 28th April. Ancient Dion 40.17352 22.49121.
We are parked up tonight in the car park outside the archeological park containing the ancient city of Dion. We set off this morning from Zampetas and stopped first at Katerina in search of a cash machine, we drove through the centre of Thessalonika on the way which has, as you would expect, plenty of banks but trying to park is an impossibility. Cars and vans are parked two deep on both sides of the road and the bus lane is just one big car park. The driving style is a little anarchic whilst policeman stand at junctions blowing their whistles trying to create some kind of order out of the chaos. It's great fun unless you live and work in the city which must be a nightmare.
A bank was found in Katerina after we left the van in a Lidl car park and walked into town. Money dispensed and we stopped for fredo cappuccino and watched the world go by. It's still predominantly agricultural country around here and you can tell from the number of stores selling everything from tractors to chain saws and the number of beat-up pick up trucks driving around. We pushed on to Dion and stopped first at the archeological museum and after persuading the ticket seller that we were pensioners and entitled to the reduced entry rate we explored the three floors holding antiquities from Roman and Hellenic times. Our ticket entitled us to also visit the remains of the ancient city just down the road and we spent a pleasant couple of hours wandering around the site until closing time. There have been settlements here since the 5th century BC and Alexander had a few parties here before setting off to do battle. The city subsequently become a Roman outpost but unfortunately earthquakes in the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD forced the inhabitants to leave. Archeologists have done a pretty good job in unearthing the city and there are fourteen different sanctuarys, baths, villas and theatres but the plants and weeds have pretty much taken over at certain places and I guess there's not too much money about at the moment to find the wages for a few guys with strimmers. Nevertheless the site is well signposted and there were plenty of information boards in English to help us get an idea of what the city must have looked like. The main paved streets are still intact in places and it was inspiring to think we may have been walking in Alexander's footsteps. Dion isn't really mentioned as a "must see" archeological site in the guide books but I'm glad we came and would recommend a visit if you're ever in the area. Another advantage for us is that by the time we left the ancient city the car park was empty; the couple of coaches that were here when we arrived had gone so we parked up, waved to the curators when they left and I can't really imagine anyone is going to move us on tonight.
Of course the whole area is dominated by Mount Olympus and whenever you turn a corner and look up the snowy peaks are there. The mountain was venerated by the ancient Greeks and at nearly 3000metres is Greece's highest mountain. You can hike up but our plan is to drive up to Prionia which would appear to be as far as you can go before the road runs out so tomorrow promises to be a hairpin road day par excellence.
Wednesday 29th April, Plaka, nr Litochoro 40.10315 22.56353.
Tonight we are parked up on the sea wall at Plaka, just outside Litochoro with a view across the sea to Halkadiki. We left the ancient city of Dion this morning and drove up Mount Olympus until the road stopped at a little over 1200 metres at Prionia. I'm running out of words to describe the roads we travel in Greece. Today's drive was breathtaking, one moment the snow capped mountain towered above us and as we turned a hairpin the fields below stretched out to the sea. Up and up until we reached the monastery of Dionysios. The monastery was built in 1546 but was completely destroyed during the Second World War but a remarkable rebuilding programme has been under way for a few years now so it's part monastery and part building site. The site has the usual "no hard hat, no boots, no hi-viz, no job" sign outside but they were quite happy for us to wander about in T shirts and sandals with bits of masonry falling around us and the workmen all wished us "kalimera!" as we admired their skills. A path from the monastery took us through wooded slopes, over the river that supplies the water to Litochoro, to the cave of Dionysios. Inside is a small chapel which would maybe hold 6 people and is complete with religious artefacts and icons. We stopped for coffee at Prionia and filled up with water before heading back down the mountain. There are hiking routes leading further up the mountain but it was a pretty steep ascent from where we were and we decided to save the climb for another day.
Yesterday afternoon and evening we thought we were being invaded when we heard what sounded like heavy artillery. All was explained this morning when we drove past the firing range and the barracks for the 24th Armoured Division!
We wandered around the pretty town of Litochoro for a while and then took a chance and drove off by the shortest route to the sea. We were lucky and found this spot with a taverna alongside with a couple of customers enjoying a late lunch. We went back this evening for a meal and got chatting to the owner and, inevitably, the conversation came around to the current Greek financial crisis. We asked what he thought of the current government and he didn't dismiss them but thought perhaps they were a little young and possibly a little naïve. He said there were many reasons for Greece being in the situation it finds itself in today and rather than just going cap in hand to their creditors they had to come up with some new proposals to satisfy the ECB and the EU. I mentioned that the money was going to run out when they made their big social security payments in the next few days and he said that one of the biggest problems was pension payments. He told us that people employed in the army, police and the old telecommunications and electricity industries had historically retired after twenty years service with a large lump sum, maybe fifty or a hundred thousand euros or more, and then received a substantial annual pension. This was no longer sustainable he said and I could only agree with him but we couldn't agree on a solution as to how these pension payments could be reduced. Obviously the financial crisis here will not be solved by a reduction in pension payments alone and I asked whether he thought Greece would leave the eurozone in the coming weeks or months or if he thought it would be a good thing to do so. He shrugged and said that whatever happened it was going to be hard but thought that maybe going back to the Drachma might be better in the long term. We chatted for a while longer but felt guilty as he wasn't fully open until the end of the week and he was travelling back to Katerini tonight where he lived during the winter months and we were delaying him. We checked if it was ok to park for the night - "This is Greece, you can park here for 365 days a year if you so wish". A lovely man who gave us a bag of apples as we left and checked to make sure we had plenty of water and anything else we might need for the night including the WiFi password.
Although we have WiFi it's a little slow so no photos today but when we have something better I'll post some of the pics from Mount Olympus.

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