8th October 2015 - Dawn Chorus
Thursday 8th October 2015
So we thought a 7:30 start was early; how about 5:17? If it wasn’t bad enough dragging oneself down to the station for that time, things deteriorated when there was no sign of our train at the appointed time. One train we did see though was a pair of DMUs towing one of the Siemens EMUs towards the Airport line, proving what we were told regarding what used the south to east curve at SKA. Next, the overnight from Alexandropouli arrived about half-an-hour late and it looked as if there was a storm brewing to the south as we saw a distant flash in the sky, followed by a second then third just to confirm the first one wasn’t something else.
Eventually, the “red-cap” emerged from his office, started looking down the line then blew his whistle and ushered us back from the edge as A451 appeared with the much-travelled Bulgarian coaches. We departed 23 minutes late and the doyen of the class ensured that we were all kept awake at this early hour with a nice noisy climb away from Athens until we reached the plains where comparative silence ensued and some sleep could caught up on. There was a brief stop at Inoi to pick up a couple of local cranks then back to coasting along at line speed so some more sleep was grabbed before we reached the interesting bits.
Next stop was at Tithorea where we were booked to cross a southbound train which turned out to be one of the “Intercity” DMUs. It was just getting light and we handily stopped right opposite the former German Railways class 212 “coathanger” parked here enabling a picture to be taken in the first light of the day.
No chance of any sleep now as the first set of mountains were imminent meaning there would be plenty of noise to keep us awake and there were also some interesting lighting effects as the sun struggled to break through.
Onwards and upwards, down the other side with its precipitous views off the edge, over the Gorgopotamos viaduct, on the train rather than on foot this time, and down into Leianokladi where there was some new track to be done. This was the 14 mile long branch to Stylida which was the cause of the very early start, the only way we could get a path along it was to replace one of the service trains though it would have saved the early start if we had replaced the 11:15 rather than the 8:15. OSE no doubt had their reasons for doing it this way but the 23 minute late start this morning had now ballooned to nearly an hour and going to Stylida meant a reversal. This fact actually gave us a bonus loco as rather than run A451 round twice, locally based GE CAT engined A223 was provided to top and tail us down the branch, no complaints here as if it was anywhere near as loud as its FEVE (Spain) metre gauge cousins then it would fit the bill for us.
By the time the “CAT” had been attached and a couple of compartments emptied for the booked passengers to use we were an hour late, A223 certainly was as raucous as expected though did need a helping hand from A451 on the rear at times. As the train was booked to stop at all stations there was plenty of “thrash” to enjoy but goodness knows what the “normals” thought of this particular train with two large noisy engines either end, foreign writing on the coaches complete with 80 to 90 English-speaking people already on board! More than one passenger was noted staring slack-jawed in amazement as we screeched to a halt in front of them, only getting on board when the guard opened the door and invited them in to a section of the middle coach which had been vacated for their use.
Although the train lost a little more time en route to Stylida, we were allowed “five minutes” to take photos at the end and although A223 was in shadow, a nice photo could be had of A451 framed by an old crane on the disused freight loading dock. For those with an artistic eye, and a flip-up screen on the rear of their cameras, it was also possible to get a picture of A451 reflected in a large puddle by grovelling on the floor – not something we could do without lying full-length on said damp ground!
We arrived back at Leianokladi at the time the IC heading towards Athens should have been there which (surprise, surprise) was running late and by the time it did arrive, A223 had been detached from the rear so we managed to claw a few minutes back.
It was straight into the second mountain section shortly after leaving Leianokladi, the threatened bad weather of which we had seen a taste of in Athens had not followed us from there and it was quite sunny if a little hazy in places. The good weather meant all the windows could be left open to fully appreciate the MLW music from up front and view the progress (or lack of it) on the new line; there was a very small amount of work being carried out in places but we couldn’t see it opening any time soon.
All too soon we reached the top of the climb, down the other side, through the engine-change location at Domokos and on to the junction station of Paleofarsalos where we had to run past the station then reverse into the platform for the Kalambaka branch (correct, the signalling hadn’t been commissioned!). We turned left after leaving Paleofarsalos along a new alignment which would take us to the route of the former metre gauge line between Volos and Kalambaka, the section between Paleofarsalos and the latter had closed between 1998 and 2000 / 2001 in order to convert it to standard gauge. The current route mostly follows the original metre gauge route though there were a number of noticeable deviations en route; we had of course covered part of the remaining section of metre gauge between Velestino and Aerinon three days previously.
We arrived in Kalambaka (or Kalabaka) shortly before 1pm due to the early start this morning so had the whole afternoon to fill; not a problem as the town is actually a notable tourist destination being overlooked by sheer rocky cliffs on which are perched a number of monasteries one of which featured in a James Bond film (For Your Eyes Only). A coach trip up to the monasteries was on offer but, tempting though it was, we didn’t really fancy bouncing round mountain roads in a road vehicle all afternoon so decided to find somewhere for lunch and have a spin on the 17:32 to Athens which was loco-hauled. Just to be sure, we wandered down to the station to check and found that the loco had already run round and made a nice picture with the rocky cliffs as a backdrop, as did the tour train which had been pushed back into a siding beyond the station.
Time for a late lunch / early dinner now and we went in search of the Meteora restaurant which was highly rated. It was not far from the station and easy enough to find so we went in, were shown to a table but instead of being handed a menu, were invited to “look at our kitchen”. Rather strange, but the waiter was looking expectantly at us so we followed him across the room to a heated range on which were several large covered cooking pots. As we approached the first one, the cover was taken off for us to inspect the contents and we were told what it was, this being repeated for each pot with an invitation to choose which one we wanted at the end – certainly can’t complain that you didn’t know what you were ordering here.
We both chose the rather juicy looking port fillet, sat back down at the table where drinks and two steaming plates of food were quickly brought over. The meat came with a generous helping of vegetables and was just as we had envisaged it, nice and tender with no fat or gristle. There did not appear to be any starters available and when we asked about dessert two small plates filled with fat juicy grapes appeared, on the house, which we were coming to the conclusion was normal for Greece.
Whilst at the station earlier, we noticed that the 17:32 had been re-timed to 17:22 so we made sure that we were back there in plenty of time, especially as it was an IC train and we were not sure if we needed a reservation for it. The lady in the ticket office could not speak much English but gestured for us to show her our FIP tickets, took them, and after much tapping away on a keyboard, handed them back to us with two reservations for which there was no charge. One other person on the tour had also decided to do the train and we agreed that we would go to Karditsa as it was only a +1 minute connection to the DMU back to Kalambaka at Paleofarsalos.
The timetable showed one stop, at Trikala which was a large town, before Karditsa but we were surprised when the train stopped soon afterwards at a small station seemingly in the middle of nowhere. Two more similar stops followed, none of the three appeared in the timetable and might be a clue as to why the train was leaving 10 minutes earlier but it did have the effect of making us a little wary of missing our stop. There was no need to worry however as Karditsa was easily identified as being the next large place so we went to the front door hoping to get another shot of the train as it departed.
The train stopped, we opened the door and found there was no platform, the loco and half the front coach being past the end. Not wanting to risk getting stuck on the train if it departed whilst we legging it to the rear door, we quickly bailed out onto the ballast, we’d had enough practice over the last few days after all! There was one small issue though and that was the platform was a new one therefore quite high and the end was covered in brambles; our companion managed to get up there but we found it easier to stay put and clamber up from track level after the train departed .
Having a look round whilst waiting for the return journey, we noticed some timetables on a shelf through the booking office window so asked the booking clerk how much they were. He told us that they were old ones but brought one down to show us and they were dated 2011; just four years out of date then! It was no surprise when the screen showed the return DMU as being 20 minutes late so we settled down to watch the antics of the three station dogs who raced off across the track barking when two “interlopers” with bikes appeared on the other side of the line. At this point the DMU arrived so we left the dogs to it and returned to Kalambaka for another quick walk round the town before calling it a day.
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