Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Suburban rail in Patras

Some time ago I wrote about rack railway to Kalavryta. As a continuation of rail theme, today time for Patras suburban railway (gr. Προαστιακός). Yes, believe it or not, Patras has one, a very good one! It connects the city center, stations are located close to Agios Andreas church and the port, with north‑eastern parts of the city together with outskirt towns of Rio and Agios Vasilios. As I use it almost everyday, I finally decided to dedicate one of my posts to this train.
First connection started in July 2010, between Patras and Rio, and train stopped at four stations only. In time, more and more areas wanted the train to stop in their neighborhoods and since September 2011, the train has been extended until Ag Vasilios, to my great satisfaction :-D There are plans to extend the route more to the east, until Arachovitika and Psathopyrgos, so as final route should consist of stations of: Ag Andreas, Patra (port), Panachaiki stadium, Bozaitika, Kastelokampos, Rio, Ag Vasilios and future Arachovitika and Psathopyrgos. Among further improvements, there is also planned additional route in opposite direction until Kato Achaea through Vrachneika, that would in consequence lead to connecting almost 50km of the coast line of Patras metropolitan area with fast and reliable train, significantly reducing traffic in the center.
Similar suburban routes are operating in Athens and Thessaloniki. Athens connections are: to Piraeus, Corynthos, Kiato and the International Airport, with extension plans also in north and south directions. Thessaloniki connections are to: Larissa through Litochoro, and to Edessa. The trains are operated by TrainOSE, an independent state company, using infrastructure of the Hellenic Rail Organization (ΟΣΕΟργανισμός Σιδηροδρόμων Ελλάδας). Patras route is not electrified and though served by diesel engine rolling stock made in Switzerland by STADLER / BOMBARDIER and in Germany by MAN factories. 

The train immediately became extremely popular. First among students, who use it everyday to get from Patras to Rio, from where extra bus takes them up to the new university campus within the price of the train ticket. Student monthly ticket is only 15E! It is cheaper than city bus and much faster and comfortable, with air conditioning during the summer and heating in the winter months.
Nowadays, in crisis time, more and more people start to use it also in the opposite direction, to get to work in the center. The train seems very convenient way, if You consider the fact that You are not forced to look for a parking place, which sometimes means additional 15min of Your time or extra 5E from Your pocket. For me, trip from Agios Vasilios, takes about 25min, which would be difficult to achieve with a car during heavy afternoon traffic.
Photo presents Patras main station, between pedestrian Ag Nikolaou street and the port. I have originally taken photo of empty station and later decide to “improve” it a little bit with colorful train. As the post is about the train itself, I think it fits much better :-P

Photo details: NIKON D70s, Aperture priority, f 1/9, 1/400s, -0.3EV, f=105 mm (for 35mm), GIMP software

Monday, November 14, 2011

The mountain of gods

When speaking about Greece, what comes to Your mind ? Probably the first thought would be Athens with Akropolis, or maybe Aegean islands like Santorini, Mykonos or Rhodos, definitely gyros, mousakas, ouzo... but somewhere on the list for sure would appear Olympos – the mountain of Gods, so often mentioned in Ancient Greek mythology. What surprised me when I decided to go there and started to read a little about Olympos, was that the name applies for the whole region and mountain range, not the highest peak. In fact there are 4 main peaks with their own names, that I have never heard of before, such as: Skala (2866m), Stefani (2909m), Skolio (2911m) and Mythikas (2918m) - the highest point of Greece and the most popular Greek hiking destination (some sources mention a number of 10.000 hikers every year). So, the time has come for the first “out of Patras” post.
Together with my girlfriend, we have decided to visit Olympos in August this year, during long weekend (13th–15th), as it's almost 5h drive from Patras and would be difficult to manage in a regular two-day weekend. The starting point for the hike can be village of Litochoro (from the east side), Dion (from north-east) or Kokkinoplos (from the west). Following suggestions of most guides, we have decided to follow the most popular route from the east. The highest point reachable by car is Prionia at the altitude of 1100m. Here, a 6-hour hike begins, through refuge of Spilios Agapitos until Skala peak, plus additional 45min to reach the highest point of Olympos - Mythikas. In order not to repeat the same route down, we have decided to descent to Plateau of the Mouses and spend the night camping next to Christos Kakkalos refuge. Next day we continued down taking longer route: from plateau, following to Skourta and Petrostrouga, to finally reach asphalt road to Prionia in point called Gortsia. Luckily we managed to stop the car that took us back to our car in Prionia, to avoid boring 2h walk along the road.

The whole area of Olympos National Park is truly amazing! Within radius of 20km You get everything You could possibly imagine: the mountains, the forest, gorges with rivers and waterfalls but also the beach and beautiful coast line. No wonder, it's so popular area among tourists.

I could post at least 20 photos from this trip. It was not so easy to chose the best, but finally I decided. First one is taken from Kakoskala (“the bed steps”) over the Plateau of the Mouses, with both refuges of Christos Kakkalos and Giorgos Apostolidis, and bunch of tents between them (where we have also camped during the night).

Second one was taken from the refuge, pointing to Stefani rocky peak, called “the throne of Zeus”. It was actually our view from the tent! Nice, huh ? No 5* hotel in the world offers this kind of views! The legend says, that in the morning light of raising sun, You can see the face of Zeus somewhere among the rocks. In fact, we both claimed to see it, but as it later came out, we saw it in completely different place :-P Anyway, go and find it Yourself… Some say, it’s a sin for a Greek, not to visit Olympos at least once in life.
I really recommend the trip there! You will enjoy every minute of it, the hike, the views, the food and after all this, You can chill out at one of the beaches of Olympos coastline…

Photo1: Panasonic DMC-FX 150, Landscape Mode, f 1/9, 1/250s, 0EV, f=29mm (for 35mm), GIMP software

Photo2: Panasonic DMC-FX 150, Normal, f 1/9, 1/200s, 0EV, f=29mm (for 35mm), GIMP software

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Upper City

Most of the people, when they come to Patras center, go to Ag Nikolaou pedestrian, plateia Giorgiou, marina. This part of Patras is called “the lower city” (gr. “κατο πολι”). A little less visited area is “the upper city” (gr. “ανο πολι”), maybe because everybody is lazy to walk up the stairs :-P Some of attractions to find there are the castle and roman amphitheatre. This area is probably more popular among young people and students. It has many narrow streets, old houses built in traditional way, cafés and restaurants, many of them with nice panoramic view of Patras (“the lower city”, the port, the bridge and the bay).

I took advantage of one sunny Saturday in October to have a walk there. I was hoping mainly for some nice panoramic photos of Patras, but I also took some of narrow streets of the neighborhood. The posted photo is one of them, taken while passing by the street below the castle. It’s just one of many streets going down from beneath the castle, with steep stairs, white painted houses, almost one on top of another, some laundry on the string, and a view in the background. This is exactly how the whole neighborhood looks like. I don’t even remember the name of the street as all of them seem the same for me. I like this part of Patras much more then crowded lower town.

Photo details: NIKON D70s, Aperture priority, f 1/8, 1/1250s, -0.3EV, f=27 mm (for 35mm), GIMP software

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Achaean Rack Railway

Famous rack railway (gr. “Οδοντωτος”), connecting seaside Diakopto with Kalavryta, located higher in the mountains, is just 1h driving from Patras to Athens. From Diakopto train goes 750m up within about 1h15min, through the gorge of Vouraikos (gr “Βουραϊκος”). The route is 22,3km long, with about 3.4km of rack sections, where maximum incline is 17,5%. The width of the tracks is only 75cm that makes it narrowest in the world. The rail was built from initiative of Charilaos Trikoupisis, also the idea holder of Rio-Antirio bridge. Construction started in 1889 and was originally planned for only 10 months, to be finally inaugurated after 7 years, on March 10th, 1896. Since then, the train is constantly operating. Visit official web page of the train for more details about history, schedules, prices and news.

First trains to operate were steam locomotives custom designed for this route in 1891. In 1957, first diesel trains (3 rolling stocks) were ordered from French factory BILLARD (later in 1967 additional 3, produced by DECAUVILLE, were added). They were successfully operating not so long ago, before 2009 (some say, that back then, the trip with 40-year-old train was even bigger adventure :-P).
Today's motor is a modern one, Swiss STADLER, that was also custom made for Diakopto-Kalavryta route. Engine is MAN production, 588kW power diesel. New cars are comfortable and air-conditioned, with big windows for better views during the ride, and can fit up to 104 passengers. 

I have decided to take a ride on one weekend in September, as it seemed better and cooler month compared to hot summer, without crowds of tourists. The plan was to take the train from Diakopto until Kato Zachlorou only (Mega Spilion station on train’s schedule) and walk down back to Diakopto (about 13km, only descent). All this is a part of International hiking route E4, that passes through the gorge, following exactly railroad tracks. It takes about 7-8h to walk all the distance from Kalavryta to Diakopto, and about 3,5h from Kato Zachlorou down to Diakopto. Believe me, both the ride and later walk are worth an effort. First You can see all the attractions (narrow passes, caves, waterfalls and the river itself) from the window, sitting comfortably in the train. Later You pass them during the walk, having all the time in the world for as many photos as You want.
I specially enjoyed the village of Kato Zachlorou itself (second photo). The train station is also central square for the village, with hotel, restaurants and cafes. Life seems to have stopped here 100y ago – no noise, no people running, no traffic (no cars at all). Perfect place to rest and relax from everyday rush.
I will definitely write something more about Vouraikos gorge itself and the hiking route, in separate post.

Photo1: NIKON D70s, Aperture priority, f 1/7.1, 1/40s, -0.3EV, f=69 mm (for 35mm), GIMP software

Photo2: NIKON D70s, Aperture priority, f 1/7.1, 1/20s, -0.3EV, f=51 mm (for 35mm), GIMP software – grey scale