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Author: Maria Zehentner / Translation: Elke Weninger
Beitrag vom: 16.03.2017

Returning to familiar places and ready to find and experience new adventures!

January and February 2017

Sailing back to the harbour of Athens on a boat of the Blue Star Ferries ran a lot more smoothly than travelling from there. Two forms of adolescent students were returning from their school trips and had fun doing this. We watched them in amusement, remembering various own schooltrips or skiing weeks back at school quite some time ago. I pictured and imagined the scolding some of these teenagers would face if their parents saw the numerous lovebites along their necks and throats. I immediately felt about 25 years younger which made me grin happily, even though, I wouldn't have minded being reminded of the past in less volume. But - thank you anyway! ;-)

After we had left the ferry we directly aimed for our favourite spot in this city – in the very centre facing the historic acropolis - as eager readers of our blog might have already guessed correctly. 

Once again we were denied sightseeing in Athens as on the ferry Lennox had been already wide awake at two o'clock in the morning. Why was he awake? “Because sleeping is boring”, as he said and hence we weren't able to sleep a wink either anymore. After a very short and quick breakfast we lay down until lunchtime to catch up on the missed out sleep just a little bit. More or less rested we started off at 1 o'clock pm to do necessary things such as getting all our dirty clothing and gear like towels, bed covers,...washed in a launderette we already knew from our previous times there. While drinking some cups of cappuccino and Lennox eating a snack, three machines full of dirty washing were being washed and we had to pay a cut-throat price of €19! Not a bargain at all!

Doing the laundry on a world trip is a delicate issue. Though wearing EVERY PIECE of clothing more than one day, namely more days in a row becomes a habit, there is a point of time when good will is defeated by the smell of each of us and this is the ultimate final moment to change the clothes. Though we do have a manually operated washing machine in Akela which works well for smaller items, it definitely is no use for bed linen, jeans and towels. Moreover, it uses a hell lot of water which is the main reason, why neither the washing machine nor the shower are in frequent use. 

At the present we are still able to comfortably get water either from filling stations or the fire brigade. We will have to do without this comfort fairly soon, which is the reason why we try to use as little as possible of this precious commodity already now. 

On our shopping list before leaving on the trip had been walking boots for Lennox as well as a small, hand-held vacuum cleaner. Why a vacuum cleaner? In January 2015 Leander had been travelling through half of Europe as a photographer accompanying the Snowmads and Fabi Lentsch, being sponsored by Red Bull. On his return home he said that he had been amused by the lads' small hand-held vacuum cleaner which they had on board. Men don't take along a vacuum cleaner when they follow the call of the wild and want to experience adventures. Yet, as so often in life, everything turns out to be true the other way round. Our three week's stay on the island of Crete had left behind its traces: the beach and the great amount of wind had turned Akela into a sand pit. Our glass sliding windows were squeaking and creaking when being moved, there was sand between electronic devices and the watertanks and basically everywhere else. These were visual arguments in favour of a small hand-held vacuum cleaner as we were not able to get rid of the sand with the broom. We quickly found a “Media Markt” and bought a seemingly suitable machine. However, we found out that even though there were a lot of included accessories, we failed to reach these very places with the “seemingly suitable machine” and decided we had to take it back to the shop when there was time for it.

While staying at Meteora we had met Johanna. She had been telling us about her volunteer job in the Sea Turtle Rescue Center in Glyfada near Athens. The center is open to the public at the weekends and - as we regarded this as more interesting than spending more time with the useless vacuum cleaner - we found ourselves outside its entrance. At dawn we had arrived in Glyfada, a town located in the Greek area of Attica, which is part of the Greater Athens area, in fact a very elegant and luxurious suburban district. The address of the Sea Turtle Rescue Center is 'Marina 3', which we easily found and where we also spent the night just outside the building.

At 11 o'clock, when the center opened up, we were already waiting to be let in. It was really shocking and disturbing to get shown how these unique ancient animals have been treated by mankind – being caught in fishing nets, men nearly crashed their heads with hard objects and threw them back into the sea to die there. Other poor creatures ended up in ships' propellers where there were horribly injured, and then there were some undercooled small turtles which had been found on beaches and which would have died unless taken to the Rescue Center. International volunteers from across the world are looking after the animals, take care, apply medication and support them to be released back into the wild in the end of this period of time at the Rescue Center. Since we also wanted to support the Center, Leander organised a “Photo Shooting” the following day and gave the pictures as a present to the Center for them to use for advertising purposes. 

As so often in life, at times things don't run smoothly or break apart - as in our case the tabletop that broke along the line where it had been welded or one of the searchlights which had come off the chassis. These were all matters which had to be taken care of by organising their repair plus, quite obviously, involved being paid for – matters nobody is really interested in...

The next day we left this suburb, but at the back of our minds remained the unavoidable thoughts what had to be fixed and done on our 'to-do-list'. Our first destination was “Media Markt” where we had bought the hand-held vacuum cleaner. Being trained from Austria in grumbling and moaning I successfully could put down the offer of Media Markt to get a voucher worth €120 but managed to get the money back in cash! Feeling rich with our €120 Lennox and I returned to Akela. 

Leander had been able to find a Mercedes repair shop for lorries. Maybe they would be able to find a solution regarding the searchlight or the tabletop. Within minutes after our arrival in the garage we were crowded by members of the workshop, including the boss. The searchlight, we were told, shouldn't be a problem to get fixed. When taking a closer look at the table the boss mischieviously grinned and suggested we should “not have sex on the table.” We were offered coffee and Lennox orange juice while the employees were taking care of the repair works. After two hours' worktime, we had two problems - broken searchlight and tabletop – and  €150 less. Easy come, easy go.

On our first visit at the monasteries of Meteora four weeks earlier we had been so magically attracted to this place that we had decided back then to return once the snow was gone and melted away. We stopped at the Hot Springs at Thermophylae again when travelling the 300 km from Athens to Kalambaka to make the long journey as comfortable as possible for Lennox. However, this time we only stayed for one night. 

After taking our first bath we were standing in front of the lorry and were watching the scene around the Hot Springs when a young man was approaching us. In the course of the conversation it turned out that he was from Syria and was living in the nearby refugee camp. A hotel had been turned into a refugee camp and already at our first time there had this ugly and run-down building caught our attention. 

The Syrian man introduced us to his wife and small daughter. He seemed a bit shy when telling us about his escape from Aleppo, explaining to us that they had already been given asylum in Austria, yet had returned to Syria as one left behind parent had a serious disease. Their journey back to Syria had obviously ended in this very refugee camp where, according to them, they had been staying for five months, getting terrible food, enduring bad infrastructure and facing inhumane circumstances. 
Unluckily we weren't able to do more for them than listen patiently. 

As already mentioned in the last blog, the Thermophylae had been the location of the legendary battle between Persians and Greek people, which the Greek had won. And today, well, locating a refugee camp at this very place, isn't that a bit like irony of fate?

Throughout the rest of the day I recalled the conversation with the Syrian family. Their eyes mirrored the feelings of despair and desperation. 

Just about a year earlier we had been confronted with and had been shown pictures and reports about the beginning of the refugees' movement in the media. Hundreds and thousands of Syrian, Afghan, and Pakistani people had started their way through Greece, hoping for a better future and peaceful life in Europe. The Balkan route, which is the route we have been taking, looked like a landfill site after the refugees' invasion. Nowadays hardly any refugees are making use of this way to get into the EU. Europe has locked the Aegean Sea up by signing the Turkey- Deal. Nobody feels responsible to clear away the huge rubbish piles and tons of waste lying along the road. Obviously people, who are fleeing from death, murder, weapons and war, people who do not have any perspective ahead of them, don't waste a second's thought on where to put the rubbish they have produced while running for their lives. 

We came across refugees and refugees' camps fairly frequently on our journey through Greece and unluckily we quite often saw them get rid of their rubbish right where they had produced it, namely right on the road. It deeply hurt to experience this as Greece has already had a problem with rubbish anyway and the refugees seem to be topping this horrible situation. I am not blaming them to be sole and only responsible for the rubbish - by no means - but unluckily they bear a big responsibiltiy, even though there are many other scapegoats.

We had stayed in sporadic touch with Fabi Lentsch and therefore knew that he was not far off the Thermophylae with his Snowmads to go skiing. Our skiing stuff was still stowed away untouched on the roof and was waiting to be finally used. After a short phonecall with Fabi we put the requested coordinates into our navigation system and started off towards the rocky massif of Parnassos, about 50 km southwest of the Hot Springs. Despite not being on our planned route we set off with great anticipation and didn't mind a detour of 2 hours as we would be able to go skiing.

The highest peak in the mountains of Parnassos is Liakoura, reaching 2,455 meters in height. At the southwestern foot of the mountains is the city of Delphi, which is well known to many people due to the Delphic oracle. The mountain is dedicated to the God of Apollo in Greek mythology and, furthermore, the home of the muses, the Godesses of the arts. In modern Greece, this mountain locates the biggest skiing resort in Greece, containing 16 state of the art cable cars and chair lifts. The sun was shining and we were beaming with laughter as if competing with the sun when we saw the snowcapped mountains reflecting in the driving cabin. The final serpentines of the way up to the car park were covered in snow, which luckily was no problem for Akela. Slowly but steadily he was rolling up through the white splendour, namely snow. We parked the lorry on the car park of the cable car. We warmly greeted the Snowmads who had just returned to their truck after doing some runs. Lennox was out of control due to happiness to finally be able to hug “his very best friend ever” again. 

We thought it was already too late to buy a skipass for the day as it was afternoon and only day passes were available, even though they seemed a reasonable price, €25 each. Lennox was even allowed to ski for free. We had not practised skiing with Lennox enough throughout the last years so we just put him onto the skies and let him get used to the feeling of having skies tied to his feet at the not very steep end of the skiing slope. He appeared quite wobbly on the skies. Still, the next day we optimistically took one of the first cable cars up the mountain. Leander, our sporting ace, was Lennox' skiing instructor. Better said than done! Lennox, not listening at all to his instructor's advice and criticism looked more like a bag of potatoes than a boy properly learning to ski. By far more attention was given to the 1. skiing helmet, which was itchy, 2. the ski pants, which were scratching, 3. the skiing goggles, which kept slipping, 4. the mountain, which was too steep. Phew – we definitely had believed this to be easier. Cycling, swimming, ice skating, climbing - each of these activities we had taught him quite easily so far. Why didn't it work when it came to skiing? We were completely exhausted and tired and also a bit depressed when we reached the bottom station of the cable car. We took off the skies and walked back to Akela where Lennox hurled the skies onto the ground, repeatedly announcing that he would NEVER EVER go skiing again as he hated it and finally ran off. Leander and I were left at the truck with a puzzled expression in our faces. 

Julian, one of the Snowmads came over to us after seeing us sit there. We described what nightmare we had been going through on the slope earlier. Smiling he replied that he had experienced such very situations back in his time as a skiing instructor as well and could remember them. He offered to take Lennox into the wild, hence out into the countryside a bit, should he want to do this as well.  And...yes, the boy really was eager to go!

After two hours the two were rolling in again, Lennox grinning happily and constantly saying things such as “skiing is the greatest thing to do” or “Julian is the veeeeeery best skiing instructor in the world”. Julian added that “Lennox is able to do the basics and from now on practice will make perfect.” 

The next day we drove to the other side of the mountain as there were more lifts and also more beginners' slopes for Lennox. Initially we were skiing right in front of him but soon realised hat this was not necessary at all. The small bloke confidentially made turns down the slope, when falling over stood up again and kept skiing at full speed. We truly had a mighty fine skiing day. The sun was shining brightly, the snow was amazing, no people were crowding the slopes...this is how skiing and winter sports make really great fun. After numerous runs we returned to the truck with tired bones. In no time had we put up the camping chairs, had prepared coffee and hot chocolate and stretching our legs enjoyed sitting in T-Shirts in 15°C outside and brought the afternoon to a close. Truly a dream.

Fabi was starting off with his lads the very same evening, however, as always whenever we met on our tours and travels and even when time was short, he would come and spend some time with Lennox. We were setting off towards Meteora the next day – at last!

We were able to see the monasteries already from the distance, admired how majestically they stood on the rock faces as if on thrones and how they stamp the landscape. Before we went up to the monasteries we had made an appointment with Christos, the photographer from Kalambaka who we had met already a month earlier. We had arranged to meet in a Café in the center. We already saw him approaching from the distance, a grin in his face and a parcel we had been yearning for under his arm. He had received mail for us from Austria. The contents of the parcel? Necessary stuff such as cosmetics, sweets, no....also some medicine ;-) After our first joy of reunion we agreed to meet again within the next few days with him and his family. I was looking forward to that a lot – a female to speak to again for a change. 

Helios, the Greek Sun God, blessed us with a lovely temperature of 20°C when we were driving up the mountain road towards the monasteries. We stopped Akela at the wonderful spot we had already chosen before: a night with a view at a wonderful location.

This time the monasteries and our impression of them were, how shall I put it, different! The monasteries didn't stand out as much from the background as all the snow had melted and this was also the reason why busses loaded with tourists came up and “spat out” tourists to take pictures. The busses stopped, mighty crowds of tourists came out, took a picture and hurried back onto the busses to get to the next monastery or to one of the many restaurants or taverns which were advertised by clever businessmen riding their motorbikes to those tourist locations where the busses stopped. A lot of activities took place on the mountains near nuns and monks and their monasteries. In our view too much was going on but we were very happy that we had been able to experience this unique place in peace, tranquility and reference before the snow had melted and nobody had dared coming here, driving up to the monasteries. Nonetheless we enjoyed our days at the monasteries a lot. Christos visited us in Akela with his wife Konstantina and their 3-year old son Konstantins. It was a first time experience for us to expect visitors in Akela and the evening was very entertaining. We laughed a lot, exchanged experiences and addresses and the two boys played with their Matchbox cars, one of them speaking Greek, the other German yet without showing difficulties in understanding each other. 

For quite some time Lennox had been complaining about the dull colour of Akela on the outside and wished to change this with his own paintings and drawings. True, plain white is not very exciting and since the weather was perfect to have fun and spend time outside, watercolours were allowed to be used by the boss Leander. We made sure to have music outside Akela and in no time started our art works. It wasn't difficult to find images to be drawn and eagerly created mountains, flowers, meadows, and even monasteries found their places on Akela, which afterwards did look good as we proudly realised when looking at our finished piece of art, with the paint brushes still in our hands. The images of the monasteries and their surrounding landscape also was of the interest of many passing by tourists and they took pictures and sent them to us afterwards with numerous kind words and messages. By the way, water colours are more resistant against water than assumed beforehand. In the past weeks the artwork has stood up against various rain showers which have taken place...

What else have we done in Meteora? Quite a lot as we were hiking along the Monk's Trail, which is a trail leading to a Monks' prison and by now is nearly grown in by a lot of vegetation. We climbed up to the Dragon's Cave as well. According to Greek Mythology a rock has allegedly buried a dragon, which had been making trouble in the city of Kalambaka every night. Lennox was very disappointed when failing to find any remains of the dragon...

We took the Honda motorbike off the roof rack which always cheered the boy up. Our plan was to reach a remote little village in the mountains, whose only access was a road in bad condition which still might be covered in snow. The view of Meteora from up there, according to Christos who should know, must be absolutely stunning. Unluckily, even though we dared starting to get there, we had to give up as there was far too much snow to properly see the road, and on top of that, no traces in the snow which would have shown us how to get to this very village. It was too risky for the three of us, which made us turn round just before the village. We ate the snack which we had brought along and headed towards Kalambaka. We enjoyed feeling the airstream, yet our thighs got freezing cold. 

In Kalambaka there is a small museum of natural sciences, bearing a museum of mushrooms which is exceptional and interesting. Lennox particularly enjoyed the samples of various dishes made with these mushrooms, which were offered as well. As usual when turning a place into our home for a longer period of time, work on Akela became the center of attention again. Partition walls, which kept falling out when the cupboards were being opened, had to be fixed, filters had to be cleaned, holes drilled to ensure better without end. In the meantime our little boy had got in touch with a countless number of stray cats and enjoyed spending time with “his pets”. When an old dog joined this group he was incredibly happy and everything was perfect!

On our last evening there, we went to a tavern with Christos and his family and enjoyed Greek food at its best. Thank you three so much for your help and hospitality. You are wonderful and unique and it is great to call such people like you our friends. 

It was really difficult to say good bye to Meteora. We have always felt more relaxed and free of problems there. Fears and worries seemed smaller there but we had to move on – time was pressing.

We were heading east, towards Olymp, which is the mountain of the Gods. The highest peak is Mytikas, 2,918 meters, which has its very own flora and fauna and already in 1938 was placed under nature protection. Later, in 1981 the UNESCO declared it a biosphere reserve. As Fabi spent his final “Powderdays” there as well before going back home again, this meant a welcome change to our routine. We drove to Litochoro, a small village at the foot of Olymp. In this village is the beginning of the road leading up to the nature reserve - a few kilometers and a few serpentines. Having reached the top we could already spot Fabi's red truck at the end of the road. The lads had gone hiking and probably would only return the next day. We checked out the area, hatched plans for the next day and hoped to calm down our hungry tummies with self-made Pita Pizza before crashing out for the night being really tired. 

The next day was a hiking day. The plan was to walk along a signposted hiking track up to a mountain hut (Refuge Petrostrouga at a height of 2,100 meters). We carried a rucksack packed with lots of food when leaving quite early in the morning, and with a bit of encouragement, we made Lennox walk eagerly at the beginning. It was very difficult for him as the trail was covered in snow, and at times he sank into it or even fell over. We didn't take longer breaks, just short ones to have a bit to drink as we had been getting ahead much more slowly than we expected. After walking for three hours, Lennox went on strike. The snow was now as high up as his hips, all our boots were soaked and each step meant losing water through the seams. It was definitely no longer fun at all! Having a proper snack lifted our minds again and - even though we hadn't reached our planned destination – we turned round and managed to get back to Akela in two hours' time. Though not getting to where we had planned to get we had utterly enjoyed this day in the nature reserve of Olymp.

Getting to the bottom, Fabi was expecting us already smiling happily. He had also just returned to his truck from an exhausting hike. After a big hug he put Lennox into his driving cabin to take him along to the car park where he had arranged to pick up the rest of his lads who were waiting there. I was able to get a glimpse of Lennox' VERY HAPPY face when they were passing by. 

When the whole crowd of us were joined again, we relaxed outside the trucks, enjoying music and something to drink. Fabi made Lennox' wish come true by building an off-road snow track for his 'Monstertrucks'. Later, after sunset, did we start the engines of our classic trucks, and when enjoying a joint dinner, remembered various activities, impressions and basically our lovely time in Greece. 

A last time we said good bye, before the Snowmads started off towards their homes and we carried on further east.

One very special day lay still ahead of us in beautiful Hellas, a day we had been looking forward to a lot. Why? The Blu-blu family had anounced their visit. Dejan, Cvetanka and their children came all the long way from Macedonia just to meet us once more. Our meeting point was the small village of Sarti, which is centrally located on the second finger of Chalkidis. We parked Akela a bit above Mega Orange Beach as we had made out a mud path leading right down to the beach. The beach was quite spacious, covered with white sand and surrounded by unusaully shaped rock faces. Though Mega Orange Beach was by no means an ugly beach we had seen so many stunning beaches on the island of Crete that it just couldn't quite compete with those. This is the reason why we didn't give it a prize for its looks...

Lennox was getting impatient. Waiting for the Blu-blu family seemed endless for him but finally, yes, around lunchtime the four were rolling in. 

The three children instantly formed a happy group on the beach and we, the adults, usually have always had enough to speak about anyway. After enjoying conversation and games we prepared a BBQ outside serving fish, Tzatziki, various salads, bread, wine and beer – anything we could wish for. As soon as we had finished eating and were about to start the social part of the evening, an unexpected shower of rain brought an abrupt ending to the party. Our awning kept the rain off yet we didn't regard it as comfy enough to keep sitting outside for much longer. We quickly made our ways into the dry, when soon afterwards Dejan and his family said good bye to drive to their booked apartment. 

Sunday morning we spent, though in hazy weather conditions, on the beach. It was wonderful. We were drinking coffee we had taken along and treated us with some snacks. Dejan and Leander were trying to make the one or other desired snapshot while Cvetanka and I were playing with the children. These days spent with the family of the Ristovskis were mighty fine and wonderful. We had fun, we laughed a lot but also found time to talk about more serious issues. We will miss you as usual and say thank you for driving such a long way just to say good bye once more. We had to comfort Lennox quite a lot when they were leaving and tears were running down his cheeks when the four entered their family car to go back home. 

Time was coming for us to leave this country as well. We had been travelling there for six weeks now and appreciate being surprised every time again when we find how many more secret places it has to offer or what great adventures there might still be coming up. However, to stick to our planned travelling agenda we had to set off. Mongolia, which is one certain destination on our world trip, has a difficult climate to be travelling there. Therefore, there is only a short period of time a year when a trip there makes sense and so we had to get going as we wanted to be there by July the latest. 

Our two final stops before reaching the Turkish border we used merely to sleep. In the first city of Kavala we washed dirty clothing and other stuff and filled up the water and diesel tanks. In the second city named Alexandropouli we only stayed for the night to get to the Turkish border, just 40 km away from that place. Somehow we noticed that between the two cities of Thessaloniki and Kavala there seemed to be an invisible and imaginary border, which changed the people's minds and personalities. The people were more reserved and didn't appear as friendly as they had been and as we had got to know them in Greece before. We realised that we were now approaching new types of religion, new codes of conduct and had to be prepared to expect other unknown issues. 

We are curious of our time in Turkey and are looking forward to new experiences and activities.

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  1. Maria Briedl
    Maria Briedl
    Hallo Maria!
    Es ist so interessant von euren Erlebnissen zu lesen. Die Fotos - einfach traumhaft.
    Jetzt geht es in unbekanntes Gebiet und ich wünsche euch, dass ihr auch dort helfende, freundliche Leute trefft.
    Wünsche euch weiterhin eine gute Reise und freue mich auf die nächsten Berichte.

    Grüße aus der Heimat