A short overview of my adventures in 2013. Starting in Athens…
The first steps were to be taken from the top of the Acropolis, the Parthenon, in Athens. I stayed with two couchsurfing hosts: Stella and Vaios, a fantastic couple. They showed me around Athens and helped me plan the route through Greece and, very important, helped me obtain my hiking stick in which I -later on- carved the names of the most beautiful places along the route.
From Athens I made it to Korinthos and afterwards I followed the Northern coast of the Peloponnese peninsula. On my first day, between Athens and Kineta, I had my only semi-bad experience of the trip. A guy way too fat for his scooter (he looked exactly like Hurley from Lost, so you can imagine, it looked sort of comical on a tiny scooter) somehow mimed he wanted to have sex with me (my Greek at that point was virtually non-existent, but I understood what he meant). After I told him no, he followed me for a bit, but soon turned away.
Apart from this example, the best parts of the trip were the people I met, especially my hosts. In Kineta, I was a guest of a radio show host. At the Corinth canal I had my very first marriage proposal (made by the uncle of the suitor, who owned the restaurant at the bridge, turned him down nonetheless). In Korinthos, I slept in a student house with students from all over Europe, we partied till late. In Patras, I stayed with a young doctor who taught me backgammon and we celebrated his birthday.
The best host was Alexandros, a baker in Selianitika. I walked past his bakery and there was a party going on, they danced on the street. I was invited to join, dance with them, eat their food, and at night I could sleep in the apartment above the bakery.
One of the most beautiful parts was the gorge between Diakopto and Kalavrita. There is a train track between the pair of them, but you can also walk on the tracks (do check the time table). Unfortunately, I was sick, so I just took the train ride, which was beautiful as well.
From Patras I took the ferry to Ithaca, the mythical island of Odysseus, that I desperately wanted to visit. There is a beautiful poem by Kafavis about Ithaca, and it is about the journey being more important than the destination. Unfortunately, there was a storm coming (like a proper storm with Beaufort 10 and everything). Not weather you’d want to be sleeping in a tent on an island. Luckily, I met a Greek couple on the ferry, they warned me for the storm, told me they had a holiday home on Kephalonia where they were heading, I could join them. So, the next days I sat out the storm with the couple. They had just obtained a cat and didn’t really know what to do with it. They thought everything the cat touched was dirty afterwards and had to be disinfected immediately. This amused me a lot during breakfast when the cat jumped on the table a total of 5 times and the table and everything on it had to be cleaned every single time.
After Ithaca it was time for Italy. From Patras I took the boat to Brindisi, in the South of Italy. From Brindisi I made it to Lecce. The next days I was a guest of Alessandro in Salice Salentino. We visited the coast and the wine castle where his brother works. His mother cooked the best Italian meal (including the antipasti, primi, secondi, dolce, frutta, caffè, and the ammazzacaffè (coffee killer, in this case the homemade limoncello by his father)).
After Salice I continued my way North. First to Mesagne, where I was caught up in an Easter procession. I passed Ostuni, the white city. Here I was invited by a man to join a small communion of young people living self-sufficient and everything. I passed. I hiked on to Alberobello, home of the trulli. A trullo is a particular kind of house with a cone shaped roof. The surroundings were beautiful. I was walking on small roads, through olive groves and was greeted by the many men (seriously, it’s like Italian women don’t go outside until they reach old age) working the land. Every now and then one of them popped up in a beautiful old Italian car and offered me a ride (the newer cars I usually turned down, rough life).
Near Alberobello I used my tent for the first time. It was a rock covered camping ground, my tent looked like shit and it was cold as hell (well, hell isn’t exactly cold, is it?). So that was the first and last time I camped. Steadily I made my way to Gioia del Colle, where I stayed with Giacinto. He made me taste the fresh mozzarella from that area (amazing!), he introduced me to his brother in law who lives in Rome and arranged accommodation there (perfect!) and we bought an old cheap bike without gears to get me through the Murgia, since the towns would there be too far apart to walk.
I then continued on to Altamura (known for bread, their city wall and some ancient skeleton) where I stayed with Michele and his family. It was one of my more interesting hosts, particularly since we had so little in common. He was a very passive bloke that had never really left his area (where I am more active and try to travel a lot). But he was so very friendly and explained many things about the area. We took a trip to Matera, the subterranean city, with the houses carved out in the rock. Plus loads of caves there, which I love! He cycled with me through the Murgia to Castel del Monte (the building on the 1 eurocent of Italy), an octagonal castle/fortress, it made for an interesting visit.
Through Corato I made my way to Andria where I was the guest of Nico and Daniela and their friends. The sister of one of the friends was a guide in the Murgia. We harvested wild asparagus (and as I did not know the English name for asparagus at that time it made for an interesting conversation. I figured out what they meant when the topic turned to funny smelling urine). We prepared a delicious risotto with that day’s yield. At night, we partied and sung while they played their guitars.
Up next I headed for the coast. The beautiful church at the sea in Trani. And then op North to Gargano. Gargano is an isolated mountain massif, projecting into the Adriatic sea. It is also known as the “spur” on the Italian “boot”. I was particularly interested in Monte Sant’Angelo, where in the 5th century BC the archangel Michael appeared several times in a cave (grotto) with a spring. Since I absolutely adore caves, and this was supposed to be a church in a cave (bonus!), I was not about to miss this. Plus, since it is a site of wonders I was getting my hopes up. Oh, and wonders did happen…
To be continued…