Sea, rivers, mountains, lakes and caves

September, 2016  Peloponnesus, Greece

Here you can have it all! Starting at the seaside and ending up high in the mountains, at an area, which will be transformed into a ski resort in winter time.

A Greek friend of mine is taking me for a day tour into the backcountry, starting around Akrata and following the extremely quiet and curvy road higher up into the mountains. While driving, we pass the sign of a monastery and looking up, we see beside a new constructed building, also the remains of the old and very small monastery, tucked half into the rocks. Even my Greek friend has never seen this “not well-known” historic site! We decide to drive up and take a look.

The road goes like a snake up and down the mountains. No villages and barely any houses. No tourists with campers and not even a normal Greek car! We are driving towards lake Tsivlos and the river Krathis, on around an 800 meters altitude on the Helmos mountain slopes. The lake was formed in 1912 by a landslide. Its depth sometimes reaches 80 meters, depending on the annual rain rate. There are a few cabins around the lake and I could imagine me staying here for a couple of days, away from everything…….

There are apple and nut trees around the lake and even rodia trees or pomegranate; a very decorative fruit and a symbol for the New Year. It is one of the most ancient of fruits and it has many mythological and biblical meanings; good luck, fertility, love, beauty, a happy marriage and many more…….dsc06306

From here, we go further up the mountain and reach the tiny village of Agridi, with gorgeous views over the Helmos mountains. You can not imagine that you are just a couple of hours away from Athens, the capital of Greece.

Higher up on the mountain, the leave trees change to needle trees and after, when we arrive to the entrance of the “ski slope”, it is a bare landscape with only grazing sheep. By now the temperature dropped to 10 degrees and we are shivering in our shorts!!!

We decide to visit the “Cave of the Lakes”, which is another 17 km. from Kalavrita. This is the only cave in the world where ponds are layered on three separate levels. Here you can not only see stalagmites and stalactites, but also immense boulders, small waterfalls and tiny lakes. The colours are amazing and it is like you enter a fairy tale. I have never seen such an amazing place and so worth to visit! Too bad they do not permit any pictures taken.

After, we return to the valley of Kalavrita, where the temperature is 16 degrees, also a bit colder than last Saturday. Seemingly, the people are prepared with their warm sweaters, coats and long trousers and you realize that winter is around the corner.

My friend explains that he now feels relaxed. I didn’t notice he was stressed, so I asked him why? He then tells me that going down, he could run the car easily into the petrol station, as he was driving on a (nearly) empty tank!!! So grateful he didn’t tell me that before, as it would have been a very long walk from up the mountains down to Kalavrita, in the cold and in shorts!

We go for lunch in the small village of Skepasto, where the owner of the only taverna welcomes us with a big smile. This is way better than one of the touristic restaurants in Kalavrita. Immediately, the fire is on and our paidakia (lamb chops), moshari (beef), xorta (greens), xoriatiki (Greek salad), tzatziki, patates and psomi (bread) are prepared. I forget to take first a picture of my favorite Greek food, as we didn’t eat the whole day and attack our food immediately!

Our last stop in between Kalavrita and Diakofto is close to Zachlorou, where a Greek investor built some very interesting and affordable rental apartments; http://www.montagesuites.gr

Not only the layout is very attractive, with views over the mountains, the bordering river and the monastery Mega Spileo, but also the way the apartments are built. They are all built according to a different movie theme;  inside you will find decorations from famous films and you feel like you enter another world! Rocky, Braveheart, Out of Africa, Eyes Wide Shut, English Patient, you can find it all, complete with a cozy fire-place! I have never seen such a remarkable apartment hotel! It is called “Apartments Montage” and you can not miss it, driving up or down the main road.

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The sound of water and goat bells

The 23rd of May 2016, Mega Spileo, Greece

One of my last outings in Diakofto is a visit to the Monastery Mega Spileo, tucked away in the rocks on the way to Kalavrita. For a visit you can take the car or a bus, but I decide the take once more the train towards Kalavrita and getting off earlier, in Zachlorou. It is an early Tuesday morning and this time no screaming school children, but  just a handful of tourists, all going to Kalavrita. One more time I can enjoy the great scenery and I even leave my camera in my bag and relax. In Zachlorou only some locals and two German tourists are leaving the train. The two Germans are immediately starting to walk back to Diakofto along the railway and I start looking for the path, which will bring me finally to the Monastery. The entrance of the path is just beside one of the tavernas, where I will end up on the way back.

This is not a hike for people, who are not very mobile! Also, you better have your walking shoes on! The first part is like a goat trail. That is also the only thing you hear;  goat bells! Nothing else. Oh….and the sound of water running. Always……

The path is not marked very well. You have to look for a red arrow or a blue/green triangle. At a certain point there is a choice between three trails. Nowhere a coloured arrow or other mark! I choose to follow the goatshit and that turned out to be the right choice. Being just on my own in the mountains felt amazing. I only realized that if I would fall and break a leg, nobody could hear my screams.

Once up on the main road, I walk to the entrance of the Monastery, but before climbing up the next hill, I treat myself on a frappe and a tiropitakia (well, tiropita, so huge) in the only restaurant/cafeteria there is. Very touristic, as all the buses park here, but with an amazing view over the mountains.DSC05575

Mega Spileo is built against the rocks, with a stunning view. The original building has been destroyed many times before by fires (in 1400, 1640 and 1934) and later by the Germans, during the second WW, who killed all the monks and visitors and threw them of the cliffs. Only a few escaped and could hide with some of the valuable treasures of the church.

Mega Spileo is supposed to be the oldest Monastery of Greece, originally from 362 AD. It is built at a height of 924 mt and it is told that the Icon of the Virgin Mary was found in a hole in the rocks by a shepherdess. Therefore, Mega Spileo is known as a pilgrimage for not only the Greek people, as well as many foreigners. The museum, where a very old monk is supervising today, contains many valuable icons, manuscripts and other treasures. In the 17th century church you will see frescoes and a mosaic floor and a bronze door.

After my visit to the inside of the Monastery, I stroll around the gardens and discover a small graveyard at the far end of the rocks. There is nobody here and I don’t even know if I am allowed at this part of the grounds of Mega Spileo. Here the view is amazing and I sit for a while taking it all in.

Around 12.30 I return back, down the mountain to Kato Zachlorou, but first visit the little chapel at the side of the road.

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Going down is even more difficult, as at times the pebbles make the trail slippery. Once back in Zachlorou, I stroll around in this small mountain village and just enjoy the scenery and the smell of the herbs. On one of the back streets, I encounter a very big snake, but although my camera is hanging around my neck, I am too slow or the snake too fast, to take a picture.

It was time to have lunch. There are a few tavernas in front of the train station and I choose to sit at taverne “Zachlorou” right above the small waterfall and overseeing the bridge. The sound of the water is relaxing and the raki, the owner gives me as a welcome drink, even more! I am glad I took the early train, as now I have time enough to enjoy a late lunch. I am the only guest at this time, but the barbecue is started and soon the home-made “loukaniko” (Greek sausage) is filling the air with a delicious smell. I never had such a tasty Xoriatiki (Greek salad) in all the 10 years I lived in Greece. A few more customers are arriving and the children of the owner of the taverna are brought home from school by taxi, as there is no school bus which goes to this tiny village.

I sit here for two hours and just loving it. Dogs and cats around me and later the German tourists arrive back for a quick-lunch. Adonis and Pollie Triantafillo, the owners of the taverna, let us have a peek in a box…….so cute……..one day old kittens!

The train to Kalavrita is passing by and it is the same train which will pick us up on the way back. So we relax a little bit more, while sipping some more tasty Greek wine. What a gorgeous day!

 

 

 

 

Walking along the railway track, Greece

May, 2016

On Sunday, May the 8th, I join hundreds of Greek hikers from all over the place, to walk from Zachlorou to Diakofto, along the “Odontotos”(tooth train) railway. This month, the 120th Anniversary of the train from Diakofto to Kalavrita (750 mtr above sea level) is celebrated and the opportunity is given to bring people by bus to Zachlorou in the mountains and walk along the railway, for around 4 hours, back to Diakofto. The weather is superb for a hike, not too much sun and a cooling breeze. The buses were fully booked and I was lucky to be on my own, as I just booked a few days ahead at the municipality of Diakofto and  “kiria Olga” told me she could “squeeze me in”. That meant a place right in the front of the bus, beside the chauffeur, from where the views were amazing! The road up the mountain is very curvy and narrow at times and my chauffeur didn’t wear any seatbelts and was constantly talking with a microphone in his hand with the girlfriend probably (or his mother……). I wished he had both hands on the steering wheel! This is the road to Kalavrita and we drove it in the past on various occasions, to let the children have some fun in the snow, as this area is a favorite ski resort also. Next week I will visit Kalavrita as well, but then by train.

In Zachlorou we are with many starting the walk, but on the way down, there are a few villages and some people decide to quit.

The first thing you notice is the overwhelming scent of herbs, especially oregano (rigani). People start picking bunches of different kinds and the yellow flowers are favorite, as they seem to make a good balsam for pains and aches and also as a tea for an upset stomach.DSC05214

The walk goes through the Vouraikos Gorge and the Vouraikos river is flowing along the railway track with numerous of waterfalls along the way. The beauty of the rock formations in stunning and reminds me from time to time of Meteora, in Northern Greece.

Although we are going down, it is not an easy walk, as you have to watch your step constantly. I admire a guy “at age”, who is walking as if he is going to church. In a suit and on normal shoes and so easy………DSC05164

Nobody informed me about the numerous of bridges we have to cross (6 or 8) and if I would have known, I probably never joined this hike! My fear of heights is of a concerning level and the bridges are simple from construction and the cliffs are steep! I try to concentrate on the “bum”of the hiker in front of me, as that level seems to be a good concentration point. It works for a while, until one of my “front hikers” decides to jump to the left. A tour guide starts shouting at him to go back and I am totally freaking out, as I lost my focus point! The good thing is that there is no way back, so I do have to continue and the last bridges are getting easier to cross.

In Mega Spilaion the “souvlakia” are ready for the hungry hikers and many take the opportunity to have a break. I want to go on. I even didn’t have one sip of water, as I don’t want to end up in the bushes……

I start following an older Greek guy, as he didn’t go slower, like most of the other hikers. His step is firm and we have a simple conversation. My Greek is not totally back on the same level, as 13 years ago. I knew the question would come; “where is your husband?” I told him that there is no husband. Stupid. I never should have said that! He got all enthusiastic and saw many opportunities, but after arriving in Diakofto later on, he suddenly was gone. Later, I saw him with a woman walking to the station. Probably, his wife! No, things didn’t change one bit in Greece………