Now we see a proper border check point, as slow as they come you can’t even do it from your car window. One by one it takes each car about 5 minutes, passport and vehicle registration number. Rows backed up to the street of the last Bulgarian town, I feel sorry for the truckies as it’s an even longer wait for them! After an hour we pass through and the temperature keeps rising, it’s an absolute schorcher! On our way to Thessaloniki the roads start off a little worst for wear, these pot holes you will never see! They look so subtle on the eye yet beneath is an abyss waiting to swallow you up. Heading around the city we aim to stay at a camp site very similar to one we stayed in Germany, a camping shop with everything a man needs for the vehicle, campers for sale etc etc. Well this place was shut being on a Sunday and no access or way in we freedom camp around the back to the suggestions from the occupants of the campsite. What a night! 5 or 6 dogs that look like they are guard dogs for the next door building, a dialysis centre . What was strange is they could get out… Bark at everything they see or chase what they saw down the main road! But surprisingly they didn’t give two hoots about us, pop their noses in the sliding door to say hello and they left us to it, but that doesn’t mean to say we got a peaceful sleep!
Next day the owners of the Camping Zempetus opened up and let us in, this site being hugely popular because it’s free. Water, toilet, shower, power the works. This would be the place we stop and chill for a few days, parking next to a friendly couple Jaimie and Sylvia. Odds and ends met and we look into details about insurance through Albania and Montenegro, supposedly quite a grey area in terms of achieving that. Whether simply not part of the European union or insurances just simply don’t want a bar of it. The main one you hear is people purchasing insurance at the Albanion border, 3rd party and better make sure nothing ever happens! Various reports of people paying €15 to €90 it all depends if you get a nice guy! Charming. Well the options are limited go ahead with what I told you or drive around Serbia way or ferry to Italy back to Croatia. No ferry exists between Greece and Croatia and won’t do any time soon, we’re not to sure why either…
So I initiated a good old BBQ and drinks with Jamie and Sylvia and was suggested to the other couple Martina & Sven. Who have been here for several weeks waiting on parts for there, how do I put it, a monster truck campervan and the lift of this thing was awesome, these guys are from Switzerland. Beer, red wine and later on Scottish whisky a great night of food and socialising. A really good bunch of people who all like minded travellers it was an evening cherished.
Next day would be the the day to set off to the centre of Thessonlonikki albeit a later start than first thought! Bus in and we walk along side the water front towards the White Tower, this tower being constructed in the 15th century lies at the foot of the beach with a view point covering all of Thessonlonikki. Here we took a look with old artifacts and information about the city itself, covering such diverse history this country had been through so much. One standout was the occupation of the Byzantinians from 15th century till 19th century, here in this city it was the Turkish people living at the top of the hill and the Greeks at the bottom near the sea. From this tower was a road which looked like a bridge that led all the way to the top of the hill, on the way we would encounter the Rotunda this was built early 4th century. Walking through this city you feel such a busy vibrant vibe with such a vast array of cultures all intermingling as one cohesive cog. This being the second biggest city in Greece, it has a very artistic and active social scene, but that being said very condensed living with apartments stacked row after row like lego blocks, there’s alot of people living in this city!
Moving up from the Rotunda is the Old Town sitting atop of the hill looking over Thessonlonikki and the sea, the views are impressive and really get the sense of how big Thessonlonikki is. This city was established in 316 B.C and th name came from Alexander the great half sister. Our time is short in this city, so much more history than we were able to appreciate.
Geared up for an afternoon and evening next to the beach, we stay at a place called Paralia. It would serve as a stop gap as we prepare for a solid day of driving towards Delphi. Toll roads! Ridiculously expensive it’s one thing you will want to avoid if ever to drive here, the height of the The Green Machine didn’t help albeit though the amount of toll stops was just stupid. You quickly realise bugger all people drive on the toll roads full stop.
A long drive awaits us to Delphi, we will endeaver to take the back roads through country side and see some local towns and farms of rural Greece. Surprised is an understatement how green rural Greece looked, driving through the valley past Mt Olympus and you would be forgiven to think you were in New Zealand. As we venture further inland the climate warms up and we climb up and down mountains, Greece inland is really mountainous and for some reason I just had that feeling Greece wasn’t, well how wrong I was.
Heading over the last set of hill climbs 4 in total on this days drive we approach this valley of olive trees. Everywhere, like the whole valley.. And the valley is not small on any stretch. This was an impressive sight to see and later being told that these trees can be as old as 4 generation if not older! Up we go and we climb finally to Delphi which sits atop of this valley over looking the olive trees. Park up in a campsite, with a swimming pool! We realised we could be here longer than first thought, with the following day being public holiday nothing is open. So a day spent soaking up rays and doing some sweet as bombs in the pool followed by a bbq to the sunset over the hills served to be a pretty awesome day.
Delphi ruins, up here in the valley it would be described as one serenic place to base yourself. The sanctuary of Apollo at Delphi is at the foot hills of Mount Parnassos between two enormous rocks called Phaidriades. This would be for many centuries spiritual and religous centre for the ancient Greek world. They say it is the navel, that two eagles dispatched by Zeus from the ends of the universe had met here. So far the first traces of people living here is 14th-11th century B.C, the first monument to be built here was the end of the 7th century B.C. The main attractions on show here are the The Theatre, The Temple of Apollo and the Temple of Athena. The 6th to the 4th Century B.C was a flourishing time for the sanctuary at Delphi, with such large amount of buildings here worshippers flocked from all over the world to seek advice from the God and Oracle whenever they were to make a serious decision or initiative. Here was a very important spot in Greek history.
Taking a walk back through the small town we purchased local Olive oil grown in the valley below Delphi and bought a little bottle of Ouzo a traditional spirit that is of aniseed taste, very similar to Sambuka.
Athens is next point of call, and we take the long drive to visit the main attractions to then get the hell out of there. Athens is huge and its chaotic driving, and ….. Bugger all parking! Well the sat nav took us literally down tourist infected lanes leading up the hill would see us at the base of Acropolis. Except one small problem this lane was one way…. And you are not allowed to park unless you had a permit. Right, how the hell do we get out of here? Dead middle of Athens and we are perched at two roads one we came up but would not dare go back down as if a car approached all you can do is reverse in heaving tourist conditions, the other option, is errr well some what ballsy. Pedestrian only streets that basically heaving with tourist… So you can go in but you cant get out, who the hell set up this road system? So yes you guessed right I drove through looking somewhat ridiculous as the Green machine does stand out and hoping there were no barriers at the end! Just to note before we did this maybe 5 mins before, two cops on bikes drove down on this road, so I knew if caught this would be a hefty fine! Well guess what, we bloody well made it! Pheew.
So finally out of that mess we must of been driving in total 2 hours to just find a park! Here it’s underground parking and unfortunately we need a barrier that is over 2.5 m, good luck. So eventually finding a park we taxi in and its half 5 and we make our way to The Acropolis.
Acropolis sits proudly in the city centre upon a hill, everyone affiliates this monument and attaches it to Greece. Imposing would be the word to describe this area back in the day when Ancient Greece was a power house. Walking past the ticket gates and you approach The South Slope Theatre this is situated below the Acropolis. This played a significant role in artistic, spiritual and religious in Ancient Greece. Built between 340-330 B.C on the site of an earlier theatre built in 6th century B.C. Walking beyond that was another theatre from the Roman times no information was given on this one. Up the steps into the Acropolis and the detail in their stone work is really interesting along with how the hell did they build that, back then without the obvious equipment we have now. The views up top panaramic of Athens really shows how emphatic this site would of been sitting proudly atop over Greece. 5th century B.C is the time all these monuments date back, amazing carving of stone is truly impressive. I could go on and on but if you’re a history freak this is somewhat extraordinary. We moved on and took a look at The Arch of Hadrian which was built by the Romans in 2nd B.C behind that in open field is the Temple of Olympian Zeus which was built in 6th century B.C.
Time was up on what was pretty old and interesting stuff to see in Athens, we by far did not do Athens justice as we had to head out sooner than we wanted but very glad to see the main attractions.
We head out south towards Olympia where the very first Olympic games where held, but to stop enroute we decided to chill at a campsite in Ancient Corinth. We both had no idea what was here, kindly by the chap who we paid in the morning for the pitch gave us a piece of paper of stuff to do here… Ancient Corinth is a gold mine for Archeologists, here is an area that was occupied since Neolithic period to Middle ages. The economic and artistic acme of Corinth began in the 8th century B.C, the growth of the city reached its culmination at the time of the Kypselidai (after the middle of the 7th c B.C) In the 5th century B.C Conrinth was one of three major powers in Greece, and took part in all the battles against The Persians. In 146 B.C after the destruction by the Romans, Julius Caesar ressettled here in 44 B.C which marked the beginning of the new period of prosperity. This was also the site for the Saint Paul who in mid 1st century A.D preached Christianity to the Jews and Gentile, on this particular site he was bought for judgement in centre of the Roman forum for his teachings but was declared to be just a despute with the Jews.
Just to name a few of the impressive structures the Archaic temple of Apollo, Glauke fountain (which was a huge rock carved out to eventually finding water source) and the other was Peirene Fountain which is basically a bath house where everyone met as a social centre. There is so much to see here, over 100m2 the entire site and the museum is fascinating, consisting of statues and carvings all excavated carefully some of these are in immaculate condition, pottery and crockery all put back together, this area is a land mine for discovery. To think we didn’t even know this place let alone come and visit, this for me topped Athens and I know I can’t compare as in Athens we didn’t stay long enough. But Ancient Corinths is pretty exceptional.
This concludes part 1 of Greece and filled with history this place marks down as a pretty awesome place thus far, the hot weather being a warm welcome with tasting olives, Tupokaujepń (spicy cheese dip) and cheesy pastry going down a real treat! Moving across south west of Greece we will be encountering some more relaxed style holidaying , tune in and you will see yet more of the beauty that Greece has to offer.