Sunday, 16 October 2011

Greek Adventures

Church of Agia Eleni before dawn
I always go on holiday intending to stay fit and take in plenty of local runs during my stay. The good intentions are usually challenged by the temptations of the local food and ale. During a two week stay near Parga on the Greek mainland events took their usual path. Gyros (kebabs), Mythos (Ale) and sun loungers on the beach aren't conducive to fitness. Despite this I managed two runs over the fortnight which were more like short shuffles up local hills to explore. The first trip began at 5.30am having stumbled back to the hotel with my partner and another couple we had met after a drunken night out. I decided in a half drunk but sobering stupor that it would be good to take advantage of the early hour and run up the hill opposite the hotel to take some pictures of the sunrise. We had walked up the hill the previous day and had come across a typical Greek Chapel at the summit called the Holy Church of Agia Eleni. I knew it would take an hour or so to get to the summit which was plenty of time before sunrise but I was concerned about finding my way through the olive groves in the dark.
Sun rises above Agia Eleni
Happily my partner reminded me that we had bought a mini torch off a homeless person the previous evening. I returned to the hotel briefly to change. I set off still drunk but sobering, for the top of Agia Eleni. I found the track through the olive groves and ascended at a steady pace I was a bit worried that if the torch failed I would get lost. It only cost three Euros and I half expected it to fail. I reached the top just before 6.30am it was still dark with no sign of an early dawn. Dawn didn't arrive until about 7am and I spent 45 minutes or so pacing round outside the chapel and sneaking forty winks whilst being careful not to fall asleep. Shortly before sunrise I heard the chapel door open. I was standing on the viewing platform out of sight and I was slightly surprised that anyone else would have come up the hill in the dark. I had been told previously that Greek Chapel's are often owned by families and family members would make the daily pilgrimage to clean the chapel and pray before dawn. I kept out of the way until they were gone but then had sneaky a peak inside to see that two candles had been lit. Shortly afterwards dawn broke gradually. I was a bit disappointed
That trusty torch
at first as the light came without the sun but a short time later the sun began to rise above the distant mountains and I was treated to views across a shimmering Aegean sea. The small local fishing boats were heading out into the vast expanse of blue. They looked like miniature white dots in the distance.The sun had illuminated the town of Parga in the opposite direction, the scene of the previous evening's shenanigans. I stayed for a little while longer admiring the spectacular views but tiredness was setting in. I signed the guest book in the Chapel and then ran back through the olive groves and on to the hotel. I finally got to bed just before 8am and slept through till midday. Tracy was by the pool when I woke and I was grateful that she agreed to a pool day so I could deal with my latent hangover. The torch never let me down.
A solitary wild flower breaking through the trail.
The second run of the holiday involved running back from Lichnos back to the town of Parga. We had spent the day being lazy on the beach. Tracy decided to take the water taxi back around the mountain and I decided it was a good opportunity to run the five or so miles over the hill along the coast back through the olive groves to Parga. The scenery around the Epirus coast is spectacular, blue sea surrounds high mountains covered in olive groves. Wild flowers provide a sweet natural aroma which mixes well with the taste of the sticky heat. Nets lie extensively throughout the groves ready to catch the abundant crop which is harvested in October. The olives from the region are pressed and I am told the resulting olive oil heads mainly for the Italian market. It is an inspiring place to run. I'm a bit of a wimp running in foreign places. I had asked a waiter at lunch if there were any local hazards. He told me that snakes were prevalent in the olive groves but I was unlikely to encounter one if I kept to the mountain track. In any event he told me if bitten you would have "time to react". I though he meant time to fight with the snake but on further enquiry he meant time to get to hospital, phew...  
Olive grove on the hill
Tracy left on the water taxi I then started the ascent of the hill. I took two large bottles of iced water with me and drank the first whilst using the other to pour over my head. The initial climb reduced me to a walk but I managed to shuffle on again when I hit the olive groves. I ran happily along the track pausing to take a couple of photos along the way. The aromas of the foliage and the sight of wild flowers breaking through the trail were inspiring and it was great to be running such a beautiful place. I didn't pass any other people during the run and the sense of remoteness added to the pleasure. I arrived back in Parga


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