Driving on the right to Philippi

I’d booked a rental car to spend a week touring the major archaeological sites in Macedonia, and took a taxi to the airport to collect it. The rental was with Sixt. The office staff were lovely and their shuttle took me to the pick up point. The beautiful little BMW hatchback was brought to me and the attendant, doing the shuttle drives and the pick-ups and returns all on his own, began hurriedly to go through the start-stop instructions, when I suddenly realised he was stepping on a clutch!

Now, I drove a manual car for twenty years, but that was twenty years ago, and I’m from Australia, where we drive on the left side of the road, and our cars are right hand drive. I began to panic. “But I ordered an automatic!” I blurted! The attendant ordered, “Wait in the shade madam. I have no time to deal with this now,” and left in the shuttle again.

I thought, “Oh bugger, I’m a problem. I’ll be lucky to get out of here by dark.” It was about 12:30pm. I began to worry. Did I order an automatic? I’d been flicking in and out of web pages, and I’d been tired, doing the booking late on my last night before leaving Australia. I checked booking record on my phone. I’d ordered a manual car! Would I have to accept it or or would I have to go without? What would I do instead? In this mode my panic escalated as I sat, trying to stay calm.

The attendant returned with a different car. “Madam,” he snapped, “Here is your car – automatic.” I jumped up, thanking him and apologising for my stupid mistake. “It’s not my problem madam; it’s not my car!” I was very embarrassed, and mumbling apologies, in which he was not in the least interested, I got into the car and out of his way as quickly as possible!

Nevertheless, I was so grateful that the company had fixed my mistake.

The car was a neat little Renault Clio. It was a few days later that I realised that the mythological muse of history was called Clio. I don’t believe in omens and “signs”, but this is Greece ….

Using my phone as a GPS, I set off and reached Philippi within a couple of hours, and in plenty of time to look at the site and the museum. The island of Thasos had established a colony called Krenides, and when the colonists had trouble with the native Thracians, asked Philip II of Macedon for help. He helped, and noting the strategic, agricultural and resource value of the area, took over the colony and reestablished it as a Macedonian city. It was later a Roman city, supported by the Via Egnatia, which passed through it, and the site of the battle at which Mark Antony and Octavian, later Augustus, defeated Brutus and Crassus. Later again, in the first century AD, it was the first place in Europe a Christian church was established.

Needless to say, with that much history, it’s a great site.

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It has a theatre begun in Philip’s time for traditional drama, poetry and musical performances, and redeveloped during Roman times to provide for more spectacular entertainment, often involving involving wild animals. There’s also a forum and an agora, and as well as remains of temples and administrative buildings, a couple of basilicas.

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The museum had a few good artefacts, but was mostly information boards which I photographed for all the detail. I left thinking about the rows of sorted and numbered bits of masonry, and the parts of the site where remains of buildings lay in disorder. There is years of work still to do to fully excavate, examine, interpret and conserve the site before the full extent and history of Philippi, especially pre-Roman, will be known, and I don’t see how Greece can do it in the current circumstances.

On the other hand, it’s waited 2,000 years. It can wait a bit longer. I got into the car, turning on the blessed air-conditioning, and used my phone to book a hotel at the nearby village of Krinides. Gotta love technology!

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Of fallen rocks and the kindness of Greek people

18 September continued

After leaving Ancient Mantinea I continued toward Ancient Olympia. I stopped at Kapsia to look at a lovely house that may have been divided into apartments, because part of it was derelict, 20130927-200038.jpg

while the rest looked spick and span.

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The afternoon was wearing on as the air became cooler and the road narrowed and wound further into the mountains. I saw a man, a shepherd or goatherd, carrying a rough-hewn wooden crook, and wearing a long dun-coloured robe. Where it opened slightly at the bottom, below the knees, I saw that he was bare-legged and wearing shoes with no socks. His dark and greying hair was long and loosely pulled back, and his beard hung thickly to halfway down his chest. He gave me a look as I went by, which, though friendly, seemed entirely self-contained, just him, the mountains and his flock. Arkadia.

The mountains of Arkadia are beautiful. They’re also prone to rock falls. Every now and then I’d see little piles scattered on the side of the road. Suddenly, there were some on the road, with one about ten inches long and six inches high, smack in the middle of my lane. I’ve mentioned that I was driving a Suzuki Splash, and I’d already found out that they don’t don’t have much clearance underneath (see “Check before parking on the roadside to visit old tombs”). To avoid it I could go left or I could go right. Unfortunately I didn’t decide quickly enough to avoid it altogether, and my heart sank as I heard the k-chunk, felt the impact and the slight drag to one side before the car straightened. However, straighten it did, and I heaved a sigh of relief as everything seemed to settle down to normal again. However, about ten minutes later there was a definite drag to the right and a lot of rattling. Thinking, “That feels like a flat tyre,” I pulled over, and there it was. The driver’s side front wheel was completely flat, and worse, the rim had a big ding in its edge. “That’s not good,” I thought.

Outside of the car, there was a definite chill in the air. I dragged my suitcase out of the back, and lifted the floor of the boot up. No spare. I looked around. I was next to a long uphill driveway that had a taverna sign, but I couldn’t see a building. On the other side of the road was a kafenion, with an open front door and a log fire burning inside. I opted for the kafenion. The lady didn’t speak English, and I didn’t speak Greek, but between us, and a gentleman who was passing, we managed. The lady rang a mechanic in the next town, which was Lagkadia, and they conveyed to me that the mechanic would come soon.

20130928-002116.jpgA few minutes later a young man pulled in and they both greeted him. “Mechanic?” I asked. “Ohi, ohi (no, no)”, they answered, however they told him the trouble, and we all trooped over to the car. He seemed from his clothes to be in the army. He said, “Do you have tools?” I told him there was no spare. He lifted the floor of the boot, and then he lifted the second floor! There was the spare, and it had air in it. O frabjous day! He proceeded to change the wheel for me, and was at pains to ensure that I understood not to travel at faster than 80 kph, because this wheel “is smaller than others so it fit in bottom”.

In his website Matt Barrett’s Travel Guides, Matt Barrett advocates getting a larger car for various safety reasons when driving in Greece. I had forgotten this sage advice, and I can add a couple more reasons; the clearance from the ground, and the fact that these tiny cars come with a temporary spare only.

I wanted to pay these kind people for their time or at least buy them a drink or a coffee, but they wouldn’t accept anything but thanks, and waved me on my way with smiles and a last admonishment from the young man to “drive slow”.

At that point there was no other way I wanted to drive. The roads are so narrow and windy around Lagkadia that it took me more than two hours to drive the last seventy or so pretty much uninhabited kilometres to Olympia. I was so happy to reach Hotel Pelops and my comfortable little room.

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