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Published: September 19th 2006
Arrival in Igoumenitsa, Greece
Getting off the ship took a long time but once we were off we quickly boarded our new bus then started our drive to the Meteora district.
Despite having a few too many glasses of Italy's cheapest and despite laying in a narrow bunkbed with another bed just inches over my head, my first time ever sleeping on a ship was quite restful. Getting up and using the toilet in the middle of the night was an adventure as the ship was bucking and rolling quite a bit. But there was plenty of hot water in the shower and nice clean towels when I performed my morning ablutions. People who have been on numerous cruises told me that on these big modern ships you hardly know you're at sea, but this tub seemed to bob up and down with every ripple in the Aegean. It was impossible to walk down the main passageway of the ship without bouncing off the walls.
We arrived in Igoumenitsa just after sunrise. It looked like it would be another gorgeous, cloudless day. It seemed to take forever for us to dock and disembark. First we had to roll our suitcases through a bunch of Albanians who had decided to sleep on the floors of the public areas, then we had to lug our souvenir-laden suitcases down three flights of steps stopping
Winding our way through the Pindus Mountains
It took us a couple hours to get through this mountain chain running down the spine of the Peloponnese. We saw far more goats than we saw people.
and starting as those below us struggled with their stuff, then we had to remain on board as the heavy trucks rolled off the ship and on to the ramp causing the ship to rock back and forth. I assume the crew didn't want to have to fish a bunch of tourists and their suitcases out of the bay so they kept us waiting until almost all the cars had rolled off.
We had no trouble finding our new Greek bus and bus driver - they were the only things still waiting in the huge parking area. This bus was 4 seats or one whole row shorter than our bus in Italy. As I boarded the bus I couldn't help but notice all the pretty signs warning us about no smoking, eating or drinking on the bus. Some of us who had two seats to ourselves in Italy now had to have a seatmate. I got stuck sitting with Gail. Poor Mike Karchner, our 6 foot 5 inch football player, no longer had room to stretch his legs but was fortunate enough to get a seat at the very front of the bus where there was a little more
And even higher into the mountains
In this photo you can see the town of Metsovo with snow-capped peaks in the background. The road we took is the only highway traversing these mountains. The road was very well-maintained. I had come to Greece expecting to see a Second or even a Third World country, but it was better maintained and seemingly more modern than Italy.
legroom. Once everything was loaded underneath and everyone climbed on board we were introduced to our new bus driver, Niko. We learned that Niko's Mercedes bus was virtually brand new and that he was very protective of it.
As we drove out of the dockyard I was pleasantly surprised by how clean and modern things seemed to be in Igoumenitsa. There were lots of new buildings and freshly painted homes. We soon pulled on to a big 4 lane concrete highway. As we headed away from Igoumenitsa and toward the mountains it almost looked like we were in Upper Bavaria. There were green pastures with cows and goats on both sides of the road with substantial looking mountains rising in the distance.
After about a half hour of driving and as we began our ascent into the mountains the road shrank down to a two lane macadam road. We passed isolated farmhouses and only a few cars as we headed into the hinterland of Greece. After about an hour and a half we came to the town of Ioannina. Ioannina is situated on a big lake which is almost completely surrounded by high mountains. Evidently it is a
On the Thessaly Plain
When we finally descended from the mountains we came to a relatively flat region where a wide river plain had carved through the mountains. Near Kalambaka we started to see these unique formations which were originally created by the wave action of an inland sea and then further eroded by the Pineios River.
popular resort area but on this very early Sunday morning it looked dead.
We were given a half hour to find bathrooms and maybe a snack or two. The only places that looked to be open were a couple cafes. I really needed to find a facility but felt a bit wierd about walking into one of these establishments just to use their toilet. Fortunately a bunch of our people decided to sit down for a "real" breakfast. While the waiter was occupied with them Gail and I sneaked into the restrooms.
After I found a little stand selling sodas and chips we stumbled upon a tiny bakery on one of the side streets. While Gail and her mother hemmed and hawwed over what to order, a dozen kids from our group followed us in and got in front of us in line. The little old lady working the counter was very, very precise in weighing or counting out the merchandise our kids were buying. We must've waited 15 minutes until it was our turn. We ordered some gooey Baklava and powdery Melomakarouna. The old woman was very friendly and put up with our inability to speak any
It almost looks like a meteor...
but the name "Meteora" actually means suspended in mid-air. These rock pedestals must have had very mystical meaning to ancient peoples. They seem other worldly. I've never seen anything like these things. Even without the beautiful monasteries that are built on top of some of these towers the region would be a fascinating tourist site.
Greek, but she was really slow.
We began to hurry back to the bus only to find most of our group waiting outside the bus. They were standing around drinking soda, eating ice cream or finishing off their bakery goods. It seems Niko didn't want us eating on his new bus. We had gotten quite used to eating and drinking on our bus in Italy. To their credit the kids had kept Salvatore's bus rather clean by picking up after themselves every night. Niko was not making a good first impression.
No matter what we thought of his rules Niko was soon proving to be quite a capable driver. As we left Ioannina we started ascending some very steep mountain roads traversed by meandering hairpin turns and hair-raising switchbacks. There was no guard rail on most of the road. At times I looked out the bus window and couldn't even see the road below us - just a precipice yawning below. Before long Gail was passing out the Dramamine like it was candy. Nobody barfed but there were a lot of green faces trying to hold down their Baklava as we twisted and turned our way higher and
We stopped for lunch on the outskirts of Kalambaka at the Restaurant Baxkos. This was the first of many Moussakas I would enjoy while in Greece. I had made Moussaka at home but it tasted nothing like the stuff I had in Greece. And every place I ate it in Greece used a slightly different recipe. Along with my Moussaka I had the first of many Mythos beers. Even Gail developed a thirst for this rather light beer.
higher into the mountains. I had no idea Greece had such an extensive mountain range. These were no Rockies or Alps but the Pindus mountains rose to over 8500 feet in this area. In time we drove into an area where we saw snow on some of the peaks. We even passed through a town (Metsovo) which looked like a Swiss alpine village. There were ski shops and cheese stores all along the main drag.
We passed very few signs of habitation after Metsovo. There were goats and cows everywhere but very few cars or people. Eventually we reached a point where we began our descent. I was gripping the armrest a little tightly a couple times as we teetered over the edge of some nasty cliffs. At the bottom we entered the Thessaly Plain. This flat area followed the course of the Pineios River which followed what had once been an inland sea.
Just outside Kalambaka (Kalampáka) we stopped for lunch. It was primarily a tourist stop but the portions were generous and delicious.
After lunch we continued into downtown Kalambaka where we checked into theHotel Famissi
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