Athens (Greece), 08.11.2013
Sunshine greeted me as I left the hotel, and I was really tempted to take a walk through the center of Sofia, stroll through the streets and enjoy a breakfast in a cafe. But focus! I wanted to see Meteora in Greece where I had been almost 20 years ago on one of my first car trips. So I left Sofia in the morning, and soon after reached a mountain range on the road south where low hanging thick clouds made the sun disappear. 200km into the day, I reached the border with Greece. The villages I crossed in Bulgaria were very poor, run down, half abandoned. The EU’s wealth hadn’t spread until here yet.
The border still existed, I wasn’t too sure about this since within the EU usually you can cross from one country to the other without any controls. The Bulgarian officer spotted my two passports and wanted to see them both, debating with his colleagues if everything was in order. But then they waved me through, and the Greeks didn’t bother to ask any questions either, and at about noon I rolled into Greece. I drove through a lot of unfinished road construction that seemed to be on hold for quite some time, judging from the rusting equipment and roadsigns. It felt like the EU modernisation machine had come to a sudden halt. Shorty after Thessaloniki I stopped at a gas station, fuelled up and had a coffee. Left and right of the motorway stood empty factories, warehouses, malls, with “to let” or “for sale” signs on them. I had seen this in Athens in the last years, but also here the reality of the Greek crisis was fully on display, the depressing face of a ruined economy. On the other hand driving was a sheer pleasure for the first time in a long time. Perfect motorways led through an amazing landscape of mountains and valleys covered in autumn colors. The sun had come out shorty after entering Greece, the sky was bright blue without a cloud. Km went by without noticing it, no bumps, potholes, trucks on single lanes, no police traps – just a relaxing drive enjoying the countryside.
Shortly before Metsovo I left the motorway and took the road through the slopes of a mountain range overlooking a long valley. Half an hour later the rocks of Meteora appeared at a distance. What a sight! In the middle of a Mediterranean mountain range suddenly there were a bunch of tall, round rocks, completely unlike the ones surrounding them. On top of many of these rocks stood monasteries, and the road lead through this breathtaking landscape for quite a while, offering plenty of viewpoints to admire the beauty of nature all around. I stopped at one of these sites, took pictures and soaked up the view. As I returned to the car a girl started talking to me in Spanish. She and her boyfriend were driving through Europe with an old Land Rover and wanted to go further east, into Turkey, Iran and beyond. I told them about the places I had seen, and we started to chat for a while. Nuria and Ivan had a great trip still ahead of them, and I kept remembering the many places I had seen in the last months as I told them about all the discoveries, itineraries and things to see.
At 17:00, in the last light of the day, I took off heading to Athens. The route was quite longer then I thought, but I remembered how I had driven here 20 years ago, with no motorway, poor infrastructure and plenty of dirt on the sides of the road. A lot had changed since, and 3,5h later I reached the Athens urban area. Driving into town was very easy, partly because of the GPS map, partly because I knew some of it already. The hotel I had picked was central, but I hadn’t expected it to be right in the middle of an area of Chinese and Arab shops, strange people on the roads with few lights. After checking in and parking the car in the garage, I went for dinner to a taverna I had found on tripadvisor. And yes, in this strange neighbourhood I found a rustic Greek restaurant, full of long tables of families and friends eating together. Barrels of wine in one corner, low volume Greek music, a good atmosphere, and plenty of tasty looking dishes coming out of the kitchen. After weeks in culturally quite different places, this restaurant felt like home. The vibe was different then in Russia or Ukraine, another planet from Kazakhstan and Mongolia. I cannot describe the exact reasons of the difference. Eating with other people in large groups was an event that mixed the simplicity and non pretentiousness of the food and the place with the warmth of social relations, absence of smartphones, and omnipresent conversation. This place was not about big cars, bling, black clothes and money show off, still people were dressed up but in a more natural way. The most important thing for everybody here was to have a good time and enjoy the food. Looking at this scene I thought about home, and getting there suddenly felt a lot less painful then I had anticipated after many months discovering far away places.
– Km driven: 936
– Hrs on the road: 12
– Diesel l/100km: 9,7