We couldn’t have made a better decision than coming to Greece!
Originally, we were planning to approach Turkey via Bulgaria, but as we followed the twists and turns of the early spring weather there, we thought better: let’s head to the Greek coast instead.
We loved every moment there!
Bird sanctuary around the Kirkini Lakes
On the day we reached Greece, we woke to a gray, rainy, windy morning by the Dorjan lake. Half of this lake is in (F.Y.R.O.) Macedonia, the other half is in Greece and it has superb views to the now snowcapped Bulgarian mountains. It was a shame we couldn’t see it in it’s full beauty in sunshine.
We’ve crossed the border and started our 100 km day towards Serres, our daily destination.
We were most excited about the Kirkini Lake. Not because we knew anything about them, but because it was a green splash on the map with a National Park sign, which is always good news for us.
The lake was even more beautiful than expected. We cycled on the peaceful, quiet roads by it at awe at the scenery and all the birds around. They were landing and taking off from the water in groups and made a fantastic spectacle.
Cycling here was so immersive, we only later realised that we didn’t even take one single picture of the area. We just enjoyed the flow.
New friends in Serres
By afternoon the weather cleared out a bit and we could enjoy the Northern Greek villages in the sun. They were surprisingly tidy and we had fun imagining the lives of the people in them. But it was a long day with a few hills ahead and it was dark by the time we reached the town of Serres.
We had no idea what to expect here.
This Sunday was one week before the Orthodox Easter, and it’s such a huge religious, cultural and family affair in Greece that everyone was already busy with the preparations. We had trouble finding accommodation through Couchsurfing. As all of our request had been understandably rejected, we decided to put up an ad in certain towns. Serres was one of these.
To be honest, we prefer to pick our hosts from CS, because then we have the chance to select the ones who we are curious about, and with whom we can see ourselves getting along well. When you post an ad on CS, the host have the chance to pick you and invite you to their homes.
But, as the weather was cold and paid accommodation was expensive, hence out of the question, we didn’t have a choice. We waited for someone to take us in.
And that’s what happened. Just a day before Giannis messaged us, that we are welcome to his place. His profile was almost empty and only two short references suggested that he’s not a psycho or an axe murderer. Him being the only one getting in touch, we accepted. Let’s see what happens!
Two hours later we couldn’t believe how lucky we got – again!
Giannis turned out to be the most kind-hearted, funny and easy going person we’ve met so far. With his girlfriend, Julia, they welcomed us into their wonderful home. They pointed us to our room and by the time we showered and cleaned the mud off, Juli had piping hot lentil soup on the table for us. Not long after we the first beer cans were open and we started to get to know each other: it took quite a while while we figured out, that we are not British, as they thought, but Hungarian, and Juli is not Greek, as we thought, but German.
The following day, while Giannis was at work, Julia showed us around Serres.
We fell for the picturesque town of 60.000 habitants at once. The streets and the people seem nice and lively, and the location is just perfect: in 40 minutes you can be on the beach to the South, or in snowy mountains, to the North. What more could one ask for!
Serres skyrocketed to the top of our best-location-we-could-live-in list.
Thanks to Juli, we could test the local pitas, which are made here with sweet fillings as well. There is one with a thick cream and also the kolokithopita: the pumpkin one, which became our favourite; mmmm!
Our only problem was that being in Greece was like being back in Western Europe – pricing wise. We had to watch out there, if we wanted to stick to out 5 euro daily budget.
For lunch, Julia made delicious couscous, and at night we went out for dinner. For this, we had friends joining in and the company became truly multilingual, with Spanish and English guests joining as well: Kate, Angel and Carmen.
We nervously looked at the menu, contemplating which ones of the mouthwatering dishes we can afford, but the sheets were soon taken out of our hands, and after a splur of greek and and a few minutes of waiting plates covered the table with the most delicious food we’ve ever head. Loads of grilled vegetables, potato, mushrooms of all kinds, smoked garlicky aubergines, roasted pepper, and various grilled seafood. Our glasses also kept refilling with a clear liquid called tsipuro (Τσίπουρο, 40-45% pomace brandy).
Day-trip to Thessaloniki
The original plan was to leave Serres on the following morning, Tuesday, but Juli’s enthusiasm for Thessaloniki convinced us that it is indeed a must-see. In addition to that, the weather was gloomy again, so we welcomed Giannis’ suggestion to accompany him to his first stop of his workday, which happened to be Thessaloniki. Yeah, right. We didn’t believe him for a second, but really appreciated that he’s willing to take us, so in the morning, we drove down with him and started our day of touristing.
The day was kicked off with two rounds of burek/pita – what else.
Thessaloniki is the second largest city in Greece, but, a bit like Barcelona, has the vibe of a mid-size seaside town with it’s mediterranean buildings. We especially loved the city’s versatility, the way the modern European squares and wide clean roads can turn into small alleyways with buildings squeezed together, and that you can unexpectedly run into nearly two thousand year old ruins in the middle of the city. We went into all the churches we could, visited the main sites and even had the chance to test the local gyros. We also found a huge cycling store, where I did some much needed shopping.
The highlight of the day though was the Modiano market, where everyone was crazed for Easter, either selling endless rows of coloured eggs or dead sheep, ready to be put on grill. The sight turned me back into a vegetarian – though it’s a very fancy hobby to have around here and makes life quite a challenge.
At night, Giannis and Julia drove down to meet us for a drink or two, then drove us home.
Even more Serres, then the seaside
Wednesday came and it was really time to leave.
We packed up our bags, and started dragging them down the stairs. We had no wish to leave, but it was really time. And why would we stay. The answer came just before leaving, when Zsolt made a run for the loo and it turned out his stomach is not in the best ever shape. I should have felt bad for him, but I was just awfully happy! We can’t cycle today, we have to stay! How great!
Our hosts didn’t seem to mind, and we decided to use the extra day to cook something for them.
Zsolt made his signature dish: celeriac cream soup, and I made Austrian style strawberry dumplings.
Moreover, it was all animal-free, as Julia is vegan.
By this time we took up the rhythm of the Greek lifestyle and we weren’t surprised when our hosts went for a nap at 7, only to get up two hours later, have a coffee and were ready to go out. We joined in with the schedule as well, and at half past ten we were on our way to town to see what Serres can offer us at night. The interior of the chosen bar was made of dark wood, and it smelled and looked wonderful in the dim light. It was owned by a Kretan man, and we tasted his rakomelo (Ρακόμελο, hot mixed alcoholic drink made of raki, honey and spices) – several times, as, again, our glasses kept refilling themselves. This was the best night of our trip so far. Zsolt was talking with Giannis, and me with Julia, and I was ever so happy for the female company, and to have a smart interesting person to talk with.
And then Thursday came. Now we really had to start making our way towards East, but we still weren’t ready to part from our hosts.
I tried to convince Julia, an experienced traveller herself (she travelled all across the flat parts of Europe with a longboard) to join us until Istanbul, but sadly she had other commitments. However, she was happy to join for our first day, cycling down from Serres to the sea. Giannis decided to drive down as well, so we could spend a final evening in their family weekend house.
We’ve spent the day rolling through small villages at a comfortable pace, and even visited the Lion of Amphipolis on the way. Over 200 years old, but she’s quite a beauty, still.
English starts at 0:25
By the time we made it to the weekend house, Giannis already made the fire and we had warmth and hot water waiting for us. We showered and warmed up, and after the mandatory evening nap, we headed out for dinner. Just like on our second night, Giannis had the table filled with all kinds of seaside delicacies, so much we could barely clear it up by the end of the long night.
Friday morning, three days behind schedule, it was really time to leave. Goodbyes and bestwishes, kisses on cheeks, pats on backs, and we were on our way.
From that day onwards we had other new adventures waiting for us – it was time to start camping.
The story of our time in Greece continues here: Greece II.