Day 235 Alexandroupoli to Xanthi, Thrace, Greece.

Boy – Greece is hot!! Last night at 10pm our van was recording 37.5 degrees. We had every window and vent open, and the USB fan was in overdrive. I never thought I would enjoy a cold shower at 11pm at night – but I did. It was way too hot to have the duvet on, so we just lay on the sheets and expired. 

This morning seemed a little cooler first thing, and Howard was stood outside Oscar practising his ‘Zorba the Greek’ moves, but by 11am, the temperatures had soared again. We decided to head up into the mountains, where we thought it might be cooler. First we stopped off in a lovely little town called Komotini. Komotini is quite distinct from other towns in Thrace, characterised by it’s multicultural population, being home to both Turks and Muslims. It has a number of tall minarets, and many of the shops sell the sugary Soutzouk Loukoum, Turkish delight based pastries. We stopped for a look around, walking past the old and new mosques, the clock tower, and a tall granite memorial with a large vertical knife engraved on it. We stopped in the park under the shade of some trees, and enjoyed a very good coffee – the town is a university town, and famed for it’s excellent coffee shops. It had a pleasant feel about the place – generally well kept and vibrant. Not a sign of another tourist – more workaday – but we left with a really good feel about the place.

Next we headed to a town called Xanthi, a little further west. From there, we headed north into the mountains, back towards the Bulgarian border. We were visiting the fascinating Pomokohoria, or Pomak Villages – far from the tourist track, and described in one review I read as the ‘land the world forgot’. The villages are tucked up in the Rhodopi Mountains bordering Bulgaria, and are inhabited by Muslims speaking Greek, Bulgarian and Turkish. In Greece, they are classified as Greek Muslims, during the Cold War the area was off limits, and tourists here are rare. It sounded just our sort of place!

The drive up into the mountains was exceptionally scenic, but very steep and tortuous. En route, we started to pass fields of a crop that we couldn’t immediately identify with. Then we realised that they were fields of what looked like Nicotania plants, with most of their leaves removed. We were indeed correct – for this is a prime tobacco growing area, and not before long, we were passing fields, covered with polythene, drying harvested tobacco leaves. 

We headed to the village of Echinos. En route, we passed through a couple of small villages, each with sparkling minarets and lively roadside bars. As we approached Echinos, we crossed over the bridge across the gorge, and spied the three minarets dominating the skyline, along with a Greek Orthodox `Church, painted a stunning white and blue. Stupidly, we had programmed Boris for the centre of town. Big mistake! I did suggest to Howard that we park on the outskirts, but he insisted on driving on through the town. Town is a bit of an overstatement! The streets became narrower and narrower. We were immediately the star attraction. People stood at the side of the road, ogling at this strange vehicle trying to negotiate the ever smaller alleyways. Locals had to move their motor scooters off the road to allow us to pass. A kindly man asked us if we were lost. We said ‘No – we have just come to see your town’. He looked puzzled!

Eventually, we found somewhere to park. We set off on foot to explore. It was an amazing place. A labyrinth of narrow cobbled streets and alleyways. Unlike the rest of Greece, the stores were open, mainly selling fresh fruit and vegetables. We bought some nectarines, really in the hope that people would stop staring at us. The temperature on the neon sign registered 36 degrees at 5pm. Muslim women walked up the street in ornate embroidered headgear. I was eager to take a photo, but I got the sense that it would be frowned upon, so just smiled, and said ‘Hello’. It felt like we were visiting a place from the past. The locals were as interested in us, as we were in them. A couple of the local lads on scooters passed us by several times on our walk, like they were checking us out. But at no time did we feel threatened. It was just out of the ordinary for visitors to come here.

Lap of the village completed, we headed back down the valley, past the tobacco crops, and back into Xanthi. We stopped briefly to take a photo of the church, which seemed to have a wedding in progress. Outside there were tables of drinks, with blue balloons and bunting.

We didn’t linger. We headed on to our campsite for the night. Our campsite is on the coast. When we arrived, there was no-one in reception. Eventually, Howard found someone in the beach bar opposite, who came to check us in, with a towel wrapped around her bathing costume. Howard apologised for interrupting her cocktail!

Once set up, we took a quick stroll on the beach – very sandy and very hot. We took the view that if you can’t beat them, join them. So we sat in the beach bar, and enjoyed a cool drink, watching the sun go down.

It is now 10pm at night. We have just finished eating supper outside the van. The cicadas are noisy, and I am still sweating. It has been beautiful evening, and we would love to stay. However, it is just too hot for us to spend a day here doing nothing. Clearly, all the other campers here are beach addicts. The sea is warm, and the beach incredibly shallow. Howard and I would be bored stiff in less than five minutes, if we stayed. We reflected on what we did all those years ago, whilst back-packing. ‘I think we read lots of books’, Howard replied, ‘And swam, and wrote postcards’.

Clearly our heat tolerance must have been better in those days. Tomorrow we will head west, and luxuriate in Oscar’s air-conditioning! We have even contemplated hanging out by the freezer compartments in supermarkets. I think we are too accustomed to the temperatures in Scotland!!

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