Monday, 25 May 2015

On the way to Olympus (Nathanial)

After the Acropolis we made our way north where we were due to meet Ethan.  The first campsite we arrived at was closed so we had to push on further to ‘Marathon’; this is where the actual marathon run originated from. After a long drive and a little bartering with the owner (who wanted €30 a night to begin with), we booked in for a couple of days.

The spot we found was right next to a park which Tom was pleased with, and we were really close to the beach; I’m loving falling asleep to the sound of the waves.

He teases me a lot, but I'll follow him anywhere
The next day me and Alf went for a walk along the beach for a little exercise. Our walks along the beach normally turn into an interior design session for his new bedroom when we get home, Alf is missing home and is counting down the weeks before we return. We have designed his bedroom about ten times now, but it does give him something positive to focus on.

On the way back to the van we popped into what looked like a beach bar for a drink. The bar turned out to be a female volley ball outdoor centre  with loud dance music playing and about two hundred young people (25 & under) all lounging around drinking soft drinks and generally having lots of fun. Alf loved it and wanted to stay a little longer, so doing my fatherly duty I agreed to hang around and force myself to watch the volleyball.

Much closer and we would be in the sea
After Marathon we drove the next leg of the journey and found a beautiful spot to wild camp near ‘Volos’. This time we were even closer to the beach, only being separated from it by a small path. We parked right next to a café which had chairs on the beach. It was such a good spot that we stayed for a few days and took advantage of the café beach loungers on the sand, plus there was a play park on the beach which once again, Tom was pleased with. It’s amazing how much time he will play in a park on his own.  

Tom loves play parks
Alf secretly loves play parks

As the holiday season is not here yet, we are usually getting the most stunning beaches all to our selves, which is not a bad thing as there are less people to frown at us for the lads behaviour. 

All to our selves 

On our last day here though, there must have been fifty teenagers turn up on the beach all playing with ‘bat & balls’ or chasing each other or running around and swimming in the sea. There were no adults with any of them yet they were all really well behaved and having a great time. It was very interesting watching Tom observe them all, he was obviously thinking hard about it and letting it all sink in as he said “Dad, it looks great being a teenager”.

The next day we made our final push to Olympus. Once again the scenery was stunning with the sides of the roads covered in wild flowers of yellows, purples and oranges, all giving off the sweetest of scents. The other pleasant surprise has been the poppies, big blocks of deep red squares scattered in the fields as we’ve driven by them.
If only pictures could give off scents

An hour or so later and there it was, a huge snow-capped mountain in the distance. Seeing this made the hairs stand up on the back of my neck. In a few days time I was going to be on the top of that with Ethan! It was difficult to imagine it being cold enough for snow as down here it is so hot.

We found our camp site, Camping Poseidon, and settled in. We weren’t as close to the beach this time, but it was still as close as the end of the garden at home. 

The site itself had a strange feel to it as there were loads of full timers who had covered their plots with blue tarpaulin to keep them in the shade. There was also a group of people erecting a steel frame around one plot, so there was a ‘mig welder’ being used and regular angle grinding happening!?
We got the table and chairs out, and of course the Lego and made camp.

Late the following day we were at the airport to pick up Ethan. I haven’t seen him since Christmas so it was lovely to see him again. It was nice to catch up with the boys from home too who came across to climb Olympus. Last year we climbed a mountain (Toubkal) in Morocco together and we had all been looking forward to the new challenge.

After a day relaxing on the beach, and Ethan getting burnt (the numpty) we met the others at the foot of the mountain to start our hike.

Ethan preparing for the big hike tomorrow
The first leg was from Litochoro to Prionia, the below is copied from the Olympus National Park website.
Duration: 5 hours
Altitudinal difference: 740 m
Route of medium difficulty
Length: 9 km

The international hiking path E4 starts in the area of Myloi (400 m) and is one of the entrances into the National Park from the town of Litochoro. The path passes through the stunning Enipea Canyon and is well preserved with clear markings and informative signs. After many ascents and descents the path ends in Prionia at Enipea springs (1100 m). The path starts along Enipea Canyon to the left of the river and half way along the route it crosses the canyon seven times across beautiful wooden bridges thus sometimes having the river on the right and others on the left. In the second half of the route is Agio Spilaio where Saint Dionysios lived as an ascetic and then after another 20 minutes or so the path reaches Agios Dionysios Monastery which is well worth a visit and is open from April to October. Leaving the monastery behind and continuing along the path after approximately 10 minutes the path begins to descend to the left and after a few minutes arrives at the spectacular Enipea waterfalls. The route is quite tiring due to the ascents and descents, but the varied geological features, the small lakes with crystal waters and the sheer mountain slopes provide a rare beauty and entirely reward the visitor. The route can also be done in the reverse direction arriving at Prionia or Agios Dionysios Monastery by car and starting out from there.

 It felt so much longer than 9k on the day; I was amazed to read the above, the route can be quite tiring!? Although we did do it in 4 hours and not the 5 stated.

Then came the second leg of the journey

Ethan and Glenn, don't look down!

Duration: 3 hours
Altitudinal difference: 1000 m
Route of medium difficulty
Length: 4.5 km

The route from Prionia (1100 m) to Spilios Agapitos Refuge (2100 m) is the most frequented hiking path on Mount Olympus and makes up a part of the E4. It is the continuation of the Litochoro – Prionia path. Prionia is the highest point which can be reached by car (it is 18 km from Litochoro) and here there are parking areas. The source of the Enipea River is also to be found here and a cafe-restaurant operates in Prionia all year long. The majority of the walk is through the forest. The path is in very good condition and the combination of thick pine trees with beech and fir trees lend a unique charm to the place. Spilios Agapitos Refuge is located on a natural flat surrounded by impressive age-old Bosnian pine trees.

Jamie, Richie, Ethan, Gerry, Glenn & me.
I can’t believe the length was only 4.5k!!! We were all absolutely smashed by the time we got to the refuge. Although it is almost the equivalent of walking up Snowdon twice in one day.
After some hot food and lots of resting we all 
had an early night, ready for that early start in the morning to the peak.

I actually look more like my Dad here than my Dad!
The third and final leg (up at least)

Duration: 3 hours
Altitudinal difference: 818 m
Route of medium difficulty
Length: 3 km

The route increases in difficulty from Skala to Mytikas. From refuge A (Spilios Agapitos Refuge at 2100 m) the path becomes quite steep and after about 20 minutes follows Hondro Mesorachi ridge until it reaches the path for Zonaria on the right at 2480 m. A few metres further on the path towards Stavraities and Agios Antonios bears to the left. Follow the main path, which is a relatively steep E4 path through a bare alpine landscape and after approximately one hour the path ends at Skala peak (2866 m). From here continue following the red markings on the rocks along the route called Kakoskala (bad steps), thus named due to the natural steps which lead to Mytikas. It should be noted that this stretch of the route is quite challenging.

Quite challenging!?!?!? I can’t believe it’s only classed as quite challenging, and we stopped and Skala!  One of our party ran his first marathon recently and said he “would rather run a marathon again than do that hike any day of the week”. I think the word we used most during the day was ‘gruelling’. I think quite bloody challenging!

At the top with the Gods

Another proud moment as a Dad
Feeling on top of the world

At the point of wanting to give up, these views drove us forward
The mountain itself is absolutely stunning with waterfalls and streams and dozens of colours from the plants. We saw butterflies of blue, yellow, orange, green and even the peacock ones. We saw lizards and toads and dragonflies and even some ladybirds.  We walked over rocks and trees and snow up to our knees. The views were spectacular; they were the only thing keeping us going at some points.

After taking our pictures at the top we made our way back down. The clouds had now set in so we had lost a lot of the scenery and it gave the mountain a whole new feel, if not a little spooky. Me, Ethan and Jamie really started to pick up the pace and threw ourselves into the path. We were sinking into the snow sometimes up to our thighs and were sliding all over the place, but we made our way to the refuge in an hour. After resting for a while and drying off, and waiting for the others we then started our final descent back to Prionia.

Path? Where?
Visibility was drastically reduced going down
I’m not quite sure what came over Jamie, Ethan and me, but we ended up running all the way back down over the roughest of terrain and ankle snapper of routes. We were absolutely soaked, but we made it back in another hour. What took us six hours to walk up, took us two hours to get down.

We stopped at the café at Prionia for an ice drink and ordered a taxi back to the hotel. Me and Ethan had booked into the hotel for the night to recover so were very spoiled with hot Jacuzzi baths and various choices of food for dinner.

After meeting the rest of the lads in the dining room for dinner and re-living the adventure we all got our heads down, i was out for the count, totally exhausted, especially after only getting three hours sleep at the refuge the previous night..

Seriously though, quite challenging!?@!!

The following day Beth picked us up and we spent the next two days on the beach next to the camp site with our legs up, they were feeling like lead so the beach lounges were abused and the ‘frappes’ were flowing. 

Ethan not being allowed to relax
 We tried out our BBQ one night and went out for a meal on another where I had my first (legal) beer with Ethan. He turned 18 in March, however he still likes to play Lego with Tom; one’s never too old for Lego.

First beer with Ethan, well deserved 

Suddenly Ethan has has grown taller than me


Just to note, it was the first time the van had been left with Beth. When she picked us up from the hotel she said she noticed a light come on the dash, and it was difficult to start? And on the way back to the campsite the front tyre also went flat! So the next day we had to go on a mission to find a garage to get the tyre repaired and find an electrician to deal with the battery (it needed a new one). Well done Beth.

My legs were killing me 
*Just to note #2, by Beth, who has driven the van a total of about ten miles so far on this trip was, upon getting behind the wheel where Nathanial had left the van - ‘at the top of a straight road for you to go straight down, Darlin’ - immediately presented with a no entry sign and forced along a narrow, cobbled one-way ‘road’, the sort of road for which I require Rescue Remedy as a passenger, never mind as the driver. Having successfully driven down said road and back to the campsite (about a twenty minute journey) I then managed to reverse into the pitch, set up the awning, and empty the loo, all usually Nathanial jobs. I also had to overcome a water-filling problem, during which I unwittingly made ‘friends’ with the scary angle-grinder wielding Serbians. After two lovely days with Alfie and Tom, I managed to start the van, despite it very obviously having a flat battery, (and no, I didn’t ‘leave something on’!) get  off the pitch and back to Litochoro, even driving back up the stupidly tiny rescue-remedy roads all the way to the hotel car park. The flat tyre was caused by ‘someone’ running over a screw, which could have been either of us, although I’m not sure how it could have been seen from the cab, let alone avoided! So yes, well done Beth!!

The words drama and queen spring to mind.

The day before Ethan was due to go back we returned to Prionia, this time in the van and took Alf & Tom for a walk to the water falls. On the way we picked up one of the other lads from the party, Glenn, who ended up walking all the way back down to his hotel as the scenery was so beautiful, crazy man.  

Revisiting the scene
With Glenn watching toads

White trainers, Mmmmmm

Alf and Ethan taking it easy

Ethan’s week came to an end all too soon and we drove him back to the airport. It was sad for me to say goodbye as I enjoy his company, and he is turning into a very interesting young man who has started his spiritual journey.

Ethan rehearsing for Bay Watch 
Alfie goes one step further and uses aids
As Ethan’s flight was late in the evening and there don’t seem to be any aires or campsites near Thessaloniki, we needed to find somewhere to wild camp, rather than driving another few hours in the dark. After discounting the airport car-park (too noisy and expensive) and a Lidl car park over-looking the sea (too out of the way and not well lit enough) we eventually settled on the local IKEA car park. We needed to pop in any way to replace the step we use to get in the van as I had driven over it the previous week. We have now visited Ikea in every country we have been in on this trip so far (mainly to buy new steps!) but we have so far managed to avoid visiting the yellow M in Greece so we don't have to admit to visiting all the MacDonalds.

Wild camping in IKEA car-park. It's not all golden beaches and blues seas when you travel
The next day we drove through even more mountains all the way to Igoumenista where we found an amazing place to wild camp, about 20 feet away from the sea on the actual beach. It had the softest beach we had ever been on with sand like powder, absolute paradise.

Woke up to this, it certainly beats IKEA

Much closer and we're swimming

Tomorrow we are hoping to be in Corfu


  1. What wonderful memories you will have with all of your children and they with you. Enjoy your travels.

    1. Thanks Wendy, it's been a great adventure so far.

  2. Loved reading the blog it even made me tearful [not a common emotion being as I'm from Blidworth] but there you, are can't wait to see you all again. xxxxmum

    1. And you didn't even cry at E.T. i presume they were tears of laughter?


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