MC's Whispers

Whispering Silences

Archive for the tag “traveling”

Beyond the Fence

In the northernmost part of Greece there is a prefecture – one of the largest regional units in the country – home to beautiful places you’ve never even heard of. Because the Prefecture of Evros, part of the East Macedonia and Thrace region, is better known for the huge fence across the border between Greece and Turkey, aiming to keep out irregular migrants, rather than the dozens of other wonderful things that invite you there. The truth is, there is not much sightseeing to do here. But was is certain is that you’ll have a great time and you’ll manage to relax. Because here, there are large areas of natural forest that will replenish you with tranquillity that only nature can offer. There are museums and natural wealth, that unfortunately is not promoted sufficiently, nor it is it exploited adequately. There is so much more beyond the media-focused fence to see here. There are people who are among the most hospitable you will ever meet; simple, calm and hard-workers, who know how to enjoy life in a milder rhythm and seize every single day that comes.

©MCD_Alexandroupolis

The capital of the region is Alexandroupoli, one of the newest cities in Greece, as it was only a fishing village settled by the Ottoman Empire until the late 19th century. It benefits from its position at the centre of land and sea routes connecting Greece with Turkey. Landmarks in here include the city’s lighthouse in the port, the archaeological sites of the Mesimvria Zone, the city’s waterfront (the centre of commercial activity), the Ethnological Museum of Thrace, the thermal springs (Hana) of Traianoupoli which have been recognised by the Greek state for their therapeutic abilities and are considered among the most important in Greece, as well as the cave of the Cyclops Polyphemus in Makri – a coastal village, which also offers a range of beach bars and restaurants by the sea.

The city’s large coastal road is closed every afternoon, transforming it into a long promenade along the beach, with a view of Samothrace island, and the majestic colourful sunset that allows your thoughts to wander as you acknowledge the slower pace of life you too are entering.

©MCD_Alexandroupolis

For nature lovers, the area has a lot on offer: the nearby Evros Delta is one of the most important wetland on a national, European and international level. Extending over 200,000 hectares, with a significant number of rare animal and plant species, it has been branded a Special Protection Zone, as well as a proposed Site of Common Interest in the Natura 2000 network.

©SS_Evros Delta

The Dadia-Lefkimi-Soufli Forest National Park is also one of the most important protected areas at national, European and international scale. It is one of the first areas in Greece to be declared as protected since a great deal of flora and fauna species found in the Balkan Peninsula, Europe and Asia coexist here. The landscape mosaic formed by pine and oak forests, interrupted by clearings, pastures and fields is the ideal habitat for birds of prey. The Park is near the village of Soufli, notable for the silk industry that flourished there in the 19th century. The village hosts a unique Silk Art Museum, which aims to highlight and preserve the region’s rich tradition of silk production and processing.

©MCD_Orestiada Central Square

The northernmost and newest city of Greece and the second largest town of the Evros regional unit of Thrace is Orestiada. It was founded in 1923 by Greek refugees from Adrianople after the Treaty of Lausanne when the population exchange occurred between Turkey and Greece, in which the Evros River became the new border between the two countries. Despite lacking in sightseeing, the city is full of options for leisure, as it offers a range of all kinds of traditional cafes, taverns, restaurants, and modern bars that are not far from any other found in larger, more urban, cities. There is a particular café situated in a large pine park, allowing you to enjoy shade in the summer, while children can play carefree in the playground. A small theatre here, also hosts the Panhellenic Amateur Theatre Festival every end of August-beginning of September, while the city itself organises a variety of concerts and performances, especially during the summer.

Here, you’ll manage to relax, as you’re only true concern is where to have your next cup of coffee, where to dine, and where to have a drink later on. In this northernmost part of the country, you’ll come to acknowledge that you don’t need a lot to have a good time. It’s the company that makes that time worthwhile and memorable.

©MCD_Solar Tree

The city has a characteristic solar tree dominating its central square, an equivalent of which exists in Milan and other cities around the world. The city’s central square won the first prize at the 2016 Best City Awards Contest. Noteworthy is the fact that the city is constructed in a square-like manner, making it hard to get lost even for those with no sense of orientation whatsoever, while it is remarkably clean, peaceful, and with the character of an urban-village.

©MCD_Ardas

Further up north, there is an endless green scenery by the river Ardas that makes you wonder why these amazing destinations are not better promoted. The area here by the river that unites three nations (Greece, Turkey, Bulgaria), is an attraction for a pleasant walk, and a relaxed coffee with a unique view. Here, every summer, a music festival is organised with the participation of renowned Greek and international artists.

The traditional town by this river, Kastanies, whose name derives from the huge chestnut trees that once featured in the town square, hosts the only land border between Turkey and Greece (of length 11km), given that the rest of the border is along the river Evros. It is said that this is one of the oldest towns of the prefecture and has never been occupied by Muslims. Although it is highlighted by media for political issues, this town is full of vitality, demonstrating the warm hospitality of the people of Evros, and uniting people beyond the borders who cross over for work, leisure, a cup of coffee, or a delicious meal at the famous pizzeria “Lakis”.

©MCD_Didymoteicho

A trip in this region will not be complete without a tour of Didymoteicho, a town associated with the military presence it is best known for, due to its proximity to the borders (it is only 2km from the Greece-Turkey border). The town once served as the capital of the Byzantine Empire, while it holds the ruins of the ancient Roman city of Plotinopolis. The city had been built in a very strategic position, because it had for exploitation a very fertile plain and also controlled a passage of Erythropotamos, through which passed a branch of the via Egnatia leading in the middle and upper valley of Evros river and on the shores of the Black Sea.

©MCD_Didymoteicho

The city offers a mesmerising view from the ancient medieval hilltop citadel complex – Fortress/ Castle, while an important sight of the town is also the Çelebi Sultan Mehmed Mosque, also known as the Bayezid Mosque and the Great Mosque, an early 15th-century Ottoman mosque, which is considered one of the most important Muslim monuments, not only in Greece, but in all of Europe, as being the oldest mosque on European ground. It has been a protected monument since 1946. Due to a fire during restoration works in 2017, the entire roof was destroyed, while damage to the interior and the walls remains unknown. The mosque, like many other buildings, today remains unexploited. The city, however, is a great escape from the urban routine, as it hosts a range of cafes and restaurants with a breath-taking view.

With endless valley green, riverfront walks, and tranquillity we desperately yearn for, this border prefecture illustrates some of the most beautiful areas of Greece, despite the fact that it is rundown by mosquitos (so much, that even cafeterias have mosquito-repellents available!). But that is the minimum price you pay for relishing the so many benefits this region has to offer. Whatever you are looking for: relaxation, adventure, exploration, food and drink, this place is ready to impress you, so much that you’ll want to return soon.

Travelling stories to tell

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When things got rough, they used to just leave. Together. They would travel to someplace new, to fill their hearts with adventure and their minds with enthrallment at how vast our world truly is. They believed that travelling – by car, motorbike, train, airplane, boat, whatever means available according to the destination – opened a person’s heart, broadened their minds and filled them with stories to tell. And they had many.

But lately, they became alienated from each other. And consequently from all the things they did together.

She was always excited when travelling with him, because he became almost a different person; someone more relaxed, more serious, yet thoughtful at the same time. He became the person she fell in love with. As if breaking the bonds that held him captive to his daily routine liberated him into becoming a better version of himself.

He loved travelling with her because it lit up a spark in her eyes; she let out a childish enthusiasm and reminded him all over why he fell in love with her in the first place.

Now, they travelled in different directions.

She went to places that were new to her, where they had never been before together.

He, on the contrary, went to all the same, where they had.

Because one wanted to forget. And the other to always remember.

That feeling of being at home

©MCD

There is a serenity in finding a place you can call home. Because no matter how many buses, trains, airplanes you need to get there, it is all worth the tiredness when you finally reach it. It is a place you hold dear in your heart because you know it will always welcome you back, no matter how far you go or how long it takes for you to return.

It is even greater if you have friends who will always be waiting for you and who will get out of their way to make you feel like home, because that is exactly where you feel you are. A family is one that extends beyond blood ties. And those friends who are geographically distant from you are sometimes the ones who are the closest. You will talk for hours about everything and always be up to date with each others’ lives. They will always have some wise advice to share and that optimism that everything will be all right and life will find its way to give you want you deserve.

There are places that mark our lives. Places where we wished we could live forever, as long or short a period that word connotes. There are places that don’t really change with time, but that is perfectly OK with us because you don’t want them to change (only if it is for the better). There are places other people tell you they visited on a travel streak and you are proud to say, ‘I know it, I lived there, it is like home’.

There are places where no matter your absence, whenever you return, you know exactly where everything is and where to go, where the hidden gems are, and where to find the best views. As if coming back home.

And if you are lucky enough to find such a place with friends who have become family, you are blessed with having a home away from home, one that will offer you peace and tranquillity, a place to crash (literally and metaphorically) and the strength to regroup yourself so you can return to ‘normality’ stronger and more optimistic.

A single moment on track

©Dawn M. Miller

That autumn day, just when the train was following its tracks under the tunnel into the mountain, with the crispy leaves brushing against the half-open windows, is exactly when she realised her life had changed.

They were playing card games in an almost empty wagon. Their laughter echoed in the wooden cabin. It was the sound of sincere joy.

She was gleaming all over. His eyes reflected her happiness. That innocent pure love of life that belonged to a child. He made her happy.

It was then she realised she was in love. And that would inevitably change her forever.

Also part of Friday Fictioneers

The language of communication

language-barrierIt’s a strange feeling not being able to communicate due to language barriers. It’s something like feeling helpless and incompetent; as if somehow you are found wanting in certain circumstances. However, this is not always your fault.

Barry found himself abroad on his first trip in years. He had finally overcome his fear of flying – as much as possible to be able to take a quick trip to the neighbouring country he had heard so much about. The target was to relax and get away for a couple of days. To regroup and return stronger and rejuvenated.

But instead… the opposite occurred.

There are some people who see it as a matter of nationalistic pride to refuse to speak in a language other than their own. No matter how much their economy needs tourists, they do not seem to care to put on a smiling face or to even demonstrate the minimum amount of courtesy. In their view, they are not paid enough to serve others. At least not the way they should – politely and brightly. They see foreigners as intruders that come to disrupt their own routine and who inconveniently what things done differently. So many even refuse to speak to them in a language different than their own, one that is universally understandable.

Barry had never faced a similar situation before. In the seven languages he spoke, he always had one way or another to talk to almost every one he met. But here, everything was different. It was almost a stubbornness, a not wanting to communicate. They spoke in their language and their interlocutor could simply sense the tone. Or see the gesture. S/He would get the point sooner or later.

Barry felt unwanted. It was very bad to feel so inhospitable in a country you invested money into going. You were injecting cash into their economy, the least they could do was show they appreciated it.

In the end, relaxing was not as much as trying to remain calm. The best he could do was acknowledge that he was not going to be the one to alter an entire mentality or culture. Being upset about things you can’t change won’t help. All you can do is decline to fall to their level, and maintain your own dignity.

 

Steps forward

20180107_Steni, Evoia

©MCD

The secret to success is to have faith that you can; you don’t have to see the whole staircase to take the first step. You just have to be willing to move forward.

It’s amazing how your perspective can change if you simply walk a little out of your comfort zone. Go to places you’ve never been before. Locations that you can’t even point to on a map. Places you didn’t even know existed. You’ll be pleasantly surprised.

You’ll be astounded by how much beauty there is in this world. And by how close it is to you. Even your neighbouring city or village holds secrets and attractions that you don’t know about, simply because you’re too lazy or stuck in your own world to go look.

Go travel. Go live. Go learn about the world.

It will open your mind and make you realise that most often you worry too deeply about things that shouldn’t matter so much.

Take the step. You won’t regret it.

A Platanus of history

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©MCD

There is a quote that says, “imagine if trees gave free WiFi; we’d all be planting like crazy. Too bad they only produce the oxygen we breathe”.

Trees are more important and vital for our lives than we believe or even give them credit for. They contribute to their environment by providing oxygen, improving air quality, climate amelioration, conserving water, preserving soil, and supporting wildlife. They produce the wood we use to light our fireplaces in the winter, make our furniture, even the paper we write on. Yet, we cut them down without second thoughts.

It is no wonder then, that when we come across a tree that is centuries old we treat it as a wonder of nature. We stand before it dumbfounded, gazing at this stupendous sight. And it makes you truly feel small and insignificant.

There is a place in North Evia, Greece, somewhere along that nature-blazing road that has you driving among trees, on your way towards the Kyreas River, in between the villages of Prokopi and Mantoudi. There is this place where a sign will direct you to the “Great Platanus”. A plane tree that residents will tell you has been there for centuries. It is “a tree of huge dimensions”, as the sign reads, a “monument of nature”. A Platanus Orientalis. It is 22-23 metres tall, with its trunk’s circumference reaching 18 metres, its trunk diameter at 5.5 metres, the surface of its stem at 900 square metres, and its shadow said to be once stretching over 2.5 acres. Its age is estimated at 500-600 years, although some say that it exceeds 2,300 years! It is said that this is the most ancient Platanus in the Balkans, perhaps even the whole of Europe.

20171028_133927Its tree trunks are larger than what can fit in your wide-open arms. It stands imposing before you and, even though lacking in foliage and somewhat deserted and with broken branches, the vastness of this tree is not diminished. Rather, it is a refreshing site in a world full of asbestos and tar. There is also a huge hollow in its trunk, big enough for 10 or more people standing. In it, you suddenly forget all the problems that trouble your head daily. You take a deep breath and simply be grateful for being alive. For being there. And for being able to witness this. Just think about all the changes this tree may have witnessed. It was there before you and will probably remain so even after you.

20171028_133932As with all over-aged creatures, there are myths and legends surrounding this tree. For example, it is said that if someone falls asleep in its hollow, they will fall ill or harm will come to them, as goblins will come out and cast a spell on them. In another legend, if you are found at midnight under the tree, you will hear voices, music, violins and clarinets, and see fairies and goblins appear dancing at the shores of the river. In yet another, it is said that at midnight two large rams come out of the platanus and start noisily fighting each other. This tree is often associated with fairies and goblins as it was believed that, being over-aged, it was also haunted.

No matter the stories, however, the reality remains that this, like so many others, is part of our natural heritage and should be protected and preserved. We devote so much of our time, energy and funds to things that matter less, yet we abandon those that benefit us more.

N.B. All photos are mine, taken in North Evia, Greece, on 28 October 2017.

 

Also part of Daily Prompt: Gratitude

 

A road to a different view

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©Danny Bowman

They told him the difficult, winding roads, the ones less travelled are the ones that would lead him to the most beautiful destinations. To places he had never seen before, never even imagined. He decided to take the risk because he wanted some peace of mind.

It was cloudy, perhaps even preparing for rain. And the gravel was rough; he could feel his car panting. But he was determined to go on.

He could see it up ahead. Tranquility was expecting him.

It was as if an entire mountain was waiting for his arrival to show him a different perspective.

 

Also part of Friday Fictioneers

Head in the clouds

flying over clouds and rainbowYou know that expression “you’ve got your head in the clouds”? Well, some people actually do. Like Jazmin.

It was only natural she would become an air stewardess, as her father was a successful pilot and she often exploited the free travels she received as part of the perks of being a pilot’s daughter. By the time she was eight she had already set foot in all continents and was the youngest frequent flyer the airline had ever seen.

It was a logical aftermath, therefore, that Jazmin would choose to make a profession out of what she so loved.

Every few days she would embark on a different destination in another part of the world, ready to savour new cultures and mentalities.

She felt as if wanderlust – that strong desire to travel and constantly be on the move, to explore the world – was an emotion running in her veins ever since she was born. Combined with “Fernweh” – that crave for travelling, being homesick for a place you’ve never been – Jazmin was the personification of the ultimate traveler.

She rejoiced every time she set foot on the plane, and never really felt like home anywhere else. She was very well adapted to life on air that she had difficulty adapting to life on the ground.

The excitement and enthusiasm, however, began to fade three years later. Jazmin began to grow tired of the constant change of location, of the packing and unpacking, of the same air routine every couple of days. And she began to feel jealous of the young couples who would come on board, exhilarated that they were fleeing to an exotic destination, together. That is what she now longed for. Sharing this Fernweh that dominated her existence with someone else. Having a partner. Having a home. A stable place to which to return.

It was not too long after she admitted to herself that she yearned for some stability in her life of travels, that one particularly charming passenger made her heart skip a beat, so much that she almost poured the hot coffee on the person sitting right in front of him. Jazmin blushed, and the dandy gentleman radiated what she was for so long expecting – a smile that would make her feel at home.

But he disembarked, leaving Jazmin to wonder if should would ever see him again.

Until she found the note he had left for her on his seat. It was a meeting place for their first date, and the start of their life together. A life as colourful as all her travels, as energized as all her trips, and as loving as all her desires.

Also part of Daily Prompt: Roy G. Biv

Riding in the plane with noise

aerial-view-vi-airplane-flying-over-valencia-in-spain-headed-east-towards-the-mediterranean-sea-john-a-shironFedra was traveling for the first time after news of the serious plane crash had surfaced in the media. Although she was a very frequent flyer and never faced any severe plane-related episodes other than the occasional turbulence during bad weather, this time she was a bit afraid. Falling planes had become a kind of a notorious trend lately and the media depiction of the situation was not helping. Just in case, she took a light sedative before boarding.

Everything had proceeded normally. So far.

She noticed the flight was full of many foreigners. And old people. But she took no notice. What difference would it make anyway?

As soon as the plane took off, though, it began.

The noise. The unbearable noise. And it was not coming from the engines.

It was emerging from the old ladies sitting exactly behind her. They were separated by an old man who was unlucky enough to be seated in the middle of this missile exchange of very loud words. Foreign words of a language Fedra could not detect. Maybe something Arab-related? Or perhaps it was Dutch? For some reason the unfamiliarity of the words also made them sound all the more louder. She couldn’t understand whether the women were excited of traveling, of being on a plane, or simply chatterboxes. But they were so loud, even the person ten rows further down complained. Not even the flight attendants could do anything about this. The old ladies couldn’t hear well either, so even telling them to keep it down had to be done loudly and then everything simply became worse.

People all across the plane were hoping food would be served soon to get them to shut up. But that didn’t work either.

Food just made the old ladies even louder, as they were munching and chatting at the same time, probably criticising the food, the service, and who knows what else.

Then the on board purchases had their round and the old ladies got so excited that they stopped the cart and were asking to see things – mostly jewelry – for about ten minutes. The stewardess was not able to accurately decipher what the old ladies were saying, as their foreign language differed greatly from English, and this caused even the stewardess to sigh numerous times. She eventually walked away fifteen minutes later without having managed to sell anything.

The noise continued though.

Passengers trying to get some sleep were now complaining of living a nightmare, while literally everyone was checking the time, hoping the plane would land soon so this martyrdom would end.

It is unavoidable to travel with noise. It is part of human behaviour. But why have we all become so insensitive to every one else around us that we simply do not give a chicken’s feather what anyone else thinks, or if we are causing them discomfort?

When the plane finally landed, the pilot himself opened the cockpit door and requested to see who was making all that noise. When he saw two elderly women picking up their canes and holding on to the unfortunate old man-in-the-middle, he was stunned. How so much noise could be coming out of such a feeble “container” was a mystery to him. And to the control tower to whom he had been reporting.

What the old ladies (and the other passengers) didn’t know, is that right behind them sat a reporter from their hometown who had been recording everything they were saying. Something which he later used for his own reportage. Fedra still didn’t know how, but a few days later she had seen the two familiar faces on a foreign news bulletin during a TV zapping surge one afternoon.

The moral ending is, be considerate of others around you. If nothing else, you never know who might be listening and what consequences that may have.

Also part of Daily Prompt: What a Twist!

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