Saturday, April 30, 2011

Meteora and beyond…

Last trip to Greece we intended to see some of the inland but weariness overcame us at the end of a long trip and we opted to spend 4 days in Nauplio instead. That was indeed very restful and we will revisit for a few nights. But this time we have some time planned early in the trip for the sights of Meteora, Delphi, Olympus and eventually Nauplio. The hotel we chose at Meteora looked a little far from the town of Kastraki but turned out to have an amazing view over the extraordinary volcanic plugs and to be quite a delightful place to stay. We managed some photos the first night which was a good thing as the clouds rolled in over and among the mountains and the main sightseeing day was grey and sometimes rainy.

Doupiani House
The road to the hotel was neatly edged around the lava flow
View from our window
Flags and clothes in a cave in the rock. No idea how people get there.
The monastery we visited was Agios Stephanos. No photos were allowed in the chapel or museum so images of the beautiful paintings in the chapel are not possible. Even so, an idiot tourist took photos and was roundly criticised by a nun. Later I asked her if she spoke English, and when she responded it was obvious that she was an English woman and quite young, come to be a nun in these isolated surroundings. She told me the church was being progressively painted by a famous artist from Corinth and that the oldest paintings were about 25 years. At the moment they had insufficient funds for the completion. The paintings were really quite magnificent and we were reminded of Giotto’s work in Assisi and Padua as well as the long tradition of Greek painting of churches and icons.
An entry painting and one on the terrace give some idea of the brilliance.

Icon in the entry passage
View of Kalambaka from the terrace
St George on the terrace

Gardens cling to tiny areas

We took the car to drive among the monasteries. Most involve quite a climbing of stairs which we declined to do, over 400 stairs being a bit much in our opinion, but we were able to photograph them from vantage points.

Agios Nikolaos. Despite the name, we were not going up those steps!
Agios Nikolaos on the morning we left, shrouded in cloud
The way up to the Monastery of the Transfiguration begins with a path down, then through the door at the top of the stairs bottom rightmonastery3
Look at the stairs up here. Not for us!!

In Kalambaka we visited a tiny Byzantine Church, variously dated 9th – 11th century, with most of the internal paintings rather newer but still incredibly ancient. The lady showing us was so proud of the paintings and church artefacts and it was a delight to visit. No internal photos allowed and I am not surprised as the paintings are very delicate and in parts already fading and disintegrating. We bought a small booklet and some postcards instead.
Off to Delphi the next morning, still dogged by low cloud and mist and some rain. The trip was mainly along broad plains between mountains, often well cultivated farming country. At the end, a swift rise up what I believe is Mt Parnassus. The main street of Delphi is necessarily one way and parking is scarce. We watched with fascination as a tour bus disgorged about 30 Canadian teens and their teachers while stopping on the street. The cars and buses behind waited patiently. All the hotels cluster for the view down over the valley and plain to the Gulf of Corinth.

View to Gulf of Corinth
Our hotel was a little odd, the lobby area filled with coloured flashing lights and many knick-knacks. The instructions are to pay cash on arrival and in the room was a long list of charges that will be made should you happen to abscond with the bed or bath, and they assure the guests they will check. Despite that, the flamboyant host was most agreeable and most careful in pointing out opening times and the best restaurants in town and ensured we had a parting gift of ouzo and a CD of Delphi photographs.

Hotel door and lobby

Our room was up under the eaves with a dizzying view of the valley below, filled with olive trees, goats and a small stream. Very steep and quite lovely.

We enjoyed a meal at a local restaurant serving traditional food with the fifth generation of family as hosts (a rather dishy looking Greek who would have been well accepted on a Rugby League team at home in Oz). I had lamb knuckle cooked in lemony gravy and it was most welcome on a drizzly, cool night. We watched the clouds settle on the nearby mountains and the white lights of several wind turbines glitter through the cloud. Quite magical!
Delphi sites are within walking distance of town so we set off first thing to try to beat the tour buses, of which there are many. First the archaeological museum which was well curated and had a number of special pieces ranging from giant to tiny. Most had been very damaged by time and it was hard not to compare items such as the statues displayed in Istanbul which were so well preserved, with the damaged fragments on display. Still, they have their treasures. The wonderful Charioteer for example, or the winged Sphinx (much restored) from the temple site. They have set their artefacts against backgrounds in various shades of orange and apricot and it works well as a background for the often grey or white displays.

Head of a bull
Griffin head, probably a handle

The Sphinx, which stood on a tall column in the precinct

Charioteer’s head (he even has eyelashes)

The Charioteer’s hand holds the reins
A piece of guttering with lion head spout

On to the archaeological site which winds its way through wildflowers up the hill, past treasure houses and fallen columns and intricately fitted walls, to the Temple of Apollo and then to the Theatre. They still use the Theatre on occasions, though I would recommend bringing a cushion. Those black stone seats look very hard and very cold. All of this is backed by rose coloured cliffs and the still hanging swirls of mist, the valley in the long distance. The walk is quite arduous and we saw one gentleman slip and fall. Many steps and slopes and uneven surfaces make it a little treacherous, especially when wet.

Brick and rock walls with wildflowers
Fitted rocks and blue flowers
The Temple of Apollo
Athenian treasury and poppies
Theatre backed with mountain and clouds

The next morning we drove to the Temple of Athena where some sunshine finally filtered through. Literal fields of wild flowers among the fallen rocks made it all very beautiful. We had the site virtually to ourselves at that time, whereas later in the day when the bus tours descend this low, the place would be over-run.

Temple of Athena
Fields of flowers
Temple with view back to the main Delphi site
Nick says Lego is not a new invention!!

And so on our way to Olympia.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011


Our trip was from Istanbul to Athens, a 6 hour layover and then onwards to Corfu. All went well as far as Athens where we discovered that our booked car didn’t exist. After an hour faffing around they found us a car and we drove out to the seaside at Raffina and found a large and almost empty taverna right on the waterfront for a fish meal. I had smelts, tiny fish simply dusted with flour and fried and Nick had some calamari. The day was grey and rather cold. We moved on to another place near the port for frappes, our favourite Greek drink, Nescafe all zoomed up with ice, milk and sugar (believe it or not). Much nicer than passing time in an airport terminal. Then on to Corfu where at first we couldn’t find the luggage. Turned out it was at the “International” terminal in the next room because it had trans-shipped from Istanbul. This time there was a car.
It was night well and truly by the time we got to Kalami Beach. The season does not really begin until May 2, so the village was firmly shut and stayed that way for our five nights there, including little supermarkets and cafes. The view however, was gorgeous and it was very quiet and peaceful. We stayed in the Tassos boathouse right opposite the White House in which Lawrence Durrell lived on Corfu. What a great place that must have been for a child!

Dawn over The White House roof
Our place. We had the top floor with the nice verandah.
The White House from the beach
Mention of the Durrells

We spent a day exploring some of the rather splendid architecture left by previous occupants and visitors to Corfu. The Achilleion Palace, built for the Empress Elizabeth of Austria being one such place. Later it was lived in by Kaiser Wilhelm and a room was decorated with some furniture and mementoes. But basically this was a summer palace for Elizabeth, with glorious gardens, patios and outlooks.

Entrance view
A modest statue of Achilles looks out over the countryside
The wisteria walk
The dying Achilles, that pesky spear in his heel. Note the lovely colonnade and patio behind

One of the reasons for Corfu was to experience a Greek Easter, but to do that properly you have to stay up till past midnight on Easter Saturday. As Nick didn’t fancy driving an hour home at that time of night over the very bendy roads, we didn’t do that bit. With hindsight, we should have stayed in an hotel right on the Liston right in Corfu but then we wouldn’t have had the scenery and peace and quiet.
We did go to Corfu town for the procession and pot throwing on Easter Saturday morning. So did everyone else! They made us park the car at the New Port and bused us for free to close to town where we joined the scrum. We heard the music and saw a small amount of the procession. Mostly we saw the back of other people’s heads. However, we got to see the pot throwing. The custom appears to be that if you throw out the old the spring will bring you new things. The pots are thrown at 11.00am from windows of houses in the city, so the road has to be emptied of people below. Lots of whistle blowing!

Cheers greeted this big pot
The pot is on its way
The pretty Orthodox cathedral
The elegant Liston arcade opposite the cricket green

”I will get every piece with my trusty broom”
Some houses are a bit past their prime

After we wandered the Old Fortress and then the streets, eventually settling on a nice restaurant for lunch and later back home.
Corfu is an island filled with pretty coves and beaches as well as wild mountains. We explored quite a few and had some memorable meals, mostly because the food was good. The Easter Sunday lamb at  Paleokastrista, however, was very dry and overcooked by our preferences. We saw some up the road wrapped in intestines. That might have kept it more juicy and flavourful and certainly the Greeks were flocking. We made up for it by admiring the view which was just stunning. The bluest of waters and small boats waiting to take tourists on visits to the local bays and beaches. However, we still found that many of the small towns were quite closed and there were very few people. If you are going to Corfu, go when the tourist season is on.

Windmill near Corfu town. Three old blokes work on their tan.

Waiting to ferry tourists round the caves and beaches at Paleokastrista
Kassiopi Harbour with Albania in the background
A tiny fishing boat coming into Kassiopi

Corfu was lovely and very different from other Greek islands, much more of an Italianate flavour. Given that it was ruled for centuries by the Venetians I suppose that is not surprising. We enjoyed it greatly for the scenery, the quiet and the simple but good food. Nick is getting quite adventurous!