Walking in Greece
- or anywhere else in Europe for that matter - does not always involve hiking in wild, untamed areas of natural beauty.
For me, much of my walking in Europe has meant long days and many enjoyable kilometres treading the cobblestones. I love soaking up the mediaeval atmosphere of ancient squares and monuments; gazing at dwellings that look nothing like the houses in Australia; and wandering through museums that display simply amazing things human beings have created through the ages.
I have fond memories of the recently discovered (1977) tomb of Philip II, father of Alexander the Great, unknown, undisturbed, unlooted after 2 millennia, in Vergina, northern Greece, an astounding collection of great beauty and historical significance.
Often, I have walked because I am lost or can’t seem to follow the map. I have gone around and around in circles for hours till I spy a clue to my whereabouts that I missed before. There are unexpected advantages to these little 'detours'. Like on my last morning in Venice
, my heart was not yet ready to leave her mysterious beauty, and we got lost. It was heaven to have just a little more time…
Or I have walked because in a new country, with a new unknown language. currency, and transport system, it has seemed easier to walk.
A fond memory of Krakow, walking for ages to my hostel accommodation, laden down with luggage, through the central park, long and thin, surrounded by locals, all enjoying their city, their park, the sunshine - so much better than a crowded tram!
Most times I walk because I love to walk.
However, a few years ago while travelling on what I called my Ancient History Odyssey to Greece
& North Macedonia, I was not loving it as much as usual. I had a painful arthritic knee, which started to ache soon after I set out each day. It certainly took the edge off all the wonders I was experiencing!
The worst day as far as my knee was concerned, was my one and only day in Athens. The last Sunday of the month meant, unbeknownst to me, free entry to all the many ancient ruins, littering that vibrant city. So the whole city was out and about, tens of thousands of people it seemed, all under black umbrellas and a black sky, rain falling steadily all day, leaving the uneven stones and paths wet and slippery.
How was I to manage walking poles (essential), an umbrella, a camera, a water bottle, extreme pain plus all these people in the never-ending rain, while trying to take in these wonders of the ancient world?
Well, you know, I just did! It was my only opportunity ever to experience Athens, so I just did it.
It was worth it - although it did take a warm hot chocolate in the Acropolis museum cafe to recover. I just sat for ages! My time exploring Athens was a spectacular, memorable day - and by the end of it, I collapsed into bed with painkillers, a hot drink, a hot water bottle and a pillow. The next day I left my room with a spring in my step and excitement in my heart, to see what was coming next.
I remember well on that journey, a walking tour of Kratovo, an old Roman mining town in North Macedonia
, led by one of its proud inhabitants. He took us to a gorge with its many stone bridges over the river running through the centre of town, and to see the Ottoman towers built in the old Macedonian way with wood, stones and mud.
Up and down lanes we trudged, past local shops, both old and new, houses decorated with drying crimson sweet peppers, and gardens with quince trees groaning with their bright yellow fruit. The paths were extremely rocky and rough, with many places in the town reachable only on foot. I could only imagine how difficult a mother with a pram or an elderly person with a walking stick would find it. In fact, I wished I had my walking poles with me!
We arrived, finally, after some hours, at his home, where we were treated to Macedonian “Slow Food”: tables overflowing with delicious salads and stews and homegrown vegetables, home-baked bread, homemade wine. We sat, crowded around his table, embraced by his hospitality, and his gift of good food, while his friend played old Macedonian folk tunes on his 100-year-old fiddle. Worth the walk? Absolutely! I learned later that we had walked 15kms on that town walking tour! Another night of painkillers, hot water bottle, anti-inflammatories and pillow was much needed.
And so, we left North Macedonia and headed into Greece over the 1500 metre high Livada Pass, with simply spectacular views. On arrival at our hotel, to my horror, I found that my hot water bottle was missing, left behind in Ohrid. My hot water bottle was no optional extra on this trip, I was desperate. I told our fabulous tour guide and hoped and prayed. Twelve hours later, at 9 am the next morning, saw us waiting for our local guide to show us the wonderful mosaics of Heraclea. He cycled up with a bag over his handlebars - containing my hot water bottle!
Extraordinary customer service, co-operation, organisation and generosity of spirit, which made my day, indeed my whole trip.
At this point in time, in mid-2020, it looks like my next trip to the Baltic countries
later this year, will need to be postponed...like so many other trips for so many other people. So instead, I am walking around the village where I live, exploring, and discovering new treasures each day. It is amazing what can be found when you move at walking pace, wherever you are!