This is the coast of Greece found between the cities of Thessaloniki and Alexandroupolis, in the East Macedonia and Thrace region.
In late November it is stark and beautiful. The geology is second to none and it boasts secluded beaches and miles of land for walking.
I was driven there by my wonderful host, a fount of local and fascinating information, Anastasia. She knows the location well and I was lucky to be taken to the best places. Monumental cliffs. East Macedonia and Thrace, Northern Greece. The island of Samothraki is visible along the length of this coastline. A 2.5 hour ferry trip away from Alexandrouplis, there are men-only monasteries and a fantastic walking route. Further down the coast towards Thessaloniki is the island of Thassos which is made of white marble, the same that was used to build the White House in Washington DC. Samosthraki almost lost in the mists, with fishing boats. East Macedonia and Thrace, Northern Greece.
All along this stretch glorious colours can be found: pink, blue, white, bronze, yellow, cream and golden. They simply gleam when the waves wash over or the rain drenches them.
There are rock stacks with grassy tufts growing out of them and, where they are surrounded by sea there are birds perched.
Unfortunately there was a recent tragic tale of an English woman, apparently familiar with the area, who was walking alone and got attacked by wild animals. This has made me wary of solo walking the Via Egnatia which passes this way. (The hiking trail begins in Dures, Albania (Dyrrachium in Roman times) and ends in Istanbul (Constantinople) Turkey – a full 1000 kms, 695 miles).
In twos or groups, the trails would be well worth following. You are advised never to run from such a creature, but to stoop to pick up a stone as if to throw because they understand this gesture and will usually leave.
According to the locals, this is the land of the Cyclops from Homer’s tales of Odysseus. There are two caves nearby purporting to be the place where he was captured by the single eyed giant Polyphemus. There is also a River Ulysses (Odysseus’ Roman name).
There is a newly excavated Roman amphitheatre with white columns which are the same as those on the beach nearby.
Each farmer has his own trees marked with name. Once they are producing enough they can sell them to the oil producers.
Much of the higher land consists of slabs of rock rich in oxydated iron and there are quartz crystals under ledges.
There is a wealth of local flora, even at this time of year – wild thyme and lavender, rosemary with purple flowers.
It is all about the animals here in Proskynites, a small village located in northern Greece, in the Thrace region.
A few days later the same mother, a tabby/white mix with a wonky eye, joined us at the house having made the journey herself (it took me 25 minutes to walk but maybe she knew a short cut!)
The land of Thrace also lies in Bulgaria to the north and Turkey to the east. The goddess of the same name was daughter of Oceanus and Parthenope, and sister of Europa. There is always a story.
Proskynites boasts 2 cafés where you can sit all day drinking tsipouro (a sort of grapa distinct from ouzo by omission of star anise) if you fancy; an equal number of churches; an extremely well kitted out supermarket selling almost everything and with a spotless meat area out back; a community centre; and a bus stop where you can get a lift to Komotini which is the nearest big town (about half an hours ride at 2.30 euros).
Everywhere I spy saints – icons sitting with their back to the till in the supermarket or stuck up above the steering wheel of the bus.
Here was some afternoon sunshine during my first 2 days and look!
Our days are mapped out with twice regular visits to the field ( 10 minutes away by jeep) to feed, water and look after the horses, one of whom has a sneezy cough.
Anyone who loves horses enough to do this is bound for heaven in my opinion, particularly with winds wailing from the Russian plains, temperatures of 4 degrees or torrential rain, the rest of us mere mortals would stay at home.
Not much further on is an abandoned village. The authorities offered them compensation in the form of land if they would vacate because it was too expensive to run electricity there. So the tale is told.
The tracks all look the same unless you learn to identify the different hills surrounding them.
They took absolutely no notice of me and only came back when they were effectively seen off.
This part of Greece is so close to the border that you can almost see across to Turkey, a non-EU country.
Causing it to fly off in chunky lumps when we once more gain the road.
Wrapped in foil and baked in the oven on top of the wood burner, they were delicious for breakfast.
At the stop on Avenija Dubrovnik (some 5 minutes from the apartment) which Google maps recommended, there was a list of buses but it didn’t include an airport one or the numbers mentioned, so I took someone’s advice instead. I took the #6 tram.
More than an hour later, the airport bus did indeed stop right where Google maps said it would, so I am writing this blog to help others to avoid the same waste of time and energy.
You can pick up the airport bus from a number of different places but notably from the Autobusni kolodov (Zagreb bus station). Allow time to find the bay as it is not amongst the other bus stops.
This is the airport bus terminal, tucked behind all the other bays – no signs pointing in this direction, no officials to ask where it is – but it is the part of Zagreb bus station where you get the airport bus.
It goes every half hour on the hour and the half hour, and takes 35 minutes.
Airport bus timetable as of November 2018
Detail: Nice bus driver. On time. Comfy seats. Ticket: 30 kuna, buy on the bus.
Zagreb Airport (another chrome tube! – see previous blogs)
The airport has different names: Zracna luka and Franjo Tudman being 2 of them.
I flew to Thessaloniki (Greece) from Zagreb (Croatia) with Air Serbia – stopping at Belgrade (in Serbia) to change planes.
I recommend the cafe below at Belgrade Airport – helpful staff, free WiFi and delicious green tea. It takes euro and local currency.
I started my walk as always, at the Museum of Contemporary Art on Avenija Dubrovnik, my favourite indoors attraction. I make a straight line from there, over the motorways and the River Sava (past the statue, the National Library, the concert hall and bus terminal, through the 3 main squares until ever such a slight right to the Cathedral. It takes around an hour and a quarter if you don’t stop too many times to take photos!
Zagreb Cathedral is right in front of those hills – I can see it getting bigger as I get nearer but the camera cannot – and it was gleaming white on this, my second last day in the city. I am not sure why I left it until now to see the famous monument.
It was so warm that I was glad to get to the city square for some shade.
Zagreb was first mentioned in 1094 when it was made up of two settlements Kaptol and Gradec.
The Cathedral suffered terribly in the earthquake of 1880 and has been under repair, more or less, ever since.
And opposite the entrance to the park is perhaps my favourite of the churches, the quiet chapel of St Francis.
It has amazing stained glass, some at least by the Croatian artist Ivo Dulčić whose work was so groundbreaking that it sometimes incurred the wrath of the church authorities of the time. The windows, which he made in 1960, depict scenes from St Francis’ song “Canticle of the Sun”.
I somehow could not find St Mark’s with its famous roof but here is the spire
Then I found all the other) tourists. They were sitting in the cafes with English and German names on the little streets behind the market and jostling to take photos with their phones on sticks.
Not a little footsore, I set out for Booksa to sit and drink tea and write some.
It was a picturesque end to the day.
There are better photos than mine of the interior of the St Francis chapel here.
There is so much else to see:
The Shrine of the Mother of God of Kamenita vrata (the “Stone Gate”), the patron saint of the city of Zagreb, is a place where people go to pray before a picture of the Virgin Mary which survived a great fire in 1761. The most important day here is the day when Zagreb remembers its patron saint and holds its annual town celebrations, 31 May.
Also, don’t miss the chance to see the south portal of St Mark’s Church in Gornji grad (Zagreb’s “Upper Town”), which dates back to the 15th century and depicts the saints in stone and wood. In the church’s interior you can also see typically powerful works by the great Croatian sculptor Ivan Meštrović.
The two above paragrpahs are from this website on Religious Toursim.
A hike from Samobor through Cerje to Okic and part of the way back. November 2018, Croatia. Approx. 20kms.
Samobor is on the eastern slopes of Samoborsko gorje. Situated 20 kms from Zagreb, the journey takes about half an hour and cost 31 kun there (from the ticket office) and 28 kun return (from the driver) .
I took the tram to the bus station and then the Samborcek bus to Samobor, a regular service. Platform 610 is in the furthest corner of Zagreb bus station and it is just a matter of going and waiting there. Don’t expect to find anyone official to ask or see any signs – simply look on the ground for the number and trust!
There is not much of note along the way to this popular summer and weekend destination for those who live in the capital city and tourists.
It is a 10 minute walk from the bus station in Samobor to the centre – follow the signs to Centar.
I visited the market first, walking round initially to see what was on offer, and then choosing certain women for their fresh looking produce.
Long tables were punctuated with stallholders wrapped in shawls sitting in front of a handful of spinach, a pile of rosy apples or bunches of parsley. Without a doubt everything was local, seasonal, and had just been picked that morning.
It was very difficult to make myself understood, even with gestures and smiles. I wanted to buy from every one as they all seemed so keen, perhaps had come a long way with a paucity of goods, presumably relied upon sales for their livelihood.
I checked out a bakery kiosk looking for the speciality Fasnik, I had read about. It looked like a custard tart. What I found was yoghurt based and I was unsure if it was the right thing so I waited.
After a brief visit to the King Tomislav square with it’s cafés, and having failed to find the Tourist Information, I made my way towards a spire on the skyline (I had read a little before I came and had a list of places in my notebook).
From there I followed my nose, as they say, climbing through the woods. It was the lure of the red and white circles I think, reminding me of previous treks.
As I stepped up from one Station of the Cross to another I relished the fresh smell and feel of the soft earth beneath my feet.
The second Chapel (St George’s) was plainer and round the back was a young dog who barked at me. The man with him had made a beautiful yet simple sculpture of stones and sticks which complemented the architecture and natural surroundings.
There is probably a magnificent view from up there but my tummy turned over at the thought of it and as there was zero visibility I didn’t feel too bad.
In fact the sun was beginning to stream between the trees as I got higher and it was warm on my cheek. It was breathtaking. I couldn’t help myself going on and on.
Suddenly I was on a road and soon a sign indicating the village of Cerje. I was still going steeply uphill but the red and white waymarkers continued to draw me.
People were working on the land and apples littered the path which I juicily enjoyed. I skipped from side to side where there was a pavement, to be safe on the tight bends.
Note to self: learn legilimency (as J K called it) to develop the ability to push out the unhelpful memories and worries, once acknowledged!
I spent time at a bus stop because I knew I was on a one-way walk and that the daylight of course ends at 5pm here in November. I photographed the timetable and carried on, confident I would get back to Samobor that way (a bus had passed me earlier).
The homesteads were strung out and I began to wonder if I might actually turn back if the trail was going to continue on asphalt.
A sign to a café with a stunning view didn’t yield the desired result: open from 5pm, presumably because it is dark by then and there needs to be somewhere to meet up during the long evenings.
I had to retrace my steps sometimes because the way is generally so well marked that as soon as 10 minutes passed without a sign I knew I was wrong.
There were lots of trees down blocking the way, but walkers or cyclists had been there before me if I looked carefully.
It was downhill at times at this stage and tantalising signs to Okic, which when I looked on Googlemaps said it was a tourist attraction.
As I neared, worrying a bit about the time, I wondered if it would be worth it.
I didn´t let myself stay long (although long enough to admire the woman with the chain saw) and her produce. I rather rushed up the hill, despite my tiredness, and almost immediately lost my path. What made me plough on regardless I do not know, but I ended up in one of my fixes – very steep, knee deep in nettles, several dead ends and my head started to popund. In the end I went over a fence into someone´s garden and out through their front gate, only to hear a loud noise behind me – a bus. I was not at all sure where I was but I flagged down the bus and begged and, yes, he was on his way to Samobor.
Slowly I calmed down, somewhat embarrassed , and my head stopped throbbing. I was all but out of water. Up and down and round he drove at top speed, letting people off, driving round the village square and going back the way he had come through pretty places with shops, bars and attractive churches.
Until we arrived back where I had started at the bus station in Samobor. I could not quite face a traipse back into the town, so instead I drank my green tea in the station cafe (full of smokers, so I sat outside) where the waitress the age of my daughters spoke customarily wonderful English and refilled my bottle adding ice. I marvelled at the table tennis room, the pop-up cinema and creche, all making up the modern station complex (free, clean loos as well!)
There more to see if you visit: a museum, a cave and a castle for example.
It was a misty morning when I set out to walk into the city of Zagreb.
Holjevac was born in Karlovac, at the time, in Austria-Hungary. He joined the Communist Party of Yugoslavia in 1939.
Up until now they have been shut (holiday, weekend etc) and yesterday was no exception for the one on the left. The brusque security guards reluctantly let me use the toilets, but although there were lots of people there they wouldn’t let me in.
This is an exhibition which aims to to keep alive and use the ancient Glagolitic alphabet.
Such elevated status of Angular Glagolitic rests on the hardworking hands of stonemasons, weary eyes of scribes, zeal of Glagolitic priests, skills of Croatia’s oldest master printers, dedication of researchers, and the creativity and vision of enthusiastic individuals working in the creative industries. From the website
Near where I am staying there are a series of underpasses which take you from one side of Avenija Dubrovnik to the other and, half way between, to the tram stops. I go there for the graffiti…
…and I am always hoping to hear more busking like the violinist who was there a few days ago. It may have come from the symphony byDora Pejačević (10 September 1885 – 5 March 1923) who was a Croatian composer, a member of a noble family. Her Symphony in F-sharp minor is considered by scholars to be the first modern symphony in Croatian music.
Nearly Xmas. Phew! I thought I might miss out on reindeer shop displays if I was away from home, but no.
There is a handy pastry and bread stall immediately outside for breakfast if you have been on the all-night bus from Milan like I had. It is just by the tram stop. Thanks to Léa for treating me.
Public toilets are open, lit up at night and come in a nice shade of green (which would make my friend L happy).
Tickets 4 kun from tabacco kiosks which you can find on many street corners (though lots are shut on Sundays).
Brits: Look left when you cross the road! Although there are lots of one way streets – basically beware. I had a very close shave when a most apologetic driver ran over my left foot. Lucky I had my heavy duty walking boots on.
Booksa is a book club. Warm and friendly, you must pay an annual fee of 10 kun (£1.20, 1. 35 euros) to join. There is a small library including books in English, newspapers, comfy chairs, wifi and a cafe.
A book is to a man what a binocular is to an astronomer or a microscope to a medical student – an instrument improving observation ability. Matko Peić
They also have book readings etc, mostly in Croatian. The staff speak great English. Like all cafés in Zagreb, there is no food on sale, nor alcohol, but the jasmine tea (proper tea leaves) and hot chocolate are fab.
Without realising quite how wet it was, I set off to walk into the city centre as usual (approx 1 hour from Sopot where I am staying), but the rain was torrential. The bus was quick and straightforward although I still had to walk for 20 minutes or so and therefore arrived at the Museum of Broken Relationships in a completely soaked state. The money in my purse in my bum bag was wet and the stamps stuck together!
It is a most unusual and very popular place, particularly frequented by young people. The exhibits have all been donated by the public, made up from a collection of sad stories with connected items and memorabilia. Well curated, there is perhaps unsurprisingly a sombre atmosphere. The cafe is smart with WiFi and expensive. 40 kun to enter (cheaper for students or older folk).
I took a river walk – after 2 days of torrential rain, I was happy that it was fine again, though cool and misty. The mountains in the distance had however disappeared.
There are white paths stretching in both directions beside the Sava River. Between them and the banks there are expanses of grass which I guess are often deluged because there are mud covered plants there.
I walked to the Botanics and they are gloriously free to enter, bijou and bonny.
Here are some slideshows of plants, fungi, flowers, vegetables and the dome with the giant (up to 2 metres wide) water lilies from Souzth America inside it. Despite winter being right around the corner, there was plenty to see.
Botanic Gardens The Zagreb Botanical Garden is a botanical garden located in downtown Zagreb, Croatia. Founded in 1889 by Antun Heinz, Professor of the University of Zagreb, and opened to public in 1891, it is part of the Faculty of Science.
The Privredna Bank: It was dry and warm, and when I got to the counter the currency exchange was smooth and straightforward. I got a much, much better rate of kun to euros than I did in Italy. But. I have almost never had to wait so long for anything. Ever.
The Post Office: In contrast there was no queue at the post office and although the willing woman had almost no English I managed to make myself understood. Stamps to the UK cost 5.80 kun for a postcard.
Bars and cafes do not serve food. Many allow smokers inside rather than making them go out, even though most have nice awnings with cosy blankets now in November.
Getting around: buses and trams both seem to be very efficient. Buy tickets from tabac kiosks, 4 kun each, in advance and when you get on (you can use any door), go right to the front to find the little yellow box attached to one of the chrome uprights. Insert your ticket with the silver part towards you and wait for it to make a noise. Beware! most tabac kiosks are shut on Sundays so you might get stranded without a bus ticket. I asked and was directed by friendly waiters outside the theatre.