Athens, Meteora, Pindus Mountains, Paxos, Mani: Rambling around Greece ….. virtually

Apologies for the dearth of blogs recently.  If you have missed my ramblings …. you could always seek medical help.

It’s now just over 2 weeks before I fly to Greece.  I have been extremely busy, verging on panic, trying to prepare for the trip.

Thanks to the unusually dry weather a few weeks ago and to the lengthening daylight I have made a good deal of progress in the garden and completed a major project which should mean less chaos developing while I’m away. I have even made some progress on the next major project.  If this rate of progress continues there is an outside chance that I may even complete the whole garden makeover before I pop my clogs or become too decrepid to continue.

I have also started to plant up the vegetable garden ready to produce next winter’s veg for when I get back. I am still eating veg planted last April, some straight from the garden, some from the freezer.  The experiment last year of covering vegetable beds with weed suppressant fabric and planting through slits in it was highly successful with good crops and very little weed infestation.  So I’m repeating the process.  It all takes time now but is worth it when I pop back home in August and in Autumn when I start harvesting.

I have also been very busy starting to plan the trip in a bit more detail, trying to take it beyond a broad ambition.

Unlike most of the times I have been to Greece, except for the first time we went in the year 2000, this trip is full of uncertainties.  We would visit familiar islands and each time add in somewhere new.  Therefore we had a reasonable idea of where to stay, what to do and could work out travel options on the ferries.  This time it will all be completely new once I leave Athens, with a great deal of uncertainty.  So I have been rambling around the internet, trying to narrow down options for where to go, how to travel to where I want to go, where to stay when I get there, what to see, how long to spend in each place, and, very unusually, what clothes to take!!!

I am a forward planner by instinct and temperament as well as former profession.  At the moment I can’t take anything for granted but, with the help of the internet, some shape is starting to emerge from the fuzziness.  I have started to map out a ‘virtual’ trip, virtual in the sense of “that which is not real but may display the salient qualities of the real”.

The emerging plan:

Fly to Athens and stay in the hotel I stayed in in May 2010.  The uncertainty there is that it is at the edge of a pretty rough area (on the wrong side) and I have been advised that it may be better to find another hotel in a better area.  The problem with doing that is that for the standard of accommodation it is significantly cheaper than alternatives.  So for the moment I’ll stick with the original plan.  While I’m in Athens I plan to meet up with my former Greek tutor who has moved back there and with his help suss out buying maps and finding out travel options.  Timetables for trains and buses don’t seem to be on the internet and are in any case apparently interrupted by cut-backs and strikes as the austerity measures bite ever deeper.

After a couple of days in Athens I hope to travel by train up to Kalambaka in the North East of the country for about a week exploring the Meteora area and visiting the monasteries perched precipitously on rock pillars.

From there the plan is to take an express bus up into the Pindus Mountains and spend about a week in Metsovo, a ski resort not far from the Albanian border.  I don’t know when the bus runs or even if still does run, or whether it stops at Metsovo on its way to its destination in Ioannina.  It’s in Metsovo that the major uncertainty about clothing is an issue.  At about 4,000 feet and not long after the end of the skiing season it is likely to be significantly colder than anywhere else I’ve been in Greece.  So I need to take cold-weather clothing.

After that I may spend a few days in Ioannina before moving on to either Igoumenitsa, a port close to the Albanian border opposite Corfu or head slightly further south to Parga but in either case the idea is to cross over to Paxos to visit friends who have a house there.  Apart from meeting up with them I hope to ditch my cold-weather clothing which they will bring back home in their car in November.

Thus far I have sussed out some options for hotels, opportunities for walking in the mountains and a rough timetable.  Other things being equal I should get to Paxos about the end of May.  It is amazing how much of a picture you can build up of places by researching on the internet.

From Paxos onwards the trip gets more sketchy, a lot more sketchy.  I’m heading for the wildness of the Deep Mani and the Taygetos Mountains in the far south of the Peloponnese.  It seems my best option for getting there is an international ferry from Venice to Patras on the Gulf of Corinth, calling at Igoumenitsa en route, and then from Patras to Kalamata by train.

From there on it seems that there are local buses heading south to Kardamili at the northern end of the Mani and from there further south again to Areopoli. So far so good: there is some confirmation that there are buses (though not how often or at what times); there is information on hotels and apartments; and there are odd references to walking routes and maps available locally.

From Areopoli I want to head further south again to the small villages of the Deep Mani but here there is very little information at all either on public transport or on accommodation.

Because of this uncertainty I don’t know how long it will take to get to places, how much exploration will be possible, or how long I will stay.  So I’m not doing any planning beyond the Mani.  I had originally planned to continue to Crete by ferry and then island-hop to Kos to fly home but I genuinely don’t even know if I will even get as far as Crete.

The ‘planning’ is taking the form of lists of links to web pages of hotels and useful information.  If my netbook breaks down or gets pinched or if there are no WiFi facilities I’ll be stuffed.  But even worse than that, if I lose the use of the computer I lose my Greek dictionary and become unable to look up essential phrases such as “ I have a bladder infection and need antibiotics”, without which in June 2010 I would have been in a lot of trouble.

On this trip, bladder infections apart, I’ll be well out of my comfort zone.  Yet again I am reminded of the Biblical principle I referred to in my blog at the beginning of my first Greek trip in 2010:   “Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the LORD’s purpose that prevails”.  (Book of Proverbs chapter 19 verse 21).  One thing which blog readers can look forward to, however, is that posts will be more frequent.  Always assuming that I can find WiFi connexions.

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