Mt. Pelion – Mountain Villages in Greece

Mt. Pelion VillagesWhile the sailing in the Gulf of Volos is wonderful, it would be a shame to miss out on the beautiful views of the Gulf from the villages which sit on the slopes of Mt. Pelion, home of the Centaurs and wise and noble Chiron in Greek myth.
While there weren’t any mythological battles or sacred schools that I saw, it was still a very pleasant way to spend a morning while some maintenance was being done on the yacht. ( Which by the way is a shocking statement since the idea of me talking about maintenance to a yacht was something I never expected to hear)

It was in Mount Pelion, near Chiron’s cave, that the marriage of Thetis and Pelius took place. The uninvited goddess Eris, to take revenge for having been kept outside the party, brought a golden apple with the inscription “To the Fairest”. The dispute that then arose between the goddesses Hera, Aphrodite and Athene resulted in events leading to the Trojan War. Read about our visit to ancient Troy here.

Portaria HotelTo get to the villages of Makrinitsa and Portaria, I went to the Volos bus station and bought a ticket for about one and a half Euro. The busride was about 20 minutes winding up the mountain and on the bus were some young couples, school kids, and a few villagers bringing things back from Volos.
As the bus wound up the mountain, I was struck by the change in vegetation. Lots of streams, thick forest of beech, oak, chestnut and what looked like maple (but why don’t they have maple syrup anywhere but North America?) Springs and rivers, stone caves and of course typical Greek village architecture and more than a few monastaries, churches of Saints and a park where there were statues of Centaurs. Okay, so I did see one centaur after all.
Makrinitsa, GreeceThe rooftops were made of grey slate on the older and the newer buildings – obviously traditional is back in fashion. Those that were built during the past fifty years or so seemed to have mostly red clay roofs.
Here’s a bit from wikipedia on the typical architecture of the region

Pelian tradition calls for three-level houses, with the ground floor used for work (tools, kitchen, storage, washing, weaving), the middle floor used for socializing (common rooms), and the top floor for private rooms (bedrooms). Heat is provided by fireplaces, the chimneys of which run through the walls to provide heat to the upper levels, whereas the top level, being well ventilated, provides for summertime cooling. Interior construction is usually of chestnut timber, stained dark brown and often elaborately carved. Many of the larger Pelian mansions (the archontiká or “lordly mansions”) have been converted into boutique hotels and hostels.

As we went upward the climate seemed to shift from that of California and the Med to that of the Pacific Northwest with plenty of apple trees and lots of blackberries. There were also lots of walnut and fig trees and I figured that for my walk down I would dine al-Frescoe natural.
My first stop was Makrinitsa which meant taking the bus all the way to the turn around point. Nicknamed by locals the balcony of Mt. Pelion, the name is well deserved since no village sits higher and no view of the Gulf of Volos is better.
Greek villageAs I walked through the cobblestone streets to the village square, I couldn’t help noticing how similar Greek Orthodox priests and Muslim Imams look to one another. But even older than the priests were the trees in the square. Ancient walnuts that must be 600 years old if they are a day. Massive things. The nearby water fountain seems to keep the atmosphere calm and tranquil and in the coffeehouse there is a fresco by the famous greek painter Theofilos. This is obviously a big tourist destination since nearly every shop was oriented to sell tourists trinkets or specialty Makrinitsa food items, but in fact, there were probably only ten tourists in the entire village while I was there and despite that, there was no one trying to hustle us.
Still, as I looked upward, I thought I could actually see the peak of Mt. Pelion. It seemed like about a mile of hiking would get me there and since I hate to be near the top of a mountain without topping it..I set out walking upward. Leaving the shelter of the trees it instantly became hotter and as I walked on and on, I realized that it was more than a mile…but I kept going. I reached what had looked like the top…and realized there was another top further on…when I reached that one, I saw a further one. And finally, realizing that this could go on for quite a long time I gave up on my idea of seeing both the Gulf of Volos and the Aegean though it should be possible from the top of Pelion – in theory.
Mt Pelion peakReaching some woodcutters and a small shrine to the Virgin, I figured it was time to go back since the woodcutters told me that the top was on and on and on. Slightly disappointed but invigorated by the hike and the view of the Gulf of Volos I walked back to Makrinitsa and on to Portaria.
Along the way I ate tons of blackberries, drank from an artesian spring, ate walnuts, figs, and even had an apple. Plus, I bought a delicious bar of chocolate before I left Makrinitsa. It wasn’t a terribly long walk, just a few kilometers and I was in Portaria which is like Makrinitsa but more developed. After a few more km, I caught the bus and headed back down to the yacht waiting in Volos.

 

Greek Sailing Adventure – Part 1

Greek Sailing AdventureEver since a friend back 1992 told me that Leonard Cohen had dropped out of society and gone to live in caves with a bunch of Greek hippies – I’ve had fantasies about sailing around Greece, checking out the wonderful islands, indulging in the amazing Greek cuisine, and just getting away from it all. Holidays in Greece, just a dream, right?
I think a Greek Sailing Adventure could well have been the reason why I was so drawn to the Mediterranean in the first place but it seemed like I was all over the place and all around Greece without actually being there.
coastal medI lived on the other side of the Aegean in Izmir, Turkey. I swam in the Moroccan, Italian, Spanish, and Turkish Med but always I had this idea of sailing sailing sailing in Greece. The problem was part monetary and part mental. I’d gotten it stuck in my head that only rich guys get to go sailing and as far as living in caves…those islands and (I was thinking) all of Greece were so developed and monetized that the kind of cool adventure I was thinking of could never exist in anything but dreams. Maybe, in some ways, I was right but also – I was definitely wrong.

50 Adventure Tours under $995

My friend Graham who runs a guesthouse in Fez bought a share in a Greek sailboat a few months ago and he invited some close friends to come out and sail with him during the end of the summer season. The only problem was that they only were staying half the time and as a new sailor, he wasn’t entirely comfortable manning the yacht solo – lucky for me, he mentioned he needed crew and even luckier, when I told my wife about it she said that I should take the opportunity to go for two weeks even though we have a new baby who was only about six weeks old. Since she has her whole family here, she assured me that she would be fine and so…off I went!
While I wasn’t able to get the ultra low fares from Morocco to Greece that I got on the way back ($16 US dollars from Volos, Greece to Bergamo, Italy and $16 from Bergamo to Tangier, Morocco and then $18 from Tangier to Fez by Train!!!) Even with last minute fares, I was still able to get to Greece for a relatively cheap amount and since I would be sleeping and often eating on board – the cost was worth it. I went with Ryan Air from Fez to Girona, Spain for about $125, then from Girona to Milan for about $80, and another $100 or so from Milan to Volos, Greece. So all together round trip from Fez to Volos with stops in Milan and Girona ran me about $355 US dollars!

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It’s things like RyanAir, WizzAir, AirArabia, Jet4You and other budget airlines that make me very hesitant to ever return to the USA where even a flight from one state to another will cost you more than it costs me to visit five countries.
So anyway. There I was. A not rich guy on the way to sail in Greece. Who says you have to be rich to lead a rich life?
More coming soon- Next up is Girona and my night in the Bergamo Airport!

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