Northern Greece

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July 3rd 2014
Published: July 9th 2014
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Northern Greece

Thessalonica to Alexandropoulos and Back

The coastal highway (Egnacia Odos) from Thessalonica to Alexandropoulos is one of the best highways we have driven on this trip. Recently completed, it connects much of northern Greece to Turkey. We caught it after a nice trip from Eastern Macedonia and were able to get to Thess… easily.

So let’s back up a bit. After leaving southern Albania we took a cross country drive into Eastern Macedonia to Lake Ohrid and a small town called Struga…probably not on most maps today but they have big plans. With a river going through town, a walking street and some very upscale restaurants, it is going to go big time soon. We stayed at Camping Rino (pronounced reeno) on the Lake for a few days. It was a wonderful little place owned by an Albanian family (we found that almost everyone in this area is Albanian and they all have a friend or family member in Connecticut). They also love the USA and Bill Clinton for saving them from Serbia. Every time we said we were from the USA we got big smiles, hand shakes and even support for our failing world cup team. When we tried to use our google translate program in Macedonian, they politely asked if we could use the Albanian dictionary. We did and it worked. They are very proud of their heritage.

Anyway, on arrival at RINO the son of the owner offered us a traditional coffee or Reki (Macedonian version of Ouzo) as a gesture to new friends. We took the Reki and loved it. After a swim in the lake, they made us a nice dinner of fresh trout. We met an interesting couple from Montenegro who were celebrating their 50th day of marriage and they are in in their 60’s. We laughed a lot…drinking a bit more Reki and they invited us to visit them as we head back north to Germany. We think we will. We should also say that every morning when we woke up, we were served fresh Albanian cappuccino. Nice!! The lake is the oldest in Europe and the second largest after one in Hungary. The trout we had for dinner were caught commercially in the lake that morning.

After our stay here, we drove through beautiful rugged mountains (remember the Balkans?) and then into Northern Greece. We were surprised to find that this part of Greece has long high mountain ranges and huge farming valleys (we are more used to the island south) as far as we could see. It seems like the farms further from the sea tend to grow grapes and anise while those near the salt water grow olives. The area is also dotted with numerous nuclear power generation plants. Made by the French, these plants supply a lot of power to large parts of Europe.

We arrived in Thessalonica with our GPS directing us to a camping area in the city. It was Friday and also the rush hour. Enough said on that front…this was not fun anymore…pulling in our mirrors so we could get down very narrow streets and ducking motor scooters coming out of nowhere. Well wouldn’t ya know, the place did not exist. The GPS directed us to a second one….nada! Then on to a 3rd one and it was closed up tight. We learned later from a German couple we met on the beach that these camping sites died out when the last Balkan war was in full swing. Macedonians stopped coming and 2008 financial crises did the rest. After 2 more hours and another 45 K down the coast, we found a place on the beach. Ate a quick seafood dinner, drank some wine and crashed.

The next day we headed for Alex… Now this place was something else. We found a municipal campground, on the beach with laundry, hot showers, a restaurant and bar… almost heaven. The beach was so nice that we stayed and extra 2 days before leaving for Istanbul. It really is nice to find a well-organized camping area with lots of amenities. But…we had to move on to Istanbul…that story in the next blog.

Folks in Greece seem to be doing OK in what we hear is a terrible economy. Bulgaria and Romania provide these coastal areas with a lot of tourism money and folks from as far away as Germany and the Netherlands have long term rentals on the beach during the summer months.

And of course, there is Greek food. Gyros, fresh cut French fries, Greek salad, Octopus and Calamari made our diet for 3 days. Fresh bread available in the morning and good strong Greek coffee….ya could live here quite easily.

Well, on to Istanbul and another kind of adventure.

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