We left Turkey and entered Greece via the road leading to Alexandroupolis. Turkey had ended on a down note for us because of Jeromes stay in yet another hospital, this time in Istanbul. It felt like every time we hit a city things went South. We were becoming health tourists, pure and simple.
Jerome and I are all about finding the great drives and fantastic natural beauty that every country has to offer; so for Greece we decided to skip all of the cities and man-made attractions until we hit Athens.
We crossed the border and hugged the coast with the next way point of Mount Olympus in mind. There were some fantastic National Parks and Lakes bordering Albania and Macedonia to the North West of us so perhaps we could use those as our exit point from Greece in a week or so. We reached the small seaside village of Kavala for our first camp and pulled off the road a few k’s beforehand. There was a track leading into the bush and eventually it spat us out way above the town on a grassy knoll. From there we could see the typical white Greek houses hugging a section of horseshoe shaped coastline. As the sun set the street lights came on and made the water shimmer and we got a few cracking pics.
It was odd because there was only light emanating from the street lights and car headlights. Not a single house seemed to have any lights on at all. Anyways, Jerome made a mad fire using logs kept on our roof cage from Turkey and we cooked up lamb chops and charcoaled veg over the fire. It was a great start to Greece, and the pains of the past week soon melted away.
The next day we snaked back down the track and through Kavala. As we squeezed our way through the maze of tiny, steep roads we felt a little unsettled. There was not a soul to be seen. No cars in driveways. Half of the houses seemed to be derelict; and the only possible sign of any life were the laundry hanging on the lines in a few gardens. As we left the village we passed a playground that was slowly being reclaimed by Mother Nature. It was there that we spotted the first people: a dad pushing his little daughter down a slide. For some reason it made us feel really sad. We were beginning to see the effects of Greece’s economic and financial crisis.
As we drove on and joined a larger road we were stunned by the lack of cars. There was NO ONE. Very eerie. If you ever want to make an apocalyptic zombie movie this part of Greece would be perfect! Apparently there are 6.5 million cars in Istanbul alone. There are only 4 million in the whole of Greece!
The only thing on the roads were dogs. Those bloody, Greek dogs. I don’t know why but literally every single dog we passed was compelled to run into the road, barking its head off at us and trying to attack the car. We could be doing 20km p/h or 100, it didn’t matter. They just go for you and they get so close that each and every time you think that you’ve hit it. I can safely say that this happened at least fifty times in Greece and not one single dog could resist.
We reached Mount Olympus an hour before dusk and as it was only a short drive up to the top so we decided to go for it and perhaps find a camp. The road up there was asphalt and we got totally dogged by the mist.
No views whatsoever and we reached the top within 20 minutes. We decided to to a bit of bush-bashing halfway down on an access trail and found a great camp overlooking the valley supposedly below us! The highlight of the night was listening to the heavy artillery from the army training program going on below.
The next morning we got a fairly decent view of the valley before heading out. The area West of Leptokarya is full of decent off road tracks winding up and around various peaks. We decided to shun the highway for a while and do some exploring before finishing the journey to Athens. We took on a rather adventurous track with heaps of steep climbs. The Troopy couldn’t get up one of the tracks which lead to our first winch out. Glad to to say that the winch worked perfectly, we do love to use our rescue equipment!
Our drive down to Athens was pretty uneventful, bar the sky high tolls which stung us for almost 3 Euros literally every 20 kilometers! We probably paid about 30 Euros worth of tolls in a day.
We hit Athens in time for a Slovaki for lunch.
Athens struck us as a great city in comparison to Istanbul. Most people seemed to get around on scooters and it was a leafy, relaxed area. The roads were heaps more navigable and we were getting excited to see the world famous Acropolis. After finding a hotel smack bang in the city center we hit the Town for dinner and a walk up to the Acropolis. Its a windy, steep walk up to the top for us but hey, we smashed it as per usual!
We decided to spend the weekend in Athens and get our brake discs machined on Monday morning before heading out again.
The next day we wheeled back up the hills to the foot of the where there was a lift up to the ruins. We rang ahead to check that we could use the lift etc but after a huge effort getting all the way up the hill we were told that the lift was not in use as it was raining.
Raining my arse!!!! I would call it mist at best. We were gutted. Jerome told me to walk to the top and take some pictures for him. At the top I spied some workmen using the lift and cheekily asked if we could use it. They agreed and I raced back down to tell Jerome. There were 25 steps to the workman’s lift which scaled the Acropolis wall, the sketchiest lift we have ever seen.
The man at the bottom refused to let us attempt the steps and do the lift. After 15 minutes of me arguing with him I eventually bet the guy that if Jerome could get up 25 steps could we use the lift. He agreed and of course we got up there within seconds 😉
We were elated to be finally up at the top, having beaten all odds. It then started to rain pretty heavily. The views were stunning but I think that we were happier just to have proven that dickhead wrong! Over the rest of the weekend we explored Ancient Agora and the fantastic museum housing artifacts dating back over five thousand years.
We left the hotel on Saturday afternoon and found a small section of beach that you could drive onto in the Piraeus area. We had an awesome night cooking up food and watching the sunset over the water. You really can camp anywhere in Greece!
Sunday was to be one of our shittest days so far on this trip. The day started off really well. We drove back into town and parked right next to the National Museum of Archaeology and spent the whole afternoon inside.
The museum is one of the most important museums in the world due to its’ vast collection of such ancient artifacts.
We came out and went for a coffee about 200m from the car. I nipped back to the Troopy to grab my Ipad for a quick Google. 45 minutes later we returned to the car and unlocked it from the drivers side. As Jerome got in, we noticed that there was a screwdriver on the seat. It wasn’t ours. Then we noticed that the passenger side window had been smashed. It suddenly dawned on us that we had been robbed.
I jumped in the car and to our utter horror realised that three bags had been taken. Bag number one contained our video camera, the SLR camera, our SPOT GPS location device and a bunch of SD cards. It was the first time that we had left the camera bag in the car; and we had hidden it from view so that we could go into the museum. Bag number two in the rear contained all of Jeromes’ medication and continence supplies. Bear in mind that he had only recently left hospital and we had spent hundreds of Euros stocking up with new antibiotics on top of his daily medication. This bag was in the back on a shelf (very inconspicuous) and also had all of our winter gear inside (Coats, gloves, hoodies etc). Unfortunately we had stashed a bunch of Christmas presents bought the day before underneath the coats to be hidden in the car panelling once we left Athens. Bag three was actually our wash bag so the arseholes had stolen everything down to contact lenses, tooth brushes and soap! We were just devastated.
Firstly we had to hit up three police stations to report the crime and get a statement for insurance. The coppers just kept palming us off to different stations and we were told that Athens is the worst place for petty crime.
We were unable to leave the car on it’s own at all because of the smashed window. It was dark and we had to sleep in the carpark of a marina for the best protection. Over the next few miserable days we went about fixing up the smashed window and replacing our items as best as we could.
As we traversed Athens in the search for new gear we started to notice the prevalence of graffiti and how run down the place was just outside of the touristy bits.
There was a large police presence all through the capital to say the least.Officers were dressed in riot gear and they had riot buses parked all over the place. We later found out that on the day we were robbed there was a huge student protest going on just one block away.
Jerome had to find yet another doctor to prescribe him with his medication again. Luckily we managed to get it all in Athens.
The window was another matter. The Troop carrier was never sold in Europe so there would be no chance of obtaining a replacement unless we had one posted over which would take weeks to sort. We just wanted to leave this place. Instead we had a piece of sheet Alloy cut for under five Euros. A local fabricator mounted the lock that I saved from the broken glass onto the sheet and shaped it to match the missing pane.
He fitted it too, and all for free! His act of generosity certainly made us feel a little more love for Athens and it’s people again.
After the meds and car were sorted we hit the dreaded shops to replace our clothes and toiletries. Apart from the cameras, those thieves would probably have dumped the rest of their score from us. It was a gutting realization because those items were of so much more value to us than them. We also realized that we hadn’t backed up our video footage since Georgia. We were missing half of Georgia, all of our Turkey footage and everything up to Athens. Another blow. Luckily I had backed up our camera just 2 days prior to the theft but we were still missing all of the crazy Acropolis and Ancient Agora pictures after our monumental efforts to get there!
Anyways, enough said. We bailed out of Athens on the Wednesday and felt immense relief as the first toll booth marking the end of Athens appeared. As we followed a vehicle through a booth, it suddenly closed. We checked behind us and reversed out. Unfortunately there was a car right up behind us and being so tall, we could not see it. We hit the car slowly and crunched up their bonnet with our spare wheel. I’ll keep it short. We had insurance and it turns out the other car was a hire car with really lovely understanding Greek guys inside it. No damage to our car but for us it ended Athens on an even shittier note!