Trip to Pisoderi Florinas with the Kilkis Mountaineering Club,
Saturday 19th and Sunday 20th January 2002.
A tongue-in-cheek review...


Pisoderi is a small village on the road which leads from Florina towards the border with Albania. About two miles from the village lies the Vigla ski resort, and this was the main reason for our visit to Pisoderi. I am no skier, so the trip for me was more a case of getting out of the flat and enjoying some company.

Setting off, travelling, arriving...

The trip was supposed to start at seven in the morning but, as is usual with coach-based excursions in Greece, we didn't actually set off till almost three-quarters of an hour later. This time it was because one plonker (no names, no packdrill - and, no, it wasn't me!) overslept and was woken by someone on the waiting coach calling him from their mobile. So about forty-five people had to wait three-quarters of an hour on the coach till he turned up, thus losing almost an hour of skiing (or relaxing!) time at the ski resort. In my opinion, this is thoroughly unacceptable - if you are not there at the time the coach is due to leave, you lose your deposit. I myself had only had 3 hours' kip the night before the trip, but managed to be there on time.

So anyway, we set off at 7.45 am on our way down to Thessaloniki, where we were due to pick up some more people (who were also forced to wait in the cold while Mr Dozy of Kilkis snoozed warmly in his bed), and from there it was off along the road to Edessa, where we had a stop for coffee or fruit juice. Just my luck to espy a mini-market across the road and nip over there to get a couple of cartons of refrigerated fruit juice to drink, only to discover once back on the coach that one had passed its expiry date, neither had the usual plastic straw attached, and that they were therefore unusable until I had access to some scissors and a glass from which to drink the juice, and then some Imodium to plug the resultant diarrhoea... So my breakfast consisted of a can of soda water. Yum yum.

Some of the rest of the group had coffee/tea/hot chocolate at a little café place near where the coach parked, and the owner must have thought Christmas had come early, what with all the early morning supping.

Then it was back onto the coach for the rest of the trip to Pisoderi. I had never been to Florina before, so I was interested to see what the surrounding landscape and town were like, but was a little disappointed to see that the landscape was fairly bland for the most part, this not being helped by the fog and snow, and the town (predictably enough, for mainland Greece) was nondescript, little more than apartment blocks and unimaginative drabness. Once we had passed Florina, however, and began climbing, things perked up - the countryside was more mountainous and covered in firs and pines, and the snow grew deeper. Eventually we arrived at Pisoderi, where we were told in which of the two hotels each of us would be lodging. I was put in a place called Hotel Miranda and shared a room with a couple of friends, Giorgos Notas and Yiannis Haritidis. Most people were lodging in the larger and more modern - and therefore purpose-built - Hotel Eleni, about five minutes' walk away. Our hotel was a traditional inn-style place, with a fire burning in the hearth in the entrance hall, which is where we took breakfast the next morning (picture further down). There is nothing like an open fire to warm the cockles...

(above) Hotel Miranda, seen from the coach

Once there...

Once there, we had about half an hour to settle our stuff into the rooms before the coach left again for the 2-mile drive to Vigla, the ski resort. The roadside at Vigla was chocker with the sort of car belonging to the supposed jetset who spend every winter weekend skiing - top-of-the-range four-wheel drives or souped-up Volkswagens/Subarus with one-way mirror-style windows (to hide the low Neanderthal brow, one supposes?). Pity I didn't turn up in my battered Skoda... Anyway, we hoofed along to the Tottis Chalet and those who wanted to ski got their ski lift cards and hired their skis, while those of us in the know simply made for the eatery and started on the food, wine and beer. While some were on the piste, the cognoscenti were on the piss. However, as is so often the case in Greece, when they have you over a barrel geographically or by the goolies facilities-wise, they also have your wallet over that same barrel and by those selfsame goolies, and the cost of a pint of draught Amstel was an alarming €3.80 (GBP2.35/USD3.36). We are talking at least a 700% mark-up here... Old Man Tottis must be laughing all the way to the bank - if not wetting himself liberally at the same time. However, the nearest reasonably priced pint was at least a couple of miles' walk away though the snow, so the wallet's goolies were frequently applied to the barrel and a happy, albeit exorbitant, time was had by all (picture below).

(above) Are all those empty glasses ours?!

The pistes closed at four pm, so we had plenty of drinking time, and we started off with a variety of mezedhes (plates of food suitable for ouzo or tsipouro, which is a raki), and then moved on to the beers. There were lots of people stomping around in boots that looked like they belonged on the set of Star Wars, but evidently were designed to lock directly onto the skis. A couple of our group decided to have a ski lesson, so they went off and found an instructor. Tellingly, the first lesson is all about how to fall, which is a little like having your first driving lesson and learning how to write your car off. Mind you, given the way they drive here, you'd be forgiven for thinking that is indeed the first lesson you should be getting at a driving school in this country. Anyway, when they came back in, they seemed to have enjoyed it and found it quite tiring physically - I was glad I stuck with the amber nectar, even if it was the price of liquid gold...

When the time came for us to mosey back to the hotels, we decided to walk the two miles through the fog along the road to Pisoderi. This turned out to be a good move, as there were some great photos to be taken of the trees bedecked with snow. A couple are to be seen below...

That evening back at Hotel Eleni in Pisoderi, the Mountaineering Club cut the vassilopita (a traditional New Year's Cake containing a florin - or in this case a one euro coin...) and the coin fell to Angela, who consequently won a nice fleece top. The vassilopita was the nicest I have ever tasted, moist and delicious. I wished afterwards that I had had a second piece, as the subsequent meal at the taverna next to Hotel Miranda turned out to be quite a disappointment. I always look forward to evening meals out with great relish, probably not a good thing given that it leaves you wide open to a damp squib when the nosh is served up. This was very much the case when we eventually got served at the taverna. You would think, wouldn't you, that in a tiny village a couple of miles from a very popular ski resort the two tavernas would stay in some sort of contact with the hotels and know when two of the hotels have been fully booked by a club of about 60 people for the weekend, so that they are stocked up with enough food? Well, this is evidently beyond the taverna we went to, and the choice of dishes was extremely limited (no beef steaks or in fact anything made of beef, for example). I was served a sausage which looked - and tasted - as if it had been cooked in our coach's exhaust pipe. As if this were not enough, the barrel rosé wine ran out within about 20 minutes, and then we were obliged to drink whatever wines they had on display on the shelves for decorative purposes. This meant drinking a mixture of wines from Italy, Greece and Australia, and, worst of all, the white wines were of course warm, having been there just for decoration. In addition, there was no fruit to be served. Is it really too much to ask that a winter sports tourist-supported village get itself organised and stocked up when punters have booked to stay there? Well, perhaps in Greece it is.

So, anyway, replete with duff nosh and warm plonk, and having been subjected to the traditional post-prandial torture of watching Greek dancing to stunningly bad traditional Greek music, we headed off back to the hotels to sleep.

The next morning there was a choice of activity. Those who had been on the piste the previous day could return there, while those of us who didn't want to spend our day going up and down the freezing side of a mountain with a pair of sticks stuck on our feet would be going to see the Prespes lakes, on the border with Albania and neighbouring Macedonia (or FYROM, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, if you are Greek and your successive governments have totally balleds-up on the diplomatic front for years and then sheepishly tried to persuade everyone that the name is copyright!). Before setting off, though, it was breakfast time. This was taken at our hotel, and consisted of toasted bread, butter and marmalade, boiled eggs, cheese and ham, fruit juice and tea or coffee, eaten by the fire in the tiny lobby of Hotel Miranda. This was quite welcome (especially after the previous night's excuse for a sausage), and we sat there quite a while, enjoying the fire. Outside it was pretty cold, and the weather didn't bode well for viewing the lakes - fairly thick fog again. Once the ski crowd had been bussed up to the resort, the coach returned to collect us. Meanwhile, an old duffer with a van selling white beans and local honey had parked near the hotel, so this was the opportunity to buy in a few provisions. This being the period of dual circulation of the incoming euro and the outgoing drachma, the poor chap was totally lost when people tried paying him euros, so a calculator from the hotel was needed in order to sort the confusion out.

Breakfast in the lobby of Hotel Miranda

Breakfast by the fire in the lobby of Hotel Miranda

Forty minutes late again, we finally set off from Pisoderi for the Prespes lakes, some forty-five minutes' drive from Pisoderi. Our first stop was to visit a little island called Ayios Achillios, which is joined to the shore by an impressive floating bridge. It appears that the inhabitants of the island got so frustrated with being cut off from the rest of the country that eventually the State had to give way and get a northern European company to deliver and install this bridge, which is only for pedestrians. It is clearly imported - purpose-designed and very well-made, and even the rubbish bins are quality kit! - and it must make life far easier for those choosing to live on the island. Here is a picture of the bridge:

The floating bridge linking Ayios Achillios to the lake's shore, in the distance
Notice that the lake is frozen over

Even the rubbish bins are quality kit...!

The visit to the island consisted of visiting the island's kiosk (a chance to get a welcome can of Amstel...), which was decorated on each side with paintings (see below), and a visit to some over-hyped old church ruin, which hardly merited the walk. It is one thing to have an old building which you can visit and see in its former glory, it is quite another to discover after a stiff walk that the building is just a couple of sections standing and a few columns piled horizontally on the ground. Anyway, below is the photo...!

A walk around the "village" - about eleven houses - was more entertaining. One of our group approached a close-cropped little girl shyly watching us and said to her, "How are you, my lad?", which must have gone down really well with the girl. She probably suffers identity-disorder traumas even now. Life in the village can't have changed much in the past five hundred years, bridge or no bridge, and it was revealing to see how the other half lives. See pictures below:

(above) Home, sweet home

(above) An MFI cattleshed...

A painting on the side of the kiosk

Yet another painting on another side of the kiosk

From there it was off on the coach to visit the Prespa Lake which lies on the border of the three countries, and it was at the village of Psarades that we ate. Thankfully (and I write that with some feeling!!), the food we were served at the taverna in Psarades was absolutely superb. This place deserves an advertisement, so here it is. If you ever go to the Prespa region, you must must MUST eat at "I akrolimia" in Psarades Prespon, and its telephone number is (+ 30) 23850 46260. The food is divine, and it is quite a picturesque place inside, imaginatively decorated, although not much to look at from outside. They served us a paste of Florina peppers mixed with chilli pepper seeds (also known as bukovo), garlic and olive oil, some divine sausage with leek in it, little fried fish from the lake, and some delicious rosé wine of their own production. All in all, a fine noshery!!! Here are a few pictures, two of life at Psarades and some taken inside the taverna. Spot that even the television (the eternal curse of the diner in Greek tavernas) is on an artistic support!

(above) A cow and a pint?

(above) Being a sensitive border, there is a police presence

(above) Fishermen ply their trade

Below, views inside the taverna

Home, James!

And so to home. We took the coach back to the ski resort to pick up those punters who had spent the day skiing, before making our way back to Kilkis, via Thessaloniki, where we dropped a few people off. We finally got home at just before eight in the evening, and that is when the weekend's exertions (i.e. all that drinking and eating hehe) showed itself, and a few hours' kip was welcome.


It was a good weekend, despite the abortive evening meal on the Saturday. Not being a skier, ski resorts themselves hold little attraction for me, but the atmosphere was quite pleasant - especially when you are sitting in the warm slurping a beer watching all the poor sods slithering about outside in the freezing cold trying to look as if they are enjoying themselves... The secret of it all is, after all, good company, a decent pint and a cynical eye :-))

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