The Mountains of Xanthi

The mountains of Greece

After my adventures in Athens, I headed by plane to the northern Greek city of Thessaloniki (if you don’t know where it is folks, please do the geographer in you a favor and look it up. Google Maps is your friend) where I was meeting my aunt Yianna for a five-day hiking trip. This hiking trip wasn’t the sort where you are camping every night, but more of a vacation with gorgeous toured day hikes and activities. Everyone flew into Thessaloniki and I met the Cypriot hiking group at the airport where we were driven to our hotel in a small village outside of Xanthi, Greece (about 3 hours from Thessaloniki and another place you should look up).

Northern Greece is beautiful

On the trip we did a day hike to a beautiful waterfall, another day hike along the Nestos River, a day trip to the mountain towns just outside Xanthi near the Greece-Bulgaria border completed with a short walk around Xanthi itself and, finally, on the last day there was a kayaking trip that I unfortunately did not do because I had to fly out a day early.

I want to start out by saying that everyone in the hiking group was incredible. They were all super helpful and kind, and I really enjoyed making so many new friends! Although not everyone’s English was superb, everyone still used their English with me while insisting I should know Greek for a myriad of reasons, not the least of which was because I am half Greek Cypriot…

Now, I could turn this trip into a few posts, but considering it happened a week and a half ago, I’m going to try and fit in the basics here. This is what I get when I fall so far behind… Maybe we’ll have a few post-trip posts looking back at stories left out. I like it. Done and done.

The bottom part of the waterfall

Anyway, the first hike to the large waterfall was great. I didn’t realize Greece had such large mountainous regions. The flora reminded me of being back in Colorado and the weather was wonderful. The hike along the river the next day was unlike any I had done before. Much of the path was basically cut into the cliff the river had carved out millions of years ago. The path meandered along with the river, going down to the river’s level and back up again a few times. There was a lot of plant diversity, even more birds chirping, and cloud choked mountains hovered above. Overall, not too shabby.

A mosque in a mountain village

The day trip to the mountain towns was nice even though a lot of it was spent in the car. It was a bit hard for me at times because everything was being explained in Greek, but I usually got a decent translation from someone in the group afterwards. I was surprised by how many mosques were in the secluded mountain towns. Apparently Muslims make up a large proportion of the population there and they live in general harmony with the Greek Orthodox. My favorite site on the day trip was an incredible little restaurant we stopped at. We didn’t get to eat there because of time constraints, but we still got to try a bit of food and of course, it was bodacious. Check out some of the pictures in the Xanthi Mountains picture set from inside and outside the house the restaurant owners lived. Well worth it. This restaurant was also where I met the two most photogenic and just down right cute puppies I’ve ever seen. It doesn’t get much better than cute puppies and good food…

Awwwww!

Probably my favorite story from the trip came on the last day when I was left alone at the hotel to get to the airport while everyone else was kayaking. We learned the day before that I would have to take a bus to Thessaloniki main station, then a bus from there to the airport. Normally you might think this sounds simple, but you would be forgetting this is Greece where transportation is never simple. First off, there was no formal bus station in the village. Instead, you went to the bus stop just outside town and waited on the side of the highway for the bus to stop on its way by. No sign for the bus stop, no little shelter, no timetable. Just go to the highway and wait on the curb. Great. We had the hotel call the bus company to find out what time the bus arrived at our part of the highway and we were told 1:30. So we arranged for the hotel owner (who spoke minimal English at best) to bring me to the “stop” the next day.

The whole waterfall

When the time arrived the next day for me to leave, the hotel owner delegated the task of taking me to the “stop” to the hotel’s chef whom I had met the day before. The chef had actually spent some time cooking in fancy Greek restaurants in New York City so his English was quite satisfactory. We made our way to the side of the highway where he parked on an exit ramp (again, this is Greece) and we stood there, me with my backpacks and him with his large belly, talking and waiting for the bus. We had lots of time to talk because we got to the stop 20 minutes early and then learned from another bus that stopped on the side of the highway, that my bus didn’t actually arrive at our highway stop at 1:30 but instead left Xanthi at 1:30. No problem really, just an extra half-hour of waiting and talking with chef. I got a lot of insight into the area from chef, and probably my favorite nugget was that he was, like much of Greece might be, a (self-proclaimed) closet anarchist. Fantastic. He explained to me how the government was rotten, how all he wants is to be completely free, how he hates the police, and how absolute freedom for and of all would be the best thing for everyone. I loved it. For my last hours in Greece, it seemed to sum up the country perfectly. Standing on the side of the highway waiting for a bus that may never come with an anarchist preaching his beliefs next to me. This, my friends, is why we travel.

-Phil

(Note: Yes, the bus did come and it was a nice ride to Thessaloniki and then the airport)

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