Ioannina 13/12 – 14/12/2015
We have just spent a day and night in this bustling, student heavy city set high in the mountains on the shore of Lake Pamvolis. As is becoming the norm now winter has set in we are generally staying in car-parks in the centre of towns. The drive from Meteora is another classic through the Pindos Mountains, a shame we have to do it in this old lump. We decided to splash out a bit and take the motorway from Metsovo and as luck would have it the toll booth was broken and we had a free ride for the whole 56Km. It seemed that the majority of this journey was a downhill slalom through tunnels as we just rolled the whole way from our starting point near the Ice-fields of Macedonia.
The approach into Ioannina does not leave you wanting for more as you travel through mile after mile of sprawl. However, the old fortified city and lakeside promenade are a joy. Unusually for Greece all the shops were open on a Sunday and normally we would have had a quick dart round but for reasons to be explained later we left our exploring of this fine city to the day after. In the meantime a view from our parking spot.
How cold does that look?
We had a bit of a noisy night with two old drunks shouting malaka at an ever-increasing tempo and intensity at each until the wee small hours. Never mind we got up, wrapped-up and went for a walk around the city. The area inside the walled Kastro is a bit of a let-down with only a couple of old buildings, and they wanted money to enter, so we didn’t. The rest of the structures within the walls looks the same as any other built in any other 1960’s Greek town. Here are some pictures on a very grey day, the central building was a mosque and was in operation until 1923.
Minaret, a bit on the lean
We spent the next hour wandering around the pedestrianised city-centre before deciding to thaw-out down by the coast. Ioannina is famed for its silver craftsman and after a peek in most jewellers we left wondering why, some of the bangles were pleasant enough, but the rest, not for us. We had seen enough to warrant another visit on future trip to Greece, at a time when monkeys are not looking for welders. In warmer climes this would be a fine place to spend some time walking, cycling, canoeing and people watching from a lakeside taverna.
Not so freaking Smart now, are we
Meteroa 11/12 -13/12/2015
We left Declan in the same metrological state as when we first met him, in the rain. Yep, the last time we saw Declan was the last time we saw rain, I dunno about Dangerous Declan, more like Damp Declan.
The journey from Itea to Meteora is, apart from the first hour, pretty dreadful. It reminds me of the worst of East Europe with mile after mile of closed-down industry, shanty towns and a general greyness to everything. I am sure the weather did not help but even an outbreak of sun and a healthy EU grant would not lift this drab cotton-growing part of Greece to any level of attractiveness.
We arrived in Kalambaka, the base for exploring Meteora in the fading light of evening with the pinnacle landscape obscured by cloud. Not being able to find a car-park we headed up the mountain to see if there was anything suitable. Not 2 klicks out of town we came across a guest house that advertised motorhome parking. Smashing, and we drove in.
We were met by a rotund man in a home-made circa 1970’s Bayern Munich tracksuit who informed us we were fine to park where we were and showed us where ‘the best’ water was, all for free. First impressions were a bit over-friendly and very badly dressed, but these are country folk.
Filling up with ‘the best’ water
For those of you, like us, who have no idea of what or where Meteora is we are pleased to give you a quick overview. Meteora is probably best recognized by most of us as the place where Roger Moore climbed the shear rock face of St Cyril’s to rescue a captured Olympic ice-skater from the classic Bond caper, ‘For your eyes only’, with theme song by the evergreen Sheena Easton, where is she now? Why he did this I do not know as there is a stone staircase cut into the cliff. There is also a little cable car that goes across the valley for guests of the monastery. We asked to use it but Brother Spiros told us it was broken, he blatantly lied, Hail Mary’s for him then.
Before that hermit monks have been living in these cliff-top monasteries since the 14th Century to seek safe havens away from the bloodshed of the invading Turks. Before the 1920’s when the stone staircases were built the only way into these religious eyries was by removable ropes. More recently an access road has been built to allow entry to the millions who visit this extraordinarily place.
There are six monasteries open to the visitor and the entrance fee is €3 per person per monastery. €36 to us is; 9 kebabs each, 12 bottles of cheap Retsina, 3.5kg of feta or 72 cans of Fix. An unjustifiable cost in anybody’s language to visit six places that are all a slightly different take on the same theme. After all people come here to wow at the views of the Avatar-esque landscape and the wonderment of cliff-topping constructions. So we settled on seeing two; Triados, for its remote feel and links to James Bond, it was St Cyril’s, and Megalou Meteorou because it is the most impressive internally. The rest we would drive up to, take some pictures and put the €6 into Tracy’s kebab fund.
As most of the Monasteries start to shut down from 14:00 and being absolutely clueless of how long anything would take we left for our tour at the unearthly hour of 09:00. An hour Tracy had not seen since the making of ‘For your eyes only’ in 1981. We were blessed with bright blue skies and mountains covered in snow from the previous day’s precipitation.
So the first stop was the Bond utilised Agias Triados. Not being allowed access to the mini cable car we had to walk down to the bottom of the valley before ascending the stone steps to the monastery.
Breathless we made it to the top just us the broken cable-car arrived with Greeks bearing gifts for the monks, Mmmm.
We paid our money and entered to a pristine, but sparse monastery. There is a windlass to see where in days gone by they hoisted people and goods up, a small chapel where the Ice-Skater was held and that was about it. There were some stunning views and so the €3 was just about justified.
View across the valley from Agias Triados
The Ubiquitos Selfie, there are more of these
View from Agias Triados
The windlass, not used by Bond, he climbed
We next spent a good hour driving around and taking in the landscape that inspires science fiction movies. Unfortunately the views are all South facing and with the low sun we had a problem trying to get good photos, this is the best of what we could do.
Meteora from Psaropetra lookout, 8mm Lens
Varlaam & St Nicholas Monasteries
Varlaam, Notice Bridge
Meteora 18mm lens
We finished our day with a tour around Megalou, the most prestigious and over-visited Monastery. Tat shops line to the entrance to catch the unaware with offerings of all things religious. Unlike Triados, Megalou has made an effort to appease the tourist with a range of exhibits to see including one on WW II which uses some fruity language to describe the oppressors. An interesting time was had and here are the pictures including one of Tracy in a fetching modesty skirt.
Entrance to Megalou, you can see old ladder top left
When the tourists are not around they use a skeleton crew
1 Judge Tracy in Modesty Skirt
We had not been back long when Kostas, our trackkie wearing host asked us if we wanted ‘the best’ dinner cooked by his mother for €10. Seeing as we were parking and using their water we thought OK and booked a table for 6pm. The ‘best’ food was actually the worst food we have had in Greece, it consisted of one Moroccan sized kebab (minute) and a sausage with some cold oven chips, desert was a sliced apple with a cocktail stick. No surprises really as we learned later his mother and father had been drinking home-made vodka all afternoon and by the time they started evening service they were hammered. Kostas unfortunately, was not wrecked and spent the entire time we were eating on a stool by the fire watching us, things were getting creepy.
On finishing the meal we were made to sit on stools in front of the fire as some kind of roasting gnomes while pretending to enjoy ‘the best’ Ouzo. It was not Ouzo, it was the home-made Vodka with an aniseed ball waved over it for flavour. We are now beginning to think we are in the Bates Motel with Jimmy Saville as the manager. We were then marched outside and down a muddy bank to see his 1,000 olive trees, except we couldn’t see them as it was pitch black, fabulous night sky though.
Next came his father’s rose wine, yes ‘the best rose wine’, except it wasn’t, it was the home-made vodka with a bit of grape juice to give it that opaque texture that is associated with fine wines. We were now getting worried and just about to run when two families arrived in the hotel.
Kostas now had more people to frighten and was not going to hold back his Annie Wilkes impersonation. When one of the other guest’s children locked themselves into their room he refused to help and kept asking for his photo to be taken with ‘the best’ ladies. Well creep here it is.
This man should be locked up
When we could ignore the irrepressible Kostas we did manage to have an enjoyable evening with the two Greek families who may just have saved our lives. One of the men went by the ancient Greek moniker of Hippocrates. This name as we were told is a bit of a bummer for a couple of reasons; number one, being non-Christian it does not have a name-day and so every year he misses out on a party. Number two, you cannot have a short form, well you could if you do not mind being called Hippo or hypocrite. And on that thought we will say bye-bye and now you know why we were rough at Ioannina.
Love to all