From Thessaloniki to Evros (part one) A roadtrip for a first encounter with Northeast Greece

F or years I have been hearing my parents talk about the magnificence of the Evros’ delta or the forest of Dadia. My dearest friend Sofia has been telling us about Ksanthi and the wonderful nature around it. Having seen just a handful of photos, my imagination was free to roam to give all those descriptions an almost magic tone. However living in Crete, traveling to Thrace seems more complicated and expensive than traveling abroad, hence the plan to visit this part of Greece was constantly being put aside in favor of other trips.

As with all things in life, everything has its timing. A couple of summers back, a happy event gave us the proper motivation to organise a roadtrip to this beautiful land! The plan was simple: we would start from Thessaloniki and drive all the way to the greek-turkish borders at Evros river and back. We had ten days in our disposal to discover as much as we could.

Off we go!

We arrived late at night in Thessaloniki. Our intentions were to leave our bags at the hotel and head out to meet the city’s nightlife. We didn’t count though the heat wave of July and the result was that by the time we reached our room, we were sweating so much and were so tired that we didn’t even go out to get something to eat. At least that meant, that next morning we were up early and ready to hit the road! We got our car and decided that the exploration of Thessaloniki would be on a next trip, so we headed directly out of the city and towards our first stop, Kavala.

Kavala was our first encounter with the particular cultural and architectural style of the region. A preamble of what we would meet as our trip progressed. I can’t really say that we saw much of Kavala apart from a walk around the old city and the city fortress. The oriental influences though were apparent and to my eyes they were great.

After having a much needed coffee and a snack, we were back in the car and already driving towards Alexandroupoli – the city where we planned to spend the night. Having done the mistake not to have a proper lunch, our focus, as soon as we found a room to settle, was purely to get to a restaurant. Nothing else mattered.

And what a feast we had!! I cannot really remember the name of the restaurant, but the food was a pure culinary experience! I guess people know how to eat in the north!

It was not easy to get up from the table. But it was still early and we thought that some exercise would be good. The city was very vibrant, everyone was out. A lively book fair was taking place by the sea underneath the emblematic lighthouse that is the symbol of the city. Everything was great.

At least till when we returned to our room… It was evident that we would have trouble digesting all the food that we had eaten and now it was time to pay the price… A rather painful night lead to very late morning wake up and that made it impossible to stick to our plan to take the boat to the island of Samothrace.

Evro’s delta

Change of plans. We started the engine of the car and set a course towards the Evros’ delta. What could go wrong?

Well, it is one thing to have heard about a place and a totally different to have read about visiting it and what it requires. So we found ourselves at the visitor center in Feres trying to accept what the people there were telling us… that this was not the proper season to visit the delta, we could not visit it on our own because it is both a protected area and a border and therefore there were security issues, that even if we overcame those issues there was no car or bus to take us there and our own car was not suitable, that it was the middle of the day and it was too damn hot, etc, etc, etc. I didn’t want to hear anything else and was already thinking about the continuous epic fails of the day, but that is why you need an optimist traveling with you!

Matina was not going to give up and it was her determination that got us to an answer in the phone call from someone who could actually take us there. In a few minutes, we saw him coming and before we realize it, he was in the back seat of our car giving me directions on where to drive! Soon enough we found ourselves on an extraordinary landscape and onboard a small fishing boat in the waters of Evros river.

To be honest, I have never been in such a place before in my life. I could never believe the vastness of the waterscape and the abundance of wildlife in the area. It really felt sad that Evros has been a line of division between people, instead of its beauty to be the landmark that brings people together. I guess the same can be said about every single one of these artificial inventions called borders, but these thoughts kept coming on me very vividly as I was standing there.

From the sea to the mountains

Back on the road again, we left the delta behind us and headed north. We planned to reach the national park of Dadia forest before the night and stay there so that we could hike the next day and see the magnificent forest and its famous large birds and vultures. Indeed, after a while, following a very interesting route, we were at the visitor center and the nearby ecotouristic hotel. It seemed that we were there just a few visitors and it was apparent that was not the prime season to visit the area, but I guess that was good. 🙂

Our most lovely host did not take long to become friends with Matina and soon enough we found ourselves invited at a local festival in a village nearby. Our day that seemed to start as a disaster was transforming to a formidable one and it was preparing to become even more interesting as the night fell!

We found ourselves sitting at a table in the middle of the festival. Word had spread that two cretans were guests there and suddenly we were surrounded and welcomed by everyone! I cannot stress enough how amazing this has been and how warm it felt. People were so kind to us that it reminded me how people were in my village and home town before the explosion of tourism. It all was so authentic rather than made up.

Equally interesting for me was how different from a cultural point of view all these traditional dances and music were compared to the cretan ones as well as the ones from the Greece’s mainland. And as I was there standing with my camera observing the differences, someone got me along with Matina and they put us center-stage!! I am helpless at dancing but Matina seemed to do pretty well keeping up with the dance steps that they were showing us. What a night!!

Next morning we got up thinking that for the first time in this trip our plans would materialize. So we prepared ourselves to hike in the woods, but guess what? Because of the heat wave, there was an alert effective for high danger of fire and therefore hiking was not permitted. At least a bus would take us to the voltures’ observatory where we could have an overview of the area and if we got lucky enough from the birds too.

We didn’t get much luck with the birds. I guess the heat wave must have influenced them as well choosing to stay on the ground – probably under a comfy shadow. So after a nice ride in the woods we got back in the guesthouse and from there to our car. Started the engine and off to the next destination. This time we would make it to Samothrace no matter what!

Stay tuned for the second part of the roadtrip!

Thrace, 2016.

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