This was to be a very different day than we had experienced up to date. It would be a full day but not a day discussing the battlefields although we did visit the Army Post at Niki. The day was clear and had an early chill but we suspected that it would warm up later, we were correct in that assumption. This Army Post is right up there protecting the Border between FYROM and Greece. FYROM is the Former Yugoslavian Republic Of Macedonia, but should not be using the word Macedonia as they are Slavic people and not of Greek heritage. There is much angst here in Greece about the use of Macedonia and Diplomatic discussions are progressing. There are many issues in the Balkans re who owns what and who doesn’t own what etc. Much of this goes back to the Balkan Wars of 1912 period.
The Post protects the border for 200 km and the entrance into Greece from the Montasir Gap, the same Pass that the Germans used to invade Greece in 1941. The post is just north of the village of Niki and the Officers and Soldiers are always happy to have us visit them each year. By visiting we keep alive the link between Australia and New Zealand with Greece that was forged on the battlefield in those dark days of 1941. We arrived to be met by the Deputy Regimental Commander who had come out to the Post just to meet us. It was good to rekindle the acquaintance of a few of the Senior Staff who were there last year. Following a briefing of their duties, the location of the actual border and a ground brief, we joined them for coffee and a chat. It had been a harsh winter for them this year as they had been much snow and the lowest temperature had been minus 29°C. During that time they were still out patrolling the Border region.
We were with them for over an hour and a half and had many meaningful discussions with both the Officers and Soldiers. Most of the Soldiers are doing their National Service but are well trained as before being posted to this famous Regiment they had completed their basic training plus specialised training. After a while we said goodbye and headed south as we were to visit the village of New Kaucus, the home of Anna, our friend of many years. On the way, we went through Niki and there we saw the Storks high up on their nests. The platforms are erected by the people and installed on the electricity poles. The Storks return in spring each year and when they return, the village knows that winter is over. The Storks stay for 3 months. At Anna’s we had a coffee and also some of her Spinach Pie, plus, olives and home made Feta.
Our next activity for the day was to visit, with Anna, one of the new vineyards that has been established at Xinon Nero, in the vicinity where the 2/4th Battalion had climbed onto their trucks following the Battle of Vevi. We were taken out amongst the vines the hear about the growth, soil quality, the pruning technique and types of grapes grown. It was very interesting indeed. We then moved into the Cellar where all the big vats were and then where the barrels were there full of their formenting wines. It was here that we heard of the marketing strategies of the company and their interest in producing wines indigenous to the area. A lunch supplied by Anna full of beautiful cold meats, feta, olives and cold meat balls, all home made, was augmented by a wine tasting of some of the wines grown at the vineyard. A lovely lunch was had by all and we then said goodbye to our hosts and took our leave.
We had one last visit to make before we called it a day. That visit was to be to the Nymphaion Brown Bear Sanctuary. The sanctuary of the brown bear is the only one in Europe, providing shelter and care for the brown bear, a species almost extinct in Greece till a few years ago. The bears are all "rescued" ones that were formerly "dancing bears" or similar. The Sanctuary is high up the mountain 44 km from Florina and just outside Nymphaion which itself has been proclaimed the prettiest village in Greece. All the houses are made from the local stone and one can see why the label 'Prettiest Village' has been awarded. We felt happy that the Bears are there to eat their fruit and honey in safety away from the previous cruel world they used to live in. A really long walk back to our coach was followed by a pleasant trip down off the mountain and home to a late dinner, farewell to Anna and bed.