An After Lockdown RoadTrip – Exarchos

a mountain view between exarchos and Orchomenus, greece
A Mountain View Between Exarchos and Orchomenus, Greece

We took advantage of some great weather and headed up to Exarchos which is located in the prefecture of Phthiotis, central Greece. We did have a big reason to go but because it was such a nice day, we decided ahead of time that there was no rush to get back and we’d just drive some roads and see where they lead us. It seems a weird thing though for some Greeks to drive 2 hours from home, and then plan on returning the same day.

It took a bit of discussion on my part to suggest that such a drive would not be difficult at all; in fact I would regularly drive two hours more away from home and return the same day. In fact, it was a regular thing for me to drive five hours one way to Ottawa, and then return to the Toronto area with my sons – all in the same day.

But here in Greece, a half an hour drive can be a “long way” – and to be fair, driving in the Athens area for half an hour can be a real pain. Being a beautiful Saturday, there was quite a bit of traffic in Nea Ionia, and I breathed a sigh of relief once I made it to the “National Road” – Greece’s version of an expressway. Getting the Tiguan up to 140 km/h felt pretty good after driving around tiny one way streets and traffic, pedestrians walking on the roads, and idiotic drivers.

The Olive Grove

The main reason for the trip was to meet with a surveyor who would officially measure out the land of the olive grove that I am hoping to purchase.

olive grove near exarchos

Normally, the surveying would be arranged and paid for by the seller, but I made an exception in this case; the seller is quite elderly and this has been a long time in the works! It was almost two years ago that I became aware that this nice little piece of land, about 2 “stremma” or half an acre was for sale.

Getting things done in Greece can be slow and time-consuming; with COVID and how governments have responded to it have meant delays in everyone’s plans to some degree. It seems in my case, the degree that has been severe as I watch time march on… but anyhow, as we finally get closer to making this deal with the olive grove happen, I wasn’t going to balk at the 150.00 Euros surveyor fee.

The olive trees have been abandoned for a few years, but when we arrived today, we were pleasantly surprised to see that every single one of them was healthy, but they do need some care. The grove itself has become overrun with weeds that will need to be cut down, and I might have to speak with the local horticulturist about any “medicine” the trees might need, or some fertilizers to help them along the rest of the year. I’m doubtful they will produce many olives if any in 2021, but I can start planning and doing some work for 2022.

Beans & The Sun

It seemed mild in Nea Ionia temperature wise, and we took Beans my Boston Terrier along with us. However, by the time we arrived in Exarchos, the sun was shining bright, there was not much shade, and the temperature had risen substantially. Poor Beans just does not do well in the heat – it does not take long for him to be panting like crazy and struggling for breath. So, he became a major concern and I returned to the car with Beans to help him get water and to try to find shade. Unfortunately, this meant I was not able to watch what the surveyor did or speak with him which was unfortunate as he did speak very good English.

Eventually Beans recovered as we got him to the house in the village with much more water available as well.

The Fields Near The Olive Grove

I knew exactly where the olive grove was located, but it was a bit confusing to get into this year. Someone had built a fence at the road, where on previous occasions we had been able to park the car and cross fields to get into the vineyard which is almost right beside the olive grove. Last year, cotton was being grown in one of the fields, but this year in the same field, chickpeas had been planted. I’ve never seen a field of chickpeas, or even tasted a raw fresh one before! Apparently, the are eaten in salads fresh, but I think I prefer them dried and recooked, after trying one.

I will say though that I have tried dried chickpeas that have been grown in the area of Exarchos, and they are amazing to eat! Nothing like the ones that come in packages, and who knows how long they’ve been in storerooms or on the shelves before you buy them.

A field of chickpeas:

field of chickpeas near exarchos, greece

A closer up view of the chickpea plants:

chickpeas and plants near exarchos

One of the reasons Greece as a country has a hard time competing internationally with agriculture in other nations is that it really is impossible in most places to farm at any kind of large scale. There are farms that are large, but these seem pretty rare. Fields are frequently quite small compared to North America – the reasons for this are many, including geography, topography, and the fact that family is a really big thing in Greece – over the generations, larger fields have been divided up for children and their children, so perhaps what was once a fair sized field to grow a single crop, is not divided into several smaller fields, each owned by someone different.

This is a small wheat field near the olive grove:

field of wheat near exarchos

This field is probably at most about 2 acres. The field of chickpeas is smaller. The olive grove I hope to purchase is about half an acre. Mixed in with all this is the small vineyard, and between the vineyard and the olive grove, a long stretch of narrow land that contains mostly blackthorn bush. That long narrow band of blackthorn is owned by someone else, but perhaps I’ll be able to scrounge for a nice piece of it and make a shillelagh here in Greece 🙂

The Greek Wine Cellar

The “family” here as mentioned, has a small vineyard of mixed variety grapes. In the end, they turn it all into white wine (all grape varieties mixed together) after harvesting the grapes and then having them pressed in the nearby “city” of Ataladi, about a 20 minute drive. It’s a bit of a mix of old and new wine making – resulting juice is measured for sugar content where the grapes get pressed, and the local winemaker provides a package of local yeast, sulphite, and sugar topup recommendations, if needed.

It then reverts to the “old way” and the juice is brought home, the barrels filled, and the winemaker’s advice followed. The result is a unique drinkable pleasant white wine, mostly from Greek varieties of grapes – and enough to last the family for a year or more. In fact, we pulled out of the barrel about 12 litres with some still left in the barrel, from wine made two years ago.

Last year was a write off for the grapes and none were harvested. Hail storms in the spring ruined the 2020 vintage. This year, things are looking better though!

I’m proud to be able to write that I helped with the grape harvest in 2019.

Exarchos To Orchomenus

We decided to take the road out of Exarchos that heads to Orchomenus. We’ve never driven the road all the way to that village; in fact, we’ve only ever walked part of it to try to find old churches. But Orchomenus is a bit more than walking distance.

It was a beautiful drive – the photo at the top of this photo was taken along the away. We first came to small but pretty village called Dionisos and were impressed with the very nice homes and scenery. After driving around, we took a road that we thought might lead us to another on the way to Limavadia, but instead, we ended up going past a monastery called, “Holy Monastery of Saint Nicholas the Young at Kampia,” and then along a dirt track that was kind of like a northern Canadian logging road. The Tiguan could handle it fine, but being a bit worried with only a 1/4 tank of fuel left, and not really sure where we’d end up if we continued (although I was game to do that), decided it was best to find civilization again.

The Storks Nest On The Church Roof

After reaching Orchomenus, I happened to glance to the side and thought my eyes were playing tricks as I saw what seemed like a big mound of hay and straw on top of a church roof in the distance. But then there was this massive bird in the sky….

We passed some trees on the side of the road which blocked my vision but as soon as there was a clearing, I stopped the car…. and sure enough, while we didn’t see any human babies on top of the Orthodox Church, we did see a whole nest of storks! That’s when I wished I had the zoom lens with me, but I did my best with the 50 mm and with some cropping, managed to get this:

stork nest on top of orthodox roof church orchomenus

The nest is massive! Every so often, we could see baby storks (they weren’t very small) and at least one parent active in the nest, from where we were standing on the road. We watched them and tried to take photos for about half an hour and decided we needed to move on.

Orchomenus to Livadia to Nea Ionia

There are no photos of this leg of our trip, but it was quite a beautiful drive. Badly needing a coffee, we drove into Livadia (a lovely town I visited a few years ago and would like to spend more time in again) to grab one. Then, from Livadia, setting the GPS to no tolls, we ended up climbing Mount Pateras before descending south to Eleusis and then eastward to Nea Ionia.

All in all, we did about 400 km of driving, accomplished a lot, and saw much of the beautiful “back country” of Greece, the side that many tourists never get to see. It’s a side I really like, except driving through some of the small villages can be a pain and requires full attention, with very narrow streets that were designed before cars ever existed and roadways were for pedestrians or donkey and cart.

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