Greece — Day 9: End of conference and a bus trip to nowhere.

Saturday morning was the end of the conference, marked as always by everyone carrying their luggage around with them at the session. (Side note to whoever stole my poster tube: Really? It was a cardboard tube. It wasn’t even a fancy hardshell poster tube. But anyway, I hope you’re enjoying my cardboard poster tube.)

The new new new new plan for the day was that I would take a bus down to Kalampaka and meet Dan there. This was a great plan, except that it involved me taking a bus to Kalampaka and meeting Dan there. (I’m kidding. Mostly the whole thing went pretty smoothly, with only one major hitch.)

After the conference-provided lunch (which of course involved feta cheese), I jumped on a local bus headed to the regional bus terminal. I had been warned about how the bus terminal worked, so I was mostly prepared for the madness, but not entirely. There were labyrinths of windows at which you could purchase a ticket, and each window had a sign above it listing the places that that particular window sold tickets to. I wasn’t sure if I needed to find the window for Kalampaka or for Trikala, as I knew I was going to have to change buses in Trikala. I wandered around until I found the correct sign — luckily, for both towns. I bought my ticket and settled into a seat to wait for the bus. As I waited, I inhaled at least two packs worth of cigarette smoke; it seemed like everyone around me was chain smoking in anticipation of (I hoped) not being able to smoke on the bus.

The bus was a modern coach bus, like the kind you would charter for a trip, complete with air conditioning and Greek pop music being blasted through the overhead speakers. The trip to Trikala was pretty, as we went through hills near the coast for part of the way. It was also mostly uneventful, except for the half an hour we sat on the highway because there was a car on fire in front of us. The only other odd thing was that while the bus driver had checked our tickets when we boarded, at one point he pulled over on the highway to pick up a woman standing by the side of the highway wearing an official-looking uniform. The woman got on the bus, the driver pulled back onto the highway, and the woman proceeded to check everyone’s ticket on the bus. When she finished, the driver pulled back off to the side of the highway, where she got off and stood there as the bus pulled away. Random ticket inspection? Normal? No idea.

We arrived at Trikala, a lovely modern facility in the middle of nowhere, about a half hour late. I was worried that I’d missed the bus to Kalampaka, and it turned out I had … but there was another one in 40 minutes. So 40 minutes later, I’m off on another coach bus. This one was a little different: unlike the first bus, which left point A and didn’t stop until we got to point B, this bus actually went through small towns and stopped at bus stops along the way, picking up people and dropping them off, so even though it was the same kind of coach/tour bus as the last, it was a lot more like a city bus. At one point we drove past a small park and there were two horses wandering around in the park. This did not appear to be an unusual thing.

It was at this point that I realized that I had NO idea where our hotel was in Kalampaka. The directions I had only indicated that it was on the street to the old Byzantine church. This, however, was not enough information. I ended up getting off the bus FAR too early, and walked across the entire town asking anyone and everyone on the way where I was going. I had the street name, but it was transliterated into English, so when I showed it to people they didn’t recognize what street I was looking for. I finally came across a very nice pharmacist who, through a mix of English and (his excellent, my horrifically substandard) French, understood what I was looking for and then walked me through a neighborhood until we came to a major street that intersected the street I needed. It turned out, of course, that the bus I had been on actually terminated about 150 meters away from where the hotel was, and if I’d just stayed on the bus longer (or, you know, looked at Google Maps for where the hotel was) I would have been fine.

Dan had already checked in and was waiting for me at the bus terminus, where I was supposed to have been arriving. Through the magic of public wi-fi, we found each other. Our plan was, in total, “Dan drives and Leigh takes a bus to Kalampaka, and we meet up somehow.” We’re still kind of amazed that worked.


  • Modes of transportation: coach bus
  • Cumulative total: 10
  • Creepy staring guy on bus: 1
  • Meals involving cheese: 3


Greece – Day 9: Mount Olympus

At six AM the lights in the refuge were unceremoniously turned on, so it was time to go climb a mountain!  After a quick breakfast, I left as fast as possible so as to have some time away from the students.

Mount Olympus is on the east coast of the Greek mainland, with the Adriatic to the east.  There were low clouds, so I couldn’t see the sunrise directly, but I still had some great views of the reflections on the water.

There will likely be a LOT of pictures in this post.  I’ll try to think of something interesting to say about all of them, but let’s be honest – they speak for themselves a lot better than I can.

As I got higher above the refuge, the clouds started to roll in.  Below me.  They were moving astonishingly quickly – it was almost like watching the surf come in.

Rounding a curve into the final valley, I was completely alone – I don’t know where the guy in the last picture went, but I didn’t see him for half an hour at least.

Well – not QUITE alone.

It’s hard to see, but that silhouette is a mountain goat.  Four of them started well above me, and crossed the path behind me to reach the bottom of the valley as I continued to climb.  This was the most demanding part of the ascent – I’d estimate the grade at thirty to forty percent.

When you reach the top, it actually comes as a bit of a shock – from below, it looks like the rest of the slope, but when you get there, you realize it’s a sheer drop off the other side, so you must have arrived!

A word about the geography.  Olympus is what is technically known as a massif, meaning that there are a number of different peaks.  The first one you reach, from which the view above was taken, is called Skala.  It’s the third highest peak.  On the left of the picture is Skolio, the second highest, and on the right is Mytikas, the highest.  Mytikas is a far more difficult climb than the other two, and many climbers opt to skip it.  Including me.

Instead, I turned left, and headed for Skolio.  By this time, the high school students had caught up with me.  It’s not JUST that they were in better shape – they also had a guide who managed to find a way around the 40 percent grade I mentioned earlier.

And here I am at the top of Skolio – 2912 meters, which is pretty darn high:

The bowl behind Olympus is apparently known as “Zeus’ Cauldron.”

At the top of Skolio, there’s a log book to sign.  I wrote “What an amazing trip.  I wish Leigh were here too.”

By this point, almost all of the high school students had made it to the top, and it was starting to feel a bit like rush hour.

Mindful that I had a five hour or so walk down to the car, it was all too soon time to head down.  The walk down was just as uneventful as one might hope, and just as beautiful as the way up.

After two hours or so, I reached the refuge and had lunch.  On resuming my descent, I passed the same mule train coming up that I had encountered on its way down yesterday.  Every ounce of gas that had powered my wifi the previous evening had been schlepped up to the refuge by one of these sturdy little critters.

Upon reaching the parking lot, it was time to meet up with Leigh – but not back in Thessaloniki.  In another hare-brained scheme, we had decided that she would take a bus and meet me in Kalimbaka.  So I got in the car and headed out.  Passing the ranger station on the way out, there was no sign of nice ranger lady.  There was, however, a flock of ten or so goats milling around and standing on the fence to reach leaves. I hope they didn’t eat her.

At this point, I made a fatal error – I trusted the GPS a bit too much, and ended up taking a route that was at least an hour longer than optimal.  Instead of spending most of the drive to Kalimbaka on a nice interstate-style highway, I first drove through crowded, twisty, narrow downtown streets in Katerini, and then spent three hours on twisty, switchbacky country roads.  Fun to drive on, but not “I’d sure like to do this for a whole extra hour!” fun.  Stupid GPS.

Also, I had to wait at one point for an enormous flock of goats to cross the road.  That was actually sort of awesome. Wish I had a picture.  I found our hotel in Kalimbaka, checked in, and settled down with the parrot in the town square to wait for Leigh’s arrival.


  • Means of Transportation Employed: Rental Car
  • Highest Point: Skolio, Mount Olympus – 2912 meters
  • Total water consumed during Olympus visit – 4.5 liters.
  • Awesome factor: 11