topics: Ioannina High School, wax museum, George Tselikas (Person of the Day), dangerously strong winds, Konitsa at night; jump to dispatch

BikeAbout Log


Rider Notes: March 26, 1998

Food of the Day: wild boar

The mountainous Epiros region of northwestern Greece is home to many varieties of wild animals, many of which still thrive. Which, of course, means that hunting for sport thrives as well.

When we met "Tom the Hunter" in Konitsa the first night we arrived, he offered to roast and let us sample a wild boar that he had killed. He claimed it was one of 700 he had killed, and his invitation to try it was made under the assumption that none of us ever had ever eaten it before. Well, our table was already full of food at that point, and we had all already eaten domestic or factory-produced pig before (and some of us had actually had some delicious boar too), so we just said thanks but no thanks, and wished him continued happy hunting.

Person of the Day: George Tselikas click to view a photograph

George Tselikas is the mastermind who ultimately brought the BikeAbouters to both Ioannina and Konitsa. An architect, civil engineer, graphic designer, Web designer, organizer, and man of many other hidden talents, George read about us on the Internet, where he also introduced himself and invited us to visit both places. Though he lives in Thessaloniki, George has many friends and contacts in Epiros (the northwestern part of Greece), all of whom he said would be interested in meeting us and helping us find schools to visit. This was an especially important element, since we'd gotten tangled in the bureaucracy of the Greek school systems, and we were anxious to meet more students in different parts of Greece.

George made all sort of arrangements through his network of associates and succeeded in making our stays in Athens, Ioannina and Konitsa beyond comfortable and utterly without worry. In Athens, he urged us to meet his father, known to us now as Uncle Manos, who helped to whet our appetites further as we learned about Greece. Then, George's own work and travel schedule even brought him to both Ioannina and Konitsa while we were there, so we could all meet in person and he could introduce us to all of his friends, many fascinating things about Greece and the world, hidden corners of the Konitsa area, and his favorite sport: parasailing. With his inexhaustibly high-energy and ambitious demeanor, George was a delight to spend time with, and we are forever grateful to him for all his hard work.

George visits Konitsa more and more frequently as he is organizing and promoting the "Evathlos" sporting event here. A competition involving mountain biking, rock climbing, parasailing, and kayaking, "Evathlos" will take place in this magnificent area which couldn't be better for it. As George ran around with us, promoting both BikeAbout and "Evathlos," he succeeded in making people of all ages - the youngsters we met at the schools and the adults we met everywhere - excited about everything. Of course, they will all be here as spectators when "Evathlos" occurs from the 14-17 May, 1998. Hopefully, they will become motivated to participate in these sports in their area as well.

We will be sure to carry news of the "Evathlos" events in Konitsa through the Web site that George is in the process of designing. [Update: You can view the Evathlos Web site at]

We wish George the greatest possible success in all things that he undertakes and have every assurance that, with his good will and gusto for life, he will always be a hit. Thank you, George, for your spirit, your charm, and your insights. May the thermals lift you to new heights and your enthusiasm take you to ever-greater distances!

Place of the Day: Pavlos Vrellis Museum of Greek History

A visit to the Pavlos Vrellis Museum of Greek History 12 km (7½ mi) outside of Ioannina (on a hillside in Bizane) is like a walk through the lives of Greek historical figures. The only surprise is that the figures are present... and made of wax! The museum and its complex were designed and constructed by the artist Pavlos Vrellis as his part of the effort to preserve an understanding of Greek history in a tangible and creative way. Seventeen acres of land were bought and dedicated to this quest. And now, the rocky hillside, landscaped to include a building, more than a thousand trees and plants, as well as a small pond, make anyone's visit an exciting aesthetic experience. Even the exterior of the building, built using the traditional 18th-century Greek architecture from the Epiros region, was carefully decorated to resemble something out of history: in this case, a sentry's fort. click to view a photograph

When we arrived, accompanied by our friend Apostolis and his son, Spiros click to view a photograph, a guide with a flashlight brought us inside, where no pictures or video are allowed of the 36 exhibits of life-sized wax work that take up 2,500 sq m (2990 sq yd) and depict 24 centuries of Greek history. We "witnessed" scenes of people in battle, philosophers writing and suffering, meetings of great minds, people in prisons or hiding in caves, and revolutionaries or other combatants preparing for a fight in the many different wars Greece faced in the last century. Like a walk through a Castle of History, rooms, hallways, alcoves, loft areas, and corners were turned into pieces of life, like whole and detailed areas where the past still lurks with the important figures ("nobodies and somebodies") that helped shape Greece as we know it today.

At the exit of the museum, there is a café and art gallery click to view a photograph where we actually met with the museum proprietor and artist himself. click to view a photograph We spoke with him a little through Padraic and the German language they had in common. We thanked him for his 13 years of hard work that provided great insight into the history we would usually only hear and read about. It was our pleasure to have met him there and congratulate him on the obvious success of his efforts. He was happy to pose for a picture with us click to view a photograph and to talk a little more about different ways to keep important aspects of history interesting and the subject of art educational. click to view a photograph

We also found out that he was the single hand behind all the scenic art scapes, costumes, and building of the exhibits, working alone day-in and day-out well into his 70s. In his solitary labor, he found it necessary to use a great many details - colors, textures, and emotions - all of which help conjure a more personal brush with history. His research for the exhibits also includes a collection of folklore and historically relevant materials. It was all part of a monumentally painstaking process to preserve and embrace the history as it affected people. This work, hailing the liberation of the Greek people who sought to have and govern their own nation inspired his poem so appropriate to the national Independence holiday we just witnessed:

What a price
To pay
I don't know.
What I believe
I will pay.
It is worth it.
To die even
for it, standing,
It is worth it.
Because it is strength.
All is done
for it.
They mention it,
they call it,
but I believe
in it, LIBERTY.

Tech Fact of the Day: Strong Winds

Strong winds, or "click to hear an audio clip" in Greek, closed schools and kept us in town later than we expected today. Even after our new friend George had offered to take our luggage to lighten the load in the fierce winds, there were doubts as to whether or not we'd get blown off the road by a gusty side wind when coming around a curve… While the entire team hoped to give it a good shot despite the cold and crazy winds, so many concerned locals urged us to wait out the wind, and then to just plain old take the bus, that we (respectfully) resigned ourselves to the wrath of Mother Nature.

Group Dispatch, March 26
picture of Corinne

On Thursday morning we woke and prepared for a rough and COLD biking day. The wind had been howling outside for two days straight, but we could not delay our travel. It was time for us to bike the 63 km to Konitsa, as we knew there were schools to visit on Friday. In anticipation of the continued cold, we were all wearing most of our clothing. Everything else was packed though, and breakfast was eaten (again at our marvelous Hotel Xenia) by 8:30 a.m.

We had a short conference at breakfast, where we all decided to give the ride our best shot despite the weather and our full day's schedule. We had agreed to make a brief visit at a high school in Ioannina before hitting the windy road to Konitsa, but looking outside, it was still cloudy, still cold, and the trees were all BUT still, thrashing and swaying in the wind that seemed to come from all directions. This made determining our expected duration on the road difficult. But, as usual, we were determined. We knew biking to Konitsa would be hard, but worth it, especially since we'd had more than 4 days off the bikes by now. We were all getting twitchy from not biking.

Our new friend (see the Word of the Day) George Tselikas (today's Person of the Day) had offered to relieve us of our luggage, so we figured we wouldn't be too bad off on the road. But when George arrived to escort us to the high school, and we were ready to follow him with our bikes, he suggested that we stay inside the car, saying he had found it difficult even to drive in the wind. (Gulp!) He strongly urged us to try to wait out the wind. If it subsided, then we should ride.

So George drove us all to one of Ioannina's high schools where we learned that schools throughout Ioannina had been canceled that day… due to the strong winds (our Tech Fact of the Day). During the night and into the morning, the wind had knocked signs off their hinges, rattled and broken windows, brought down telephone and electrical wires, and posed an overall danger to anyone braving them. But we were lucky. To quench our curiosity, the handful students who hadn't heard the news about schools closing first taught us how to say "strong winds" in Greek - click to hear an audio clip - and then agreed (we suspect, a little coaxing from the school Director and their English teacher) to spend a little time with the BikeAbouters, even though they could have just gone home or hung out with their friends all day.

The director of the school, who explained that this school, built in 1828 before Greece was even declared a nation, was founded by a man who grew up in the region but made his fortune in Russia. This benefactor then donated everything to cultural and educational facilities in Ioannina. Nik, the school's English teacher who was born in Melbourne, Australia, helped translate this for the school's Director and then stuck around for the first part of our meeting.

The room where we set up shop is watched over by portraits of the school's many benefactors and has two large conference tables. At first, one table was full of students and the other of BikeAbouters, but Corinne quickly mixed this up, insisting on a the importance of greater interaction. click to view a photograph Thus, delighted with such a small group, we introduced ourselves and the BikeAbout project, and enjoyed an opportunity to learn a few names and have more interesting conversations. Here are Padraic and Anthony with Vera, Armina, Marianna, Arisiti, and Dimetri. click to view a photograph

Some of the things we discussed were old hat, while some new ideas and insights about Greece were revealed. These students knew about the Internet and how it's used for learning, although they don't have it in school, and it's not a very common thing in Ioannina just yet. click to view a photograph They also felt that, in general, students in Greece don't have high quality education, which is why private tutoring (like the work done by Katerina) is so necessary for those wishing to attend a university. Stavros click to view a photograph even took Corinne on a tour of the old and empty school to show her the conditions which he feels sometimes make it difficult to learn.

We asked the students about differences between the Epiros region and the rest of Greece. They all agreed that living in a smaller city, such as Ioannina, is good because it is easier to be closer to friends and family; but they did also recognize that, even though Ioannina is capital of the region, developments (such as the Internet) come here slowly. click to view a photograph They said that anyone frustrated with the atmosphere in Ioannina always had the option of moving to Athens.

Of course we also talked about border conflicts with Albania and Turkey, since Albania is so close to Ioannina, and it's hard for these students to look past the bad experiences that they, their parents, and their grandparents have suffered. click to view a photograph They shared their feelings about how the recent population decrease in Greece is a national concern, having to do with national security issues. In many countries, zero population growth is considered a good thing for the economy, but in Greece the population is growing more from immigrants than anything else, which the source of their concern.

While we chatted with the students and shared with them some of the experiences from our ongoing adventure click to view a photograph, the harsh conditions outside began to improve first when the sun broke through the clouds, and then as the air warmed up by at least one degree. The winds still seemed strong, but were not nearly as insane as they had been. However, so much time had passed with these delightful and insightful young people, it went without saying that it was far too late to get on the road.

Instead, on our way out of the school, we met with one of George's friends, named Apostolis, and his little son, Spiros. They had come with their van to accompany us out to a historical wax museum that everyone had enthusiastically recommended we visit. During the entire 12-km (7.5-mi) drive out to the museum, Spiros played shy, but it's okay since he's just so CUTE! click to view a photograph

The Pavlos Vrellis Museum of Greek History is our Place of the Day, where we saw the wax figures depicting people and events from Greek history. Important people from the pre-revolutionary days - the individuals behind the uprising leading to the War of Independence - are shown among the 36 exhibits, but that's "only the beginning". As we left the museum, having been quite impressed with everything we saw, we even met the man behind it all, Mr. Pavlos Vrellis himself! click to view a photograph

After this expedition, it was back to the hotel to vegetate a bit and wait to hear from George regarding a plan for Konitsa. George was already in Konitsa on business for both BikeAbout and the project with which he is deeply involved called Evathlos (see more at the Person of the Day). We knew we would have morning school visits tomorrow and were counting the hours we would need to get to Konitsa before dark.

Finally, when the call came from George, we learned that the weather report for that afternoon and the next day showed no real break in the temperature or winds. So he thought we should go to Konitsa by bus that night. Thus, we could start our Konitsa school visits early in the morning and after a full night's rest. George had also done some fancy footwork with the Mayor of Konitsa and found full accommodation and meals for our stay in Konitsa. We had no reason to say no.

That evening at the bus station, after George had already telephoned an attendant at the station, we succeeded in getting all four bikes on one bus, but not without added payment. It was another adventure in making the bikes look super small, taking off the wheels and turning the handlebars to make them stackable, just as we've been doing every time we use a means of transportation other than our own wheels. In the setting sunlight, we bussed through the valleys and over the ridges to Konitsa, arriving before the sparkling lights of a town that seemed to climb up a hillside into the darkened distance. On the way into Konitsa by night, we admired an illuminated entrance to a river gorge and old bridge - all looking very dramatic.

The bus drove up, up, up to Konitsa's main square, and we were grateful not to have had to make that climb with all our luggage on our bikes. A slightly sleepy George met us at the bus station, and helped us find our hotel in the ever-winding and unmarked streets of Konitsa. We walked the reassembled and loaded bikes down, down, down to the domatia, or guest house, where we would have an entire apartment to ourselves. Yes, the apartment, which has 3 (three!) bathrooms and more than enough rooms, would be our home for the entire weekend, during which George had planned everything for us, from hiking to rafting to parasailing!

Heading back up, up, up into town (this time with George's car), we went for a typically Greek, late-night dinner with the Mayor of Konitsa, Mr. Prodromas Hatziefraimidis, and some other of George's friends, at a local restaurant, the Sourloukas Tavern. Of course, we personally thanked him for his hospitality and interest in BikeAbout. We also met some other local characters in the restaurant, getting our first taste of the small-town flavor. One such person was "Tom the Hunter" who told us he's killed over 700 wild boars. He offered to cook us some right then and there. Instead of trying it (Corinne in particular was not keen on this offer), we just made it the Food of the Day.

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