Trikala is a small city situated right in the center of Northern Greece. It is your perfect stop if you are exploring mainland Greece, since it lies halfway between Thessaloniki (approx. 3 hours) and Athens (approx. 4 hours). You might wonder why on earth it would be worth visiting such a small city so far away from the blue waters of the Aegean Sea? Well, because of the local metal scene of course! Don’t forget that according to this map Greece has the most metalheads per capita after the Scandinavian countries. Your editor actually lived in this city for over a year and experienced the atmosphere of the local scene first hand. Follow him for a tour.
When you walk around in a city that has been mentioned in Homer’s Illiad, you know history can be found in many places… if you know where to look! The best way to orientate around the city is on the two central bridges spanning the Lithaios river. On the smaller bridge you find a statue of Asclepius as Trikala is considered the birthplace and main residence of the Greek god of medicine, healing and physicians. In the summer the bridges provide some very welcome shade where you can relax right next to the water. In wintertime the whole river is decorated in festive Christmas lights. Hordes of people flock over to Trikala in the holiday period to visit the Christmas village ‘Μιλος των Ξωτικοων’ or ‘Mill of the Elves’.
When standing on the main bridge facing the central square (Κεντρικι Πλατεια or ‘Kentriki Plateia’) go left and keep following the road Stratigou Sarafi until you hit the acropolis hill where a 6th century Byzantine castle and its more modern clock tower offer a panoramic view over the city. The view is worth the climb and I would suggest descending the hill on the other side to stroll around in Varousi, the old city district, to see some of the town’s oldest houses and churches. Before reaching the central square again you pass through Manavika, the city district that is crowded with the best tavernas in town, and where you will go out at night (see Bars). If you want to enjoy a good meal and a warm welcome find your way around all the small streets to Ladofanaro (on the corner of Ypsilantou and Kanigkos). While dining traditional Greek dishes in the company of local families, owner Antonis Pliatsikas is always welcoming Erasmus students or the foreign basketball players that play in Trikala’s team. He knows his colors of the big European football teams and specifically in Belgium Anderlecht carries his favor.
Let me give you a tip: parties start late in Greece, so you better have some appetizers before delving into the night. If we start on the main bridge, we turn our back towards the central square and head down Asklipiou street. During the day this street is usually packed with people having a Greek frappé in one of the many coffee bars. At night I suggest a different destination further down the street.
In number 46 you can find Klimataria, a traditional ouzeria where Greeks have their typical anise-flavoured liquor ouzo with finger food, called mezzes. However, most Trikalians prefer the non-flavoured and purer version, called tsipouro. Tsipouro is roughly between 40-45% of alcohol, so drink wisely. Better yet, just do like I did and start a conversation with the local metalheads who often hang around Klimataria before going out. They will be happy to help you prepare a well-balanced tsipouro, explain all the different food dishes that accompany the drink and tell stories about the traditional Greeks songs that are played in the background. Greek people drink a lot, but slowly, enjoying the company and the conversation.
You don’t feel like indulging in traditional Greek culture and feel homesick to our rich beer culture? Then stick around the main bridge and look for Μπυρολογος (“Beerologos”) situated inside the corner of ‘Emporiko Kentro’ in Βυρωνος 9 (Virinos 9). This beer shop turned-into-a-bar offers a huge collection of German beers and even some special Belgian ones. Usually classic rock is playing in the background, but with the right people and atmosphere the volume can go up and you hear some metal classics. While now a proud father and owner of this fine establishment, George Karaiskos is the former singer of a heavy metal band. So if you are lucky on calmer days he will still take out his acoustic guitar and play you some tunes of Dream Theater, Scanner, Dakota or Bruce Springsteen accompanied by his amazing voice.
If you are a beer lover, be sure to grab a beer from Trikalοn Zythos (Τρικαλων Ζυθος). While bar hopping all the rock bars you might run into the brewer, George Zarkadas, as he is a local metalhead too.
It is time to cross the bridge again and head to Manavika for the real rock bars. Depending on your taste there are three of them I can highly recommend. On the corner of Chatzipetrou and Stournara (Χατζηπέτρου & Στουρνάρα) you will find the alternative rock bar Arapatta. They have a cozy atmosphere and often a live DJ who mixes up everything from alternative rock, over Greek punk, to modern metal. Be sure to hit one of their cocktail parties if you have the chance. But be careful, the Zombie Killer one is tricky strong!
Another must-visit bar is Silver Spur (Karaiskaki 64). This classic rock pub plays all the old stuff together with some blues rock and occasionally older metal classics. The decoration reminds you more of a Western saloon and offers a great chance to sit back and relax.
For metalheads there is only one real end stop of your night in Trikala: Rising (Karaiskaki 57). It’s just a little bit further down the street from Silver Spur and is easily recognizable by the motorcycle of the owner Chris Vakouftis standing outside in front of the entrance. If that doesn’t help, just keep your ears open and you will hear the metal blasting from the speakers! Metalheads from all neighboring towns easily ride 50 kilometers just to visit this bar which is known all over Greece. The decoration is epic and the metal styles range from the earliest proto-metal to more modern bands. If you have a suggestion, the owners Chris and Vasilis ‘Ville’ Gougoulakis will be happy to play it for you. In weekends Rising often has theme parties. Thrash, epic, Greek metal, glam (called ‘poser metal’ here), Manowar tribute night… everything can happen here. During carnival this bar practically does not close and the whole weekend metalheads are partying dressed up. Famous Greek metal musicians occasionally visit and take care of the music (or they get wasted and forget all about it). The bar recently celebrated its 10th anniversary of metal mayhem and chaos for the neighbours. Enter at your own risk! Chances are you will not leave before the sun is up high!
This is a picture of Rising at 8am. On a Tuesday morning. And no, people did not come here for an early coffee before work.
A small town with such a legendary bar is bound to inspire some metal bands to pick up instruments. Easiest to spot are the members of Daffodil. Vasilis, the lead singer of this gothic rock band, is one of the owners of Rising. Guitarist Helena Kotina could be found taking orders behind the bar during her student years, but now often still sits on the other side. The band recently signed a record deal with New Dream Records that allows a worldwide release of their first EP in November 2016. Check out our review of the EP here.
If you like things a bit harder check out these two veteran thrash bands. Riffobia formed in 2004 and has recently delivered its pure thrashing sophomore album Death From Above through Eat Metal Records. Warcode brings thrash with influences of death since 2007 and their first album Vortex of Chaos is up for listening in its integrity on Bandcamp.
The new band in town since 2013 is Oletir, a young band playing blackened death with female guttural vocals. I was lucky to witness one of their first live shows ever and I saw some real potential. Check out their first demo The Wind released earlier this year on Bandcamp.
Ask around if there is a metal show in the town’s live venue Mandragoras (Stratigou Sarafi 12) when you stay in town.
Trikala is also the headquarters of Greece’s largest metal webzine called Metal Invader, so chances are you bump into some of its editors.
If you plan to stay a little longer, Trikala is a good base to explore the rest of the Thessaly region. For example, Elati and Pertouli are two mountain villages of which the latter actually has a ski resort in winter. Both are around 35 kilometers west of Trikala and lie in a beautiful mountain area called Pindos. You can find many paths to walk in the forest and meadows or take a mountain bike if you feel more adventurous. If you are visiting in the winter period, be sure to taste a tea with fresh mountain herbs or traditional alcoholic drinks like rakomelo (spiced mix of raki and honey) and oinomelo (mulled wine) to warm you up again after hiking.
If you prefer the water over the mountains, head over to Lake Plastiras, 50 kilometers south of Trikala. It’s one of the highest located lakes in Europe which offers more stunning nature.
The real historical and geographical gem in this region, however, lies only 25 kilometers north of Trikala in Kalambaka. There you can find Meteora, monolithic stone pillars standing high above the region’s plains. Over the centuries several monasteries have been built on top of these rock formations, leaving you speechless over how men were able to construct these holy places in such a remote area and harsh conditions. The location was used for filming a James Bond and Tintin film and served as an inspiration for many other projects. A Tomb Raider game, a Pokémon movie (Arceus and the Jewel of Life), the title of Linkin Park’s second album and the Eyrie of the Vale of the House of Arryn from Game of Thrones were all based on these stunning landmarks.