A very early start saw us forego the dubious pleasures of yet more Albanian bread to haul our rucksacks into the centre of Sarandë for our trip over the border into Greece. Unlike the Albanian buses, where they exist, which are generally second-hand, ancient Italian ones, today’s transport was a sleek, super-modern affair not entirely suited to the dodgy delights of Albanian highway maintenance or lack thereof.
Setting off through the narrow streets of Sarandë, with what seemed like millimetres to spare, we soon found ourselves climbing once more into the rugged mountainous terrain of southern Albania en route to Ioannina in Greece.
Following a hugely scenic, but thankfully less hair-raising journey than the day before, we descended towards the border post with north-western Greece. Thinking this would be a formality was hopelessly naïve on our part. Of course Greece has a huge problem with smuggling of all sorts from people to drugs to cigarettes, but holding up a scheduled bus for almost two hours after kicking a couple of unfortunate Albanians off was a bit excessive, even by the standards of ultra-cautious Greece, but eventually we got under way again.
Having got used to the somewhat haphazard nature of transport and roads in Kosova and Albania it was immediately noticeable how much of an improvement was made by travelling 100m over the border. As soon as we left the border post we were zipping along a much wider road with a much better surface and shallower curves. The landscape was very similar mountainous terrain but within a few miles we had joined a major motorway carved through the mountains in a series of tunnels and bridges before continuing on to Ioannina on a smaller but perfectly serviceable road.
As the bus we were on was heading for another destination we were dropped on the outskirts of the town and could have taken a local bus into the centre but opted instead for a reasonably cheap and quick taxi ride to a real bus station. We had a couple of hours to kill so we had a bite to eat and some tea while we waited for the bus to Kalambaka.
Leaving Ioannina behind we were soon up in the mountains again travelling through some spectacular landscapes before our late afternoon arrival in Kalambaka which is set in a stunning location. A short taxi ride to the village of Kastraki quickly took us to the wrong hotel. The right owners, but the wrong hotel! Getting some directions we were at the right place in about five minutes on foot and settled into our accommodation which was a cottage in the grounds of a camping site.
Leaving the camera to recharge we went to the nearest restaurant for an overdue meal which turned out to be huge mistake. The surroundings were nice enough and the place looked inviting with its huge wood-fired grill. The waiter was attentive enough and we got a drink promptly and placed our orders for Moussaka and veal steak. This is where it all went wrong. Mrs M’s moussaka arrived about two minutes later fresh out the microwave while my veal had barely begun to cook. It was inedible. Burnt on top and sitting on a rock-like lower crust it was sent back while she waited for souvlaki. Then my veal arrived. How about the concept of a couple wishing to eat together? The veal was OK but the ‘potatoes’ were re-heated, microwaved chips both rubbery and tasteless. The veal was half eaten before the souvlaki arrived. Then to cap it all off we were plagued by wasps (which wasn’t the restaurant’s fault of course) and their solution was to place an ashtray of burning coffee powder on the table to ward them off. Easily the worst, most inept place we’ve ever had the misfortune to eat at.
Returning to the cottage we grabbed the camera and set off to explore the extraordinary landscape around the area. I’ll be writing much more about this tomorrow so in the meantime I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves…