Thursday, 13 May 2010

A reprise of familiar refrains

Written 11th may

At the risk of repeating myself, I am lost for words once more. This time both at the amazing place in which we found ourselves and at the totally unexpected and unsolicited kindness of strangers. Oh and a bit of a fettling chorus as well, we are back on that tune again too...

We had the best day yesterday.

It started well. Cruising down from our perched overnight stopover, we stopped at one of the many roadside fruit and veg stalls and, as well as the delicious oranges and tomatoes we bought, came away with cherries, an apple and a banana, pressed into our hands by the smiling lady at no extra charge.


And so to our destination for the day, Meteora, described in the lp as 'should be a certified Wonder of the World, with its magnificent 14th century monasteries perched dramatically atop enormous rocky pinnacles. Try not to miss it' and I can't put it much better than that - except that you should do better than try not to miss it!

It is an almost indescribably awesome place, utterly unlike anywhere I have been before, and even that description, factually accurate though it most certainly is, does not prepare you for the place. It is stunning.

But more on that story later... In other news...

We had just parked at the foot of our first monastery, and were considering the implications of the sign which read No entry to male visitors in shorts or short sleeved shirts. No Entry to women in shorts, trouser or short sleeved tops.. When a voice said. "I like your van very much" and so we met Herakles, and a more typically greek looking character you could not wish to find. Initial chat led (somehow) to him telling us his life story - moving to america with his parents when he was young, growing up there, taking his first wife on a road trip in a Dodge van he converted himself, his work as a furniture restorer with a professor in greek mythology, his return to greece at the age of 25, his marriage to his second wife and settling back in his family's village ("why would you want to live anywhere else when you can live here?" gesturing around) to raise his five children - and then turned to vee-dub vans - he has one in his garden, no engine in it but he has plans for it one day... - and thence to our van, our trip and the things we have done to the van. He was inspecting the bike rack and Will was explaining its construction and drawbacks (the bikes are a bit low so as well as the exhaust venting on my tyre problem, they tend to ground if we go up or down anything too steep - like switchbacks, kerbs, ferry ramps etc etc - not insurmountable but we've come a bit close to serious damage a couple of times...) when he volunteered that he had lots of tools and things kicking around in his workshop which Will might be able to use to fix the problem. And a mate with a welder if it came to that. And he would be around all day if we wanted to come by his house.

Well why not? We couldn't work out what, if anything, the catch might be, so followed him down the hill back to the village, where we parked Jules in his driveway

and Will set to, rummaging around in the workshop and garden until he found just the things he needed.

I got to meet the chickens, and the van (looking very sorry for itself, nose in a hedge at the bottom of the garden - not a quick spit and polish job... :( ), and have a look in the little shop (Herakles doesn't do furniture anymore but does make exquisite model boats - from full masted galleons to chinese dragon boats - and other wooden toys. All very well made but not an obvious money spinner in this location and I didn't know it was a shop until I was inside so i'm not sure how lucrative a business it is for him - sadly van dwellers do not have any space for such things...),

we got some iced tea and I got to look at the fab view from the back garden

and in next to no time, our bike rack was modified - and no welding required - brilliant!

As a parting gift, Mrs Herakles even gave us some spinach and chese pie, fresh from the oven, and Hercules pointed us towards a path high above his house where we would get views that most tourists wouldn't ever find - how good is that?! I have said it before and will probably say it again, people can be just so unexpectedly, nice!

And now back to our main story.

The awe-inspiring spikes and cones and fingers of rock which stick straight up out of the Peneus valley (yes, yes, stop being so childish! Although this is a particularly fine specimen of rock...), were formed by the ocean which covered the whole area 30 million years ago.

At one time, the sixty-plus pinnacles housed 24 monasteries, although only six now remain. We headed first up into the hills

behind Herakles' village of Kastraki,

and were soon in a hollow surrounded by towering spires,

where we clambered up one side,

and then the other,

until we were rewarded with a sliver view of one of the monasteries on the other side.


And all the while being followed by a suspicious tortoise who thought we were up to no good - they move faster than you think tortoises, this one was there before us which ever path we took... :)

Down and back on the road again, we climbed up to the steps of Agiou Nikolaou Anapafsa,

for the view of the rocks we had climbed amongst

and then on a bit and up to Agias Barbara Rousanou,

and up behind that for a view down from the high plateau across to where we had been earlier, where we now spotted some even more brave adventurers (who were, to be fair, also better trained and equipped) free climbing up to the very tops of the peaks. What a buzz that must be!

We also met two very well travelled aussies, mascarading as brits in a UK reg motorhome, with whom we swapped travelling tales and recommendations - incidentally we have been told of another place between Bari and Brindisi in southern italy, as well as Matera which we missed, Alberobello, so I am hatching a return winter/spring trip some time, by way of Corsica, Sardinia, Sicily and on to greek islands, just got to get Will to agree to another three months on the road at some point in the future...)

Then on and up again, to Varlaam

and Megalou Meteora up behind it

- you think you've got as high as you can, and then they just get higher!

And then down and round to Agias Triados (the most precariously perched of them all,

and Stefanou, right at the end. One of these last two was signposted as a 'nannery' - is that where grandmas go for a bit of peace and quiet... ;) 

Although they are only €2 each, and apparently they do lend skirts at the door to those who are immodestly dressed (not sure if that includes boys in shorts though *grin*), and apparently they are very beautiful inside, according to various people we met, we didn't go in any on this occasion. We thought about it, got to the door of one, and then thought of our empty petrol tank and empty food cupbord and decided we were only going because we felt should rather than actual desire to see inside a monastery, so didn't. Van dwelling life is like that some times.

But, as a cheap and fascinating day out, on a normal holiday, the visits would be great, especially if you do what a surprising number of people seemed to be doing, and stay in the village and walk up to all of them -now that is a bit keen.

The aussies advised us that, of the four they had been to by the time we met them, Agiou Nikolaou Anapafsa was, in their opinion, the best, being small, rustic and virtually untouched, with Agias Barbara Rousanou, their next favourite. Varlaam and Meteora apparently had more things to see but were a bit more museum like. So there you go.

For those who want good photos - and every where seems to be a photo opportunity! - the sun is a bit of a problem, as they are mainly south facing and approached from the northern side so very silhouetted. But, I think you could get great shots if you didn't mind a bit of to-ing and fro-ing. In the morning, you ned to start from the view up at Nikolaou Anapafsa, and then need to get up to Barbara Rousanou and the plateau above it in the morning for the view back across, both up and down, to Varlaam, Megalou Meteora and to Nikolaou Anapafsa respectively. From there, you go up to the plateau just below Varlaam, for the view up to Varlaam and Megalou Meteora.

In the early evening, you get the best views from Megalou Meteora and Varlaam, back down towards Barbara Rousanou and the best shots of Stefanou and Triados and down into the valley. I think anyway. And to get up into the pinnacles where we did, you need to find a little road in Kastraki which takes you behind the village, up to where the road stops and a set of steps, past a little shrine up to a church and make your way from there. It is well worth the scramble!


If I were going to ever be a monk, which I am not, for many obvious reasons, I can see the appeal of doing it here. Sat high up on some of those pinnacles, I could just look out for hours and i'm sure eventually my mind would transcend to a higher plane.

As I say, just amazing.

When we could look no more (mainly because it was getting dark), we dragged ourselves away and headed on and ended up stopped for the night by the side of the road with some trucks, by a petrol station with the cheapest petrol we have seen for days - not the most picturesque of spots - but our new arial found some unexpected wifi and the next day, the garage staff were very friendly and we could fill up with water as well as petrol, so all good.

Long driving day today, headed towards Delphi, through the flat expanse of the wide endless plains, sprinkled with little shrines and beehives, which are almost indisinguishable from each other, both being boxes on legs by the sid of the road. Only a minor detour through small-town central greece when the map reading failed - still not quite grasped the whole new alphabet thing yet, especially as some signs are in capitals and some aren't which makes it twice as hard as two consecutive road signs may look significantly different. But it was a pleasant journey nonetheless. I have realised though, from further map looking, that with hindsight, I think we should have planned a different route and gone straight south from Igoumenitsa and down the coast, and then back up the way we are going down now. Ho hum. Not to worry, we'll just go a different way round.

It's also a bit of a change of pace being back on the mediterranean book, rather than a country specific book like the one we had for Croatia. I am sure there are loads of fabulous places we will never know about because most of the greece chapter is, not unreasonably, taken up with islands which we have regretfully decided that we don't have the time or the money for on this trip. They were in the original plan but having started two months later than planned, and then spent an unexpected month in western france (which I don't regret!), we just don't have time. But anyway, we did islands in Croatia and have been to Mykonos, Naxos, Paros and Santorini before so I don't feel we are missing out too much this time round. And as I say there is always next time....

So, a fairly unremarkable journey today although we have seen the ultimate in motorhomes - one which sleeps 40! A coach, pulling a truck-like trailer which had three storeys of windows (three seemed a bit unlikely on initial look) in one side, called - what else - a Rotel! I didn't think I would get you a picture as when we overtook them, I just couldn't get the scale of the thing from the van window.

But we pulled into a layby with a fabulous view, looking for somewhere to hang the solar shower, and I spotted them a way behind us, on the slow climb up. I hoped to just get a picture as they went past. I did not expect them to also stop for the view. Good job we hadn't quite got the shower set up!

So I got my picture of them, they got their picture of us and we all got to chat and discovered that the flaps on the passenger side of the trailer fold outwards up and down to create a roofed platform with stairs and there are indeed three stories of little cubbyhole rooms into which the travelling germans (well who else!) tidy themselves away at night like shoes in so many drawers. Just random!

They packed themselves back in the coach (the sitting part) and headed off, waving merrily, and we did in the end get our shower, hung off the crash barrier, totally invisible from the road. For something which I am sure was suggested at least partly as a gimmick - we would not even have considered it on our own - the solar shower has been great and we've used it several times, especially more recently - nice one Vicky! It may not be a beach or sea cliff top, the preferred picturesque locations - but just the perfect temperature. Lovely.

The only problem with stopping anywhere, at any time during the day, here in greece is the flies. The van is just buzzing with them as they try and get in the shade, and some of them are 2-3cm long beasts. Horribly annoying. We have considered getting a spider or two to hunt them down but the problem with spiders is that they are wriggley and jiggley and tickley and before you know it, the van would be full of birds, cats, dogs and horses (all of which we have seen wild here) and as Jules has more capacity than your average old lady, we wouldn't know how to deal with the horse (although what the horse brought to that particular party in terms of catching the dog, other than a somewhat terminal but nicely rhymed end to the matter, we're not clear on anyway...) so annoyed by flies we shall remain, for now...

Will is also on a new fettling course. We still have an airleak somewhere but he can't find it. So, as it has more effect at when the throttle is closed, we are now working on building three different fuel maps for different throttle conditions (blatting, cruising and coasting) which is now possible as the new chips Kiri sent have enough memory to deal with this, unlike the old ones. These will (apparently) take account of airflow, engine speed and throttle position when determining how much fuel to throw in. I say we, my main input to the process so far is the provision of food whilst we are stationary, laptop readout watching whilst we are driving to gather data, technical assistance with making the data into excel graphs and listening to Will talk things through out loud to make sure they make sense and generally asking the obvious questions to make sure he hasn't missed any thing blindingly stupid and to explain it to the audience - a bit like The Doctor's female companion... I am, you see, a vital part of the fettling process... :)

Now I think of it, as a means of conveyance, Jules is, unarguably, a classic icon of retro blue cuboid functional design, which travels somewhat randomly through time and space, stopping innocuously and unnoticed on street corners in the most unexpected places. And it is definitely larger on the inside than it appears on the outside :) although Will seems to have a sonic soldering iron rather than screwdriver but you know, it's all there...

Oh god, i'm really rambling now. Sorry. Best go do something else. There's probably some solder needs holding or something....

1 comment:

  1. Just to say Hi, and it's really nice reading your blog and hearing all about what you're up to. Not much news from this end, dealing with a toddler and his tantrums, and generally pottering on!
    Take care,