This week we left Albania for Greece, passed the 10,000 mile marker in our trip so far and somehow managed to lose one of the windows in the van.
Our last task before leaving Albania was to spend the small amount of leks we had left which involved a quick trip to, um, Aldi in Gjirokaster – though an IP lawyer may find their branding strategy questionable – and then head for the border….
….where we bought a bunch of Mountain Tea from the seller at the passport barrier. We were really pleased to see him as we’d been wanting to find this tea we had enjoyed so often during our trip here.
This is what it looks like…..
It’s botanical name is Sideritis or it is also named ironwort though Mountain Tea sounds a lot nicer. Just a couple of flowers from the stem brewed in boiling water makes a really satisfying cuppa. I wonder could any of the Albanian farmers currently engaged in the production of cannabis be persuaded to switch to cultivating this plant for mass production? Nice idea though I guess there’s a lot more profit to be made from the ‘green gold’ crop.
We were sorry to leave Albania and at the risk of sounding like the Skibereen Eagle ( the Irish local newspaper whose editorial 120 years ago sternly warned the Emperor of Russia they’d be keeping ‘an eye’ on him) we will be really interested in the outcome of the June elections. No doubt Rama and Basha will be quaking to hear that ‘Campervanmatters’ is ‘keeping an eye’ on the Albanian electoral process..
.And so here we are a few miles from the Albanian/Greek border and at a rough estimate at least 20 minutes before Stuart first asks ‘What’s a Greek urn?’…
….to which the response is ‘about 10 bob a week’ as all Morecambe & Wise fans will know.
Our first stop was in Ioannina in Northern Greece where we parked up at a campsite by the shores of Lake Pamvotis.
Stuart spotted a Great Crested Grebe…
….and got talking to a local fisherman who was sleeping by the shore overnight in the hope of catching a carp. Stuart chatted to him about the chances of catching something (good but you can’t eat them as the lake is too polluted) and the state of the Greek economy (terrible and too many taxes).
It’s probably not the first conversation like this we will have in Greece over the coming weeks as the countdown continues to the July date when Greece has to make a multi billion debt repayment to its bailout creditors.
And in a cafe in town, we also had the first of – I expect – very many Greek salads.
It is entirely possible that like our experience with peak-tagine in Morocco we will reach peak-Greek salad, but this first one with tangy feta and crisp tomatoes, onions, olives and peppers was delicious served alongside souvlaki of ‘grilled sheep’. How is it that somehow it sounds more palatable when it says ‘lamb’ on the menu?
And to finish, we headed up to the Byzantine Museum and in the cafe had the lusciously delicious dessert of ekmek to finish. It’s made of layers of shredded pastry soaked with syrup and topped with sweet cream.
We had a wander around the museum grounds but as we are both a bit ‘centro historico-ed’ and ‘museum/castled’ out just now, we didn’t budge from the cafe. Call it a mini break from culture.
Maybe we will come back and see all Ioanninna’s attractions more thoroughly. With its lakeside setting, it does look like a nice town to come in summer .
It also has a rich history because of its links with this man who we came across in Telepena in Albania where this photo was actually taken….
He’s the Ottoman Ali Pashe – a nasty piece of work by all accounts (including Lord Byron who met him when he visited his court in Ioannina) due to his particular penchant for roasting his enemies.
His brutal reign finally came to an end on this island out in the middle of the lake which we were sort of tempted to visit but then…..well it was still raining heavily, a DVD in the van beckoned and we were still on that no culture mini break.
And the rain continued as we travelled on from Ioannina through Greek landscape which definitely doesn’t make it to the tourist brochures. The countryside was flat and dotted with empty industrial units and half built houses.
But even on a grey, rainy day the rock pinnacles of Meteora rising up ahead of us in Central Greece were jaw-droppingly spectacular.
They tower above the village. The peaks are impressive in themselves but then you get closer and see that on top of them are there’s a monstery like this one..
Actually there were about 20 of them but only a few are still inhabited. Also access is a bit easier than it was when the monks used to climb up a ladder, or worse still, be hauled up in a net.
In the gap between showers, we climbed the stone carved stairs up the hill side…
..to reach the top and visit two of the monasteries…..
….accompanied all the way by this doggy companion who finally moved from his chosen spot in the road to join us on our hike.
And back into the cultural foray, we set off for Thermopyle – or Thermo Pile as our GPS insisted on calling it – to see this fine specimen of manhood…
Sorry – photo mixup there. I mean this fine specimen….an easy mistake I’ll grant you.
This well honed warrior is the Spartan King Leonidas who in 480 BC tried valiantly, but ultimately unsuccessfully, to hold the narrow coast pass at Thermopylae against the Persian army.
And the photo above that is of Stuart bravely bathing in the exceedingly hot springs there.
Actually the brave thing wasn’t getting into the springs – the water was like a bath. The challenging part was dis-robing in the van and then legging it across the car park in the cold and rain.
The current was so strong, I had to grab onto holes in the rocks to stop myself being washed down river and into the arms of the Czech couple skinny dipping downstream.
Memo to self though – when bathing in sulphur springs, do remember to remove any jewellery…these rings were silver before I got in the water.
Smelling faintly of rotten eggs but feeling exhilarated by our hot dip, we set off driving to the centre of the world. At least that’s how the Ancient Greeks viewed Delphi.
On our route it was just beyond this rainbow…hurrah, the rain was finally stopping…..
and located high on Mount Parnassus with beautiful views over valleys filled with olive groves.
We joined the hordes of fellow tourists and followed the Sacred Way past the Temple of Apollo where the Pythia or priestess perched on a tripod and stoned from inhaling natural gases would deliver advice or prophecies to all comers, usually in such cryptic language that the meaning was open to many interpretations.
Though apparently the Oracle didn’t pull any punches with our fit warrior friend Leonidas. She predicted a sorry end for him when he sought advice before going into battle with the Persians at Thermopyle. Clearly not big into motivational speaking then, these oracles.
And up beside the stadium where the Pan Hellenic games were held, it was selfie time…
and while I went into the museum and thought how happy would you be if you were the one to excavate these boys….
..or tres heureux as the French archaeologists who did find them would have said…
And meanwhile Stuart captured his second bird of the week, perched on the Treasury of Delphi. Here it is, a Rock Nut Hatch he reckons but is open to suggestions…
We got back to the campsite we were staying at near the modern village of Delphi just in time for this magnificent sunset…
…and also to meet up once again with Gill and Chris, fellow travellers we last met in the Sahara.
And we had some serious van envy inside their very plush van complete with telly and fixed bed….poor Molly looked distinctly shabby by contrast.
Of course, it didn’t help that we’ve now lost one of the van’s windows. We didn’t quite close the hinge on the roof side window so somewhere on the road from Delphi, there’s a piece of plastic this shape…..
We didn’t hear a thing so only realised there was a piece missing in the van when we pulled over to a lay-by for a tea break.
Here’s the van now patched up with plastic bags and unless we manage to find a replacement and find a way to get it shipped to us, we will just have to manage with a bit extra air conditioning for the next 6 months of our trip.
The good news about the van though is that six months in, we discovered while trying to work out how to fit four people into the van for a meal, that with a bit of handbrake manoeuvring, the driver seat swivels round in the same way as the passenger seat.
So now while I have the couch cum bed to recline in when we park up, Stuart has his own cosy den….
A beer, a book, toasty slippers, what more does a man in a van want?
Well, maybe some sunshine would be good. We’ve had 5 days of rain this week so we are heading further south now in search of some warmth and light where ideally we can find a spot to stay put for a couple of weeks.
Leaving Delphi, we headed for coastline and this is getting more like the Greece we are looking for….
…slower traffic….ah yes, here’s the stock image of a overladen cart no 157…
…and isolated island retreats….
and not long after crossing over the bridge near Patras…
….we reckon we will find the retreat we are looking for in the Peloponnese.
PS Stuart’s beer gallery is now a little more up to date