Saturday, 25 July 2015

Greece – Crazy caves in charming Ioannina

July 24

From Thessaloniki we flew to the Greek island of Zakynthos for a lovely, luxurious week relaxing in glorious weather. I’ve written about it before so there’s no need to repeat myself.

Team Zak

Delicious lobster

What follows this week, however, will be new to me. My two previous visits to the island have ended with a flight, either to London or to Athens. This time I am aiming to return to Prague…by land…

The route Google Maps recommends I take back to Prague. I'll be going the scenic route instead...

As you can see from the map above, this is a long way. I have thus given myself four weeks to navigate my way from Greece to the Czech Republic. This also gives me a chance to thoroughly explore the Balkans; an area which, as mentioned when we visited Macedonia, I haven’t really travelled around before.

The first challenge is actually leaving Greece, a country which is surprisingly large. Its area of over 130,000km2 is similar to Bangladesh and larger than the Czech Republic. As a result I was destined to spend at least one more night in the Hellenic Republic. But where?

Not too much is planned for this latest adventure. Including, it turns out, my first day. The only thing I had booked when saying goodbye to the numerous Woodhead clan was a reservation for a bus ticket to Patra. Even that became a problem when they told me there was no ‘Smith’ on their list. Thinking quickly, I asked what names were on the list. They said they had one remaining: someone called ‘Snerk’. With a beaming smile and calm(ish) demeanour, I immediately told them that this must be my name as they sounded so similar. He bought it; I boarded the bus.

Being an island, you need to board a ferry to leave Zakynthos without using a plane. An hour ferry ride and 90 minute bus journey brought me to the port of Patra, on the northern tip of the Peloponnese peninsula. From there, a four hour bus hurtled me north through some beautiful landscapes to the university town of Ioannina. Pronounced Yan-ee-na, apparently.

The terrain had changed, morphing into undulating mountains. Unfortunately the weather had followed suit, resulting in me dancing to avoid great plopping raindrops whilst searching for a place to stay. CouchSurfing didn’t work out here so I found a hotel and managed to persuade Dimitrius to knock some money off the room.

I stopped here because I knew I could get to Albania fairly straightforwardly but Ioannina also has a lot going for it. It is a university town and, even though school is ‘out’, it possesses a friendly vibe with many restaurants and cafes. The cobbled streets and Mediterranean styling of the houses certainly added to the charming atmosphere Ioannina impressed upon me.

Some of the older buildings in Ioannina

Ioannina town sits on the western edge of a lake, which looks lovely in the evening light. Many of the aforementioned eating establishments are situated adjacent to the water, though there is plenty of room for fishermen to work their magic too.

The lake sparkling in the evening sunshine

Fishermen waiting patiently for their morning catch

The other attraction in Ioannina is also natural and arguably has been around longer than the lake. I don’t know if the basin has been in situ for over 1.5 million years but apparently that is how long some of the stalactites and stalagmites of the Perama Cave have existed for.

I took the opportunity to burn off some of the previous week’s excesses by running the 7km from my hotel to the caves…to find I was too early. Once in, my guide (who seemed to slightly resemble Sandra Bullock) informed me that the cave was only discovered in 1940, when locals hid there to avoid the global bombardment. It was then carefully excavated so that people can see the columns and rising or falling spikes kept hidden away for millennia. When they did so, they found the bones of a bear in one of the five main chambers (hence the logo).

No photos are allowed in the cave – well, unless Miss Bullock wanders back to the starting point to collect more people – so the better pictures you see here are from the internet. What was fascinating to me were the shapes that had been created; if you use your imagination, you can see bottles, jellyfish and even Father Christmas in the form of limestone drippings.

Ioannina was thus a pleasant surprise. If anyone undertakes a similar Balkan trip to this in the future, I would recommend they pop down to charming Ioannina to see some of Greece’s natural wonders.

Love you all


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