Northern Greece

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Northern Greece

Northern Greece
Souvláki, booze & Sunshine??????????

…can be found on Mýkonos. The tranquility of almost forgotten regions, stone villages like in the Middle Ages and a people of motorcycle crazy people can only be found in central Greece.

Michael Schumann

09/03/1997

What’s up?? Now? ”It’s already three past two and Jórgos, the captain, is getting impatient.

Over the loudspeaker on the bridge of the small car ferry, he snaps at the bus driver on the quay, asking him to hurry up. But he has to start his old Magirus with the hammer first – the starter hangs. Finally the green intercity bus is on deck, and ten minutes later the ship chugs across the strait towards Euboea. I’ve been in Greece for a week. But since the 1500-person steamer from Italy spat me out of its blue steel belly in Igumenítsa, I haven’t tasted any salty air. And that in a country where no place is more than one and a half, at most two motorcycle hours away from the sea. The Píndos Mountains in northeast Ioánnina had lured me inland. As if in watercolors, mountain ranges up to 2500 meters high stagger towards the Albanian border. And as if hypnotized, I held the drag star at this picture in the backlight. I allowed the streets to become ever narrower, the villages ever smaller and the place name signs monolingual. And finally the asphalt in Koukoúli came to an end. The small village with its stone houses and cobblestone streets is located in the Zagóri, a sparsely populated national park in the mountains. An area in which all streets end up as dead ends somewhere. In Koukoúli I met Roy, an Englishman who got stuck here. He spent four years renovating the old house on the edge of the village, hauling slates for the stone-covered roof. Burned roof tiles or even corrugated iron are banned by the Greek government, the entire region is under a kind of monument protection. At the same time, the Greek Tourist Association has set up a number of small guest houses to bring new life to the almost deserted mountain villages. With success. The Zagóri has become a kind of Bavarian Forest in the middle of Greece, with thick knots of moss hanging from the plane tree on the platía. It is already dark when Jánnis begins to roar in the Souvláki village square. He owns the Xenónas, the only guest house in Koukoúli. “Take a trip to Pápigo, you’ll like that,” he says as he puts the plate of sheep’s cheese on the table. In the morning I follow his tip and let the footrests paddle through the curves in a good mood. Emerald lizards are daring to bask in the middle of the road, which winds its way higher and higher in hairpin bends. Finally, in front of me is Pápigo, the mountain village that Jánnis had spoken of. Like a herd of goats in a storm, the few houses crouch at the foot of the mighty Tímphi massif. The last dirty snow fields at the top still give an idea in June that the whole area takes on a rigidity in thick white in winter. Then the villages are almost deserted, most of the residents in Ióannina or Athens. Only a few shepherds let themselves be snowed in every year as protection against looters. Under the plane tree in the evening I tell Jánnis about my tour. He says that he can still give me a lot of such tips, but I want to continue the next day, in Kónitsa I get to talk to Panajótis. In his cafe he sells bougátses, delicious puff pastries filled with semolina and cinnamon. When he sees the bike, he digs out a photo from behind the counter that shows him with his two BMWs. “They are from my father,” he says proudly and points to the R 25 and R 26. The newer is fully drivable, the other he still has to restore. Like Panajótis, most Greeks are enthusiastic about motorcycles. Which I get clearly demonstrated when I sit three hours further north in a cafe in Kastoriá. As the center of the fur industry, the city, which is idyllically situated on a lake, has achieved some prosperity. Twenty-year-olds in particular like to wear it proudly and without a helmet with their polished XT 600, Shadow 600 or ZXR 750. And suddenly I’m no longer alone with the drag star. In the afternoon the rattling gets thinner and thinner, the mopeds get less and less. The siesta begins, in which the whole country falls into a death-like rigidity every day from two-thirty. If someone were to steal the Acropolis during this time, by five in the afternoon, at most, stupid tourists like me would notice. Despite the midday heat, I decide to drive on. By the time I have lashed the small backpack on the baggage roll, I am soaking wet. When the massive rock formations appear in front of me, the last sunlight just casts a silky shine over the monasteries of Meteóra. Like lonely bird nests they are enthroned high up on the pinnacles. The lazily sailing crows are the only movement in this sight. No doubt that one must feel a little closer to the gods up there. I prefer mundane things and treat myself to the luxury of a guest house with a swimming pool directly below the 400-meter-high sandstone cliffs in the small village of Kastráki. As fresh as Retsína, the cool, resinous scent of the night is still in the air. It is shortly after sunrise when I drive the Yamaha up to the almost 700 year old monasteries. The peaceful atmosphere makes up for getting up early a hundred times. When the daily caravan of mobile homes and rental cars collapses two hours later, I have long been in Thessaly. From the monasteries, the colorful fields that are diced across the Thessalian plain to the east form a fascinating checkerboard pattern. But when driving through the granary of Greece only boredom has ready for me, which always leads straight ahead. Only the rattling irrigation pumps on the fields interrupt the monotony of the landscape – at least acoustically. Only the Pílion peninsula, on which the centaurs, the man-horse hybrids of antiquity, are said to have lived, brings variety again. Almost 1000 meters high, the serpentines meander through the thick, overgrown green of the Pílion forests. You can ski here in winter. But now the whole peninsula smells like honey-sweet gingerbread. It’s the smell of the tsípouro. Almost everywhere in Greece this pomace schnapps is distilled. Taste and quality vary from region to region, often even from village to village, at least that is the case on Euboea, where the small car ferry is about to land. Most travel guides have little more to say about the second largest of the almost 3,000 Greek islands after Crete than “green and wooded in the north”. Here, too, the place-name signs pointing from the main road into the pine forests of the mountainous interior are mostly monolingual. Nobody expects strangers in the tiny mountain villages anyway. Even today an asphalt road does not lead to every village, the only telephone in the village is often only in the Kafeníon, of which there are at least two in the village of Tsapouriná. But for as long as he can remember, old Bábis has only ever gone to the one at the top of the village. Except from 1972 to 1976, he says. He installed heating systems in Wuppertal. For four years, without ever really knowing German, until he was almost nostalgic for his mountain village. Lost in thought, the old man is silent and looks over the village square with the lonely palm tree. In front of the church, a boy practices wheelies on his moped. Pick-ups come once or twice a week and hawkers sell what the villagers need from their loading area: fresh fish, vegetables, hair ties or plastic chairs. Structurally weak region, here on Euboea I think of the official German name. Evritanía could also be called that, the most sparsely populated area in the middle of the northern mainland. The road winds steeply downhill. It is the only one that goes through the black fir forests of Evritanía. And probably one of the curviest and most pothole-rich in this country. The topping, or what’s left of it, forces me to drastically reduce my travel pace. It curls, buckles, almost throws bubbles and forces the Yamaha into stubborn capers. When I reach the sea again in the evening, dust and sand have finally made the drag star a dirt star. Preveza dawns on the Ambracian Gulf. The facades of the Venetian mansions on the harbor line are just as crumbling as the benches of the mopeds parked in the sun. Shutters hang crooked on their hinges. From here it is 80 kilometers to Igumenítsa. But it’s neither the morbid charm of this city nor the sip of Tsípouro from the night before. It is the thought of the return trip and the 1500-passenger steamer to Venice tomorrow morning that makes me feel this indistinct pull in my stomach.

Info – Northern Greece

Inland, Northern Greece has so far been largely spared from mass tourism. Greek hospitality and long-standing traditions can be found especially in the mountains.

Arrival: The autoput through ex-Yugoslavia has been passable again since 1996. Transit visas, border formalities and tolls make the overland route unattractive. The boat connections from Italy are recommended. During the main travel season, there are daily ferries from Ancona and Venice, and from Trieste at the weekends to Igumenítsa (24 hours) and Pátras (32 hours). Every travel agency and the ADAC have brochures with the exact departure dates. Depending on the season, the ferry prices fluctuate between 90 and 110 marks for a motorcycle and 150 to 200 marks for one person, deck passage, both ways. A bed in a four-person cabin costs almost twice as much. Those who book the return journey at the same time receive a 30 percent discount, the date can be left open. Deck passages are still available at the port. Travel time: Before May and after September it can snow on the passes of central Greece, which are up to 1700 meters high. In the mountains, the summer heat is bearable even in August, but if you prefer it cooler, you should avoid this month. Spend the night: You can always find rooms in coastal areas and almost always in the interior. The overnight prices for a double room are between 35 and 70 marks (almost always without breakfast). Solo drivers pay around ten percent less. In the interior of the country, there are campsites only near tourist attractions. Worth seeing: Kípi in the Zagóri is considered the most beautiful village in the mountain region. We recommend the descent into the Víkos Gorge from Monodendri (about 1.5 hours). South of Ioánnina is the ancient oracle site Dodóna with its amphitheater embedded in a beautiful mountain landscape. The Meteóra monasteries are definitely worth a visit. The interior of the six still inhabited monasteries can also be visited. On the Pílion, a detour to Makrinítsa is recommended. The village in the mountains above Vólos is considered the pearl of the Pílion because of its beautiful platía and the numerous well-preserved mansions. Literature: The “Instructions for Greece” by Martin Pristl (Piper Verlag, 28 Marks) is lovingly written. The volume Greece / Mainland from the Marco Polo series (Mairs Geographischer Verlag, 14.80 Marks) offers good tips and a format ideal for motorcycle luggage. The road atlas of Greece (RV Reise- und Verkehrsverlag, scale 1: 300,000) is reliable and very detailed. Time required: ten days, distance traveled: 2500 kilometers

Out and about with a chopper

It is in the nature of things and the lack of space for luggage that choppers or cruisers are not exactly ideal travel motorcycles. Nowhere. But with the help of a tensioning strap pulled around the lower steering head bearing, a tank bag can be securely lashed even on the thickest fuel drum. The accessory trade offers saddlebags for almost all models (for the XVS 650 the original Yamaha Bags cost 750 marks). But even with that, hardly anyone will be able to avoid a roll of luggage that is strapped onto the pillion cushion with elastic straps. Because of the sitting posture, the short suspension travel and the mostly bad roads in Greece, you should send your intervertebral discs to a cure after a chopper holiday to be on the safe side.

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