June 11 and 12

Links to previous chapters of this most excellent trip to Greece: the Cyclades including Naxos and Santorini with short visits to Delos and Mykonos, the Dodecanese including Rhodes and Symi, and the Peloponnese including Nafplio, Mystras/Sparta (+Mycenae and Epidavros), and Ancient Olympia.

Leaving Ancient Olympia on the Peloponnese, crossing into the mainland on this handsome bridge...
...then I changed buses and crossed a very small bridge from the mainland to the Ionian island of Lefkada.
What this section of the trip will look like:

Coming from Ancient Olympia (A), by bus to the Ionian island of Lefkada (B), by bus and ferry to the Ionian island of Corfu (C). Then ferry-bus-ferry to visit a UNESCO site in Albania (D) and then back to Corfu (which is not shown correctly on the map). Next stop - Meteora (E) with the soaring pinnacles and amazing structures that top them.
A countryside view from the bus.
Arriving in the very late afternoon, I chose a hotel, Hotel Nirikos, there was plenty of availability, and set out for a walk. It was quite hot and I was wondering how far I was going to make it.

But wait! A middle school band is setting up for a concert. I could just stay here!
And then these guys emerged from the door behind me. Everyone was kissing the hand of the guy with the medallion around his neck.

A small crowd gathered. The band play Ode to Joy and the theme from Star Wars. They also played a third number that I recognized but I couldn't remember its name.
I walked back along the main street of the Old Town where World Cup fever was in full swing and the tournament had not yet begun.

It's going to be especially entertaining to be here while this is going on because the Greeks are KaRayZeee for their football team.
Jerseys for sale. Scooooore!
A characteristic taverna. It's like they all use the same supply shops. The table cloth and the paper cover held on by clips, the exact same salt/pepper/napkin holders, the same chairs.

I had another excellent grilled fish with a side veg. I think I'm going to keep eating grilled fish until I can say yes, I've had enough grilled fish.
Good Morning on the 12th.

Nice view from my balcony! That's the bridge that connects Lefkada with the mainland.

I read this on the internet and so many sites copied it I can't find the original source: "Lefkada was connected to the mainland until the 5th century BC when the inhabitants dug a channel to separate themselves" which I thought was interesting.
Looking further to my left.
The main Thing about Lefkada for tourism is the beaches. Beaches and kite surfing.

The island is quite mountainous and right now there is a bright yellow plant that covers all the open fields, and there are beaches.

You have to rent a car to get anywhere on Lefkada, that's just it. So I did. I was stressing a little at first because I couldn't safely stop driving along these narrow winding roads so I gave up thinking about photos and decided to just enjoy the ride and snag pictures off the internet.

(internet pix)
It really did look just like all these.

(more internet pix)
Honey.

Along the road clustered together, I'd all of a sudden see ten honey stands, five on each side of the road. Here's a shop that carries a number of the local products.
Dinner here. Grilled fish. Perfect.
June 13 and 14

Today's travel day from Lefkada, by bus and ferry.

As the ferry approached Corfu Old Town, the old fort is on the left and the new fort is on the right. My hotel is two blocks up from the water front smack in the middle between the two ports.
My ferry pal - we met on the bus and then chatted during the crossing.

She wasn't a fluent English speaker but she's a teacher and wanted to give it a go. I gleaned many opinions of life in Greece today from her, completely outside any connection to tourism.
I'm going to like Corfu, I know already!

It's enough of a city that the ratio of residents to tourists falls on the resident side but still there's plenty of infrastructure and support for tourism and there's plenty of English spoken.
More town before...
...I go back to my PERFECT room - two full-height French doors opening on to a wonderful balcony with views to beat the band.

This is the most expensive place I've stayed by half-again (they wanted 75 euro, we negotiated to 60, I don't like to spend more than 40) but I will still, if nothing goes wrong of course, keep the budget of 100 euro/day because I've got a perfect location/perfect price reservation for my week in Athens.
Good Morning on the 14th

My ferry mate said be SURE to have some of the local specialty, kumquats. I love kumquats! This is a twig-tree potted in front of a shop.
The Palace of St. Michael and St. George now houses the Museum of Asian Arts. The Palace has also served as the British High Commissioner's residence, and the home of the Ionian Senate and the Order of St Michael and St George.
This is the top of the building. What you see on the left is the well understood (previously not understood by me) image of a Greek sailing ship (I thought it was a peacock...). The British Lion used to occupy the other half but in 1864 when the British left they took their Lion with them.

Which reminds me, whenever art or artifacts come up in casual conversation, I am reminded by my new Greek friend how very very much they do not like the British because they stole stole I tell you everything they could get their hands on. "What if we marched over there and just took Big Ben?!" they say.
Doric columns = plain capitals.
Ionic columns = scrolled capitals. Corinthian columns = fancy-pants capitals.
This museum is one of those 'things' about which I have to say I just don't get it. The building has some probably amazing rooms but then inside these rooms they built weird little rooms with walls and ceilings to hang the art.

Weird.
My lunch spot. YES! Grilled Fish! YUM!
Looking down from my balcony you see no people where last night they were shoulder to shoulder. Those two people are probably Americans. Why? Wooooorld Cuuuuuup Fuuuuutbol and Greece is playing.

NO ONE is not watching this game. Even I'm watching the game in my room, in Greek, so I have no idea at all what is going on but the internet posts updates so I'm 10-15 minutes behind, no problem.

Emotions are so high that should they lose (update!) and they did, well, actually, nothing much happened around here. Everyone turned their attention to the Brazil/Mexico game.
Another 9:30pm sunset, and a good night.

All those black splotches are part of a very large flock of birds, swifts I think, that fill the sky every night at sunset and every morning at dawn and lordy are they fast.
Addendum to my time is Mystras

Remember back in Mystras when I said my worst regret of the trip so far was that I didn't have a picture of the fabulous Greek mother-in-law?

Why have a regret if there is still something to be done about it? I said to myself. So I wrote to Elena, the Russian daughter-in-law, and asked for a photo and these are what she sent. They are perfect! I'm so happy!
June 15

I'm going to Albania! It's just a buzz across the water from Corfu. Fourteen kilometers outside the port town of Sarande is the UNESCO World Heritage site of Buthrotum.

Wiki: "Buthrotum is located on a hill overlooking the Vivari Channel and part of the Butrint National Park. Inhabited since prehistoric times, Buthrotum was a city of the Greek tribe of the Chaonians, later a Roman colony and a bishopric. It entered into decline in Late Antiquity, before being abandoned during the Middle Ages after a major earthquake flooded most of the city."

Greece stamped our passports out and back in but Albania did not stamp our passports. I wonder why.
A couple of the guides and ME. I've got three pictures of me today.
After the bus to the port in Corfu picked me up on a street corner, we all went through passport formalities, then everyone lined up to pay Again for the tour (the original price just gets you the boat ride, much to my surprise), the boat ride across took a little over an hour, and then we were divided by language into four tour buses (the German and English speakers were combined, two for the Greek speakers, and I forget what the fourth was), and then we drove directly to a coffee break which turned out to be ok because it was 11:30 and the line to use the toilet was out the door.

I got a bag of cracker-chippy things and an ouzo with extra ice and water. Ah, refreshing and lovely after such a long morning.
Back on the bus - it's me again.
And now we're out on the site.
I can't find a summary of all the ins and outs of ownership and development but this is pretty good, from UNESCO:

"Inhabited since prehistoric times, Butrint has been the site of a Greek colony, a Roman city and a bishopric. Following a period of prosperity under Byzantine administration, then a brief occupation by the Venetians, the city was abandoned in the late Middle Ages after marshes formed in the area. The present archaeological site is a repository of ruins representing each period in the city’s development."
Interesting.
Me, taking a break in the shade.
UNESCO: "In the palaeo-Christian period, two basilicas and a baptistry were built; its later medieval history was turbulent as the town was involved, first, in the power struggles between Byzantium and successive Norman, Angevin and Venetian states and then in the conflict between Venice and the Ottoman Turks. Subterranean infiltration of water forced the inhabitants to flee, and the abandoned city was covered by mud and vegetation."
I never thought I'd be in Albania, however briefly. I don't know if it even counts, it's like a shore excursion off a cruise ship, but I'm still glad I dropped on by!

The tour went back to the same place we had our coffee break for a very late buffet lunch. No grilled fish for me today. It wasn't bad though because all the items were fresh and simple except for the meat balls, and they were ok too.
Unfortunately it seems most of these buildings are empty. We were free in town for an hour so rather than look in shops...
...I stopped off here on the seaside for a gelato and to watch the promenade. I was sitting on the bench and the guy running the place brought me that pillow. "Here, you'll be more comfortable." I was!
Back in Corfu, that's the Palaio Frourio in the Bay of Garitsa and that glowing building - hmm, I don't know yet.
The Maitland Monument, built to commemorate Sir Thomas Maitland, English Commissioner from 1816-1824.
See that McDonalds there in the middle? I think this is the first fast food place I've seen in Greece, can that be? And guess what. That's my hotel, Hotel Arcadion, above it!
June 16

A sample intersection in Corfu Old Town. There are two streets behind me.

When I first got here I thought I would be spending the next several days constantly lost but not so at all. It's a maze, yes, but you get the feel for it surprisingly fast by just keeping your eye out for landmarks and letting your feet feel for the hills.
Plenty of things to buy around here. Embroidery, icons, olive oil, soaps and sponges, nice things actually, but my favorite delight...
...candied kumquats. And are they YUM-EEE. Way even better than mine!

They come in all types of packaging, and they also make a liqueur that is more like syrup for ice cream or pancakes.
The second specialty of Corfu is a pile of meat called Sofrito. I asked some friendly girls in a shop where was a good place to get it and they sent me here.

It's meat, pounded (or sliced?) thin and cooked for a long time so it has the consistence of pot roast but drier. Glad to have tried it...doubt that I would get it again.
Another picture of the Old Fort. I'm taking a break from climbing forts even though this guy is 1/100th the height of the other few I've been summiting (mostly by taxi...).
Another view of one of the main streets.
And one block off the main streets you can find places like this.
It had gotten late and I was going to head in but I was also feeling a little peckish. And just as I was thinking "do I want to get something to eat?" I came upon a line.

A line! You know my principle number One of street food: if there's street food and there's a line, get in that line. I had what everyone else was having and it was good. That I would have again.
June 17

I did a tour today with Ionian Cruises to Paxos, Antipaxos, and the Blue Caves.

Along the coast of Paxos we find the Blue Caves, blue because of the color of the water, and blue it was.
It had been raining off and on for the hour it took us to get to the caves and everyone was jammed inside but once we arrived the rain had lightened up and all the PhotoPhoto people tried to find their spot.
They actually took that boat into two different caves which was surprising and fun because it was surprising. Real cave people would scoff but they wouldn't be on this tour anyway.
Another one.
This is the village of Gaios, one of the three small port towns on Paxos.

They have restaurants and shops, and many private cruisers have settled in here. Several tour boats like mine bring their guests here for lunch and it felt like they could handle it no problem.

It seemed everyone ate what they wanted without a long wait, looked around, had some gelato, and enjoyed their stay.
Tomorrow I'm heading inland and this might be it for me and fresh grilled fish for awhile.
Another view of Gaios.
Heading back for my last night in Corfu.
June 18 and 19

It takes most of the day for my long-haul transfers and the trip from Corfu to Meteora was no different.

First: I took the ferry (I and tour buses and all their tourists) to Igoumenitsa. For the first time since back in my Blue Star Ferry days, it was a great ride.

Second: an uneventful bus trip from Igoumenitsa to Ioannina.
Third: a bus ride from Ioannina to Kalabaka, and now we're crossing a significant mountain range with plenty of long tunnels, much better than an anxious series of switchbacks hugging the edge of a cliff.
Fourth: a taxi for the short 3-4 kilometer but straight up hill ride to the very small town of Kastraki where I'm staying in the shadow of the sandstone pinnacles atop of which we find the great Monasteries of Meteora.
Good morning on the 19th

I took a town bus from right in front of my guest house up to the farthest away monastery and planned to walk down. It's mostly down to get back but...
...if you want to visit the monasteries you also still have to climb hundreds of stairs to get in.

Wiki: "In the 9th century, an ascetic group of hermit monks moved up to the ancient pinnacles.

"They were the first people to inhabit Metéora. They lived in hollows and fissures in the rock towers, some of which reach 1800 ft (550m) above the plain. This great height, combined with the sheerness of the cliff walls, kept away all but the most determined visitors."
His shirt had the walking man in front and the standing man behind. Here's my story of crossing lights in East Germany so I had to talk to him. Turns out he's Greek, his brother brought him the shirt, and he didn't know the story so that was fun to share.

He was quite a character and in impassioned words and gestures told me that everything in the history museum at this monastery was lies, lies. Propaganda and LIES. There was more to it, oh yes.

That's his mom and the two of them were doing all the walks on the real monk's trails, routes you can barely see in the underbrush, not the paved road that I intended to use!
You can barely see one of the trails there below the monastery.
My Walking Man said I had to have my picture here, in front of the Pindus Mountains, and behind in the cloud cover, Mount Olympus.
Pretty amazing.

Wiki: "By the late 11th and early 12th centuries, a rudimentary monastic state .. was centered around the still-standing church of Theotokos (mother of God). By the end of the 12th century, an ascetic community had flocked to Metéora."
Wiki: "At the end of the 14th century, the Byzantine Empire's 800-year reign over northern Greece was being increasingly threatened by Turkish raiders who wanted control over the fertile plain of Thessaly. The hermit monks, seeking a retreat from the expanding Turkish occupation, found the inaccessible rock pillars of Meteora to be an ideal refuge. More than 20 monasteries were built, beginning in the 14th century. Six remain today."
At this point in my walk the clouds opened and there I was in a moment, soaking wet. I hurried along to a place where people were getting into cars and picked three young guys because 1) I know there would be a fourth seat, and 2) they were clearly tourists and not ax murderers.

I asked if I could ride with them down the hill. I might have chosen better since they were from Belarus and didn't really understand my request, but they each just said ok ok, and we all got in the car. My guest house is one building off the main road so no problem and I got an unexpected break from stair climbing.

I missed going into this one and seeing a fourth all together. Of the two others (to make up the six) one was closed and the other was so far away I wasn't going to go there anyway.
When it stopped raining I went out for another stroll around the town of Kastraki.
This is the Town Square and the main church. There is a bakery, a few tavernas with a lot of old guys hanging out drinking coffee and yelling at each other, some guest houses, a couple of shops, and that's it.
Of course.

Tomorrow, travel day to Delphi and a consultation with the Oracle.
HomeEurope • Greece • '14 Jun: the Ionians +More, and Meteora


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