Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Travel Notes from the North West

Regular trips to Greece's North West are always highlights and I always return with new impressions. Below are impressions from our latest trip out West.

Lights after the end of the tunnels!
The highway from Thessaloniki to Igoumenitsa (Egnatía Odós) is simply spectacular! No money must have been spared when designing this road. And not a single road damage in over 300 Km of highway! Something interesting caught my attention this time around: over long stretches, the highway is illuminated on both sides. Not just a few lamps here and there, perhaps in the vicinity of cities. No. Complete and first class illumination throughout the middle of nowhere! I have never seen this kind of luxury anywhere else. Some construction company must have been quite happy when it received this order...

Metsovo - a little jewel
All I knew about Metsovo was what I had read about it in books about the Civil War, so I expected a forsaken small village. Quite to the contrary! A really charming tourist town. The hotelier (quite a fancy hotel!) showed pictures where there were over 1 meter of snow in winter time. The place looked like a ski village on the Arlberg Mountain. After my wife pointed out to him that I was Austrian and not German, he became a little more relaxed. He said that the Germans had really been brutal during WW2. And when I was out of sight, as my wife later told me, he said to her "and the Austrians just as well". But he was a nice man!

Ioannina - no longer bustling?
I had always loved this city for its bustling inner city life. Only last spring had I experienced the city that way. This time, the place looked quiet, if not depressed. I discussed this with our favorite waitress at the Gran Serai Hotel who had dinstinguished herself in the past with economic analyses. Her judgement? The depression is finally hitting Ioannina.

Parga - here come the Anglo's!
What a busy tourist place! And much more surprising: the place if fully under control of the English. In Chalkidiki, where we spend most our beach time, it seems that there are only Slavic accents to be heard. Russians, Serbs, Romanians, Bulgarians, etc. Hardly any 'West-Europeans'. Quite a change to be suddenly surrounded by English who act like they own the place.

Paxos - firmly under the control of 'the West'
No Slavic accents to be heard on Paxos! It seems like English is the native language and, again, the place is full of English tourists (plus some Italians and French; only few Germans). One of them complains to me that he is now being charged for having his yacht overnight at the harbor. I ask him how much. He says 12 Euros for his fairly large yacht. I tell him that I have to pay 10 Euros a day for parking my little Hyuandai, so 12 Euros for his large yacht doesn't strike me as very expensive. He still complains because last year it was still free of charge. Enough said about him.

Angelos - the expert on everything
I meet Angelos at the café. An Athinian in his late fifties, he spends summers on Paxos. He notices that I know little about Greece and feels compelled to show me that he knows everything. First, of course, politics. Greece's problem is that it does not have qualified politicians. What about Samaras, I ask? He is American. And Venizelos? He is American, too. And Tispras? He is a fool. Well, who would be qualified? No one; that's the point. So what's the solution, I press Angelos? He says there is no solution.

Paxos does not have an economic crisis, Angelos explains. The tourists bring money in the summer and that is enough for the rest of the year. I ask why this couldn't work for Greece as a country. For once, Angelos has no answer.

There are 2.500 Greeks living on Paxos and 2.000 Albanians, Angelos explains. The Albanians earn 40 Euros/day compared with 25 Euros/day in Athens. 'No papers, of course', he adds. I ask why Greek authorities don't intervene. Why should they, Angelos asks? It works well as it is.

Angelos asks me where I park my car. I tell him. How much I pay, he wants to know. I tell him 10 Euros/day. Angelos crosses himself and exclaims "Are you crazy?" I have to immediately walk with him to the car. Angelos tells me to drive the car to a new place and there I pay nothing. Greek ingenuity!

Meanwhile, my wife is chatting with Maria who owns the studio we rent and runs a little café below it. Maria is the newspaper of Paxos. She knows everything about everyone there. Including about Angelos but I will keep it a secret what she said about Angelos.

I very lovely trip with a lot of new impressions about Greece.


  1. Regarding Ioannina, put the blame on the summer. :-)

    Metsovo has an exciting story. Have you heard of Baron Michael Tossizza and/or Evangelos Averoff?

  2. When driving in Poland I wondered about noise abatement walls along the motorways in unpopulated forests etc. These at least do not consume electricity ...

    Btw: I'm somehow jealous about your trip ;)

    H. Trickler

  3. You say something very interesting about the English, and it's true. "Quite a change to be suddenly surrounded by English who act like they own the place." A valid comment.

    As to the beautifully lit motorway, one wonders how much it costs to have those lamps lit. Where I live in the Netherlands, they've finally realized that this actually costs them money. More amazingly, they've even begun to do something about it.