Bay of Kotor, a dream on the water

Bay of Kotor, a dream on the water

The Bay of Kotor, in Montenegro, turned our whole travel plan on its head. We very soon realised that we couldn’t stay there for only four days. So, it became longer … Words cannot tell the story, I am only posting photos which I hope can speak for me.

Michel and Misha

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Misha and Michel, our loving hosts. They became part of our daily lives, without imposing.

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“I am happy man!”. Our own Zorba character

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Michel cleaning fish to be grilled for his guests

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Always game to try spearing a fish passing by

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Michel’s boat’s name is a combination of all the family’s names

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Cleaning mussels with a guest – obtained from the neighbours’ private mussel farm just in front of us

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The daily ritual to lift his only fish trap to see if anything was caught. Baited with old bread, the trap never presented a catch in the five days we were with them.

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Michel is a master of the fish barbecue. It was simply delicious. See the rosemary branch used to paint more olive oil over when the fish is turned.

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A lesson for all fish chefs: lots of olive oil, regular turning, high heat and loving attention

Vitoglav, our home in Montenegro

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Life on the water’s edge

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The last of the tsipouro given to us by Johan and Estelle in Thessaloniki

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The only sign of affluence in Vitoglav – the wealthy Russian owner two doors away

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Michel’s brother and sister-in-law sitting under the cool shade of their their pergola in front of their parents’ original family home. Three brothers live here still.

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Dawn and dusk on the Bay of Kotor

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Neighbouring villages

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A small ferry to cross the channel opening between two sections of the fjord

Islands

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Pilgrimage in Montenegro/Pelgrimstog in Montenegro

Pilgrimage in Montenegro/Pelgrimstog in Montenegro

Passing ships at night are part of travelling. Those people you meet just for a moment. A stranger in the shade of a tree, in a train compartment, on a bench alongside a lake, or wherever. Sometimes there is a strong connection with each other. Then you swop addresses with promises of seeing each other again and keeping contact. On other occasions the ship disappears into the night.

We met Markus Koch, his wife Katarina and the little Johannes incidentally on the small harbour wall of the house just outside Risan in Montenegro where we stayed for a few days. They also rented a flat there and are from Germany. We greeted and respected each other’s privacy.

Later that evening Markus approached us with an offer to join him the following morning to visit two old Habsburg castle ruins in the mountains. He was on a pilgrimage here to find the footsteps, but didn’t want to go into the mountains alone. Johannes is too small for such an expedition and would remain at home with Katarina.

His father, Engelbert, passed away 35 years ago and didn’t really speak about the war. Markus began doing research on his father in 2007. The only leads he could remember were: Montenegro, castle fortress, serpentine road, and that the German ship which the wounded Engelbert had boarded had been intercepted by the English and that he had been taken to Egypt as a prisoner of war.

Early the next morning we departed in his car. The road twisted steeply up the mountains and took us through some long tunnels. At times we could see the turquoise Kotor Bay below us – the fjords and old villages which make the place so special. Markus told us that through his research he had discovered that his father was part of the Fusilierregiment 334 which had been transferred from Norway to fight against the partisans in the Balkans

The regiment took up position in a castle fortress in November 1944. Between 13 and 15 November Engelbert wanted to peek over the wall, but his mates warned him not to. When he did look over he was struck in the jaw by a bullet. The wounded Engelbert was taken along the serpentine mountain road to the harbour at Bar in a truck and under fire from the partisans and taken aboard a Lazarettschiff, the Tubingen, on 16 November.

The ship was taken captive by the British navy and he was sent to Egypt as a POW where he remained in a British camp until 1948. (In his search for his father’s footsteps, Markus later became a specialist in the prisoner of war camps in Egypt and has bought up thousands of photos which he stores on his website: http://www.suez42-48.de

The wound, and also the fact that the English already had penicillin, saved Engelbert’s life, because three days later the regiment was destroyed in that fortress. Markus’s information is limited and he was hoping to join some of the dots with this visit. He had already done much research and identified two fortresses, Crkvice East and Crkvice West, as possible places where his father would have been wounded.

So, there we were. Armed with two bottles of water, a new friend and a half overgrown path. And not exactly the right footwear to climb a mountain. We had to make our way over stones, through bushes of wild pink roses and fields of typical delicate Alpine flowers and here and there a wild orchid. Closer to the crest where Crkvice West fortress is, the path widened and we noticed that it had been built up with supporting walls which wound back and forth in sharp serpentine bends.

Was it here that the wounded Engelbert was carried down?

Here and there we struggled over the broken road and had to pull each other over blocks of rock – an earthquake struck the region in 1979 and we could see the damage. The ruins of Crkvice West towered above us.

What was going on in Markus’s soul? What was he thinking? What was he seeing in his mind’s eye?

And then we were at the top. The world at our feet. The country’s name is Montenegro. Black mountains. But the mountains lay in layers of blue as far as the eye could see. The stone road is partly destroyed. Also the building itself. The roof had collapsed. Some of the walls tilted at an angle or were severely damaged. Markus walked ahead. We followed. We didn’t want to get too close to him or his thoughts.

We helped pull each other over the rubble into the building. It was like entering a sacred site. The strong internal walls still stood. Passages lead from room to room. Broken rocks and roof tiles lay all over. We began looking for possible soldier graffiti which could supply names and dates. All we found was numbered gun slits. We picked up rusted tins and dropped them again. Each of us found his own route and silence in the gloomy passages and rooms.

We clambered around. Peeped through gun slits. Each wondered if it was here that Engelbert had been shot. The partisans could have been everywhere, because surrounding the ruins are just mountains and impenetrable forests.

We left the fortress, each with his own story. For the first time we noticed the marks of partisan gunshot on the walls. We walked away. I looked back. Markus had also turned to look at the building. His head dropped and he just stood there.

Now awaited the other mountain to be climbed. Not as high as the first one. The approach road also formed serpentines. We broke into a light sweat. And then we were there. The earthquake had caused great devastation. We struggled to clamber over the rubble to get inside. Trees and shrubs and wild roses have overgrown the place. We stumbled about. Peeped through another set of gun slits. Was Engelbert shot here? Was he carried down the difficult road below? Could he walk unaided?

We also climbed another mountain to Crkvice West. The path was easier, but it was getting warmer. We were a little out of breath. This fortress was damaged more than the previous one. We scrambled about, but with more difficulty. We were becoming emotionally worn out. But, we didn’t find the answers.

Markus and family had to fly back to Germany the following morning. Still not satisfied, he searched even further on the internet during the night and came upon a report drawn after the attack on the Germans. It was neither of the two fortresses. There is a third fortress. Grkovac.

That wasn’t all. All the links fell into place and he knew exactly what had happened at Grkovac: The end came on 18 November, two days after his father had been taken to Bar. 145 German soldiers were shot dead in the fortress, 190 were wounded, 355 were taken prisoner by Tito’s infamous army – of whom most died as a result of the worst possible conditions of captivity and torture.

Two cannons, four mortars, two machine guns, 31 automatic pistols, 35 automatic rifles, 380 rifles, 40 pistols and other war material was taken. The partisans lost 49 men and 119 were wounded. See: http://znaci.net/damjan/izvor.php?br=5742&vrsta=1

We offered to go and look for Grkovac on his behalf and to take photos.

A day later we departed early. Silver took us up the mountain road and through many tunnels. Later Kotor Bay lay below us and it felt as if you could touch the sky. We got a little lost and followed a dangerous mountain road which isn’t used any more. There are no barriers and the drops are scary, but breathlessly beautiful. We eventually turned back. We saw Grkovac on the crest of a high mountain. Found the footpath to it and began walking.

We had to force our way through wild roses, miniature oak and birch trees, spiderwebs and herbs. The fresh smell of sage and thyme rose up. One moment we were in a forest and then again in an open patch. The smells followed us as we trampled the plants. And then the thorns of the roses would catch our skin, or scratch my bare legs till they bled. But, it didn’t bother me. Just kept thinking of Engelbert and his wound.

It was even more difficult to get into this fortress. The earthquake had damaged it more than the others. It is overgrown. The huge stone blocks that have tumbled down make it difficult to get to everything. We scrambled deeper and deeper into the building. At the end of a passage is a smallish cellar chamber with white plastered walls. Hundreds of bullet marks pock the walls and bear witness to what transpired here.

We fled higher. The stairs are covered with moss and ferns. On top is the platform with its gun slits and here we could breathe again. Under a blue sky. Surrounded by mountains. In silence. The only sign of life was a turquoise-green lizard keeping an eye on us.

Pelgrimstog in Montenegro

Passing ships at night is deel van reis. Die mense wat jy vir ‘n oomblik ontmoet. ‘n Vreemdeling onder die skadu van ‘n boom, in ‘n treinkompartement, op ‘n bankie langs ‘n meer, of waar ookal. Soms is daar ‘n sterk konneksie met mekaar. Dan ruil jy adresse uit met beloftes van weersiens en kontak hou. Ander kere verdwyn die boot die nag in.

Ons ontmoet Markus Koch, sy vrou Katarina en die klein Johannes terloops op die hawemuur van die seehuis waar ons net buite Risan in Montenegro bly. Hulle huur ook ‘n woonstel daar en is van Duitsland. Dit was net ‘n groet en ons respekteer mekaar se privaatheid.

Later die aand kom vra Markus of ons nie die volgende dag saam met hom wil gaan om twee ou Habsburgse kasteelvestings in die berge te gaan besoek nie. Sy vader was ‘n Duitse soldaat in die Tweede Wêreldoorlog en is in een van die vestings gewond. Hy is op ‘n pelgrimstog hier om die voetspore te vind, maar wil nie alleen die berge in nie. Johannes is te klein vir so ‘n ekspedisie en sal tuis by Katarina bly.

Markus se vader, Engelbert, is 35 jaar gelede oorlede en het nie juis oor die oorlog gepraat nie. Markus se navorsing oor sy vader het in 2007 begin en al leidrade wat hy kon onthou was: Montenegro, kasteel, serpentinapad, en dat die Duitse boot waarop die gewonde Engelbert was deur die Engelse onderskep is en sy vader as ‘n krygsgevangene na Egipte geneem is.

Die volgende oggend ry ons vroeg. Die pad kronkel steil teen die berge uit en gaan deur ‘n paar lang tonnels. Aan die regterkant kan ons soms die turkoois Baai van Kotor onder ons sien lê – die fjords en ou dorpies wat die plek so besonders maak. Markus vertel dat hy in sy navorsing uitgevind het dat sy vader deel was van die Füsilierregiment 334 wat van Noorweë oorgeplaas is om die partisane in die Balkan te kom beveg.

Die Duitse regiment het in November 1944 in ‘n kasteelvesting stelling ingeneem. Tussen 13 en 15 November wou Engelbert oor een van die mure kyk en word op deur sy makkers gewaarsku om dit nie te doen nie. Toe hy dit wel doen tref ‘n koeël van die partisane hom in die kakebeen. Die gewonde Engelbert is toe met ‘n trok met die serpentina bergpad na Bar se hawe geneem onder vuur van die partisane. As gewonde word hy op 16 November op ‘n Lazarettschiff, die Tubingen, gelaai. (Die boot het onder ‘n rooi kruis gevaar, maar is deur die Britte naby Pola gekelder. ‘n Erkende oorlogmisdaad.)

Engelbert moes gered gewees het en is hy as ‘n krygsgevangene na Egipte gestuur waar hy tot 1948 in ‘n Britse krygsgevangeniskamp bly. (In sy soeke na sy vader se voetspore het Markus later ‘n spesialiskenner geword van die krysgevangeniskampe in Egipte en het duisende foto’s opgekoop wat hy in op sy webblad hou: http://www.suez42-48.de

Die wond het Engelbert se lewe gered, ook die feit dat die Engelse toe alreeds penisillien gehad het, want drie dae later is die regiment in die vesting uitgewis. Markus se inligting is skraps en met hierdie tog wil hy probeer om van die skakels te verbind. Hy het al baie navorsing gedoen en het twee vestings, Crkvice-Oos of Crkvice-Wes, geïdentifiseer as die moontlike plek waar sy vader gewond is.

En hier is ons. Gewapen met twee bottels water, ‘n nuwe vriend, en ‘n half toegegroeide voetpad. En nie juis die regte skoene aan om ‘n bergpad uit te klim nie. Ons moet ons weg baan oor klippe, deur bosse wilde pienk rose, en velde tipiese fyn Alpeblomme en hier en daar ‘n wilde orgidieë. Nader aan Crkvice-Wes verbreed die voetpad is dit met stutmure van reuse blokke klip opgebou wat steil heen en weer in skerp draaie kronkel.

Is dit hier waar die gewonde Engelbert afgedra is? Teen hierdie steiltes af?

Ons sukkel oor die gebreekte pad en moet ons mekaar oor die blokke klip optrek – ‘n aardbewing in 1979 het die plek getref en die skade is groot. Bokant ons begin die murasies van Crkvice-Wes troon.

Wat gaan aan in die gemoed van Markus? Wat dink hy? Wat sien hy in sy geestesoog?

Dan is ons bo. Die wêreld lê aan ons voete. Die land se naam is Montenegro. Swart berge. Maar die berge lê laag op laag in blou en blouer so ver as wat die oog kan sien. Die ingang is gedeeltelik opgebreek. Ook die gebou self. Die dak het ingestort. Van die mure hel oor en is erg beskadig. Markus loop voor. Ons volg. Ons wil nie te naby hom of sy gedagtewêreld kom nie.

Ons help mekaar oor die puin optrek tot binne die gebou. Dit is asof ons ‘n heiligdom betreë. Die sterk binnemure staan nog. Gange lei van vertrek na vertrek. Fyn rots en dakteëls lê besaai. Ons begin soek na moontlike soldaatgraffiti wat miskien name en datums kan gee. Al wat ons kry is genommerde skietgate. Ons tel geroeste blikbodems op. Gooi dit weer neer. Elkeen vind sy eie roete en stilte in die skemer gange en vertrekke.

Ons klouter rond. Loer deur skietgate. Elkeen wonder of dit hier is waar Engelbert geskiet is. Die partisane kon oral wees, want dit is net berge en onderdringbare woude.

Ons verlaat die vesting, elkeen met sy eie storie. Die skietmerke van die partisane sien ons vir die eerste keer raak. Daar is baie op die gebou geskiet. Ons stap weg. Ek kyk om. Markus het ook omgedraai en hy kyk vir die gebou. Laat sak sy kop en bly net so staan.

Ons klim ook die berg uit na Crkvice –Oos. Die voetpad is makliker, maar dit begin warm raak. Ons asems jaag. Die vesting is erger in die aardbewing beskadig. Ons klouter moeiliker rond. Ons raak emosioneel moeg. Maar vind nie antwoorde nie.

Die volgende oggend moet Markus-hulle terugvlieg na Duitsland. Hy begin wonder of sy vader wel in een van die twee vestings gewond is. Deur die nag krap hy op die internet rond en kom af op ‘n verslag wat opgeskryf is na die aanval op die Duitsers.

Dit was nie by een van die twee vestings waar ons was nie. Daar is ‘n derde vesting. Grkovac.

Dit is nie al nie. Al die skakels val in plek en weet hy presies wat by Grkovac gebeur het: Die einde kom op 18 November, twee dae nadat sy vader na Bar geneem is. In Grkovac is 145 Duitse soldate doodgeskiet, 190 gewond, 355 deur Tito se berugte weermag gevang– waarvan die meeste na die ergste moontlike toestande en marteling dood is. Daar word twee kanonne, vier mortiere, twee masjiengewere, 31 outomatiese pistole, 35 outomatiese gewere, 380 gewere, 40 pistole en ander oorlogsmateriaal afgeneem. Die partisane verloor 49 man en 119 is gewond. Sien http://znaci.net/damjan/izvor.php?br=5742&vrsta=1

Ons bied aan om Grkovac namens hom te gaan soek en foto’s te neem.

‘n Dag later vertrek ons vroeg. Ry met Silwer die bergpad op en op en deur baie tonnels. Later lê die Baai van Kotor onder ons en dit voel of jy aan die hemel raak. Ons verdwaal so ‘n bietjie en ry met ‘n gevaarlike bergpad wat nooit meer gebruik word nie. Daar is nie relings nie en die afgronde is skrikwekkend, maar ademloos mooi. Ons draai later om. Ons sien Crkovac op die kruin van ‘n hoë berg. Vind die voetpad soentoe en begin stap.

Ons moet ons pad deur wilderose, miniatuur eike- en beukebome, spinnekopdrade en kruie baan. Die reuk van salie en tiemie en slaan vars op. Dan is ons in ‘n woudagtigheid en dan weer in ooptes. Die reuke volg ons soos ons op die plante trap. Dan haak ons vas aan wilderoos dorings, of dit krap my bene dat die bloed later loop. Ek gee nie om nie. Dink net aan Engelbert en sy wond.

Dit is nog moeiliker om in dié vesting te kom. Die aarbewing het dit die ergste van die drie getref. Dit is oorgroei. Die groot klipblokke wat ineengesort het maak dit moeilik om oral te kom. Ons klouter dieper en dieper die gebou in. Aan die einde van ‘n gang is ‘n kleinerige kamer met wit gepleisterde mure. Honderde koëlmerke is die getuies van wat hier gebeur het.

Ons vlug hoër op. Die trappe is met mos en varings begroei. Bo op die platform met skietopeninge kry ons weer asem. Onder blou lug. Omring deur berge. In stilte. Die enigste lewe hier is ‘n turkooisgroen akkedis wat ons dophou.

Markus & famPOW-39

Crkvice West

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Crkvice East

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Grkovac

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Flowers and plants

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The lizard

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Ohrid, the gift of a break down/Ohrid, ons geskenk toe Silwer breek

Ohrid, the gift of a break down/Ohrid, ons geskenk toe Silwer breek

Sometimes a place crosses your path just for a moment, but the memories remain forever. Even if I forget the name of Ohrid in Macedonia one day, the few silver days we spent there have been imprinted. For some reason or other the synergy between us and the place was attuned.

For days on end we just wandered and wandered about and allowed the beauty of the sky, the clouds, the reflections on the lake and the monasteries and churches to wash over us.

In its day Ohrid boasted 365 Orthodox churches, one for every day of the year. The Ohrid Lake is one of the world’s oldest and deepest lakes and underwater visibility is up to 30m, which lends it a surreal quality. The town and surroundings simply has an atmosphere of its own. We sat in waterfront restaurants for hours and watched people and little boats coming and going. Or we walked up and down the narrow mountain alleys or the pedestrian mall and took note of every person and shop.

Ohrid kom in ons pad

Soms kom ‘n plek vir ‘n oomblik op jou pad, maar die herrinneringe bly vir altyd. Al vergeet ek eendag Ohrid in Macedonia se naam, is die paar silwer dae wat ons daar deurgebring het ingebrand. Om een of ander rede was die sinergie tussen ons en die plek op mekaar ingestem.

Ons het vir dae net gedwaal en gedwaal en die skoonheid van die lug, die wolke, die weerkaatsings op die meer, en die kloosters en kerke oor ons laat spoel.

Ohrid het op sy dag 365 Ortodokse kerke gehad, een vir elke dag van die jaar. Die Ohridmeer is een van die wêreld se oudste en diepste mere, en onderwater sig is tot 30m wat dit ‘n gevoel van onwerklikheid gee. Die dorp en omgewing het net ‘n atmosfeer van sy eie. Ons het vir ure in restourante op die waterfront gesit en gekyk hoe mense en bootjies kom en gaan. Of op en af in die nou bergstraatjies of wandelstraat gestap en van elke mens en winkel notisie geneem.

 

The narrow alleys of Ohrid

Detail of one of the ancient Byzantium churches

Afternoon thunderstorm brewing

Tiny church on the edge of the lake

One of many cave churches above the lake

Morning coffee along the northern shore of the lake

Inside the tiny cave church of St Katerina

We must have climbed at least 150m to reach St Katerina’s

Detail Byzantium church

Typical afternoon cumulus

Peacocks have been part of monastery life for hundreds of years. This encounter was an St Naum.

Preparing to display my feathers for all to see

St Naum on the lake

Detail of monastery door

One of the springs that feed into the lake. We estimated that thousands of gallons per minute must enter the lake in total.

A salad, cheese-filled pancakes and fried cheese – all for R80!

Our outside flat for R150 per night – with TV, wifi, own parking, and lovely chats with the ex-minister of the interior of Macedonia (host’s grandfather)

Pole and daub village on the lake. Replica of a village which stood lower down the slope (now submerged) about 3000BC

From the village platform

There was little of the rest of him to be seen…

Stilted village from the hill

Our daily bread

The clarity of the water is amazing

Good news or bad? Petro, the mechanic, tries to find a spare part for Silver

One of three replicas of the Gotenburg printing press. Papermaking is an old craft in the town. Owner demonstrated the entire process for us, including making a print on the press.

Ohrid craftsmen claim that filigree originated here and the Ottomans stole the art and exported it to Turkey.

Tiny churches are squeezed in between other buildings. They are literally to be seen around every corner.

Local high school results advertised in the pedestrian mall

Off-loading produce for the market

All the senses are involved in the colours, smells, noise, vibe of a farmer’s market

The magnificent Church of Saints Clement and Panteleimon is a Byzantine church situated on Plaošnik – beautifully restored.

View from the Fortress of Czar Samuil of Bulgaria

Walking on the fortress walls

The very old St Sophia church at night

At twilight we would walk the boardwalk to the next settlement to have a beer

Clouds and cross

Why are there always electric cables in the way?

Once a year, in the heart of winter, the uppermost church leader visits Ohrid and casts a silver cross into the lake. Hundreds of young men dive into the freezing water in the hope of retrieving the cross, which would ensure good fortune. This is a statue commemorating the event.

For hire – any takers?

The pedestrian mall

One evening some teachers were taking students through their paces for a variety of national dances.

Hand-turned pearls of Ohrid are famous in Macedonia. The girl on the left is threading some.

Despite it not being high season, the mall was never empty.

Yes, the perfume of these old fashioned roses was lovely!

A suburb as seen from the water

We did the touristy thing of hiring a boat to take us back to the main town – to avoid having to climb over the mountain again (later discovered that there was the boardwalk as an option).

All the boat taxis take their passengers on a detour to see the small church of St John from below.

A stranger offered to take a pic of us together during the visit to St Jovan’s

The church from above

Isn’t it just beautiful?

Dreamy!

Taken from the same spot, but towards the town

A motorised walker, fumes and all

Many hours were spent like this

Side wall of St Sophia’s

Another view of St Sophia’s very old walls

Ancient detail

Dated as far back as 820 AD, St Sophia was used as a mosque at one stage. Some of the oldest murals around depict the schism between the Orthodox and Catholic churches.

The Zastava cars have become a familiar sight in the Balkans, real old relics from the Communist past

Ohrid’s harbour

Another view of the church of Saints Clement and Panteleimon

Their love of colourful flowers is to be seen all over

… another church …

St Demetrius where we attended part of the Sunday Pentecost service

The fortress walls dominate the town

Zen and the art of Silver’s maintenance/Zen en Silwer se herstel

Zen and the art of Silver’s maintenance/Zen en Silwer se herstel

These few days had me thinking about the book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Our own travels in and through Macedonia on Silver and Blue. Our personal story and trip through a landscape of wonderment, setbacks, expectation, loves, acceptance and the fundamental goodness of people. And the small things that keep us traveling forward.

It was a silvery Friday with reflections of clouds, mountains and churches on water, almost till the end of the day. That was when Silver died at the customs post for Macedonia. Flat battery.

In our heads we were still on the tops of the mountain encircling the Prespa lakes, the old juniper forests, islands, hiking paths, forgotten villages, old monasteries and yet more reflections. And now this. At the moment of arrival in a new country.

With all the formalities done and our passports back in our pockets, we pushed old sick Silver into the shade of the nearest tree, pulled out the jumper leads and got her going again. But, just a couple of kilometres along the road to Bitola, she died again. Unscrewed everything, opened it all up again, cables in place, revved Blue for a few minutes to charge and off we went.

We tried to find help at the first filling station. No, it was a public holiday in Macedonia, it was a Friday and it would be difficult to find help. We were still wondering what to do when three young, friendly Romanians on their expensive Ducati motorcycles spotted us and knew that these two old folks needed help. The two young engineers and one notary were just itching to scratch around in a machine. The Ducati Angels.

They toiled away for two hours and tried everything. Opened up Silver’s insides and conducted various intelligent diagnoses we understood nothing of. All in good spirits and with lots of laughter until it was almost dark. But the problem wasn’t exactly being corrected. They agreed that it was either the alternator or the regulator. They gave us all sorts of advice that would enable us to continue for a while and with a freshly charged battery we could at least reach our hotel. Then we took our leave.

The entrance to Bitola was a nightmare with bad roads and derelict communist remains. We lost our way in the decrepit narrow streets and eventually paid a taxi driver one euro to escort us to the Teatar Hotel. It was in what appeared to be a really bad area. Behind the walls a surprise awaited in the form of a pretty courtyard where we could park Silver and Blue. Within minutes the lovely and helpful Ivana had a mechanic and two assistants there and Silver’s innards were opened up again and tested. The mecanic in the red overalls announced that it was the regulator. Big problem. Would order one from Skopje and it would only arrive on Monday.

On the Saturday morning we walked to the town centre. It surprised us with its nice pedestrian mall, old mosques and churches, parks and some rather chic shops. Everyone seems to live together in harmony here.

We left Silver right there in the courtyard, packed overnight bags, put our main luggage in storage and followed the road to Ohrid on Blue – about 80km further on. Again another delightful forest road and two passes. And through a very neglected biggish town with the worst roads we have ever ridden.

One could write tales about Ohrid, make photo essays and blog them. For days we wandered about in astonishment, climbed mountains to fortresses and churches, sauntered down narrow passageways, sat at restaurants on the waterfront or followed the edge of the lake to other villages on its edge. We paid R150 per day for the little flat attached to a house. Blue even had its own grape covered pergola doe shelter. A good meal could be had for two for less than R80.

On the Monday afternoon we received news from Ivana to say that the part had arrived, but regret to inform you that it didn’t work. We began making inquiries to find a local mechanic. A very helpful guy who had been drinking coffee with his friends, offered to take us to Petro whose workshop is just there at the end of a little alley where he works right in the road. He seems to repair everyone in town’s scooters and boat engines. Looks like a Greek filmstar with spanner and sparkplug tattoos on his biceps. He would be able to help us. But we first need to fetch Silver from Bitola, 80 km away. He sent us off with a spare, fully charged battery. Just in case.

That was when we ran into a cloud burst in the mountains. We saw it approaching. A black cloud reaching from the heavens to the earth. At first we thought we would be able to ride in the rain, but then it hit us full force. Rain drops like marbles, and just as hard. We stopped under a bridge. Everywhere cars pulled off the road and they all waved to us. And asked whether we were okay. How does one explain?

In Bitola we switched batteries, loaded up our luggage and set off without headlights and avoiding braking or using indicators as far as possible. Lights all use battery power. Halfway the battery was flat and we had to switch …

Petro tried used Honda regulators, but not one would work. Eventually established that it wasn’t the regulator, but the alternator that was defective. The only solution was to order one from Greece, but it was now the turn of the Greeks to have a public holiday. He would ride the 300km to Thessaloniki himself …

Another day of waiting and we rode in other directions, climbed more mountains to cave churches. Drank coffee at restaurants hanging over the water. And then the message came. Silver would be ready within an hour!

Petro Godzo is the big hero in the story. He showed us his Honda motorcycle on which he rides up to 270kmph. On which he had fetched the alternator from Honda in Thessaloniki, 600km there and back.

Again and again we, and our cavalcade of happy angels, experience the warmth, goodness and compassion of the people of the Balkans. Here where we feel so much at home and so safe. Where we appreciate their earthiness and sincerity… And their love for brightly coloured roses and other flowers. Even if they are sometimes plastic.

Die zen van Silwer se breek en regmaak

Hierdie paar dae het my laat dink aan die boek Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Ons eie reis in en deur Macedonië met Silwer en Blou. Ons persoonlike storie en reis deur ‘n landskap van verwondering, terugslae, afwagting, liefdes, aanvaarding en die fundamentele goedheid van mense. En die klein dingetjies wat ons vorentoe laat reis.

Dit was ‘n silwer Vrydag met weerspieëlings van wolke, berge en kerke op water tot amper aan die einde van die dag. Toe Silwer by die doeanehek na Macedonië vrek. Pap battery.

In ons koppe is ons nog in die hoogtes van die berge wat die Prespamere omring, die ou juniperwoude, eilande, voetslaanpaaie, vergete dorpe, ou kloosters en nog meer weerkaatsings. En nou dit. Op hierdie oomblik van aankoms.

Met al die formaliteite afgehandel en die paspoorte terug in ons sakke, stoot ons ou siek Silwer tot in die koelte van die naaste boom, pluk die batterykabels uit en kry hom weer aan die gang. Maar na ‘n paar kilometers op die pad na Bitola vrek hy weer. Skroef alles weer oop, kabels, rev vir ‘n paar minute en weg is ons weer. By die eerste petrolstasie probeer ons hulp kry. Nee, dis ‘n openbare vakansiedag in Macedonië, dis Vrydag en hulp gaan moeilik wees.

Ons staan nog so en kopkrap toe drie jong en gawe Romeniërs op hulle duur Ducati motorfietse ons so bekyk en weet hierdie twee oumense het hulp nodig. Die twee jong ingenieurs en een notaris, se hande jeuk om in ‘n masjien rond te krap. Die Ducati Angels.

Vir twee ure probeer hulle alles. Maak Silwer se binnegoed heeltemal oop en doen verskeie intelligente diagnoses waarvan ons niks snap nie. Alles in baie goeie luim en baie lag tot dit amper donker is. Maar die probleem word nie juis opgelos nie. Dis óf die alternator óf die regulator, sê hulle. Ons neem hartstogtelik afskeid van hulle en met ‘n battery wat weer gelaai is sal ons dit maak tot in die stad, sê hulle.

Die intog in Bitola is ‘n verskrikking met slegte paaie en aftakeling. Kommunistiese reste. Ons verdwaal in die verloopte nou straatjies en betaal later ‘n taxi om ons tot by die Teatar Hotel te neem. In die agterbuurtes lyk dit. Agter die mure is dit toe ‘n verrassing met ‘n mooi binnehof waar ons Silwer en Blou mag parkeer. Binne minute het die mooi en gawe Ivana ‘n mechanic en twee assistente daar en word Silwer se binnegoed weer oopgemaak en getoets. Dis die regulator sê die mechanic met die rooi overall. Big problem, sal een van Skopje moet bestel en dit sal eers Maandag daar wees.

Saterdagoggend gaan verken ons gou die middedorp en dit is ‘n verrassing met mooi wandelgange, ou moskees en kerke, parke en sjiek winkels. Dit lyk asof almal hier vreedsaam lewe.

Ons los vir Silwer net daar in die binnehof, laai oornagsakkies, ons bagasie gaan in stoor en ons val met Blou in die pad na Ohrid, so 80km verder. Weer ‘n woudpad en oor twee bergpasse. En deur ‘n verwaarloosde groot dorp met die slegste paaie wat ons nog ooit gery het.

Oor Ohrid kan ‘n mens verhale skryf, foto-essays maak wat ek later sal blog. Vir twee dae loop ons in verwondering rond, klim berge oor na vestings en kloosters, dwaal in die nou gangetjies, sit by restourante op die waterfront, of ry uit na klein dorpies aan die oewer van die meer. Vir die gemaklike woonstel aan ‘n huis betaal ons R150 per nag. Blou het selfs sy eie prieël waaronder sy parkeer. Vir goeie etes betaal ons minder as R80.00 saam.

Maandagmiddag kry ons die tyding via Ivana dat die onderdeel gekom het, but regret to inform you that it didn’t work. Ons begin rondvra na ‘n plaaslike mechanic. ‘n Gawe man neem ons die agterstrate in tot by Petro wie se werkswinkel sommer daar in ‘n stegie tussen rommel is.

Hy versien almal se skoeters en bootmasjiene in die dorp. Lyk soos ‘n Griekse filmster met spanner– en vonkproptatoos op sy bo-arms. Hy sal ons kan help. Maar ons moet vir Silwer gaan haal. In Bitola wat 80km ver is. Hy stuur ons weg met ‘n klaargelaaide spaarbattery. Vir ingeval.

Dit is toe ons die wolkbreek in die berge tref. Sien dit kom. ‘n Swart wolk wat van die hemel tot die aarde strek. Eers gedink ons sal in die reën kan ry, maar toe tref dit ons volspoed. Reëndruppels soos albasters, en net so hard. Ons hou onder ‘n brug stil. Oral trek motors af en almal waai vir ons. En vra of ons ok is. Hoe verduidelik ‘n mens?

In Bitola ruil ons battery om, laai die bagasie, en begin ry sonder om remme of flikkers of hooflig te gebruik. Dit gebruik te veel krag. Halfpad is die battery pap en moet ons ruil…

Petro probeer ou gebruikte Honda regulators, maar nie een wil werk nie. Kom uiteindelik agter dat dit toe nooit die regulator was nie, maar die alternator. Enigste oplossing is dat hy een van Griekeland moet bestel, maar die Grieke het nou weer ‘n openbare vakansiedag. Hy gaan maar die volgende dag self die 300km Thessaloniki toe ry…

Nog ‘n dag se wag en ons ry ander rigtings. Klim meer berge uit na grotkerkies. Drink koffie by restourante wat oor die water hang. En toe kom die boodskap. Binne ‘n uur is Silwer reg! Petro is die groot held in die verhaal. Hy wys ons sy Honda motorfiets waarmee hy tot 270km per uur ry. Waarmee hy die altenator by Honda gain

Hierdie paar dae het my laat dink aan die boek Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Ons eie reis in en deur Macedonië met Silwer en Blou. Ons persoonlike storie en reis deur ‘n landskap van verwondering, terugslae, afwagting, liefdes, aanvaarding en die fundamentele goedheid van mense. En die klein dingetjies wat ons vorentoe laat reis.

Dit was ‘n silwer Vrydag met weerspieëlings van wolke, berge en kerke op water tot amper aan die einde van die dag. Toe Silwer by die doeanehek na Macedonië vrek. Pap battery.

In ons koppe is ons nog in die hoogtes van die berge wat die Prespamere omring, die ou juniperwoude, eilande, voetslaanpaaie, vergete dorpe, ou kloosters en nog meer weerkaatsings. En nou dit. Op hierdie oomblik van aankoms.

Met al die formaliteite afgehandel en die paspoorte terug in ons sakke, stoot ons ou siek Silwer tot in die koelte van die naaste boom, pluk die batterykabels uit en kry hom weer aan die gang. Maar na ‘n paar kilometers op die pad na Bitola vrek hy weer. Skroef alles weer oop, kabels, rev vir ‘n paar minute en weg is ons weer. By die eerste petrolstasie probeer ons hulp kry. Nee, dis ‘n openbare vakansiedag in Macedonië, dis Vrydag en hulp gaan moeilik wees.

Ons staan nog so en kopkrap toe drie jong en gawe Romeniërs op hulle duur Ducati motorfietse ons so bekyk en weet hierdie twee oumense het hulp nodig. Die twee jong ingenieurs en een notaris, se hande jeuk om in ‘n masjien rond te krap. Die Ducati Angels.

Vir twee ure probeer hulle alles. Maak Silwer se binnegoed heeltemal oop en doen verskeie intelligente diagnoses waarvan ons niks snap nie. Alles in baie goeie luim en baie lag tot dit amper donker is. Maar die probleem word nie juis opgelos nie. Dis óf die alternator óf die regulator, sê hulle. Ons neem hartstogtelik afskeid van hulle en met ‘n battery wat weer gelaai is sal ons dit maak tot in die stad, sê hulle.

Die intog in Bitola is ‘n verskrikking met slegte paaie en aftakeling. Kommunistiese reste. Ons verdwaal in die verloopte nou straatjies en betaal later ‘n taxi om ons tot by die Teatar Hotel te neem. In die agterbuurtes lyk dit. Agter die mure is dit toe ‘n verrassing met ‘n mooi binnehof waar ons Silwer en Blou mag parkeer. Binne minute het die mooi en gawe Ivana ‘n mechanic en sommer twee assistente daar en word Silwer se binnegoed weer oopgemaak en getoets. Dis die regulator sê die mechanic met die rooi overall. Big problem, sal een van Skopje moet bestel en dit sal eers Maandag daar wees.

Saterdagoggend gaan verken ons gou die middedorp en dit is ‘n verrassing met mooi wandelgange, ou moskees en kerke, parke en sjiek winkels. Dit lyk asof almal hier vreedsaam lewe.

Ons los vir Silwer net daar in die binnehof, laai oornagsakkies, ons bagasie gaan in stoor en ons val met Blou in die pad na Ohrid, so 80km verder. Weer ‘n woudpad en oor twee bergpasse. En deur ‘n verwaarloosde groot dorp met die slegste paaie wat ons nog ooit gery het.

Oor Ohrid kan ‘n mens verhale skryf, foto-essays maak wat ek later sal blog. Vir twee dae loop ons in verwondering rond, klim berge oor na vestings en kloosters, dwaal in die nou gangetjies, sit by restourante op die waterfront, of ry uit na klein dorpies aan die oewer van die meer. Vir die gemaklike woonstel aan ‘n huis betaal ons R150 per nag. Blou het selfs sy eie prieël waaronder sy parkeer. Vir goeie etes betaal ons minder as R80.00 saam.

Maandagmiddag kry ons die tyding via Ivana dat die onderdeel gekom het, but regret to inform you that it didn’t work. Ons begin rondvra na ‘n plaaslike mechanic. ‘n Gawe man neem ons die agterstrate in tot by Petro wie se werkswinkel sommer daar op die sypaadjie is.

Hy versien almal se skoeters en bootmasjiene in die dorp. Lyk soos ‘n Griekse filmster met spanner- en vonkproptatoos op sy bo-arms. Hy sal ons kan help. Maar ons moet vir Silwer gaan haal. In Bitola wat 80km ver is. Hy stuur ons weg met ‘n klaargelaaide spaarbattery. Vir ingeval.

Dit is toe ons die wolkbreek in die berge tref. Sien dit kom. ‘n Swart wolk wat van die hemel tot die aarde strek. Eers gedink ons sal in die reën kan ry, maar toe tref dit ons volspoed. Reëndruppels soos albasters, en net so hard. Ons hou onder ‘n brug stil. Oral trek motors af en almal waai vir ons. En vra of ons ok is. Hoe verduidelik ‘n mens?

In Bitola ruil ons battery om, laai die bagasie, en begin ry sonder om remme of flikkers of hooflig te gebruik. Dit gebruik te veel krag. Halfpad is die battery pap en moet ons ruil…

Petro probeer ou gebruikte Honda regulators, maar nie een wil werk nie. Kom uiteindelik agter dat dit toe nooit die regulator was nie, maar die alternator. Enigste oplossing is dat hy een van Griekeland moet bestel, maar die Grieke het nou weer ‘n openbare vakansiedag. Hy gaan maar die volgende dag self die 300km Thessaloniki toe ry…

Nog ‘n dag se wag en ons ry ander rigtings. Klim meer berge uit na grotkerkies. Drink koffie by restourante wat oor die water hang. En toe kom die boodskap. Binne ‘n uur is Silwer reg! Petro is die groot held in die verhaal. Hy wys ons sy Honda motorfiets waarmee hy tot 270km per uur ry. Waarmee hy die altenator by Honda in Thessaloniki gaan haal het, 600km heen en weer.

Weer en weer het ons en die kavalkade van vrolike engele te doen met die warmte, goedheid en medemenslikheid van die mense van die Balkan. Hier waar ons so tuis en veilig voel. Ons waardeer hulle aardsheid en opregtheid… en hulle liefde vir helderkleurige rose en ander blomme. Al is dit soms van plastiek.

 

Road side shrine high up in the mountains. Early morning

Always a view in Macedonia

The combination of wheat and poppies an old favourite

The first of many off-road trips near the Prespa lakes to deliver pizzas

A colony of pelicans on a man made island against the backdrop of the lake, mountains and clouds

To experience the rare juniper forests a real treat

A day of reflections

Ekklisia Agios Georgios, the ancient church of St George, among the junipers

Just one f the many beautiful indigenous flowers

Walking, walking, walking… Always with the lakes and mountains in the distance

We couldn’t get enough of the synergy of water, clouds, mountains and reflections

Beans are an integral part of the Macedonian cuisine.

The long pontoon bridge to the island of Achillios with its five old churches and ruins

The massive clouds are like gods hovering above us.

The dramatic ruins of the Saint Achilles basilica on the island was founded in ca. 986-990 by tsar Samuel of Bulgaria.

A traditional lunch at a lonely and quite road side taverna. Stuffed peppers, always Greek salad with local cheese. Bread always included.

There are war monuments everywhere – the local partisans against Nazis during WW2. A pity we couldn’t read the inscriptions.

And road side shrines every kilometer

The sad town of Akritas. Neglected and deserted. What could have happened here?

Another border. Why are we always nervous at a custom post? We didn’t do anything wrong…? FYROM is the official name for Macedonia – Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. And this is where Silver’s battery died for the first time…

Jumpers out again! Rev,Anuta, rev!

The Ducati Angels from Bucharest

Bitola. We were invited to park Silver and Blue in the Teatar Hotel’s courtyard

View from our hotel window

The colourful courtyard with the Ottoman-style hotel building. We spent hours here chatting to strangers from all over while the hotel staff spoiled us.

Traditional Macedonian breakfast with different kinds of yogurts, pickled peppers… and our favourite Ajvar – a sweet pepper spread. Delicious. We sometimes use it in pasta.

The chic pedestrian mall of Bitola with churches and mosques standing peacefully next to each other.

Bitola was known to the ancient world as Heraclea Lyncestis, a city founded by Phillip II of Macedonia (father of Alexander the Great). He was born nearby in Pella. Today, Bitola is real mix of old and new, where Ottoman constructions and ancient ruins intermingle with modern office buildings.

The impresive dome and minaret of one of the many mosques in Bitola

T

There are many other statues on Magnolia Square. Wish we could read the Cyrillics…

Twin boys sprinkled us with water before entering the Orthodox church on Pentecost Saturday

The cloud burst. Even cars took shelter under a bridge. Our waterproof rain clothes didn’t help much.

Friendly and helpful Annamarija from the hotel, and Dian, the Bitola mechanic

And this is from where Petro operates his workshop

The most welcome tattoo ever!

And just in case…

Petro Godza, our hero!

 

A meeting with Zeus and a poet/Ontmoeting met Zeus en ‘n digter

A meeting with Zeus and a poet/Ontmoeting met Zeus en ‘n digter

It rained through the night. Softly on the tiled roof. We woke every now and then to listen and heard the water gurgling in the gutters and running down the stairs. To the street and the sea.

Like every morning in Agios Ioannis, our home in the Pelion, I got up at five o’clock to see whether day was already breaking over the Aegean Sea. But there was just a grey curtain of rain. From horizon to horizon. Not good news. We had to leave early and cross the steep mountain pass to Volos. One sharp bend after another in dark, cold forests, through little villages, uphill and past sheer drops. And all that in the rain.

When you set out for distant Ithaca,
fervently wish your journey may be long, —
full of adventures and with much to learn.

Minutes before departure the rain stopped. The clouds cleared. Sunshine and blue sky. The cavalcade of happy angels were with us once again. A journey under branches heavy with rain drops. The smell of wet forests. Here and there a wisp of mist. We pulled back on the throttles and leaned into every turn. This way and that. Sometimes we had to put out a leg for balance if the turn was too sharp as we climbed higher.

Of the Laestrygones and the Cyclopes,
of the angry god Poseidon, have no fear:
these you shall not encounter, if your thought
remains at all times lofty, — if select
emotion touches you in body and spirit.

We climbed the 1300m with ease. Then the sharp downhill to Volos, a smallish harbour city was also easy. We left the Pelion region behind us. The mountains, beaches and pretty coastal villages. So different from the dry, white island advertisements for Greece.

Once we were on the main route to Olympus nothing could stop us any more. Zeus and the gods were waiting for us. At times we opened up and did 100kmph. No wind in our hair because we were covered from head to toe in our rain gear against the possibility of cold and wet. The open landscape could just as well have been somewhere in South Africa. Farmland. Decay was all around, but never plastic pollution and rubbish. The towns reminded of our towns in the 50’s and 60’s. Square houses. Garden gate with a cement path to the front door. Dahlias, roses. Later followed the olive groves as far as they eye could see and up the mountain sides. The closer we got to Olympos, the more water and fertile soil. The GPS took us along back roads, across low level bridges and strange turns to Leptokarya. At the foot of Mt Olympus – the highest mountain in Greece and home to twelve gods.

Fervently wish your journey may be long.
May they be numerous — the summer mornings
when, pleased and joyous, you will be anchoring
in harbours you have never seen before.

Since earliest times people have stood in amazement before this 2918m high magical mountain with its 52 rocky peaks, deep valleys and dense forests. A place of exceptional beauty, bio-diversity and ecology. Home to Zeus, the Muses, Hades, Poseidon, Apollo, Dionyses …

At every stage bear Ithaca in mind.
The arrival there is your appointed lot.

The next morning I was awake early again and in preparation I began reading parts of Homer’s Iliad in which Olympus is clearly described – a very old acropolis, a fortress and palaces below the peaks. The golden gates of the heavenly fort were guarded by three Horea – the godesses of the seasons. The buildings were built of stone with bronze foundations. The courtyards had pavements of gold.

But hurry not the voyage in the least:
’twere better if you travelled many years
and reached your island home in your old age,
being rich in riches gathered on the way,
and not expecting more from Ithaca.

The weather was bright and we took off on Silver on the road to Litochoro, the closest village to Olympus. Blue stayed behind in small backyard workshop to have the loose brake handle replaced. We visited the information center where we got a very good overview of the mountain.

And it was there, in that information centre that I read a quotation from the poem by Contantine P. Cavafy (1863 – 1933), Inthaka.

Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey.
Without her you would not have set out.
She has nothing left to give you now.

And then the climb began. At first there were dense shrubs and small trees like the miniature oak, Judas tree, maples and the plentiful yellow broom glowing against the green of the forests. Later, as we climbed higher we found fir, pine, birch, wild cherries, elm … a wonderful collection which created a soft roof over the road as it climbed to 1300m and became freezing.

 Stay at the populous Phoenician marts,
and make provision of good merchandise;
coral and mother of pearl; and ebony
and amber; and voluptuous perfumes
of every kind, in lavish quantity.
Sojourn in many a city of the Nile,
and from the learned learn and learn amain
.

We stopped every now and then to listen to the silence and rushing of the mountain. To look at the sheer drops and ravines. Waterfalls. Cliffs. Textures. Rocks. The overwhelming forests. And then to look up to where Zeus awaited. In the marble portals. In the clouds.

Halfway we visited the sad St Dionysos-in-Olympus monastery. Bombed twice by the Nazis because resistance fighters and insurgents operated from there. One small part has been restored. And the other part? I suspect they just gave up.

Zeus decided that he would not grant us an audience. He threw down a fork of lightning or two and it suddenly began to rain. We took cover for an hour or more under the roof of a souvenier shop and waited for it to abate. Later we decided to ride in the rain and arrived back home, totally drenched.

The next day the mountain was just one mass of cloud. No audience today. We went to Dion, the remains of the ancient and sacred golden city of Zeus, the gods and the Macedonians. We spent hours going through the museum and the ruins and streams of water flowing from the mountain. The refinement and sophistication of a BC civilisation weighed on our spiritis. To think that it has all been lost.

We stopped along the way back and asked to buy fresh cherries from folks picking them in an orchard.

Our last day to meet with Zeus arrived. A bright day with clouds here and there, also covering Olympus. We left early and watched and watched. The peak remained covered. We climbed the previous road and continued to where the road ends at Priònia. The summit still covered by clouds.

Suddenly Anuta said: Look, look, it’s clearing!

And for a moment we saw Olympus. In that moment we met with Zeus. The god who holds forks of lightning in his one hand.

We turned and rode downhill. I watched the mountain in my rear view mirror. The crown of clouds about its head grew mightier and mightier as the consulations between the gods was resumed.

Ithaca gave you the delightful voyage:
without her you would never have set out:
and she has nothing else to give you now.

And though you should find her wanting, Ithaca
will not surprise you; for you will arrive
wise and experienced, having long since perceived
the unapparent sense in Ithacas.

Postscript

A day later we met Estelle du Toit and Johan Adler in Thessaloniki for dinner. They have been living there for years. I mentioned to them the beautiful quotation from Cavafy’s poem Inthaka. In another serendipitous moment, it turned out that Estelle had done her Master’s dissertation on Cavafy.

Again this delightful journey to Olympus was not about the arrival at the destination. Not about the meeting with Zeus. But it was about the experience and chance meetings along the way. Light falling through a leaf for a moment, a monk in black hurriedly disappearing through a door, a bowl at a spring, a marble statue’s reflection in water … And we are enriched by all that we acquired along the way.

Ontmoeting met Zeus en ‘n digter

Dit het die hele nag gereën. Sag op die teëldak. Ons het kort-kort wakker geword om te luister. Dan hoor ons water in die geute ritsel en by die trappe afspoel. Straat en see toe.

Ek staan vyfuur op om te kyk of die dag al oor die Egeïse See breek, soos elke oggend in Agios Ioannis, ons tuiste in die Pelion. Maar dit is ‘n grys reëngordyn. Van horison tot horison. Dit is nie goeie nuus nie. Ons moet vroeg vertrek en die stywe bergpas na Volos oorsteek. Die een skerp draai op die ander in donker koue woude, deur klein dorpies, by steiltes uit en verby afgronde. En dit in die reën.

Wanneer jy vertrek na Ithaka
Versoek dat jou reis lank sal duur
vol avontuur en aanwysing.

Minute voor ons vertrek hou dit op met reën. Die lug trek oop. Sonskyn en blou lug. Die kavalkade van vrolike engele weer met ons. Die reis word ‘n tog onder swaar takke wat swaar van die druppels hang. Die reuk van nat woude. Hier en daar ‘n ligte misbank. En ons trek die petrol oop en gooi ons lywe om elke draai. Diekant toe. Daaikant toe. Soms moet jy een been uitsteek vir balans as die draai te skerp teen die skuinstes is.

Moenie bang wees
vir die Leistrigone, Siklope
of die woedende Poseidon nie:
jy sal dit nooit vind nie
solank jou gedagtes vlietend is, solank
‘n vreemde gevoel jou gees en liggaam aanraak.

Ons het die 1300m maklik en bruisend uitgeklim en die skerp afdaal na Volos, ‘n kleinerige hawestad, was ook maklik. Ons laat die Pelionstreek agter. Die berge, strande en mooi kusdorpies. So anders as die droë en wit eilandadvertensies van Griekeland.

Toe ons op die grootpad na Olympus land, kon niks ons meer keer nie. Zeus en die gode wag op ons. Ons trek oop en ry soms 100kpu. Geen wind in ons hare nie, want ons is heeltemal teen koue en moontlike reën bedek. Die oop landskap kon net sowel iewers in Suid-Afrika gewees het. Boerderygrond. Verval oral te sien, maar nooit plastiekbesoedeling en rommel nie. Die dorpe het iets van ons dorpe in die 50’s en 60’s. Vierkantige huise. Hekkie met ‘n sementpaadjie tot by die voordeur. Dahlias. Rose. Later kom die olyfboorde so ver soos die oog kan sien en teen die berge uit. Hoe nader aan Mt Olympus, hoe meer water en vrugbare grond. Die GPS neem ons deur agterpaaie, oor vlakwaterbrûe en vreemde draaie tot op in Leptokarya. Aan die voet van Mt Olympus – die hoogste berg in Griekeland en tuiste van twaalf antieke gode.

Vra dat jou pad lank mag wees.
Jy het menige somerdagbreek om binne te gaan
-met watter dankbaarheid en met watter vreugde
om hawes vir die eerste keer te sien:

Vanaf die vroegste tye het mense in bewondering voor hierdie 2918m hoë magiese berg met sy 52 rotsige pieke, diep valleie en digte woude gestaan. ‘n Plek van buitengewone skoonheid, bio-diversiteit en ekologie. Waar Zeus woon, die Muses, Hades, Poseidon, Apollo, Dionyses…

Bewaar Ithaka vir altyd in jou gedagtes.
Jou aankoms daar is waarvoor jy bestem is.

Die volgende oggend is ek weer vroeg wakker en begin ter voorbereiding gedeeltes uit Homer se Iliad lees waarin Olympus duidelik beskryf word – ‘n baie ou akropolis, ‘n vesting en paleise onder die pieke. Die goue hekke van die hemelse fort is deur drie Horea bewaak – die godinne van die seisoene. Die geboue is van klip met brons fondamente. Die binnehowe het goue sypaadjies.

Maar moet beslis nie die reis aanjaag nie.
Dit is beter dat dit vir jare talm, voortdobber
sodat wanneer jy die eiland bereik, jy reeds oud is,
ryk met wat jy langs die pad verwerf het,
met geen verwagting dat Ithaka jou sal verryk nie.

Die weer is stralend en ons val met Silwer in die pad na Litochoro, die dorp naaste aan Olympus. Blou is vir die dag by ‘n klein agterplaas werkswinkeltjie sodat die een los remhandvatsel reggemaak kan word. Ons besoek die inligtingsentrum waar ons ‘n baie goeie oorsig kry oor die berg.

En dit is hier, in hierdie inligtingsentrum waar ek ‘n aanhaling uit Constantine P. Cavafy (1863 – 1933) se gedig Inthaka lees.

Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey.
Without her you would not have set out.
She has nothing left to give you now.

Toe begin die klim. Eers is dit digte struike en klein bome soos ‘n dwerg eik, Judasboom, esdorings en die oorvloedige en geel besembos wat teen die groen van die woude gloei. Later, soos ons al hoe hoër slinger word dit spar, plataan, denne, beuke, wilde kersies, elm… ‘n wonderlike versameling wat ‘n digte dak skep soos die pad later oor die 1300 klim en dit ysig koud word.

om te vertoef by die Fenisiese handelsentra
om goeie ware te koop,
pêrel en koraal, amber en eboniet,
sensuele parfuums van elke soort,
oordadig welriekende parfuums soveel as wat jy begeer;
besoek vele Egiptiese stede,
om argiewe vol kennis van geleerdes te versamel.

Kort-kort hou ons stil om na die bergstiltes en suisings te luister. Na die afgronde en klowe te kyk. Watervalle. Kranse. Teksture. Rotse. Die oorweldigende woude. En dan op kyk na waar Zeus op ons wag. In die marmerportale. In die wolke.

Halfpad besoek ons die hartseer St Dionysos-in-Olympusklooster. Twee keer deur die Nazi’s gebombardeer omdat daar plaaslikes en insurgente geskuil het. Een deel is gerestoureer, die ander deel? Ek dink hulle het moed verloor.

Zeus besluit hy staan ons nie ‘n oudiënsie toe nie. Hy slaan ‘n blits of twee en dit begin onverwags reën. Ons staan vir ‘n uur of meer onder ‘n dak en wag tot dit minder word. Besluit later om in die reën te ry en kom ons druipnat by die huis.

Die volgende dag is die berg een wolkemassa. Geen oudiënsie vandag nie. Ons gaan na Dion, die oorblyfsels van die antieke en heilige goue stad van Zeus, die gode en die Masedoniërs. Ons bring ure daar deur in die museum en tussen die ruïnes en strome water wat van die berg af vloei. Die verfyndheid en ontwikkeling van die beskawing reeds VC, maak ons bedruk. Dat dit tot niet gegaan het.

Ons stop langs die pad terug huis toe en vra om vars kersies te koop waar dit in ‘n boord gepluk word.

Ons laaste dag om Zeus te ontmoet breek aan. ‘n Stralende dag met wolke hier en daar, ook oor Olympus. Ons ry vroeg en kyk en kyk. Die kruin bly toe. Ons klim weer en verder tot waar die pad doodloop by Priònia. Die kruin bly steeds toe onder die wolke.

Skielik sê Anuta: Kyk, kyk, dit trek oop!

Vir ‘n oomblik sien ons Olympus. In daardie oomblik ontmoet ons vir Zeus. Die god wat in sy een hand weersligstrale vashou.

Ons ry terug. Ek hou die berg in my truspieël dop. Die wolkekroon om sy kop groei magtiger en magtiger soos die beraadslaging tussen gode hervat word.

Ithaka het aan jou daardie skitterende reis gegee.
Sonder haar sou jy nooit begin het nie.
Sy het niks anders om jou aan te bied nie.
En as jy haar arm vind, het Ithaka jou nie mislei nie.
Hoe wys het jy nie uit ondervinding geword nie,
want kyk, jy verstaan al reeds wat hierdie Ithakas beteken.

Naskrif

‘n Dag later ontmoet ons vir Estelle du Toit en Johan Adler vir ete in Thessaloniki, waar hulle alreeds vir jare woon. Ek noem aan hulle van die mooi aanhaling uit Cavafy se gedig Inthaka. In hierdie grote wêreld vertel Estelle dat sy haar Meestersgraad oor Cavafy gedoen het. En gee sy my ‘n afskrif van Joan Hambidge se Afrikaanse verwerking en vertaling van die gedig.

Weer word hierdie skitterende reis na Olympus nie die aankoms by die eindbestemming nie. Die ontmoeting met Zeus nie. Maar gaan dit oor die ondervinding en terloopse ontmoetings tydens die reis. Lig wat vir ‘n oomblik deur ‘n blaar val, ‘n priester in swart wat vinnig agter ‘n deur verdwyn, ‘n skepbeker by ‘n fontein, ‘n marmerbeeld se weerkaatsing in water… En is ons ryker met alles wat ons langs die pad verwerf het.

Day 1/Dag 1

Zeus, the king of the gods of Mt Olympus – the god of sky and thunder

The sad Monastery of St Dionysius-in-Olympus – bombed twice by Nazis during WWII. A living monastery for over 500 years with spiritual influence as far afield as Russia. Razed in 1821 by the son of Ali Pashar and the monks hanged on the central square of Larissa. Served as a refuge for Greek fighters.

Restored church

Inside the church

Drinking bowl at spring in the monastery complex

Restored church on left and partially restored surrounding buildings on right

Revered icon of Mary holding the Child to her right

Mt Olympus refused to show her face…

Dag 2/Day 2

On the way to Dion, the dirt road flanked by sweet-smelling broom

The pretty village of Litochoro in the foothills of Olympus. Church of St Nicolaus on the central square

A gorge leading up to Mt Olympus

Church of St Nicolaus, Pitochoro

Rich detail

Visit to The Archeological Museum in Dion and the Archeological Park – half swamp, half ancient city – containing remains of sanctuaries to the gods. In 334 BC Alexander the Great assembled his great armies here and performed magnificent sacrifices here on the eve of his campaign into Asia – these sacrifices aimed at encouraging the men.

Dion Museum. Sanctuary of Isis. Statue of Aphrodite (2nd C BC)

The iconic mosaic, Medusa’s head, in Dionysus’s sanctuary.

Dag 3/Day 3

The plains of Dion between the mountain and the sea. Phillip II and Alexander the Great celebrated their victories and assembled their armies here.

One last try to see the face of the mountain

One is constantly aware of the broom and its sweet perfume

It’s wonderful to ride through the dark forests.

Still covered by clouds

The mist is lifting!

 

Indeed!

So many textures surround you.

A photograph cannot capture the grandeur.

At last! The gods have taken a break in their deliberations…

… and there it is in all its majesty!

Time to move on

The new Monastery of St Dionesius-in-Olympus. The monks wisely chose a new site lower down where the weather is friendlier.

Meteora. Suspended in the heavens above/Meteora. Hangende uit die hemel bokant ons

Meteora. Suspended in the heavens above/Meteora. Hangende uit die hemel bokant ons

We could see Meteora from far off. The enormous formations of monolithic pillars between huge rounded rocks. There was big excitement because we knew that on the top of six of those rock pillars stood monasteries. Meteora literally means in the sky, suspended in the heavens above.

It was a long hard day. We crossed the infamous Pindus Mountains with their great heights, dark forests, cold, and sharp bends on Silver and Blue. A whole 150km which took us seven hours. All in the knowledge that somewhere there are still wolves and bears prowling about after human flesh… In one of the stone villages Blue got stuck against a narrow and very steep incline and refused to go any further. It was a dangerous manoeuvre to turn her around without tipping over. Or sliding on the loose gravel. Fortunately, as always, our cavalcade of happy angels was there with us.

Talking about wolves, it’s really frightening when a sheepdog caring for his sheep or goats, storms after you on the scooter, snapping jaws and angry growls very close to your calves as you try to get away as fast as you can.

With our final descent Meteora lay before us. Next to Mt Athos, the most important monastic complex of the Eastern Orthodox monasteries. Today there are only seven of the original 24 left. All situated high up and safe against attackers.

We quickly settled in at Zozas Hotel and, in spite of our tiredness, immediately took off to explore the complex. The grandeur and expanse is hard to describe. The road circled and swept to the top where the panorama opened up before one. It’s unthinkable that those huge monasteries could have been built on those pillars. Everything and everyone had to be hoisted up in woven rope nets with a pulley. Bricks, stones, rafters, roof tiles, everything. Today hundreds of steps must be climbed to the top.

Some of the daring scenes with Roger Moore in For his eyes only were filmed at the Agia Triada. He had to climb up the rock face to a deserted monastery. Nail biting stuff. His two sidekicks were hoisted up in rope baskets. Remember? They say that the monks didn’t want to give their permission to film in the monasteries, but the mayor of Kalambaka hoped that it would give tourism a boost.

In the 9th Century a group of ascetic monks came to settle on the pillars. The heights and the upright cliffs kept visitors away. These hermits lead a life of loneliness and prayer. By the end of the 12th Century the first real monastery was established. It offered a safe haven against the attacks by the Turks.

Over the coming days we visited most of the monasteries. Which meant that we first had to climb down the nearest valley and then climb up to the top. Anuta was obliged to wear her knee guards. And then the velcro straps would get stuck to each other and tear apart, loudly, … But we climbed to the top along with all the out of breath folks from all over the world. It resembled the tower of Babel up there with all the languages being spoken. The frescoes are in amazing condition because they were never exposed to any enemies.

Riding out early that morning, Meteora remained with me: the legends, history, hermit monks, frescoes, bells, chapels … and also the experience of hanging suspended from the heavens for a couple of days.

 Meteora. Hangende uit die hemel bokant ons

Ons het Meteora van ver gesien. Die yslike formasie van monolitiese pilare tussen groot ronde rotse. Die opwinding was groot, want ons het geweet op ses van daardie rotspilare staan daar elk ‘n klooster. Meteora beteken letterlik in die hemel, hangende uit die hemel bokant ons.

Dit was ‘n harde lang dag. Ons het met Silwer en Blou die berugte Pindus-gebergte met sy groot hoogtes, donker woude, koue, en skerp draaie oorkruis. ‘n Hele 150km wat ons sewe ure geneem het. Dit alles met die wete dat daar iewers wolwe en bere rondsluip op soek na mensvleis. In een van die klipdorpies moes ons ‘n nou en steil opdraand uit en Blou steek halfpad vas. Dit was ‘n gevaarlike maneuver om haar nie te laat kantel met die omdraai nie. Of om op die los gruis te gly nie. Gelukkig was ons kawalkade van vrolike engele soos altyd met ons.

Praat van wolwe. ‘n Skrikwekkende ervaring is wanneer ‘n hond-skaapwagter jou bestorm om sy skape teen jou en die skoeter te beskerm. Jy kry byna nie vir hulle weggery nie en dis net happende kake en tande hier langs kuite. Jou bloed stol onmiddellik.

Met die finale afdaal lê Meteora voor ons. Naas Mt Athos, die belangrikste kloosterkompleks van die Oostelike Ortdokse kloosters. Vandag is daar net sewe van die oorspronklike 24 oor. Almal hoog en veilig beskerm teen aanvallers.

Ons het vinnig nes geskop in Zozas Hotel en ten spyte van die moegheid dadelik die pad gevat en die kompleks gaan verken. Die grootsheid en wydheid is moeilik om te beskryf. Die pad het opgesirkel en opgeswaai tot bo van waar die panorama voor jou lê. Dit is ontdenkbaar hoe die reuse kloosters bo op die pilare gebou is. Alles en almal is met mandjies tot bo gehys. Bakstene, balke, dakteëls, de lot. Vandag word honderde trappe uitgeklim om tot bo te kom.

By die Agia Triada is van die waaghalstonele met Roger Moore in For his eyes only geskiet. Hy moes teen die rotswande uitklouter na ‘n verlate klooster. Naelskouend. Sy twee luitenante is met gevlegde toumandjies opgetrek. Onthou julle? Daar word vertel dat die monnike nie toestemming wou gee dat daar in die kloosters geskiet moes word nie, maar die burgemeester van Kalambaka het gehoop dit sou toerisme ‘n hupstoot gee.

In die 9de eeu NC het ‘n groep asketiese monnike bo op die pilare kom bly. Die hoogtes en die regop kranse het besoekers weggehou. Hierdie hermiete het ‘n lewe van eensaamheid en aanbidding gelei. Teen die einde van die 12de eeu NC is die eerste volwaardige klooster gestig. Dit was ‘n veilige hawe teen die aanvalle van die Turke.

Vir die volgende dae het ons die meeste kloosters besoek. Wat beteken het ons moes eers afklim na die naaste vallei en dan opklim tot bo. Anuta moes noodgewonge haar kniestutte aantrek. Dan haak die velcro van die twee stutte aan mekaar… Maar ons het dit saam met al die uitasem mense van oor die hele wêreld uitgeklim. Dit was omtrent soos die toring van Babel met al die tale daarbo. Die fresko’s is in ‘n wonderbaarlike toestand omdat dit nie aan vyande blootgestel was nie.

Met die wegry vroeg die oggend bly Meteora by my. Die legendes, geskiedenis, hermitiese monnike, fresko’s, klokke, kapelle… En ook dat jy vir ‘n paar dae vanuit die hemel gehang het.

A short cut on a very steep dirt road can be very challenging

The mountains are covered in dense, dark forests. Anything near and above 2000m was freezing.

Picnic time along the way

Bread, cheese and fried pancake with feta

Our first sighting of Meteora with lots of broom and lovely scent

As we got closer, the full extent of the valley was breathtaking

The view from our balcony in the late light

The nunnery of St Rousanou

Fingers of rock reaching heavenwards

The nunnery from below

Valaam monastery

Last rays of the sun over the valley

Weathered travellers

Valaam monastery in the foreground with the Great Meteora monastery behind

Valaam with Rousanou below

A Valaam candle for our beloved friend Lidian who passed away in Belgium

A taxi driver offered to take a couple of pics – we seldom have photographs together

Rocks of ages

To protect her ailing knees…

Hundreds of stairs up and down again…

Visitors like hardworking ants

The nunnery from Valaam

Springtime brings flowers and perfumes

The belvedere at Valaam

Byzantium architecture at Valaam

In its day this vat held 12 000 litres of wine for thirsty monks

Belvedere roof

Detail is to be seen everywhere.

Part of monastic life is to eat in silence while listening to readings.

Part of the wide passages of Valaam

Detail of the ropes and chains used to hoist up people and supplies before the stairs were chipped into the rock in 1920

Naïve early frescoes

Exquisite frescoes

A sensory overload

An open area leading to the stairs to the church of the Great Meteora

Valaam as seen from the Great Meteora

Visitors gather to watch the sunset from the sunset lookout point

You can’t get enough of this view

Taverna where we enjoyed lamb and stuffed peppers

To access every monastery, first climb down into the valley and then up and up

The uphill grind to the Great Meteora

Chimneys on a monastery roof

A wayside shrine before the climb to Great Meteora

The final passage to Great Meteora

The Twelve Apostles at Great Meteora

The importance of Great Meteora is reflected in the minute detail, from gold plated wooden carvings to wood  and ivory inlay and beautiful brass detail of the church.

Stone and brick detail on the outside of the church

How do the monks find the time to pray and meditate with these views on all sides?

During WWII the Meteora complex was in the sights of the Nazis, but proved to be impenetrable.

Military costume displays in an excellent and extensive cultural history museum

The ossuary for the monks of Great Meteora

The blackened ancient kitchen with its original hearth and cauldrons. The array of cooking utensils an indication of the level of civilisation

Passage leading to the church

A monastery beggar

Surprisingly there is space for gardens on top of these pillars

Architectural detail on church dome

Iconic Agia Triada where the unforgettable scenes of For his eyes only were filmed

The Meteora rocks tower over the town of Kalambaka

Traditional wild spinach pie with cherries for another picnic lunch

 

Taking a short cut on steep dirt roads is a challenge

The bridges of Zigora County/Die brûe van Zigora

The bridges of Zigora County/Die brûe van Zigora

Greece isn’t only islands, blue sea, beaches, ancient ruins, philosopers and history. We discovered another lesser known Greece. Mighty mountains with the deepest valley in the world. Stone villages where time has stood still and only the seasons come and go. And the stone bridges of Zagori which we had only seen in photos.

Our journey from Venice was long. For 26 hours we were stuck on a fairly luxurious ferry, with Silver and Blue in the hold. The arrival at Igoumenitsa was easy and the GPS got us directly onto our route. The point of entry in a new country is always important to us, and the first smell was that of jasmine. Our welcoming smell. As we passed the first of many tavernas in that long, lazy harbour town, there were the smells of garlic, mutton on the spit and freshly baked bread. And then we knew: this first acquaintance with Greece is going to be a long standing affaire.

Anthoula, the owner of the Gouris Hotel in Tsepelovo, received us warmly at her coffee shop on the square and trotted ahead, through narrow stone alleys and steep inclines to show us the way to the little hotel. Later we wrote on Tripadvisor:

It must be any tourist’s dream to stay in a place like this. From the arrival at Anthoula’s coffee shop on the main square, along the stone streets, through the old gateway, up steps between various stone buildings on the property and finally the hotel s an experience in itself. It’s almost like a movie set, except that it’s very real and Anthoula isn’t playing a role. She is a real lady who must be the most hardworking person we have met. You meet her working her vegetable patch on your way down to the breakfast room. Breakfast is always plentiful with pots of filter coffee all prepared by her beforehand. Later in the day you will find her running her coffee shop on the square. During siesta she is washing the linen (which is beautiful, by the way) and cleaning rooms in preparation for new guests. Then she is back to the coffee shop until late. And always friendly and finds the time to exchange a few words wherever you meet her. This little hotel comes very highly recommended. It’s super clean, very comfortable. Everything works. Did I mention the tariffs? Amazing!

The coming days were filled with one surprise and adventure after another. Our main destination was the Vikos Gorge in the Pindus Mountains. It has a length of around 20km and the depth varies from 450m to 1600m. It’s deep. About three times the depth of the Fish River Canyon. For the few days we rode around there we were constantly aware of this chasm in the earth, because you see the impressive canyon walls all over. We walked to various lookout points to further admire the grandeur.

The 92 stone bridges of Zigora are another attraction. We tried to visit as many as possible. I couldn’t help remembering the gripping story of Eleni (by Nicholas Cage – not the third grade actor). His mother lived in one of these mountain villages which was overrun by the communists during WWII and was where she died before a firing squad. Cage took you to the heart of one of these villages. The destruction of the villages, the suffering, the climb over those mountains, the treks over valleys and rivers are still fresh in my memory.

And here I am, in the mountains, the valleys and crossing the bridges. In my mind’s eye I see Eleni crossing one of these bridges to look for food for her children.

Usually we delve into the history of a region. But here history is so densely layered that we didn’t even try. We simply allowed ourselves to become immersed in nature, the villages and the bridges.

 Die brûe van Zigora

Griekeland is nie net eilande, blou see, strande, antieke ruïnes, filosowe en geskiedenis nie. Ons het ‘n ander minder bekende Griekeland ontdek. Magtige berge met die diepste vallei in die wêreld. Klipdorpies waar tyd stilstaan en net die seisoene kom en gaan. En die klipbrûe van Zagori wat ons nog net in foto’s gesien het.

Ons reis vanaf Venesië was lank. Vir 26 uur was ons op ‘n redelik luukse veerboot vasgevang, met Silwer en Blou onder in die buik. Die aankoms en aflaai by Igoumenitsa was maklik en het die GPS ons dadelik die pad laat vat. The point of entry in ‘n nuwe land is altyd vir ons belangrik, en die eerste reuk wat ons kry is die van jasmyn. Ons welkomsreuk. Verby die eerste van baie tavernas in die lang, vaal en lui hawedorp is daar reuke van knoffel, skaapvleis op spit en vars gebakte brood. Toe weet ons. Hierdie eerste kennismaking met Griekeland gaan ‘n long standing affaire wees.

Natuurlik het ons nie geweet wat alles op ons gaan wag nie. Maar gou is ons in ons element toe Silwer en Blou die stil bergpaaie vat, so noord-oostelike rigting, na die Zagori-streek, na Tsepolovo waar ons vir ‘n paar dae gaan oorbly. Ons klim hoër en hoër met swaaie en draaie. Deur woude, verby olyfboorde, dooie slange wat platgetrap is, skilpaaie en later die klipdorpies waar huisies saamgebondel is. Ons lees daar is 46 van hierdie ou dorpies.

Anthoula, die eienares van die Gouris Hotel in Tsepolovo ontvang ons hartlik by haar koffiehuis op die plein en hardloop vooruit, deur nou klipgangetjies en steil opdraandes om ons na die hotelletjie te neem. Later skryf ons op Tripadvisor:

It must be any tourist’s dream to stay in a place like this. From the arrival at Anthoula’s coffee shop on the main square, along the stone streets, through the old gateway, up steps between various stone buildings on the property and finally the hotel s an experience in itself. It’s almost like a movie set, except that it’s very real and Anthoula isn’t playing a role. She is a real lady who must be the most hardworking person we have met. You meet her working her vegetable patch on your way down to the breakfast room. Breakfast is always plentiful with pots of filter coffee all prepared by her beforehand. Later in the day you will find her running her coffee shop on the square. During siesta she is washing the linen (which is beautiful, by the way) and cleaning rooms in preparation for new guests. Then she is back to the coffee shop until late. And always friendly and finds the time to exchange a few words wherever you meet her. This little hotel comes very highly recommended. It’s super clean, very comfortable. Everything works. Did I mention the tariffs? Amazing!

Die dae wat volg is gevul met die een verrassing en avontuur na die ander. Ons mikpunt was die Vikos Gorge in die Pindus gebergte. Dit het ‘n lengte van omtrent 20km en die diepte wissel van 450m tot 1600m. Dis diep. Omtrent drie keer die diepte van die Visrivier Canyon. Vir die paar dae wat ons daar rond gery het was ons die hele tyd bewus van skeur in die aarde, want jy sien die indrukwekkende wande oral. Ons het na verskeie uitkykpunte gestap om die grootsheid verder te bewonder.

Die 92 klipbrûe van Zigora is ‘n ander aantreklikheid. Ons het moeite gedoen om so veel as moontlik op te soek. Ek kon nie anders nie as om die aangrypende verhaal van Eleni (deur die skrywer Nicholas Cage, nie die derderangse akteur nie) te onthou. Sy moeder het in een van hierdie bergdorpies gewoon wat toe gedurende die Tweede Wêreldoorlog deur die kommuniste ingeneem is en waar sy voor ‘n vuurpeleton gesterf het. Cage het jou tot in die hart van een van hierdie dorpies geneem. Die verwoesting van die dorpies, die swaarkry, die klim oor daardie berge, die togte oor valleie en riviere kan ek steeds onthou.

En hier staan ek, in die berge, by die valleie, en stap oor die brûe. In my geestesoog sien ek Eleni oor een van hierdie brûe om kos vir haar kinders te gaan soek.

Gewoonlik delf ons in die geskiedenis van ‘n streek. Maar hier was die geskiedenis so dig laag op laag dat ons dit nie eens probeer het nie. Ons het die natuur, die dorpies en brûe net so oor ons laat spoel.

Ferry’s wake between Venice and Igoumenitsa

Tsepolovo

Our lovely hostess, Anthoula – such a lady and so hardworking!

The view from our balcony in Tsepelovo over stone covered roofs towards the valley and mountains to the south

The lovely town square just after the rain – the quiet before the storm of high season. The giant tree on the left is estimated to be 300 years old and shelters most of the square.

The view towards the old church tower in Tsepelovo. All buildings, including roofing, road surfaces and the square constructed of stone

Straight ahead is the breakfast room and above left is our room. Pots of flowers everywhere, just waiting for the final push to summer

Our welcoming drink and snack, served in front of Anthoula’s coffee house

 

One rainy afternoon in the coffee house – all the old chaps get together for a very long drawn-out drink of tea or ouzo and card playing.

Central walkway in local cemetery. Graves don’t indicate year of birth, only death and then the age which in many cases is between 88 and 94 years!

Our lovely room at the top

Anthoula’s coffee house

Ander bergdorpies / Other stone villages of Zigora

Vikos Gorge

A vertical drop of between 800m and 900m just over that edge!

Can this be beaten for a lunch stop?

Monodendri on the edge of the Gorge

Anything can grow anywhere…

Klooster op die rand van ‘n afgrond – Aiya Paraskevi – Monastery on the edge

Courtyard of this tiny monastery

Die brûe van Zigora / The bridges of Zigora County

One of two triple arch bridges we visited

What a show-off!

Just a visual illusion – the bridge leads off to the let and the cave just happens to be above it.

Berge / Mountains

View of mountains to the south of the gorge

Ancient wall snaking up the steep gorge slopes

Right of way goes to …

Exquisite mountain flowers of Zagori

Allerlei / Odds and ends

Derelict wayside shrine, yet folk still write names and messages and leave them there.

We think the bottle contains lamp oil – in the East it would have been rice wine…

How handy!

Time to leave Tsepelovo. Anuta adding some layers to stay warm on the road