In search for some sun and dry weather we left Skopje after just one night on to Greece, the final destination of our European road trip and the car!
The drive to Thessaloniki in the north of Greece was only 3 hours and at the border entering Greece, we didn’t have to show any car papers or passports as we entered back into the EU. We even got to jump the queue and had some very angry Macedonians staring at us. Turns out that the Greek people don’t like Macedonia (the country) and confusingly, Thessaloniki is the capital of Greek Macedonia. When asked at some places where we had been before Greece and we answered Macedonia, quite a few said ‘you mean Skopje, Macedonia is in Greece’.
Once in Thessaloniki, it was dry (no sun yet) so that was a good start in our search for nicer weather! Our hostel was in the old and higher part of town and I’m still not sure how we got the car up the steep, slippery and cobble stoned hills. Also if we thought that there had been some bad driving in Kosovo and terrible parking in Bosnia, Greece has both and so we just drove into one-way streets (as other people did this too) and parked the car where it was more or less out of the way without even questioning if it was a parking spot or not.
We spent two nights in Thessaloniki and just wandered around the town that has a view nice sights and museums worth seeing, but too many cars and ugly graffiti on every free wall that spoil the beauty a bit. The sea front promenade is really nice with the famous White Tower, monument and symbol of the city. The present tower replaced an old Byzantine fortification and was whitewashed when Greece gained control of Thessaloniki in 1912 after the Ottoman rule. Near the White Tower we also visited the award-winning Museum of Byzantine Culture, which was a great museum with very good temporary exhibitions and a good introduction to understand the history of the other sites we would visit in Greece.
We also spent some time at the State Museum of Contemporary Art, which houses one of the most significant Russian Avant-Garde Collections outside Russia, the Costakis collection. A bit out of the town centre but worth a visit if you like contemporary art.
The White Tower
Museum of Byzantine Culture
State Museum of Contemporary Art
Monasteries in Meteora
From Thessaloniki we drove to Trikala in the middle/north west of the country. Trikala is not a very special town but we only used it as a base for our visit to the famous UNESCO World Heritage monastery complex of Meteora. We arrived just before lunch in Trikala, dropped our bags at the hostel and drove to Meteora. To visit Meteora without a car, you have to go on a tour or go to the nearby town called Kalambaka and hike up from there or take a bus.
When you drive up the hill you see the sandstone peaks that look inaccessible, but then suddenly you see there are monasteries on top of these peaks! A surreal and impressive sight! The Greek Orthodox monks built them on the high peaks to be relatively safe and avoid persecution during the Ottoman occupation in the 14th century, but monks already inhabited caves in Meteora since the 11th century. Once there were 24 of them, now there are only a few left and 6 of them are open to the public and you can reach them on foot or by car. If you go by car you can park near the monasteries but you still have to walk/climb up to the top of the peak to enter the monasteries.
We drove to the Grand Meteora first, the biggest monastery and according to the lady in our hostel, most worth visiting inside. Before entering the monastery we had a picnic lunch with an amazing view! With full bellies we climbed up to the entrance and as there is a strict dress code, I was wearing a long skirt which did not make it easy to climb up… Once inside I wasn’t too impressed I must say, I much more enjoyed the views and was just amazed by the fact that they actually built something in such an inaccessible place and it’s still there after all these centuries.
The rest of the afternoon we drove to the other monasteries as well, but we didn’t go in any of them. I’m not the religious type and I think the views are the main attraction. They were absolutely breathtaking and definitely highlight of our European road trip!
View of the Varlaam Monastery from the Grand Meteora
Lunch with a view
The next morning we left early to drive to Delphi, the famous town on Mount Parnassus in the south of mainland Greece. Delphi was the religious centre of the ancient Greek world and is another UNESCO World Heritage site. It was a sanctuary from where the oracle of Apollo spoke. We arrived before lunch and decided to visit the Archaeological Museum first. In the museum they display a lot of the sculptures, statues and other objects that were found at the archaeological site of Delphi. All the objects were either part of the temples or were offerings to Apollo. Everything has been very well preserved and it’s unbelievable that some objects are from the 6th century BC or even older.
The ‘twins’ of Argos, early 6th century BC
Bronze statue of the Charioteer, around 480 BC
After the museum we continued our visit of Delphi inside the archaeological site. There were a lot less tourists than I expected which was really nice. I think we managed to avoid the busloads of tourists that are there in the morning coming on a day trip from Athens. Climbing up the hill you see the remains of the temples, the theatre and a stadium. I really wish I had a time machine and could go back to the days where people would come from all over Greece to Delhi to worship Apollo. I can write a lot more about Delphi and its origin and importance but pictures say a lot more. And it’s possible to visit Delphi as a day trip from Athens so even if you are only staying in Athens, I would definitely recommend visiting Delphi.
Another picnic lunch with a view
The treasury of the Athenians, 510 BC or 490 BC
Replica of the Serpent Column, the original was taken to Constantinople (Istanbul)
The Theatre and the Temple of Apollo, both 4th century BC
The Stadium, latest alterations from 2nd century AD financed by Herodes Atticus
Tholos of Delphi at the Santuary of Athena Pronaia, between 380 and 370 BC
We stayed another day in Delphi and hiked up a part of Mount Parnassus. We couldn’t find much info at all on hiking around Delphi and apparently the tourist offices or bus station have maps, but both of them were closed for the 2,5 days we were there. So we just went with some vague description we had found online and found the path up the mountain. We could see a little house/shelter high up the mountain, which was our aim so we just started following the path. And turned out that the path is actually quite well marked once you’ve found it and after 1,5 hours we reached the shelter and had an amazing view over the Delphi, the mountains surrounding it and in the distance we could see the sea! At some point I will write a separate post on hiking around Delphi, if you want more information before that, feel free to contact me.
View from the top of the mountain
The final destination for the Peugeot 106 was Athens. To allow ourselves plenty of time to find a way to get rid of the car legally, we booked 5 nights in an Airbnb near Dafni metro station, a bit out of the centre of Athens but with private parking (needed in Athens as parking is a mess just like anywhere else in Greece).
We did the free walking tour one of the days and it was a good way to see the main sites. The tour didn’t take you inside any of the sites but of course we wanted to visit the world famous Acropolis of Athens. So the next day we went to the Acropolis.
The Acropolis was very touristy and the famous Parthenon is always partly covered in scaffolding but it was well worth it! The views from the Acropolis over Athens are amazing and walking around there and trying to imagine how it must have been thousands of years ago is really special. The Acropolis Museum is also a must-see and really well done and very modern building.
View from the Acropolis over the city
Lots of cats on the Acropolis
View of the Acropolis from Philopappos Hill
So in total we spent about 2 days sightseeing, the rest of the time was spent calling scrap yards and researching how to dump a car in a way that authorities will never find out who owned the car. We couldn’t just give it to someone without going through the long process of officially importing the car into Greece and pay import tax. Scrap yards were all clear as well, they couldn’t take this UK car without something, and none of them could specify what, from the UK embassy. The UK embassy had no clue what the scrap yards meant and said that they should just be able to take it or to check with the customs. The embassy gave us a number for the Greek customs but it didn’t work… One of the scrap yards we called was not in Athens but had such a good website in English (very rare) that we thought, we could drive there, leave the car and get a long train ride back to Athens. But they didn’t want to take the car either, but they did give us a number of someone who would take the car. Calling the number the next day, it turned out it was for the Greek customs department that deal with vehicles. Bingo! After two days of bureaucracy with the Greek customs, Harry signed a document declaring that he was handing over the car to the Greek people and we could drive it to the pound somewhere outside Athens, now the final resting place of the car. Moral of the story, it is not easy to get rid of a car in Greece unless it is a car with Greek number plates.
After we left the car at the pound, someone from the customs office (who drove with us to make sure we really did bring the car to the pound) dropped us at the train station where we took the train to the airport for our flight to Istanbul!
The car outside the pound, from now on we will have to carry our bags ourselves…
The car’s final resting place