Life on the mountain is hard. It can get to -15C in the winter, and the terrain is challenging to say the least.
But the goat herders certainly know the mountains and their goats. The goats graze on the move, and the goat herders just direct them now and then.
Each herder seems to have their own technique. Some let the goats do their thing, some whistle and shout to move the goats along.
What they all have in common are their dogs. Each herder has several dog helpers. They lead the goats and also herd the stragglers. Most seem to be hardy mountain breeds, but there seems to be the odd mongrel.
These dogs were certainly the herder’s best friend.
The mountains that we visited are called the Rhodopes. It’s the home of the Pomaks, an ethnic group originally from Bulgaria, that are Muslim. They live mainly in little villages such as this one, all over the mountains.
The villages are usually on hilltops, because it’s close to pastures and aren’t subjected to the spring floods.
The Pomaks still live a subsistance lifestyle, growing vegetables, and tending their goats.
The goats are all around the hillside.
I heard their bells everywhere I went, and I would see at least one herd come past everyday.
It’s certainly a world away from modern Athens. I wonder how long this way of life will last?
Hubby and colleague P are studying gems in Thrace, the northern-most state in Greece. It is south of the border with Bulgaria and east of the border with Turkey, so ethnically, it’s a very different place to Athens and the islands. We arrived in time to see Spring come to the mountains. The blossoms were in bloom, the new leaves unfurl, the grass turn green, and the weather beginning to warm up just a touch.
Living in a (seemingly) evergreen place, it was nice to see the seasons change.
We finished our in Evia with a feast by the sea. Firstly, an array of fresh vegetables and dip. The ‘weeds’ featured again, as did beetroot (with its tops) and a cheese dip.
And then, an extensive seafood platter. Here was my personal portion! Can’t say that Greeks aren’t generous with their servings.
That finished off a lovely visit to my first Greek island. Don’t worry, it wasn’t the only Greek island that I visited.
What else can you find up in the hills in central Evia? Lots of bees, who feast on the early spring gorse and other wildflowers.
Goat herder’s huts, and more goat herder’s huts. I guess they would make up little farmsteads of sorts.
And last but not least, the darling goats, complete with bells. These ones were roaming free in the hills, without a goat herder in sight.
Funny, aren’t they? This was my introduction to rural life in Greece. And it won’t be my last encounter with goats either.
Being with geologists, they weren’t really interested in the sea but in the hills.
There were certainly plenty of hills and back lanes in Evia.
The geologists weren’t even interested in the scenery, but were itching to get down and dirty.
What they were after were lovely, big, clear quartz crystals. Fresh out of the ground, they were certainly impressive.
We spent a day on the island of Evia. It’s only 10km off the mainland and about 50km from the centre of Athens. To get there we drove to the port of Nea Palatia, a typical small coastal town.
Then it was on to the ferry for the 10km ride across to the island.
It wasn’t the best of days to be on the coast, being overcast, but much of the landscape in ‘middle’ Evia was relatively undeveloped.
There were some things along the way that looked typically Greek to me, like this mini shrine.
I had a dip on the beach, my first (and only) in the Mediterranean. Being only April, the water was limb numbingly cold. But I suppose it would be refreshing in mid-summer when the temperatures hit 40C.
I’m starting a series on Greek food, which I will add to as we travel around the country. I hadn’t eaten a lot of authentic Greek food prior to the trip. What I had eaten was very meat heavy, so I was very surprised when I got there to find that vegetables was a major part of their diet, and what we thought as ‘Greek’ (lamb on a spit, moussaka etc etc) was actually reserved more for special occasions. We were staying with a colleague of my husband’s, so luckily we had a local to show us how to eat Greek-style.
The appetiser is very important to Greeks, perhaps even more than the main course! It’s when the dips, cheeses, simply prepared veges, and other assorted nimbles came out.
Boiled greens with olive oil and lemon. The greens were apparently a kind of dandelion! Well, they were as good as any spinach or silverbeet, so why not.
Coleslaw, Macedonian style.
Hubby’s favourite – grilled banana chillies!
Our overall favourite – sesame and honey glazed grilled feta.
Served with some bread, it’s actually a meal in itself. The mains were mostly charcoal grilled meats, again prepared quite simply, and served with assorted carbs.
Chicken souvlaki with fried potatoes and rice.
Pork chop with chips and rice.
Sometimes we found something different. Lamb, tomato and risoni casserole was particularly good.
Athens is certainly very rich in museums. You can find a museum dedicated to every age in Greek history. Given that I had seen a lot of Ancient Greece, I decided toward the end of my stay to see something more modern, although ‘modern’ is relative here. I’m talking about the Byzantine period, from 500AD onward. It was when Christianity first became the religion of the state, and when glorious pieces of art were first created in support of it. Many of these can be seen at the Byzantine Museum.
As you can see, it has galleries full of beautiful Christian icons from the last 1500 years.
Most have been taken from abandoned churches and monasteries – a good thing since works like this should be preserved, and seen. Unlike in Western Europe, where churches and cathedrals are tourist attractions, Greek Orthodox churches are rarely open to the public outside of worshipping hours, so places like this museum were the only chance I had of seeing these icons while in Greece.
As you can see, the style of these works is, I think, much more intimate than those in the large Cathedrals of the UK. Perhaps it reflects the kind of worship and prayer of the East, where one’s relationship with God throughout history has and always will be a personal thing.
I know I’ve overloaded you all with museums, but you can’t deny that one of the joys of travelling in Europe is the abundance of great museums. Athens certainly has its share, and thank goodness for that, considering its contribution to civilisation.
Today I am taking you to the National Archaeological Museum, which houses the major archaeological finds in Greece. Given Greece’s long history, it has everything from neolithic hand tools to classical sculptures and mountains of gold jewellery. This statue is an archaic depiction of the god Athina (which Athens has been named after), from the archaic period 2700 years ago. As you can see, the style is a bit more simplistic than those found on the Parthenon – not surprising given that Athina was created perhaps 500 years before.
Similarly, the men were also of the same style. One could picture the artisans honing their skills over the centuries to recreate the human image.
By the classical age, they were experts. Look at this bronze sculpture of the god Poseidon – exquisite. It almost could have been created yesterday – except that much of the skill to sculpt in such a way has been lost to technology.
There were room after room of really beautiful sculptures. It’s certainly a treat since Grecian sculptures are rare in Australian museums.
Then there were the jewellery from the Mycenaean tombs from 3500 years ago. These were excavated from the supposed tomb of Agamemnon (written about extensively by Homer).
Whether it was his or not, one thing for sure is that they loved their bling back then, as they do now.