Tag Archives: Greece

Lake Kerkini – Birding

This was the first time we have been to the lake in September.  The water levels were lower so it was not possible to access the submerged forest.  Many of the sumer visitors had flown, flamingo were passing through and will in time head further south.  Not sure where they had come from, prossibly the Danube delta.  There were still pelicans.  There were many waders including flocks of avocet.  There were raptors, including marsh harriers, and later in the day from the bike we saw golden eagle, black kite and short toed (snake) eagle, common buzzard and long legged buzzard.

It was an early morning trip on the lake.  The light was fabulous.  We’ve never seen so many flamingo, like a pink line stretching around the lake.  The below are from this current visit.

Lake Kerkini is a very special place.  We are fortunate, it is easy for us to visit. It’s about 12 hours from our place on Lesvos, most of which is ferry time. and about 12 hours by road from Selcuk though that necessitates an overnight stay. So it’s easier from Lesvos, get a morning ferry to Kavala and be there in time for dinner, something we intend to do late spring or early summer next year.  There are plenty of hotels in the area, we have one we use regularly.  The whole area is set up for nature tourism, and it’s not just the lake and water birds, there are bee eaters along the river, rollers nearby and so  much more, and there are good knowledgable guides.

The below are from our photos from previous visits.   Maybe they will inspire others to visit the area, it really is worth it.

On Coffee and Roads

So we found ourselves in Igoumenitsa in the late morning.  We’d had a morning coffee on the ferry, good it was, though expensive.  But now Greece, coffee is different.  Gone is the delight of Italy where the only choice to be made is whether to add extra hot water to the espresso.  Espresso and a glass of water on the side, or add hot water and call it Americano.  Either way is fine, and as said, even the motorways service areas in Italy provide coffee as good as in a decent restaurant in London.  So back to Greece, we found a place offering breakfast which was ham, cheeses, bread, butter, olives, fruit juice and mixed friuts, and added coffee, here our coffee of choice is Freddo Espresso, essentially espresso over ice.

Suitably fortified and caffeinated it was time to hit the road.  It would be the last day of going fast.  By now it was approaching midday, we expected to be in Kerkini by 5pm or so.  The Egnatia Odos is an impressive piece of engineering, and as motorways go pretty spectacular.  It traverses a few moutain ranges, goes up to ski resort altitude where the air was unsurprisingly a little chilly.  Some of the views were amazing, not as impressive as some views on the old highway, but that road takes many hours longer and we have done it a few times in the past.  Of course there is an even older highway, Via Egnatia, a Roman thing constructed back in the day for much the same purpose.

It got hot as we dropped down onto the Macedonian plain, passing Vergina and the tomb of Philip  (which is amazing), then Pella (less impressive but the name invokes so much history), then around Thessaloniki, before the last leg to Kerkini.

We got there, booked into the hotel, then went out on the bike with our friend Vasilis.  Not far, around the lake, and to take in some views and share a beer.  Lake Kerkini is a magical place.

Then out again for dinner, before an early night to catch up on missed sleep and because we were going out birding on the lake early the next morning.

 

Dimitsana

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We left Methoni and rode through spectacular scenery in rapidly worsening weather. We managed to take shelter in a village during the first downpour and took the opportunity to eat a spot of lunch. We managed to take shelter in a garage cafe during the second downpour and had a coffee whilst waiting for the worst to pass. The final downpour occurred just as we got to Dimitisana. We parked the bike under a tree and took refuge under an overhanging roof. About half an hour later, a charming gentleman (Jordan) came out of his hotel and asked if we needed somewhere to stay. We had parked the bike right outside!  As you can see above (in better weather).

Cold and dripping wet we inspected the gorgeous rooms of a genuine boutique hotel.  We really could not turn it down after leaving puddles on the floor and water soaking into rugs, apart from which the rain was still torrential and being out in it was not high on our agenda.  We decided to stay two nights and, after a hot shower and dry clothes, enjoyed a beer in the bar which has the most amazing view.  With the weather clearing we strolled into town past the Roman bridge and found plenty of choices for dinner.  We ate well in Dimitsana.

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Next morning we had a huge homemade breakfast, including fried nettle leaves and morel mushrooms that Jordan had foraged from the forest.  Then we set off on a walk.  The trail was reasonably well marked and our first stop was a surprisingly interesting outdoor water power museum.  The whole area was famous for water powered industry right up to the middle of last century.  There was a fulling tub that resembles a huge top loading washing machine, a flour mill, gunpowder mill, raki still and a tannery.  All with very informative videos.

This is the fulling tub:

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We walked on down the trail but turned around after a few hours and came back by road.  It was all down on the way out to the bottom of the gorge, and all up on the way back!  We should have taken more water with us, we didn’t, but there was an abundance of fast flowing streams on the way down.

The walking was quite hard so we didn’t get too many views of the scenery.  There were frequent stops to try and capture photographs of butterflies!  We do want to go back to Dimitsana and do a bit more exploring – there is quite a lot to see in that part of Arcadia but, this year, we didn’t really have time.

Next day we headed back to Nafplio for a relaxing evening before catching the ferry to Chios then on to home via Çeşme.

On to Mystra

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Our next stop was Mystra.  We rode there the pretty way, via Leonido, stopping off in Cosmas for lunch Lunch in Cosmaswith a spectacular view…    Some Italian bikers had the same idea so there was quite a crowd enjoying mountain sausage, chips and village bread.

Mystra did not disappoint.  It’s an almost intact Byzantine city with many churches containing frescoes, a palace, a working monastery and plenty of interesting wildlife.  The village itself is small and friendly, containing a number of small hotels and a sprinkling of restaurants.  I think a lot of people just visit for the day from larger tourist centres.

After we arrived we walked up to the entrance to the site (there are two entrances because, if you only use the lower entrance, there is quite a lot of walking involved) where we saw some lattice brown butterflies on a tree stump.lattice-brown-1

Next day we explored the site itself.  It took all day.  Like many sites in Greece, the information boards scattered around give you a very good idea of what life must have been like when Byzantine Mystra was a living city.  We were lucky to avoid the rainstorm that happened in the evening as the surfaces inside the Byzantine city are very, very slippery when wet!

Apart from the lattice browns, I think I shall save the wildlife for a separate post as Mystra is very, very photogenic.

 

 

On the Border

I do not like the refugee and migrant deal between Europe and Turkey, it leaves a bad taste, and I have many worries.

It is not the candy being offered to Turkey that worries me, money is no big deal, visa free travel is no big deal.  Visa free is pretty much a paper exercise, or more accurately a paper free exercise.  All it means is that Turks will be able to travel to most of Europe without getting a visa, Turks will still be limited to all the general requirements.  Visa free travel does not give access to the EU job market or to benefits or anything else, all it means is Turks will be able to travel to most of Europe and stay for up to 90 days in a given 180 day period without getting a visa, and most if not all EU citizens will be able to travel to Turkey without visa and under the same conditions.

I’m not too fussed that some of the conditions might get watered down a bit although I do think it sends the wrong message.  Being honest here there are plenty of other countries with far more questionable records of human rights and freedoms many of which unlike Turkey have not signed up to the ECHR and already have visa free travel to the EU.  So at worst it is an opportunity lost and the wrong message, but Turkey will need to address issues at some point in the future if Turkey continues to aspire to EU membership.

And the money is no big deal, Europe would be spending that money supporting people no matter what, it would just get spent in Greece or Germany on the same people fleeing terror, bombs, and the rest.  Yes it is a lot of money, but the West has seriously contributed to the chaos and instability in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Somalia, Yemen.  Morally it is the right thing to do.

I worry that a maritime national border can be so porous.  Let’s face it, Cameron, May and the rest of that shower would be apoplectic if the maritime border of France was so porous.  But well, it is a long coastline, Turkey is creaking under the strain of somewhere over 3 million Syrian refugees, and Greece hardly has the money or resources to maintain a costly maritime border.

I worry that so much effort is happening to stop refugees and migrants reaching Europe.  The reality is there are over 2.5 million Syrian refugees in Jordan, approaching 2 million in Lebanon, over 3 million in Turkey.  By comparison the number in Greece, Germany, Sweden, elsewhere is minute.  The rhetoric that many more will come if allowed to, if the borders remain open, simply does not match the evidence that the vast majority are for whatever reason staying close to Syria.

I worry about the nasty lurch to the right that has happened across much of the globe and is so evident in the UK and much of Europe, and how this is in part driving the deal.  I guess the reality of the global banking crisis, the loss of income, the loss of jobs, loss of confidence, the misguided ethos of austerity, along with events in Syria, Iraq, Libya, elsewhere and people fleeing war and terror has created a perfect storm for nastier aspects of right wing nationalism.

I worry that the refugee and migrant route will change.  That the route will shift to Libya, and the far more dangerous crossing to Italy.  I suspect it will happen, and it is not as if Europe can then do a deal with Libya given the West left that country with no government and as pretty much a failed state.

What I really dislike is the forced repatriation.  Yes I know that any Syrian who is in Greece or reaches Greece will be allowed to remain if they claim refugee status.  No Syrian who claims refugee status will be sent back anywhere.  But I do not like the idea of people being forced onto boats and across a national border, for me it is too close to events from our not too distant past.

If there is one good thing, and it is a very good thing, it is this.  The bodies of men, women, children and infants are no longer being washed up on the shore.  At least now, Turkey is being more proactive, Greece is getting the necessary help, steps have been taken to prevent deaths at sea.

On our recent trip we saw ships patrolling at sea, and these, German Coast Guard and Swedish Search and Rescue ships moored at Vathy, Samos.  Unlike last year we saw no boats trying to make the crossing and other than a small camp towards the Greek border with Macedonia, very few refugees and migrants anywhere else.  A massive difference from what we saw on our travels last year.

Despite all my worries, and the bad taste the deal leaves, it remains my hope that those terrible days of bodies being washed up on the shore will never return.

Traveling season

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We were in the UK and Ireland in February then, in April, at Hilary’s father’s 90th birthday party in London.  Pretty well as soon as we got back we took of on the ferry to Kavala, hired a car (with some difficulty, as it was a Sunday and everywhere was shut) and drove straight to Lake Kerkini.

Kerkini village is a delightful place.  On this occasion there was a (very well behaved) school party staying in the hotel so we were treated to three nights in a beautifully restored house.  Beers were taken at our favourite bar in the village and meals at the Oikoperigitis where our friend Vasilis is a guide.

black-kite-2On our first day we traveled around the lake, visiting favourite places and taking photographs of birds.  The next day we went up to the monastery, above which is a small reservoir where we were lucky enough to see a black kite perched, motionless in a tree for about twenty minutes. We went on to a spot near the Bulgarian border where rollers are often found but we can’t honestly say that we found any.  It was only a short drive on some extremely good roads.  We did see a very long line of trucks waiting to cross the border.

We also went out on Vasilis’ boat.  This is always a magical experience and different every time.  This year the level of the lake has been kept low to avoid flooding of the villages.  This has not been a totally good thing for the wildlife.  We were not able to enter the drowned forest (which is, sadly, slowly dying) though we did get quite close.

It was, of course, perfect biking weather (we left the bike at home).  But the next part of the trip was very windy so we were, eventually, glad of the hired car.

 

 

 

 

 

Lesvos – another face

Leaving aside the ongoing human tragedy and the biker stuff which will be the subject of a later post.

There was another ride out planned for the Sunday, but we had to be back in Mitilini for 4pm so would have needed to leave mid lunch.  So, we made our own fun.  We went bird watching around Skala Kaloni.  Early October is not the best time, the Bee Eaters are gone south for winter, many other species have migrated, and the wetlands are at their driest, so waterbirds are more scarce.

In a couple of hours and not really trying hard.  2 Black Storks, a Peregrine Falcon, a juvenile Bonelli’s Eagle, Little Egret, Night Heron.  Along with all the usual suspects, Grey Heron, finches, larks, sparrows, buzzards, gulls.  Sadly not many pictures, we only had the pocket camera with us.

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Oh, and for completeness on avian matters, from the day before, Theo, Hilary’s friend.  Theo is multilingual, speaks, Greek, English and Turkish.

Theo