Tag Archives: FYROM

PLATAMONAS CASTLE

We spent a couple of days this week in the Pieria region of Central Macedonia with friend Dave and the indomitable Tex, a Greek sheepdog rescued here in Pelion. Central Macedonia is one of Greece’s thirteen administrative regions; we are in Thessaly.

For those who might be interested in the ongoing row between Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), which claims Alexander the Great and wishes to be called Macedonia, I offer the following links, picked randomly among the great many that a Google tour will suggest.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Macedonia_naming_dispute
http://www.mfa.gr/en/fyrom-name-issue/
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/07/27/AR2009072702653.html

Needless to say, I support the Greek view.

The castle, depending upon whose version of events one decides to follow, was built by the Crusaders at the beginning of the 13th century. Other sources maintain it was Byzantine, and built in the 1100s or perhaps even earlier.

Given its prominent position it was of strategic importance in controlling movement through the Vale of Tempe, which linked north and south, and in monitoring sea invasions. Pirates plundered the region repeatedly, as they did The Pelion.

Phillip 2nd, father of Alexander, marched his men along the Tempe valley on his way to Athens, and while no defensive castle existed at the time, there were certainly other structures. We don’t know precisely what, but work continues on the site and evidence is mounting that the ancient city of Herakleion was sited here.

New Tempe Tunnel Entrance

Long before Phillip, Xerxes trotted his troops through Tempe during Persia’s second invasion of Greece. Leonidas and his men fought to the death at Thermopylae in a vain attempt to stop him getting through the pass. Xerxes and his army then continued south to Athens where the Persians were decisively beaten at Salamis.

The castle was never destroyed, but has fallen into ruin over the centuries. It’s a rather fine example of medieval fortifications with all the bits and pieces one usually associates with such structures: towers, crenellations, loopholes, cannons – the whole nine yards. (Ron points out that the cannons to be seen dotted about the castle grounds are later than anything that would have been used by Crusaders.)

Defence Tower

Water Cistern

The cistern for water storage would have served the defence tower – all protected by a high wall. Presumably for a last stand?

Good advice!

 

 

 

 

 

TAGS: FYROM, Macedonia, Phillip 2nd , Alexander, Platamonas, Thessaly, Pelion, Byzantine, Crusaders, Vale of Tempe, Athens, Xerxes, Persians, Salamis, Thermopylae

 

 

 

 

 

 

DO YOU SPEAK KNITTING?

 

Driving through Central European border crossings does have its moments, rather memorable ones at times. Whenever we set off on such a trek, I have enough knitting yarn, needles and WIPS (that’s work in progress for those who don’t speak knitting) to sustain me no matter what eventualities we might encounter. Not for nothing was I a Girl Guide in my dim and distant youth, so Be Prepared! is my motto. Well, at least where knitting is concerned.

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One particular trip required more complicated packing than usual as several stages were involved. A friend who divides his time between homes in Austria and Greece was to accompany us on the drive, and after we had spent a couple of days with him and his wife in the Austrian Tyrol, we were to fly on to Texas from Zurich.

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Our airplane baggage was carefully packed, locked and secured to the roof luggage rack, ready to be checked in at the airport; the overnight bags and other travel needs were stowed in the car. We set off from the Pelion at daybreak, heading to FYROM/Macedonia with hubby driving at this point and me in the passenger seat surrounded by various knitting bags, our friend in the back, surrounded by various knitting bags. Uncomplaining, good soul that he is.

Knitters will understand that the choice of a knitting project for long journeys can become quite complicated, depending on the knitter’s preferences. In my case, involved projects are reserved for plane trips and overnight stays. For the long drives through countries where the use of phrase books and hand gestures might be needed the knitting is simple, the better to keep my eyes firmly fixed on the road.

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Circular needles are the knitter’s friend here as round and round I knit, and round and round I peer, ever vigilant. This amuses my husband greatly, but I am unfailingly prepared. Who knows if a situation might arise where I will frantically knit details of the incident into my work, in code of course, to be deciphered by those unravelling the mystery of our disappearance. I’ve learnt a thing or two from Madame Defarge!

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And so it was that we three left FYROM/Macedonia, drove through no-man’s land and arrived at Serbian Customs. A long line of vehicles, as far as the eye could see, stretched depressingly before us. Our friend has been making this journey for many years, far more than we; he cursed roundly in a number of languages. “Ach!” he exclaimed. “This has happened to me a few times – they decide to do an extremely thorough search. They will open everything! We will be here for hours!” I knitted furiously in the passenger seat. In front of us cars and buses had offloaded mountains of luggage, among which disconsolate passengers stood in groups, waiting to be interrogated by officials. One tearful young woman was wringing her hands as each item was lifted out of her case and examined minutely. “Holy cow!” I grumbled. “They will open our bags and you know how long it will take to pack everything back in properly before the flight.”
“You can repack it all tonight in the hotel,” soothed my husband, “we’ll soon be in Belgrade.”

I knitted up a storm.

To our right was a sort of watchtower structure occupied by a large figure in grey uniform, complete with peaked cap and red epaulettes – typical garb of the Soviet era. The person began to climb down the steps, and I saw that it was a woman. A woman of slow, purposeful movement and very forbidding demeanour. She approached the car, stern of face, and gestured to me to open the window, speaking rapidly in Serbian. All I could understand was “Baggahjes! Baggahjes!”, but there was no mistaking the peremptory gesture at the suitcases on the roof. My heart sank. Suddenly she stood stock still, then moved to my open window and reached inside. She was smiling broadly! She laughed happily as she picked up my knitting, a boy’s sweater, and held it to her, fingering the work and pointing at the stripes. More rapid speech of which the only word that meant anything was “Plekta! Plekta!” And then I understood, because the Greek word for knitting is very similar – she was a knitter, a kindred spirit.

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She handed me my knitting, patted my hands, and stepped back. “Auf Wiedersehen! Auf Wiedersehen!” she beamed, making a sweeping gesture to indicate that we should move out of line and bypass the waiting vehicles, which stretched at least a kilometre. We were, to put it mildly, stunned, as were the dozens of people we swept past.

And for the rest of that journey, whenever we approached a border post, our friend who had been amazed and delighted at this encounter, would sing out: “The knitting, Cathy! Hold up the knitting!”

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SPEEDING THROUGH SERBIA

My husband’s work requires that we travel to Central Europe from time to time. Occasionally we drive both ways, sometimes we take the ferry to or from Italy. The war in Kosovo made driving through the Balkans a very risky proposition, and this remained the case for some years after the conflict ended. Several years ago, after much discussion with friends who had recently braved the road trip again, we decided to drive through and judge the situation for ourselves.

Upon leaving Greece, you cross into FYROM/Macedonia (the name dispute has yet to be settled) and from there you enter Serbia. We successfully completed the various passport and customs checks at the Serbian border, and had driven a few miles into the country when we saw a tall, burly man in black uniform at the side of the road. He stepped forward, holding out his hand. My eyes were drawn to the large pistol on his belt, while my fingers flew faster over my knitting needles. Gulp!

We’d been warned to expect official roadblocks, and to be on our guard as there were likely to be organised gangs conducting holdups in that area, for we were in the vicinity of Kosovo. What hadn’t been clearly explained though was how to distinguish one from the other.

“What do you think?” my husband muttered, as he began to slow down. “If we stop, we might be ambushed, if we don’t…”

As we got closer, the man moved swiftly towards the car, coming up to my window as we stopped. I opened it halfway, clutching my needle tightly; I think I had some half-formed idea of poking his eye out as we died under a hail of bullets. He was unsmiling, but it became clear he intended no harm, and was asking for a lift to Belgrade, about three hours away. You don’t need a common language to understand “Beograd” accompanied by pointing up the highway, and a movement towards the rear door of the car.

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Once it was clear that he could ride with us, he made a hand motion to indicate that we should wait, and began walking towards some bushes. I must admit we had a brief tingle of alarm, but he was only retrieving his overnight bag. Phew!

“I’ll get in the back,” I announced, climbing out with my knitting bag and indicating to the chap to sit in front. He remonstrated at first, but I was adamant, and so we set off again. He pointed to himself, repeating a name which was quite unpronounceable and completely escapes me. The atmosphere was understandably awkward; some pleasantries were exchanged by means of broken German and English, punctuated by much hand waving and the odd Serbo-Croatian phrase from my pocket dictionary.

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Our passenger began to relax a little, becoming quite animated as he gesticulated at my knitting yarn and his head. I interpreted this as a reference to a hat, a knitted hat, which appeared to have warm memories for him, but while we gabbled incomprehensibly at each other, I dug in my knitting bag for my longest circular needle, and kept it next to me as I knitted away at my project.

This part of the highway is long and boring, quite depressing in fact, for it passes through endless miles of derelict farms and homesteads, sad reminders of a time when communities lived their lives and farmed their fields as they had for generations before the creation of Yugoslavia. Decaying buildings, long-abandoned orchards, lands now conquered by weeds stand in silent reproach of the Soviet era when families were moved off their lands and onto collective farms.

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The road is poor in parts, but stretches straight ahead. Dispiriting. The occasional car whizzed past us, as anxious as we to get away from the forlorn landscape. Unsure of the speed limit, hubby pointed to the speedometer, raising his hands and shoulders in that universal gesture of enquiry to our companion, who threw back his head in laughter. Sitting up even straighter, imposing in his uniform, he pointed cheerfully to his insignia. “No problem,” he announced in his heavy accent, “special policia!” So we sped along, the first and only time we’ve driven through Serbia with our own protection officer.

Given that we had no language in common, it’s amazing how much we gleaned from our convoluted conversation. Three hours is a long time to chat if those involved are making determined efforts to communicate, and we all did our best. We learnt that he had been in the Serbian army during the war in Kosovo, and was now in the Special Branch. He had to attend an official meeting in Belgrade, and it was up to him to make his own travel arrangements. He told us of his wife and family, he talked politics and history. He and I passed the phrasebook back and forth to each other, pointing out the words we needed, and we laughed. We all laughed. A lot. In that grim, war-ravaged country we managed to laugh. We three strangers, from backgrounds and cultures that could hardly be more divergent, had a grand old time, though I do wonder who and what he was exactly.

We dropped him off close to the river on the outskirts of Belgrade where he would stay the night with his sister, parting company with genuine regret. I got back into the front, still clutching my empty circular knitting needle. My husband commented on it, and was stunned when I explained that I’d had some vague plan to garrote our pal with it had the need arisen!