It is difficult to articulate how the idea actually started. I could probably best describe it with the early days of the cosmos. Dust and matter were scattered all over the cosmos and only gradually all this started to formulate the first stars and planets and the galaxies. If you can picture it and video it (sic) this is the best way to do it. Small fractions of ideas, childhood memories and views, conscious and subconscious secrets – all of those were thrown into a melting pot to actually formulate the trip skeleton. Of course the process of formulation never stopped until we had actually finished the trip – it was an ongoing, a on-the-go process, but the main parts were sketched up until a couple of days before embarking on the road trip. And that was the beauty of it. We never actually had a fixed itinerary but we formed it on the go!
It was like standardisation. You know – you have agreed on what to do but not on how to execute it. You know you want to see mountains and beaches, dive into the Ionian seas and walk the sublime mountains, touch the ancient remains and walk on the small city alleys but the actual plan is left on the … implementation stage!
So we knew that after those two days in Athens everything else would be arranged on the spot – every morning we would compose a plan until the afternoon (including the daily lodge) and every afternoon we would compose the plan for the night and the next morning.
It was not as easy as it sounds, but I would add not as difficult as it sounds – provided you ‘ve got a certain mind-set for it. Otherwise you would be tired even just by listening to the itinerary as a friend of mine told me!
Day 1- Setting off from Thessaloniki, we visited Katerini and had our first coffee at the main city park before driving towards the site of ancient Dion, just to find out it was closed. We visited the superb Ourlia waterfalls at the foot of the My Olympus. (Please don’t miss it) Then we drove and visited Palaios Panteleimonas with the superb views towards the Aegean before finishing the day with a swim and a nice dinner at the “Porto Marine Platamonas”. (Make sure you visit the old castle!)
Day 2 – After a small hiccup in the main highway which in a serendipitous way led us via the old national road to the Vale of Tempe, we continued and made our next stop in Lamia. Checked the old castle, drove for half an hour feeling the city on a hot summer day and had lunch in “Odos Oneiron” downtown. Our next stop was the great Centre of Historical Information of Thermopylae (a feast for the kids) and then after a tiring drive (courtesy of the fires in North Attica) we found ourselves tired checking in at the “President” Hotel at around 21.00.
Day 3/ 4 – A great two-day visit in Athens was composed of visits in the Acropolis and the surrounding areas (Syntagma, Monastiraki, Thisio), a visit in the Attica Park ( another great feast for the kids), a short visit in the close-by McArthur Glenn and Smart Park shopping complexes (an even greater feast for women with husbands’ credit cards) and of course a relaxed walk in the grand Stavros Niarchos Foundation. In between those cultural visits we “threw in” a two-hour drive all over Athens from Lagonisi to Piraeus and from Faliro to Chalandri, we met friends, had a 2-hour break in the pool of “President” Hotel and a great dinner at “Tzitzikas and Mermigkas” – a great restaurant from the Athens chapter of my personal book of memoirs! When there was time we would take short trips down the memory lane, talking about and seeing places from the old times.
Day 5 – It was time to move on. The road took us to Arachova and then Delphi where we spent a tiring 3-hour break marvelling the museum and most importantly walking all the way up to the stadium. It was not the kids piece of cake (Alex kept saying what is the reason for marvelling these pieces of broken rock) but I hope in the years to come they will appreciate it – just as I did years after my first visit. Then we visited the uniquely exhilarating Vagonetto – an underground museum of old bauxite mines (a MUST for kids) and then spent sometime in the Pavliani area. A superb and sublime area with high peaks, green mountains and wild life – which we never saw though! Our decision to spend the night somewhere else was not the wisest thing to do though – we should have stayed there. We chose to spend the night at Loutra of Ipatis, (“Alexakis” hotel) close to Lamia – a nice, humble but run down small city. Dinner was served in one of the few nice places around – “Topos Technon Chora” just 1 km outside the city.
Day 6 – We made our way to Karpenisi. At the Tymfirstos village we started our ascend! After a small technology hiccup – the GPS seemed to suggest an odd route – we reached Karpenisi – a really picturesque city in the foot of the Tymfirstos Mountain. We drove for a while through the city and then visited a great place for kids’ outdoors activities – “Saloon park”. The kids loved it! We then visited a small fish-farm “Fresko” – I would suggest a small bite or even a proper lunch there – and then had a late lunch in the “Mesostrati” restaurant with some nice views towards Karpenisi and of course some great local meat dishes! Before the evening we drove for a while in the very picturesque Megalo and Mikro Chorio and decided to call it a day at around 17.00.
The evening was dedicated in probably the most humiliating story of my driving life. After Karpenisi we decided to stay in the Forest Village “Livadaki”. I think I was driving for a total of three hours, unable to point the exact road that would take us to our night lodge – with the aid of GPS I may add! Forest Village “Livadaki” is a superb place in the middle of the wild forest. Run-down you can call it, indifferent you can call the boss, but the feeling of sleeping, waking up or walking literary meters from the wild forest is indeed exhilarating! One could even shake hands with bears and wolves!
Day 7 – The next day after visiting for a morning bite Karpenisi, we checked the “Newton Park” – another kids’ activity outdoor park, but with a more scientific touch. We spent there another 4 hours and then we said goodbye and left Karpenisi. Our next stop was Tsagaralona a place that gives you unique vistas to the Kremasta Lake, probably the biggest artificial lake in Greece. The drive is slightly challenging, but the even more frightening part was the road after descending Tsagaralona and until the base of the bridge at the lake. Not the best road for one to drive, especially in winter. Most of it is gravel of bad quality. Our next 2-3 hours were dedicated mainly riding in possibly the worst road I have ever driven, which is even more frustrating if you consider that this road connects two prefecture capitals – Karpenisi and Agrinio. The afternoon found us relaxing and swimming in the swimming poll of “Green and Blue” hotel in Naupactus. For the night we enjoyed a nice walk in the beautiful Naupactus city and a nice dinner at “Eu Oinos” – great food and one of the best deserts I have ever eaten – brownies with ice cream!
Day 8 – Day 8 started with a drive and a coffee at the marvellous Galaxidi. Next time we will spend one night there! Then, after driving the whole of the South side of Sterea Ellada Region which included a small second stop at Naupactus, we visited Messolongh for some hours. We visited the Garden of Heroes paying a tribute to the statue of Lord Byron, then drove to Tourlida, a magnificent stripe of land in the middle of the Klisova lagoon, missed the Museum of Salt and then went back to the city centre for an ice cream where just by chance we were informed about the Museum of Salt! We decided to go back and boy what a museum that was. A humble, small but brand new with superb architectural and modern design touches and with photos and exhibits, it really made a difference in our Messolongh short stay. For the evening we drove all the way to Lefkada, enjoyed a nice swim in the pool of “Iris” hotel and ended up in the still disputable among us – in terms of prices Vs quality – restaurant just on the opposite side of Nydri – “Elena”.
Day 9 – The trip was closing to its end! We woke up after a lazy morning and an even lazier breakfast and went for a visit to the close by waterfalls and then for a quick swim in the quiet and unspoilt Pasa beach. Then we decided to drive around Lefkada and discovered a gem – the “Agios Ioannis” beach where myriads of kyte surfers were having a great time trying to tame their surfs in the menacing wind. Our next stop was Preveza. For a third consecutive afternoon we paid a tribute to the hotel’s swimming pool and then drove downtown where we had a lovely dinner – the last one – in probably the second best restaurant of our trip “Rebetiko Steki”. The evening closed in style with nice ice cream and some memorabilia and presents for Anna and her friends, before driving back to the “Margarona” hotel.
Day 10. The last day had arrived. We enjoyed a nice walk in the beautiful city of Preveza – definitely one of the best cities we visited in our trip – and then drove towards Zaloggo. We walked all the way up and enjoyed some exquisite views of the north mountains and of the beaches to the south and west, closing our eyes and thinking about those women who sacrificed their lives and their kids to get away – in the after-life – from the conquers! Our next stop was the city of Arta where we had a small sweet bite by the (in)famous stone bridge! Our final stop was the city of Grevena where we enjoyed the special ice cream of Kontogiannis and then at around 22.00 we were back in our base. Thessaloniki!
We drove for almost 2500 kms, spent around 2500 Euros making it 1Euro/km. We visited 17 prefectures and stayed in 7 different hotel. Excluding the first four nights, we booked all other lodges on the same day of our stay. We visited mountainous and sea destinations, places for kids and for older people, touristy and unspoilt places, villages and cities, slightly posh and down to earth hotels, archaeological and modern human creations, over-ground and underground places etc Its was purely diverse, spectacular road trip! The main trip stakeholders – the kids – just loved it. And they said that now we are ready to execute a round-Europe trip and then a round-the-world trip. … Why not!… Why not