Greek Journal Part IV

Greek Journal: 5/13/2005-6/8/2005

Summary: DenverLondonAthensLeptokaryaLitochoroMt. OlympusLitochoro Kalambaka (Meteora)IguominitsaCorfu TownIguominitsaZorganian Villages, Vikos Gorge and Mt. AstrakaAthensLondonDenver

 

5/20/2005: Leptokarya, Greece: Eurocar rental is supposed to open at 8 am. That means some where between 8:30-9 am the guys should show up. At 8 AM we had the desk clerk call George, the Eurocar man, to let him know we were waiting. George said he would be there in 15 minutes and that there was a car from group A, meaning smallest mini car, ready for us. At 9 am George arrived. To his credit he was the most sincere and helpful Greek I have encountered on this trip. While there are no doubt many significant exceptions, our experience has been on average that the Greeks do just as much as they have to do and are not likely to provide helpful information unless specifically asked for it. When information is provided it may be accurate or inaccurate, but always provided with the same sense of authority.

George was truly a nice guy who was placed in the position of having to tell us that while there was a car for us, it was now sitting in Dion, a resort town just up the coast a short ways. The good news was that a driver was on the way and would have it hear in 15 Greek minutes. 90 western minutes later (sorry showing my ugly American side) the car arrived. We packed our gear in to the microminicar and hit the road for Kalambaka and Meteora.

 

 

This is not a trick photo, this is our car. Attention George Bush, the solution to the energy crisis. Attention Americans, the solution to high gas prices. Since gas is purchased by the liter it seems much less painful than by the gallon. A gallon of gas in Greece is about $5.00, but it took about 5 gallons to fill up our micromini and that got us about 200 miles.

 

 

 

 

Our drive to Kalambaka through the rural country side of Greece was smooth as silk. Greece has the reputation for being the most dangerous country in Europe to drive in. I think that reputation is due to having Athens in the country of Greece. The roads were pretty good and the driving compared to India was like the difference on the mania scale between Al Gore and Robin Williams.

After leaving the Olympian Range on the east coast there is a flat valley floor that pushes up against the Pindos Range about 80km west. Just before the Pindos rise up from the planes there is a group of rock towers that form what is know as Meteora. The literal translation of Meteora is hovering in the air.

Coming in to Meteora is an experience of a life time. Shear cliffs rise over a thousand feet in the air above the town and on closer inspection the monasteries that have made this place so special and unique in the world can be seen.

Meteora, monastery, Greece

 

 

 

Left: Entering the outskirts of Kalambaka and viewing the rock formation above town

 

Right: One of the cliff top monasteries, Monastery of Agios Nikolaos Anapafsas

 

 

 

 

 

Several million years ago the ocean receded from this valley and left stone towers to stand guard over the valley. For thousands of years waves of civilization washed over these valleys, but the rock remained untouched. About 1,200 years ago a lone hermitic monk came from the island of Athos and took up residence in a cave at the base of one of the towers. Over time more monks arrived in this holy valley seeking solitude and safety, but during the long period of Turkish occupation life became progressively more dangerous for the Christian monks. About 1200 AD a monk called St. Atheniosis received a message or vision directing him to build a monastery on top of one of the towers.

He chose, or it was chosen for him, a 1,361 ft high tower where by means not fully understood by modern man, he build the largest and grandest monestary in the valley, the Megalo Meteora. All that is know for sure is that the tower was ascended and that a pulley system was devised that was used to bring up every block and piece of building material, every human and every bit of food. The monks worked for 18 years to complete the original structure.

At one time there were 13 monasteries in the valley, now there are five functioning monasteries all built between 200 and 700 years ago.

 

 

Megalo Meteora. The stairway was added several hundred years after the monastery was constructed.

 


Kelley and Mo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our destination in Kalambaka was the Koka Roka Taverna (translation: under the rock). Our map was a photo of the town copied off the internet with an arrow pointing to where the place was located. As we wove through twisting narrow streets doubts arose, but Zeus was with us and I drove almost directly to the Koka Roka.

We were met by Katarina, the house mum, cook, house cleaner and matriarch. Katarina was about 4 foot nothing, 65 or so years old and did not need any energy supplements. She reminded me of Greek Dr. Ruth. Her husband must have forfeited his energy and ambition quota to Katarina. His main skills seemed be sitting, pealing onions, smoking and drinking ouzo. If all the Greek woman went on strike it would absolutely paralyze the country, although the problem probably wouldnt be noticed until the ouzo supply ran out.

There was also a sun named Arthur. We had read about Arthur in the taverna visitors log and anticipated meeting the next Billy Crystal. When we did meet him it was more like meeting the next W.C. Fields. The most red hot thing about him was a flair up of his rosacea (ala W.C. Fields nose). We decided he didnt get going until after 11 pm and we never stayed up that late.

Once we were settled in to the room, Mo, Kelley and I dropped in to the tavern in the Koka Roka and ordered up 3 greek coffees, 2 ouzos (home made at the Koka) and a Greek salad. The food was good and the ouzo was so potent and had such a strong fennel flavor that it was almost undrinkable by us light weights, but we managed.

After our respite and refreshments we took a short walk around the community. The town of Kalambaka sits right at the base of the Meteora area and is where much of the local population resides. Just down the road is Kastraki, which has the reputation of being more touristy and much less charming. I found Koka Roka on the internet based on some individual trip reports that created the picture of a small family run taverna that brought you in to the heart of the Greece culture and where mother Katarina took care of you, well, like a mother. From what we had seen, they were right. Our Koko Roka family may have seemed a little strange by western standards, but they could be the Greek Beaver Cleavers.

 

Outside the Koka Roka

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The entire town is populated with clean white washed buildings with orange tile roofs. Vines, flowers and fruit trees grow from every patch of open ground and every crack in the walk ways. The roses were in bloom and you could pick ripe loquats off the tree right outside our door.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Approximate location of Koka Roka taken from trail behind town

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We returned for dinner in the small dining area. The dining room was about 15 square and opened in to the kitchen where Katarina chopped and prepared the food for cooking. There was one main table about 8 long that sat in front of an open hearth fire place.

Arthur prepared souvlaki, moskharusia and kotopoulo over the coals in the fire place at the front of the room. After a fine spicy meal, a glass of wine and some time to relax and talk we were ready for a good night sleep.

 

 

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