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Thursday, October 20, 2005


Greece, Off the Beaten Path

A walk on Pindos Mountain with a gentle giant. Yassiou Kostas.
Most travelers to Greece visit the islands and stay near the coast. I wanted to see the real Greece, not tourist resorts overrun with people on holiday. Found a British company that offered walking tours through Zagoria Villages in the Pindos Mountain range up north.

I flew from SFO to Heathrow. Had lunch in the City with a friend, spent the night in a hotel near Gatwick Aiport and the next day boarded a flight from Gatwick to Preveza. At Preveza I met Kostas Vaseleiou, the guide, and other members of the group--all from England. Preveza is located at the tip of an inlet of the Aegian Sea.

Bay at Preveza ©RS

We crossed the inlet on a ferry and a small bus took us up to the picturesque village of Monodendri at the mouth of Vikos Gorge, the starting point of our walk. Monodendri is well known for the Monastery of Saint Paraskevi which stands on the edge of the gorge.

Hotel at Monodendri ©RS

At the monastery on the edge of Vikos gorge ©RS

Tina Averoff (extreme left) joined the group to take photographs for the Epirus Foundation of Greece. She walked with us all the way to Tsepelovo.

Monodendri to Vikos (through Vikos Gorge)

The Vikos Gorge is over 3,000 ft deep at certain points. It was not difficult to go down when we began our walk at Monodendri but a different story at the other end when we had to climb out to the village of Vikos. The first glass of beer felt good. I needed it.

The accommodation was rustic and the food nothing to rave about.

Going down Vikos Gorge ©RS

At Vikos ©RS

Vikos to Papingo

We had to return to the gorge and then climb back to reach Papingo.

Back to the Gorge ©RS

Goats lined up on the ridge. They caused a lot of pebbles to shower down to the trail.

Vikos River ©RS
Crystal clear but didn't see any fish.

Rest stop on the uphill trail to Papingo ©RS

Arrival at Papingo ©RS

At Papingo the food was more authentic and better than the other places where we spent our nights. The local goat cheese and olive oil were excellent. The rooms,too, were comfortable.

Dinner time at Papingo ©RS

It was the feast day of Saint Constantine, Costas' patron saint. Kostas' wife, Madelon and one of her friends (a Spanish woman) who worked as an interpreter in the EU Secretariat,Brussels,drove up from Kipi to join us for dinner.

At that time I was considering walking the Pilgrim's Route established by the Crusaders, 480 miles from St Jean Pied de Port in France to Santiago de Compostella in Spain. She told me about the Spanish author Paulo Coelho and his writings about the route and gave me other useful information. I still think of doing the walk but time is running out. Thousands of people from all over ther world walk the route for various reasons. Shirley MacLaine did it and wrote a book about her experience. My interest has nothing to do with pilgrimage. The mother of all long distance walks is the 2175 miles Appalachian Trail. Most of the through hikers do it northbound, from Georgia to Maine. I'm digressing; back to Zagoria Villages in Greece.

Madelon and Kostas ©RS

Papingo to Astraka (Mountain Hut)

Rulla ©RS

Rulla, wife of the inn keeper at Papingo, and her dog walked with us to Astraka. On the uphill trail Rulla and I were ahead of the pack. She chattered in Greek and pointed to various landmarks. Didn't understand the words but we got along well with sign language. After we reached Astraka, her dog started limping. Kostas said it was probably bitten by an adder. Rulla and the dog left to return to Papingo before it got dark.

Astraka Mountain Hut ©RS

The hut remains closed during winter and spring. We were the first group to arrive there that summer. The place was damp and cold. We put the mattresses from bunk beds out to air them but didn't do much good. There was no electricity. The toilet facilities were primitive. Some of us elected to use the outdoors. The hikes we took during the day were good but the two nights we spent there were far from pleasant. The caretaker and his wife showed up and fixed dinner. Fried chicken. Drank a lot of ouzo and retsina to make the evenings bearable.

During our stay we walked to Dragon Lake and Astraka Peak.

Dragon Lake at foot of Gamilla Peak ©RS

On Astraka Peak ©RS
Astraka to Tsepelevo

Enroute Tsepelovo ©RS
Trudging through snow ©RS

Had to walk a couple of miles through snow. It was slow and tiring. Beyond the snow, the trail was rocky.

Kostas and Tina during stop for lunch ©RS

Tsepelovo ©RS
Largest of the Zagoria villages. Our group was accommodated in two separate houses. We gathered in the only restaurant in the village. Food was sort of blah...fried chicken, again, but met an interesting British couple, Effie and Roy Hounsell, permanent residents of Koukoúli, a village nearby. Roy was writing a book about their experiences. Their plans included setting up a bed and breakfast place. ("The Hamlet" is now open for business and offers four rooms.)

Village restaurant, Tspelovo ©RS

Madelon, Effie & Roy Hounsell in foreground.

Tsepelovo to Ioannina

We were driven by bus to Ioannina. Took a boat to the island in the middle of Lake Pamvotis and checked into a lovely bungalow for our last night's stay. In the evening we took the boat back to Ioannina for dinner. Great mezzes.

Island in Lake Pamvotis ©RS

Breakfast, last morning ©RS

After breakfast we went to Ioannina by boat and then by bus to Preveza to catch our flight.

Final drink at Preveza Airport ©RS

It was cold and drizzly when we landed at Gatwick. Quite a change from the warm, sunlit place we left behind a few hours ago.

Next day I caught a flight for SFO from Heathrow. "Baghdad by the Bay", as the late Herb Caen described San Francisco, was a welcome sight from the window of the plane. I was home.

I hope to visit Greece some day. With this post and the pictures, I feel like I already have! Thank you!
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