Mount Olympus to Thesssaloniki – Day 11

Wednesday 18th September

I’d set the alarm for 6.30am as we had a mountain to climb, but the bed was so comfy that I didn’t get up quite that early. After breakfast and telling our hotelier, Alex, that we’d left the key in the door as he shouted goodbye to us from his room, we were on our way.

I drove us just under 10 miles to Prionia, the place you can drive closest to the top of the mountain and parked up. It was just after 9am and eerily silent with just a handful of cars, one grotty squat loo, a closed cafe and a couple of guys organising bits of lumber. The only sounds were barking dogs and the ringing of bells on the collars of a pack of mules. We were very surprised at how quiet it was and not bustling with hikers.

Apparently it takes two days to reach the summit of Mytikas, so we weren’t going there. Looking at the map at Prionia, there was a refuge camp that some people stay at on their way. We headed in that direction.

The first 45 minutes of the walk were a bit dull to be honest. Once we got away from the sounds of barking dogs and mule bells, not a lot happened – just a steady incline amongst trees and rocks, no views, no people. I had half a mind to go home!

Eventually we could see up through the trees to cloudy mountain peaks and then the paths got very steep. We saw two pairs of young men come down the mountain and wondered if there had been some gay convention up there the night before, as it soon seemed I was the only woman on the mountain. Eventually, another woman did come past us.

After an hour or so, I heard Greek voices on the trail above and saw camouflage gear between the trees. At first I just thought it was walkers in army gear, but as we got closer, the intimidating huge shiny rifles made us aware that it was a platoon of Greek Soldiers (we had noticed an Army Barracks yesterday on the outskirts of Litochoro). They were just getting up after resting on the path and we had to walk through the middle of them, it was a little uncomfortable.

Later on, we passed two more army guys far behind the rest of the platoon (maybe they had been to the gay convention?) and they said hello, so less intimidating but still, huge guns.

We spent three hours going up that mountain and got nowhere near the refuge. There were quite a few more hikers at this point, some all togged up in hiker gear, some even less prepared than us. The paths were oh so steep, with steps you have to climb up. We got a lot of photos and saw great views from higher up but as we would never reach the refuge in time to get back when we needed to, we decided to head back.

Climbing down was still hard work as the paths had loose stones and some steps were so deep, I had to jump down them.

We heard the ring of a bell and there was a mule carrying lumber in front of us. Working mules aren’t really friendly like horses or donkeys and this one was giving us the eye. Now we were aware that all his mates, also carrying long pieces of heavy wood were right behind him, plus the forever barking dog.

The problem was we were on a narrow path with a sheer drop on one side and almost vertical slope the other side with nowhere to pass. And that mule wasn’t budging. I scrambled up the side of the path, wedging myself behind a skinny but sturdy tree, followed by Glyn. The pack of mules passed by, each one giving us the evils. The lone rider waved though.

By the time we got back to the car it was around 2.30pm and Glyn was bad with sciatica, so I drove the lovely 10 mile wiggly road back to normality, then the next 58 miles to Thessaloníki.

Thessaloníki is Greece’s second city and nothing like Athens – or at least the bits of Athens I saw. It is not touristy at all. The drive into it was fine…. there was one traffic light stop where a variety of vehicles pulled in around me on a three lane road. Mopeds and bikes scooted around me at various angles and the road opposite had no markings whatsoever. So when that light turned green, it was the wacky races. Apart from that, the drive in was fine until I needed to turn left to our hotel. Thee was no way I could do this and all roads seemed to be no entry for over a mile. Glyn offered to drive and I let him!

He had to drive past the hotel a couple of times before he could park. Utter nightmare. Our hotel is OK, and very cheap for the area.

We walked down to the port area and both realised that what with the 5.5 hour walk then sitting in the car for a while, our legs had seized up. We walked past the young and trendy bars that had no menus or prices and eventually found somewhere to eat.

On the way back, we came across a demo that the main road had been closed for. No idea what it was about, but people had flags similar to the ones we saw at the Athens demo – orange and some red. Most of the banners were in Greek but I did spot one with T.A.M.E. on it, so if anyone could enlighten me….

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About the author

Having only one cat, Claire is currently failing at being a mad cat lady, but she does have a mad cat, Bod. When Claire isn’t chasing cats and other animals with her camera, she works as a Graphic Design Manager.

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