Breakfast is again yogurt, honey, and walnuts, followed by a walk to the train station to begin our trip to Όλυμπος (Mt. Olympus). British trains are quiet and impersonal - it's a more that you avoid speaking with other people. Greecian trains are filled with chatter and life.
|Arriving in Λιτόχωρον (Litochoro), we slipped down a rocky escarpement to the sea and then began the ascent. At a different time we may have climbed nine thousand steep and rocky feet to the summit, but, as it was, some Albanians direct us to a bus into the quaint little town.|
|Following juice and the purchase of Twix bars at a cafe we're reminded that this is the home of the Gods. Thus warned, we climb into a taxi and begin heading up the pass.|
|The taxi driver's dash and rear-view mirror are a mass of religious emblems. As he floors it around the first bend, I'm suddenly thankful for them. Speaking calmly the whole way, he twists the wheel again and again, guiding the taxi up a narrow, winding road. A few feet from my window quick-dropping cliffs afford excellent vistas that Christine and I eventually become too nauseous to really appreciate. Mid-trip he pulls out some small, fresh-picked pears and offers them to us - Christine's been speaking to him in Greek the whole way in hopes of getting a discount. But to no avail. We're left standing in a place called Prionia by the 2918m Cafe (Is it a joke? The summit's at 2919m.) catching our breath and consulting our map.|
|Then it's on to the trail, where we are immediately forced to stop and take pictures. The trail winds upwards through some lovely pine forests and then…|
|…a sign! There are no branch trails, so it's unclear why such a sign ins necessary, unless… the refuge is close!|
|A few more hours of hiking up steeply sloped trails and passing more such signs convinces us that they're meaningless.|
Somewhere along the way we hear the haunting echo of bells. A monestary, perhaps? The bells continue, growing in intensity and we're mystified until a train of burros comes charging down the mountain towards us laden with the packs of lazier, more wealthy, or better informed hikers. All tied together they follow the lead burro, atop which the driver is perched and unconcernedly swaying about. I'm reminded that if you're not the lead burro the view doesn't change very much. The mobile burro monestary clangs hauntingly away and we're left to continue climbing.
|After what we estimate to be hundreds of kilometers of hiking (much more than the 4km the map told us about) we've risen up out of the valleys and have, finally, a view of the summit. This is promising as Λιτόχωρον and the trail are dissolving into the night.|
Λιτόχωρον and The Valleys
|Rounding the corner of a ridge we pass a picturesque little valley inscribed with ΠΑΟΚ. The Greek's, I'm told, are fanatic about their local/regional soccer teams and one way of showing support is to graffiti your favourite team's name everywhere. There are stories of hikers from Switzerland to China coming upon these inscriptions in the most remote and desolate of places.|
|We pass by a clump of fireweed - my favourite flower - and a horse. Christine used to ride horses in Maryland and is happy that we've seen one here.|
|We find the refuge next to the largest trees I've yet seen in Greece. A culturally-appropriate sign warns us of the dangers of mobile burro monestaries. The German translation ends with a neat little period, the English translation doesn't use punctuation, and the Greek translation is very excited.|
|The refuge is large with a vast, spreading patio and, inside, a kitchen! Which produces spaghetti, Greek salad (with lots of feta cheese), and bread. The bread's accompanied by olive oil and the staff literally has to search when I ask if there's butter available. Greek silverware is arranged in a special way at the beginning of a meal - it is arranged so that you are ready. Ready to eat.|
In the distance the sea and sky have joined into a lush profusion of colour without boundaries or separations and, with this fusion comes the night's chill. The refuge lends us slippers and, purchased sheets in hand, we head upstairs to discover a loft with two very long bunks on either side: nine mattress laid next to each other. A closet full of coarse wool blankets supplements the sheets.
Downstairs again, we sit at a long table in the common room next to a couple of French girls. As Christine goes to place a hot cocoa order, and then to check on it, and, finally to retrieve it, they take the time she's away to question me in accented-English about who I am and what Christine and I are doing. Every time Christine reappears they immediately resume their own conversation - in French.
In the end, as we're preparing to head upstairs for the night, they give up their game and we all talk, briefly.
Well after midnight I'm awakened by a sudden unquenchable thirst to see the stars. Christine awakes at a tap and we head outside, propping the ominously auto-locking door open behind us. Outside the stars have an intensity that could give you a tan if it weren't freezing cold. It's the kind of cold I don't feel, though, and I lie down on the flagstones gazing upwards as Christine just stands and stares. Far out across the waters the lights of some distant island twinkle; behind us Όλυμπος' is a dark presence.
Rejuvinated, sleep comes quickly.