Yesterday, we caught a bus from Athens to Volos in the Magnesia district. It was a four-hour ride, with one stop for lunch in the middle of the afternoon (at which time everyone was gnawing on the armrests).
Volos, the capital of the Magnesia Prefecture (district) is the second-largest city in Thessaly and the third busiest commercial port in Greece. Magnesia is wrapped around the Pagasetic Gulf, a protected body of water separated from the Aegean Sea by a long peninsula. Volos faces the crystal-clear waters of the gulf; behind it rise the evergreen slopes of Pelion mountains.
We arrived in Volos a little after 4:00 PM. It was not especially hot, but the humidity seemed much higher than in Athens. As the bus station is outside of town (which seems sort of silly), we decided to telephone to the local hotels rather than shoulder our backpacks for the long hike into town. We found a hotel on the waterfront, right across the docks from the fishing fleet and ferry terminal. The name of the place is Iason — which means “Jason” of Argonaut fame. From our balcony we can look southward across the Pagasitic Gulf and eastward to the peninsula that encloses the gulf.
Pelion, land of the legendary Centaurs, the site chosen by the ancient gods for their weddings and celebrations, rises in lush magnificence to the northeast of Volos. It was here that the centaur Chiron, the wise teacher of demigods and heroes, gave his pupils daily instruction in the proper care of body and soul. Here, too, the first beauty contest took place between Thetis and Eris (the contest which eventually lead to the Trojan War).
“Many leaved” Pelion was an inspiration to Homer, Pindar and Euripides but also to the more modern popular muse who sung of the unquenchable desire of the Greek people for freedom. The highest peaks of Pelion (Pliasidi and Pourianos Stavros) are in the northern part of the range. Its inaccessible eastern flank, with the Aegean stretching out into the distance like a vast mirror, comes to an abrupt end in the sea, creating wildly beautiful rocky shores. Conversely, the tranquil, calm coast of the western flank on the Pagasitic gulf is much easier to reach and encourages shipping activity.
Pelion’s picturesque villages, sometimes clinging to wooded slopes or perched on steep bluffs, sometimes hidden away in verdant ravines, are so much a part of the scenery that, seen from a distance they create the impression of having “sprouted up” along with the trees. The distinctive traditional architecture of the old houses with their narrow windows and decorated walls, stone stairways and roofs of grey or greeny slate; the Byzantine churches with wonderful wall paintings and icon screens; the winding cobbled paths, sculpted fountains, courtyards redolent of basil and gardenia; squares paved with huge flag stones where the cheerful bubbling of a little brook is never absent … all typical features of a Pelion village.
We have explored much of downtown Volos, but are fairly restricted in what we can accomplish here. The notable archeological museum is closed for upgrades (in preparation for the 2004 Olympics) and most of the really good archeological sites are outside of the town. So, this afternoon we are going to rent a tiny car and spend the next several days driving to important places on Pelion and the Mycenaean ruins (the ancient city of Iolchus) south of here.