Jonathan Lee

Worldly Images

Greece October 2014

During October I traveled out to Greece, namely the Peloponnese part of Greece, to ride on a charter train on the now closed Peloponnese railway network. While the trip was mainly railway based I joined the train towards the end of its “Culture” based trip, before returning with the “Enthusiast” trip at the after the culture trip. During the journey I got to see a few sights on the Peloponnese that I hadn’t visited before; and all by train!

Flights
Booked through Easy Jet & British Airways direct

EZY5451 0540 Gatwick – Kalamata – £37.73
BA639 1340 Athens – Heathrow – £43.56

Hotels
Booked through Booking.com

Hotel Ostria (Kalamata) – (£39 for a twin room for one night) – the room balcony overlooked the sea, it was spacious and clean with a small TV and AC.

Hotel Isthmia Prime (Korinthos) – (£78 for a single room for two nights and £47 for a twin room for one night) – the room wasn’t big but just the right size, it had AC and a small TV along with free toiletries in the bathroom. There were two balconies from the room, one overlooking the pool and the other had a direct view to the old railway bridge that went over the Corinth Canal. Breakfast was included, as was a free welcome drink on arrival.

Hotel Ionian (Kiparissia) – (£31 for a triple room for one night) – we booked a triple room as there hadn’t been a double left when I’d booked, this actually turned out better as the triples have a separate bed in its own little cubby hole. The rooms were clean and had WiFi, TV and toiletries provided. The only issue we had was the fact that the AC didn’t seem to be working when we arrived, this was rectified once it was mentioned at the front desk and was a hotel wide issue not just in our room.

Hotel Nana (Athens) – (£30 for a twin room for one night) – Our small twin room sufficed and there was no need for the AC. The WiFi worked a lot better down in the hotel lobby than the room. Breakfast was included in the rate.

Trains
Tour Operated by OSE on behalf of PTG Tours based in the UK

“Culture” Tour (I travelled towards the end of the trip only)
Day 6 Kalamata – Megalopoli – Nafplion
Day 8 Nafplion – Korinthos (Day 7 was spare in Nafplion)

“Enthusiast” Tour
Day 1 Korinthos – Nafplion – Megalopoli – Kiparissia
Day 2 Kiparissia – Pirgos – Katakolo – Patras

 

Tuesday 7th October 2014 (Storms stopped play)

Getting to Greece certainly started early on this occasion, with the 0024 departure from Milton Keynes to London Euston, followed by a walk down the road to St Pancras for the 0154 Thameslink from there to Gatwick. My flight was the 0540 EasyJet direct flight from Gatwick to Kalamata; a flight only operated once a week, the timing of which couldn’t have been any better for me. Having finished work on Monday evening the flight was Tuesday morning and the PTG Tour I was going for departed Kalamata on Wednesday morning. Justas I got to the departure gates at Gatwick they were opened to allow the first passengers into the airport for the early flights out. The wait at Gatwick’s South Terminal was harmless and we were Kalamata bound right time, the plane being full of people going to Stupa for a beach holiday.

There were plenty of taxi’s outside the airport at Kalamata and the fare direct to the Hotel Ostria was just under €18 for the 8km journey. I’d stayed at the Ostria before so knew what to expect and it didn’t seem too busy. The room I was given overlooked the sea, it was spacious and clean with a small TV and AC. Having basically been up all night I took the opportunity to relax for a while, before attempting to venture out. The sun was glaring down anyway and it was quite relaxing just lying on the bed listening to the waves crashing onto the pebbled beach down below.

When I decided to drag my ass off the bed and make a move it was about 1330, the sun was still glaring in through the open balcony doors. A wonder down to Kalamata Rail Park seemed on the cards; that was until I went out onto the balcony to get some photos. I’d noticed the wind getting a little stronger and cooler and the reason why was dominating the skyline to the east; it was black with storm clouds, which soon made their way over to the mountains in the west leaving a gap out at sea to the south. Heavy rains soon followed and Kalamata was pounded as the rains moved slowly from east to west, meanwhile I was confined to barracks while the storm passed over, bizarrely the thunder and lightning followed after the rain; it was cracking to watch from the hotel balcony.

By 1600 that afternoon it was safe enough to venture out, the rains having passed and the cloud with it. The sun was trying to get out again but the place was saturated making walking through the Kalamata rail park a little muddy underfoot. As I followed the old railway line up towards Kalamata railway station I thought I could hear a train horn somewhere in the distance, I assumed it was the DMU that would be heading down the Messini to collect the PTG party, just shunting off shed to head down the branch; I was wrong. As I arrived at the station, round about 1645, a MAN unit arrived, loaded with the PTG group, their afternoon having been a complete washout in Messini and the site visit there being cancelled due to the storms.

Having conversed with a few folk off the train I headed back down the old tracks, which have recently been tarmac’d over in a couple of places and had wooden walkways put over them in other places, and had the railway park to myself while I got some photos. Surprisingly the steam loco fleet there remained in quite a respectable state. They’d been repainted a couple of years previous and had hardly been graffiti’d at all since.

After a quick stop to get some goody’s for the following day’s journey I found a taverna to eat at near the hotel and after my long day was actually in bed by 1930!

The Photos at Kalamata

 

The Photos at Kalamata Rail Park

 

Wednesday 8th October 2014 (A disappointing start to proceedings)

My alarm was set for 0535 to give me plenty of time to walk to the station for the 0700 departure of the PTG tour to Nafplion; I was woken at 0531 by thunder. This wasn’t a god sign and I discovered it to be hammering down again when I opened the balcony doors! This meant a taxi to the station as opposed to the planed walk. It was ordered while I checked out and outside waiting by the time I’d paid. The journey to the station only costing €3.50! I was there for 0600 though and the station was all locked up so I got some breakfast in the café over the road while I waited.

Eventually the train crew turned up from their hotel and the red-cap opened up the gate to allow access onto the station and from the gloom emerged Alco A9105, to lead the stock for the days train into the station; this left A9101 on the leading end of the train upon departure. Unfortunately there was a late start due to the main tour party’s bus getting lost on the way from the hotel to the station; it was a long enough day as it was for the crew and they didn’t seem to happy when we departed at 0734, 34 late.

The train would head from Kalamata to Nafplion, via Megalopoli and would take all day. After a coffee break at Chranoi during the morning the next stop was Megalopoli, where there was a 4 hour break while the tour group visited the nearby St Paraskevi Vasta Chapel and had lunch at Nikola’s Watermill; the bus journey to which was a rather interesting one. The roads were hardly fit for cars let alone coaches; the journey ultimately taking about 50 minutes to the Chapel, and we’d already been 35 late on arrival at Megalopoli.

The Chapel itself was only a small building but the attraction seemed to be the fully grown trees that were growing out of it. Needless to say we didn’t need too much time there and the restaurant at Nikola’s watermill was only a short walk away. The food was freshly prepared and was a set menu, everything dished out in a timely manner and rather plentiful yet good.

Once lunch was done the return bus journey was as long as the outward journey, including the driver taking a wrong turn down a dead end road just as we set off back to Megalopoli. The views from the bus were the best thing about the journey with the mining around Megalopoli being clearly visible, as were the two power stations that the mine served; only one of which was in service at that point.

It was a nice late afternoon run through the hills from Tripoli towards Argos and we’d even managed to pick up nearly all the lost time by Tripoli and as we approached Myloi we were early. At Myloi there are a good half a dozen steam locos just rusting away in the undergrowth and a photo-stop was originally scheduled for 1915-30 but as it should have been dark this was cancelled yet as there was still plenty of light when we approached 40 minutes earlier than planned people naturally wanted the stop to be re-instated to allow for the photos; this request was point blank refused by the train crew, which was very unfair of them. Despite their long day the train was run for a customer and had a timetable to run to with demands to meet, on this occasion they completely dismissed their customer outright; which was out of order, especially with how early we were! The result was us arriving into Nafplion 45 minutes early!

As the train was to be stabled at Korinthos during the following day I rode with it and stayed there for the next 2 nights. There were plenty of taxis outside the station when we got there, something that had concerned me a little had we not arrived until 2330, after the last train would have departed. The fare for the 5km journey to the Isthmia Prime Hotel, which is about 200 yards away from the Corinth Canal bridge, was €3.44 on the meter; the driver then asked for €10, as he turned the meter off! Then ensued a discussion in which he told me it was €1.19 per kilometer and it was 10km from the station to hotel; unfortunately for him my Google Map prints showed otherwise. He then tried to tell me that it was 5km each way and I should pay for the outward journey and his return journey to the station; the result being our discussion taking itself into the hotel lobby without me having paid at that point. He told the girl behind the counter exactly what he’d tried to tell me in the car and I told her exactly what I told him outside, the result being the taxi driver storming out while refusing to take my money; something he came back for a couple of minutes later. I paid €3.50 in the end and the girl behind the counter thanked me for making her night as she told me that taxi drivers in Greece deserve all they get and he’d been firmly put in his place that night!

Having checked in I was allowed to have a twin room for all three nights I was at the hotel as on the last night I’d be joined by a second person. The room wasn’t big but just the right size; it had AC and a small TV along with free toiletries in the bathroom. There were two balconies from the room, one overlooking the pool and the other had a direct view to the old railway bridge that went over the Corinth Canal; something I’d been over countless times in the past but was now banned to any train movements.

Having forgot to get the WiFi code for the hotel I ended up back downstairs where I was treated to my welcome drink that the hotel offered its guests; while it says red wine on the booking they allow any alcoholic drink so I sat having a Fix beer while chatting on Facebook Messenger. A fitting end to what turned out to be a decent day after the disappointing start. I was ready for bed though……

The Photos

 

Thursday 9th October 2014 (New discoveries and a trip down memory lane)

As I had a completely free day I didn’t have any plans and ultimately went off to do some reminiscing with two other guys as we headed towards Athens by car, following the old Greek meter gauge railway along the coast. As my hotel was only a 2 minute walk from the Corinth Canal it would have been rude not to take a look though.

The Photos

 

Friday 10th October 2014 (Nobody said we couldn’t go over the Corinth Canal Bridge on foot!)

My plans for the day were to travel back from Korinthos to Nafplion on the empty stock before returning with the last leg of the PTG Culture tour to Korinthos. With it being a planned 0500 start from Korinthos I wasn’t taking any chances with taxis in the morning so was up just before 0400 and had one ordered by just after 0400; it was sat waiting for me within 10 minutes. The fare was considerably higher than my €3.44 journey the previous night and the meter already had €6.61 on it when I got into the taxi. It seems that when taxis are called from out of town their meters are started from their home depot. As it was stupid o’clock the meter racked up the Euro’s a lot quicker and in the end the journey cost just over €17; I did argue the toss with the driver about the €6.61 and the difference in cost to the previous night but it was all to no avail and maybe it was my penalty for arguing the toss the previous night?

Korinthos station was in complete darkness and all the doors at the front appeared to be locked. The good news was that the Alco’s and stock were still in the platform they’d been left in two days earlier; neither loco was running. In an attempt to get into the station I tried to see if the sliding doors would open manually and just as I did a security guard turned up and opened one of the side doors instead. He wouldn’t let me onto the station though and told me that the train would depart at 0500 to Nafplion, and then did one with his torch to do some more rounds. I wasn’t overly concerned at that point as the crew clearly weren’t around and at 0435 a taxi conveying the first set of crew arrived and I got onto the station with them, the security guard looking a little concerned as I walked through with them.

Just before 0500 a second taxi turned up with the remaining crew members and we set sail for Nafplion at 0508. It was a cool morning, in fact I’d go as far as to say cold morning, and that clear that the moonlight was casting shadows onto the ground! After we’d topped the hill and started to descend towards Argos I attempted a bit of sleep on the bench seats in the van, unfortunately it was a little too cold to sleep and the bakery over the road from Nafplion station was a very welcome sight from which food and a hot coffee soon thawed me out a little.

It was a prompt departure at 0800 and after a short while we were at Mikine where the PTG bus was already waiting for us as we arrived to take everyone the short distance to Mycenae archaeological site. The site wasn’t very busy when we got there and we were given until 1010 to be back at the bus; one person didn’t get back until 1035, delaying the stop at the Treasury of Atreus on our way back to the station.

The ruins at Mycenae date back to between the 16th and 12th centuries BC, some bits are well preserved, others bits only represent the foundations of where the city once stood in all its glory; the views all around from which are cracking. The site doesn’t take too long to walk round but is quite a climb and can be very slippery in wet conditions. Not quite on a par with the likes of Machu Picchu but still worth a visit.

The Treasury of Atreus is just outside the site of Mycenae and is the best preserved example of a Tholos tomb anywhere in the world, dating from 1250BC. From the outside you wouldn’t be able to tell there was anything buried beneath the earth that adorns the hillock the tomb lays beneath but once through the entrance the main hall opens up as your eyes adjust to the darkness. Unfortunately the secondary chamber, attached, is off limits due to the hazard of falling rocks. With a torch you can just make out the opposite walls to allow yourself to compare the size of the secondary chamber with that of the main one; I’d say the main one is about twice the size.

Even though it was a quick visit, it was worth the short trip to Mycenae and due to our slightly later than planned arrival back at the train the crew on A9101 were given an incentive to stop fooling around and use the damn thing to its full potential. When used properly it was a pleasure to listen to but unfortunately the uphill section came to an end all too soon, as we began to descend into Korinthos, and the day’s trip was all over in a flash as we arrived into Korinthos close to our booked time of 1245.

During the afternoon we decided upon exploring the old railway bridge that goes over the Corinth Canal. The open land behind the hotel leads straight to the railway and we walked down it to the bridge, discovering missing fishplates as we went and a length of cable that appeared to have been cut in various places by something running over it on the tracks; maybe OSE had actually attempted to inspect the Corinth Bridge and found missing fishplates, hence their decision to not allow any train movements over the line?

The bridge itself didn’t seem to be in bad condition at all, despite OSE not allowing train movements over it, nobody said we couldn’t walk over the bridge did they; other than the “Danger, do not enter” sign of course! It didn’t stop us and the walkway down the side was safe enough, even if it was only protected on one side. The severity of vertical drop to the canal below was brought home when you looked down between the walkway and tracks and definitely wasn’t a good thing to do when trying to walk at the same time!

Once off the bridge Isthmos station is just the other side of the road bridge at the other end, another station that looks like it’s been left untouched since the line closed; and it seems that even the graffiti artists have a bit of respect for the station sign as they left it completely untouched while they defaced the rest of the building’s outer! While the main line through Isthmos seems to be free of vegetation the branch off to Loutraki is a completely different story and is completely overgrown, with trees growing in the formation too; not a quick fix at all and probably too much like hard work for OSE.

We walked back to the hotel over the public bridge and after a quick beer at the hotel we drove to Loutraki and spent the rest of the afternoon there at a nice Italian type restaurant on the seafront.

The Photos at Mycenae

 

The Photos walking over the Corinth Canal

 

Saturday 11th October 2014

It would be a long day but thankfully one that at least managed to start with a bit of breakfast at the hotel before we set off; the food wasn’t ready but cereals and fruit were on hand to dip into before getting into a taxi to the station. Unlike the previous morning this one only had a couple of Euro’s already on the meter and it only came to €12 by the time we reached the station; the only one to have used the motorway to get there.

The OSE staff had just unlocked the train and people had started to turn up for what was the first day of what was being termed the “ecs” back to Patras; the stock off the PTG culture tour had to get back to base and was being run as a train vice returning empties, and with everyone on board we set off at 0800 on the dot.

The day was a lengthy one and would cover Korinthos to Kiparissia via Nafplion and Megalopoli but not Kalamata. The weather throughout the day was good to us for the photo-stops we had in the hills and got quite atmospheric in the evening.

Rather than run into Kalonero to reverse, as per timings, arrangements were made to run direct into Kiparissia, where we arrived almost an hour early; to everyone’s benefit of course. Having been stuck in the queue at the Hotel Ionion, across the road from the station, last time I made sure I was first through the door and had my room key before anyone else walked in. We’d booked a triple room as there hadn’t been a double left when I’d booked, this actually turned out better as the triples have a separate bed in its own little cubby hole. The rooms were clean and had WiFi, TV and toiletries provided. The only issue we had was the fact that the AC didn’t seem to be working when we arrived, this was rectified once it was mentioned at the front desk and was a hotel wide issue not just in our room.

Food was done at one of the usual haunts in Kiparissia, a place called Nynio, just on the corner of the square in Kiparissia. Bizarrely this had been the first time I’d ever looked at the name of the place, despite frequenting it loads in the past, and it was still run by the same folks it had been back in the good old days; and the food was good too. The night wouldn’t have been the same without a beer at the station bar with an Alco parked alongside while you drank…….

The Photos

 

Sunday 12th October 2014 (The unfortunate ending…….!)

It was rammed in the breakfast room when I got down for 0730 and the staff were struggling to keep up, the good thing about that was that everything was fresh by the time I got myself sorted; having paid the €5 breakfast supplement when I checked out.

At 0800 all was well as we set off on the last leg of what had been for some an 11 day Alco adventure, for others their two day Alco bash was going to be turned upside down by Kalonero. It was a cool morning and dew covered the railheads, which were already covered in rust, dust and whatever else had accumulated over the months while it had been out of use. The crew’s driving style had already taken its toll on the wheels of the stock, with slight flats being audible as we trundled along, and the mornings driving was about to show how badly the toll could get!

The vegetation even from Kiparissia to Kalonero was very close to overrunning the tracks in places, despite it clearly having been cut back. This further hindered the train as it slowed for crossings when the wheels began locking up and ultimately sliding on the grubby rail head. Of course this not helped at all by the last minute brake applications, which had been rife throughout the trip. By Kalonero the slight flats on the front van were becoming worse and not just being a slight clink as the train ran along anymore; they were now a thud, thud, thud instead! It had originally sounded like the flats had been on the second van that I was in but when in the front van it was clearly evident where the flats were.

Shortly after Kalonero the crew eventually examined the front coach and the second coach and came to the conclusion that the flats were quite severe on the front van, which was actually the crew van, but not as bad on the second van. Their decision was to run the train forward to Pirgos at a very low speed where the front two coaches would be knocked out before the train continued to Patras. Unfortunately someone from the back coach, the only passenger coach in the consist, came down to the front shortly afterwards complaining of a burning smell, caused by the sliding; this ultimately put pay to the rest of the day as the crew then decided that the stock would not go beyond Pirgos after it had arrived and a DMU would take everyone forward to Patras.

This unfortunate turn of events resulted in us getting off at Pirgos and returning to Athens by car, taking in lunch at Egio on the way and doing a bit more reminiscing along the old meter gauge route between Rion & Egio.

We reached Athens just after 2100 but unfortunately our destination was not the middle of some housing estate in Athens, it was the Nana Hotel! As luck didn’t have it the SatNav then decided to throw a wobbler and lose connection completely; we didn’t have a Scooby Do where we were! Thankfully we regained some network connection and discovered we were only 4km from the Nana Hotel and the SatNav delivered us to the correct location at the second attempt, even after recalculating when we managed to go the wrong way down a one-way street!

It had turned out to be a long day and after food in the square by the church, a 5 minute walk from the Nana, that was it for me. Our small twin room sufficed at the hotel and there was no need for the AC. The WiFi worked a lot better down in the hotel lobby and I used it to check-in for my BA flight home the following morning, which was already being advertised as 1h30m late when I did so!

The Photos Old MG at Egio

One Comment

  1. Richard Madge
    Posted 09/06/2016 at 9:56 pm. Reply to this comment

    Interesting website. Well done. I remember staying at Ag. Theodorou on a family holiday 35 years ago and travelling on the train to Athens. It is fair to say that it was slow, infrequent and often unreliable, yet it had a certain charm and the railway staff were clearly very dedicated. The section between Athens and Corinth/Kiato has clearly been replaced by something better but it is a pity to see the whole system closed in the Peloponnese bar the section around Patra and one or two other short sections. I am interested to see that there are occasional charters such as this: Presumably though these will eventually become inoperable as the system decays…..

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