So Greece has offered us plenty of eye-leaking beauty from the minute we left the ferry from Igoumenitsa on 11 April 2017 and in a very short time, a love affair blossomed with this incredible land. Around every corner some new delight greeted our curious eyes. And then there was Crete, which is a serious contender for one of our best memories of the last 15 months. So you would be forgiven for thinking that surely things couldn’t jump up the scale of impressiveness – although you’d be wrong.
The Pindos Mountains
Northern Greece is so far removed from the Holiday Brochure images of iconic azure seas, golden beach coves and white washed houses strewn with bougainvillea. Yet its understated existence on the Greek agenda gives it even more reason to visit.
Holy Trinity Monastery
First there is Meteora, where the ancient Monasteries float in the air with the presence of spirituality. Then as you head deeper into the mountains you enter a land only trodden by traditional goat herders and bears trying to pillage the local’s bee hives.
Aoos Spring Reservoir, Metsovo
The Aoos Spring reservoir is one of the most peaceful places we’ve ever stayed and to watch the mountains change their colour with the movement of the sun, is a beauty to behold. Alas no bears and no wolves, although a few suspicious bone remnants and carcasses suggest their presence at one time or another. Such is the privilege of calling this place home. (39.834456 21.065472)
With more time, there is no doubting that we would love to have ventured further into the Pindos heartland, with, if I’m honest the tiniest desire to search out the elusive bear. Alas Bulgaria was calling. So in our journey east, we decided to miss the Halkidiki peninsulas and stay in the mountains, as this always feelings like a nurturing home for us. The drive from Metsovo to Kastoria is not breathtaking compared to others, although it is quick on the new motorway (€6 toll) and within 90 minutes you drive into the most welcoming of sights. Picking up a young backpacking couple made the last 45 minutes so much more interesting, as Portuguese Rico and his French partner Rosanne shared their hitchhiking stories. Travel is so much richer when you share experiences together.
Kastoria’s mirrored lake
A mirrored lake greeted us, which took my breath away. It was definitely a sight to rival New Zealand’s lakes. Fringed by the most charming town, Kastoria reflecting back its splendorous image to the skies above. This attractive town is known across south-eastern Europe for its fur trade, which is centuries old and has brought a certain wealth to the area. This is evidenced by the magnificent 17-19th century mansions that proudly stand along the water’s edge, holding secrets of the furriers from a golden era of prosperity. The ‘kastori’, Greek for beaver, which gives its name to the town, were hunted to extinction by the 1900s and now only a few beaver farms exist, with a majority of trade now being sourced with scraps from Canada and Scandinavia. Interestingly, there seem to be more Fur and Leather shops in Kastoria than tavernas and that’s saying something for Greece.
Sadly the key historical fact that is often pushed aside by conversations of fur, is Kastoria’s Byzantine history. There are around 50 chapels that are in various states of repair and yet they still stake their claim amongst the community, often times nestled in between homes. The frescos and architecture are completely different to anything we’ve seen around the rest of Greece.
The local pelicans
Beyond the fur and history, Kastoria is also famed for her lake, that supports not only a flock of some 100 pelicans, 200 swans and many more cormorants and geese. This place is teeming with wildlife, so if like me you love your photography or bird watching, then this place has your name written all over it.
Grebes teach their young to feed on the lake snakes, green frogs croak their songs in a perverse melody and reed warblers compete with each other for musical supremacy. Then after dark the fireflies dance around you, lighting up the bushes like a Christmas tree adding a magical energy to the darkness’ realm. The dawn chorus here is like nothing I’ve heard before; it is choral heaven and a beautiful alarm clock. If you’re very lucky you may even catch the Oxford and Cambridge Blues taking a practice run out on the lake with their oars in tow or is that row! This is big rowing country and they were preparing for a competition of some sort the weekend we left.
Kastoria’s jewel is her peninsular that invades the lake’s tranquility, protruding out to the watery wildness. It offers mythology, ancient history and awe-inspiring underground geology. There is a one-way track around the peninsular, which is a perfect 10km round trip on foot or bicycle, giving you a different vista of the neighbouring mountains. At its neck, Kastoria has crept stealthily up over the rise and her influence on both north and south faces of the lake is clearly evident. Either side, lines of traditional fishing tenders line up against the shore, accompanied by a small flock of eagerly awaiting pelicans looking for a cheap meal.
Don’t miss Dragon’s Cave, which is the third longest in Greece, the longest of which is in Seres, just east towards the Bulgarian border. Albeit it a small peninsular, as you enter the underground world, you will be amazed by what is hidden beneath its rock; a whole new world, only recently discovered. For €6pp you get a 20 minute tour through this underground wonderland, with calcium formations I’ve never seen before and emerald green pools that are fed by the lake outside of its darkened doors. A worthwhile trip to add to your visit.
And just around the corner about 5 minutes drive, you will arrive at your home for the night. The monastery with its incredible Byzantine frescos still very much in tact, will offer you two or three permitted camper spots, as long as you remain 100m from the site. Underneath the shade of the trees you have beautiful views, a musical chorus day and night and an uninterrupted stay, where the locals are more intrigued by your presence, than bothered. There’s water and toilets too, so anchor up and explore this stunning town. (40.510208 21.29158)
A shaggy dog story?
As you regretfully leave the Kastoria’s shores, your route east will take you through fertile plains that keep the agricultural industry alive. Not in an obscene sense. Just land pocketed with squares of maize, barley and red poppies that rival France’s Provence, under the watchful eye of the rolling hills. And then you climb and wind up to the heavens, taking in the distant vista of Kastoria’s realm. The string of lakes in this area are well worth exploring and whilst some are prettier than others, they offer that synergistic perfection of water and mountains.
Lake Vegoritida and her town Agios Pandelimonas are, it’s sad to say, a poor relation after the joys of Kastoria, although sweet in her own right. You will be puzzled by the street lights submerged in the water and the permanent fisherman on a pontoon with no bridge to the mainland. What an interesting little place. Sadly our memories here will be somewhat coloured by a human’s cruelty towards their dog, who they trapped, in full summer heat behind a barrier with a football net. So in her vain attempts to escape she had tangled herself and was minutes from death. We managed to save her, although she was already emancipated and uncared for, so with water, food and some love we hope she found a way to survive beyond our little sojourn. It was all we could do as none of the locals cared. This has been the only blot on Greece’s copybook; they really have very little care for their animals and it is heartbreaking, although part of their culture.
That aside another lovely wild spot just outside the town, offered a lovely view from one of three terraced parking areas and although plagued by flies and mosquitoes, the spot is quite charming, yet lacking the charisma of our previous bedfellow.
And so our journey towards Thessaloniki and the Bulgarian border sets its course and new adventures await us, although what a devine surprise this mountain area of Greece’s Macedonia region, has been. We will return to uncover more of your treasure. Kx
As I sit here in the wake of a humid-air-clearing thunderstorm that is reverberating around this natural acoustic arena, I’m thinking about how best to share our Greek, Meteora experiences.
After having a month on Greece’s most southerly island, Crete where we were completely enthralled by her coastline, we decided it was time for mountains onectar back on the mainland. Don’t get me wrong there are mountains everywhere on Crete and you are always travelling in their shadow, although you tend to pass through rather than stay and rest awhile. My love battle between coast and mountains still rages, each one giving me gifts from opposing energy. And so we were ready to get our much needed mountain fix.
So heading off the Anek Lines ferry in Pireaus we headed north, through the Athen’s rush hour towards the famous Meteora in Thessaly, northern Greece. So many people recommended coming here and we did wonder whether to leave it until our next trip. Although grasping life’s eternally fragile nettle, we decided we would do it now. Tomorrow after all is never guaranteed.
So I mention my mountain fix for good reason. As we headed out of Athens to a non-descript landscape and then more coast, there was no sign of mountains. And then out of Lamia we had some inclines and a mountain range in the distance. Ah, at last. Yet to my utter frustration after 45 mins of twists and turns, we ended up on Greece’s agricultural plain. Now for anyone who who has driven across Central Valley in California, then you’ll have a pretty clear image of what we experienced. The teasing image of the Pindos mountains to our left kept us hopeful of our curvaceous friends’ welcome. Except we kept turning right. Would our expectations fail us?
And then on the horizon, our awaiting prize showed itself. Pinnacles of sandstone boulders rising up from the earth like a Phoenix, revealing what everyone had been talking about. Meteora – the magical land of ancient Monasteries built atop fingers of rock as if suspended in the sky in their pursuit of God’s acceptance. Now this is what we’d hoped for.
If you’ve seen the film Avatar, then you’ll have a good impression of what Meteora is like. A region of sandstone megaliths that are 60 million years old, crafted into uniquely shaped fingers by earthquakes, rain and winds, upon which monks built their houses of faith back in the 13th Century. Their lofty position would make an eagle’s nest feel inferior and they give the impression of floating in the sky, casting an air of subtle yet regal dominance across the land.
There used to be 24 monasteries in times gone by, with churches and hermits’ caves built into the rock to allow for the preservation of their holy sanctuary and asylums for persecuted Greeks. Now there are only 6 left that, let me tell you, command your reverence, whether you are religious or not. Many visitors come in pilgrimage, whilst for others it’s donning the latest pose, with the backdrop of the Monasteries as their digital portfolio for family slide shows on their return from holiday. For some, like me, there is a sense of entering into a land that time forgot. Driving through the small village of Kastraki, you enter through invisible gates to a haven of spirituality that balances religion with natural history to create a mesmerising experience. The sunlight shines on these sanctuaries with the artistry of a stage show, with different times of day showing off each Monastery to their fullest potential.
Metamorphosis Monastery, 13th Century
Whilst no longer highly active Monasteries, a small number of monks and nuns still call these heavenly safe-havens, home. Now they tend to be more museums of ancient, religious tales that reveal a tortured time for the Greeks under Ottoman and Turkish rule.
Visiting this place needs more than just a coach trip, in my opinion as spending time here allows you to soak up the reverent vibrations that make this place so special. The acoustics here are incredible and if you can train your ear as you climb the often steep staircases to reach the Monasteries, you will be enthralled by the orchestra of sounds that bounce across the rock faces. Breathing in the magnificence of the human and natural architectural will sooth your spirit and leave you wanting to visit again to really see and feel the place and not just photograph it.
To get the most from your trip here, I would recommend the following 13 pointers in this Guide to experiencing Meteora. Click the blue link for your free downloadable PDF Guide. A Guide to Meteora
Also here is a link to Dave as he does a truly magnificent fly-past of this wonderland. Here’s the link. We think you’ll love his birds eye view.
So there we have it. A little slice of magic in the northern foothills of Greece. A gateway to another world where religion and nature fuse together in perfect symbiosis without much interference from the outside world, save the curious travel eager to appreciate its treasure. Do come, it’s very special.
Our latest feature in the Wellington Gazette – next to crack the magazines. With a year under our belt I think we have a great story to tell. Click on this link to have a read. 09 – WWN – March 15
As those lovely Roman chaps used to say, ‘Tempus fugit’ – and you know what? They were right, time really does fly. I can’t believe where the last year has gone; a whole twelve months has past since we embarked on the biggest week of our lives, EVER!
From the humble and yet inspiring beginnings of a Silver anniversary road-trip in New Zealand, we packed up our belongings, said ‘goodbye’ to jobs and handed the keys back to the rented house we had called ‘home’ for four years. We stuck two fingers up to conformity, leaving behind what society classes as normality – after all who wants normal when you can have adventure and a life on the road? I get that this isn’t for everyone and, if truth be known, four years ago I would have said that it wasn’t for me either. Yet we’ve never been scared to do things differently and boy, this was seriously different.
So on 4 March 2016 we left English shores for our European road trip, yet as we said au revoir to Plymouth’s port, little did we know how life on the road, with our trusty chariot Scoobie, would change our lives, possibly forever. Read more about our pre-road trip preparation and tips here…
As I look back now, on the cusp of our first anniversary, I’m wondering how appropriate it is to celebrate this landmark. Is it with champagne? Is it with a meal or do we simply acknowledge with a huge amount of gratitude how life has unfolded for us? The latter certainly seems like the only way to mark this significant date. No doubt we will reflect on the months that have passed and reminisce over the ups and downs of our nomadic life and the people we’ve met along the way.
Although the thing that will hit us the most will be the lessons we’ve learnt, and are still learning, as we meander our way through this new lifestyle. So, what are those lessons?
Here are our TOP 10 Lessons from our Nomadic Classroom.
1. The first is, how fear can take over your dreams. Fear of what others might think, fear of what could happen in the future or fear of how safe you will be in a strange country. Fears so big, that if not addressed can consume you and hold you back from living the life you deserve. Realising that fear is only a self-constructed thought can release you from its grasp and enable you to live your dreams. We challenged each fear and looked at them with logical eyes and common sense. We worked out the likelihood that those fears ever materialising and generated contingency plans should the worst ever happen. Once you strip away fear’s power you fly free. See more about overcoming fear here…
2. Have the courage to be different. Conforming to society’s expectations can be a comforting blanket to be enwrapped by, although this has its limitations, especially if your wanderlust is calling. We came to the conclusions that however others may judge us, this is our life, our dream and life is too short to accommodate norms that no longer fit your dreams. This is our time to fulfil our potential.
3. Remember this isn’t a holiday, this is a lifestyle. For our first three months, we grabbed at everything; visited every UNESCO site there was and ticked off Natural Parks, cathedrals and cities as though they were going out of fashion. We soon realised that we needed to evolve from tourist travellers into nomadic travellers if we were going to stay sane. So stopping in one place for more than two nights became an important ingredient in our adventures. You don’t need to see everything all in one go. Hopefully there is always tomorrow (finger’s crossed.)
It’s all about balance.
4. Balance is important – learn the art of stillness and movement. Our first six months was a lovely yet a busy period as we not only settled into a rhythm, we committed to seeing friends and family. We hadn’t quite got used to creating a kinder schedule for ourselves. We soon realised that travelling is tiring and needs respect. Whilst we have no regrets of any one of our visits, we could have been more mindful of our needs and stresses. In twelve months we’ve covered nearly 13500 miles and 10 countries during that time, which is phenomenal. Although at the other end of the spectrum we had five weeks at one place in January, which had us itching to travel again. So finding a balance between being still and smelling the roses whilst travelling to a new ‘home’ is really important and has taken us a year to work out. And we think we’ve finally grasped it, although I’m not sure you ever get it ‘right’!
5. Embrace simplicity. I’ve never been a Madonna – material girl, although Myles might disagree with the number of shoes I’ve brought with me. Yet we’ve stripped back a three bedroomed house and fully functioning kitchen to all the bare essentials for our 7.5 metre space. And there’s absolutely nothing we want for – at all. Although what we have learned is to be creative with the resources we do have, be inventive in how we store things and embrace simplicity. We cook more simply, we live more simply and we dress in a way that feels comfortable. We regularly stream-line what we have by doing a bi-annual cull – anything not used or worn during that time is recycled. A number of my shoes have found themselves back in my mum’s care because I hadn’t worn them. Life on the road demands simplicity and it’s such a lovely value to embrace as it brings so much more peace to daily life.
Wild camping in Playa de Carolina, Aguilas, Murcia
6. Wilding versus campsite. Over the last year we have done a fair bit of wild camping, although not as much as I thought we might. I’m not sure it was anything to do with confidence or safety – perhaps more to do with internet connection and a decent signal so we could work. Sometimes it depended on the country, for example Slovenia and Italy don’t encourage wild camping, so places are hard to find. There are some definite periods during the year when wilding is a ideal; Easter, July/August (when campsite fees are crazily expensive and you can’t use ACSI) and January/February when lots of us ‘snow birds’ are looking for some winter warmth. In between, we’ve found a rhythm that gives us a bit of wild camping and then a top up on a site so we can juice up, do washing and get some good wifi. Don’t miss out on wild camping though, as you get to meet some amazing characters and the sites do just what they say on the tin; wild, wonderful and warming to the soul. Read more about our wilding perspective…
Living life together in a small space is doable.
7. You can have harmony in a small space. Who would have thought that two people (or more in some cases) could live harmoniously in such a small space. Whilst we have met people for whom it hasn’t worked out, as it has put too much pressure on their relationship, for us we are stronger. We have found a way to live, work and move around the van such that it doesn’t invade each other’s space and we regularly talk about how we’re doing and iron out any frustrations. Of course during the summer we have a whole ‘outside’ space to luxuriate in. Winter can be more compromising, although we have baggsyed our own ‘office’ space and we have a couple of rules like, only one person in the kitchen at one time and always make the bed. Otherwise we are so pleased at how well we flow, even after nearly 30 years together.
8. Be a gracious teacher and student. We came into our road-trip with a little experience of owning and travelling in motorhomes before. Although having a holiday or short-break to living full-time are miles apart and we never underestimated the transition we knew we would have to make. So we studied, researched and honed our skills before we left and soon realised how much more there was to learn on the road. Like to how fix a punctured toilet miles from anywhere and getting off wet ground, even with grip mats. We really do feel like every day is a school day. Although it’s lovely to talk about our experiences and choices with others, if they ask. We love to share and receive and we have adjusted so much of what we do based on other people’s experiences.
Root yourselves not in one place.
9. You root yourself wherever your tyres stop. One of my worst fears before we embarked on our nomadic journey, was not being rooted in a home that I could call my own. I’ve always been a home bird and loved coming back after a holiday. So how would I cope not having the security of a roof and four walls? This has been my biggest revelation of the whole year really. Roots are not in bricks and mortar; roots are wherever you stop for the night; roots come from your own feet and not from an address that you can return to. Scoobie is our home and he provides our roots and our routes. And although we’re loving this now, it might not always be this way – so when or if that time arrives, then we will create new roots, in a new way. As Paul Young sang way back when, ‘Wherever I lay my hat, that’s my home.’ Let go of roots and your freedom to explore expands exponentially.
10. You never really escape The Matrix. And finally, one of our biggest lessons that we learned early on was, although we had chosen to move away from what we call The Matrix (which contains all the ties, rules and regulations of life in the System), actually it’s everywhere. You never quite escape it completely. If, like us you still have a property that you rent out for income, then there are still landlord issues to deal with, bank incompetences, tax issues to sort out and rules that still require you to comply to some degree. So if escape is the thing you long for most, then the harsh reality is that you can’t. The quicker you realise this, the more freedom you will gain ironically. Stress still exists in our lives, although it is only ever self-induced. As long as you still have a NI number you will always have some ties and links to the System. That said, the hoops you have to jump through are significantly reduced, and now our stress, after years of depression, debt and anxiety, are at an all-time low.
So how would we sum up our experiences over the last twelve months? Although perhaps over-used, life changing definitely feels an appropriate phrase. We had a dream, overcame fears, worked together to make it happen and feel grateful for every moment that we are blessed to enjoy. And we can honestly say that we are happier than we’ve ever been thanks to those courageous actions and a whole heap of support from family and friends. We now play hard, work hard and live well, giving life a good old workout. We cherish every moment and each moment inspires us to keep on trucking. May the next year be equally blessed with health, adventure and happiness as we continue our exploration of eastern European shores. We hope you’ll join us along the way. Cheers!
Ms Moneypenny and Mr Rainman xxx
Well, I wasn’t expecting that. A 5 hour extravananza of music, drama and colour to titilate your senses. I ain’t not never seen anything like this before and it didn’t disappoint.
As I sit here, the evening before we head off on the road again, after five weeks in Camping Los Pinos, Denia, Spain, I find myself very reflective. Not so much recalling all the amazing things we’ve seen or places we’ve visited. Instead I find myself musing over the greatest paradox, which seems to be flirting with my travelling mind recently.
Travel is as much about being still as it is about movement.
It is easy to conjure up the image of travel being a movement from one place to another, whether that be a necessary commute to work or to visit the shops. More poignant a concept perhaps, is where travel is marketed as the mode by which we arrive at a holiday destination. Beyond this, travel, for us, has become an integrated part of the way we now choose to live our lives, as we nomadically drive towards a new ‘home’ for a night or three. Our experience is so much more than a means to an end, it is an essential part of the journey.
And yet as a meditation teacher, I have come to appreciate the art of stillness, of being rather than doing and its importance in our life’s journey through the chaos, the Matrix (as we like to call it) and day-to-day routines. Although if you had said to me that, on our travels in the last year, we would learn to see travel as being a resting verb as opposed to a moving verb, I would have thought you quite mad. Strangely though, this is exactly what has happened and we are learning to embrace the art of travelling stillness as we breathe in an overnight home, a city or a region.
A lot of last year we were on the move; visiting one UNESCO cathedral or city after another. Covering thousands of miles, crossing country borders, making rendez-vous with friends and family and experiencing some incredible sights. We definitely lived and breathed TRAVEL’s traditional persona. Yet there was very little time to travel with stillness, to be with a place and to leave a little of our souls behind. This year we promised ourselves it would be different. More time to smell the sea air, people watch at the local cafe bar, shop in the local markets and get to know the back streets of a town rather than the route to the campsite.
And so far this year, we have fallen into a great being pace. It has been lovely to experience fully the spirit of Denia; its drama with snow, hurricane storm winds and raging seas. It has been delightful to visit the non-tourist spots that are tucked away from the main highways that the tourist guides don’t promote on A4 posters. What a joy to get to know the nice restaurants, the best beers in town and when the market vibrates with local artisans’ stalls of colourful treasure. To cycle the paths that hide the real secrets of a town and see the maze of roads unfold before your eyes. To take in the scent of the orange groves and watch the almond blossom flourish as it is kissed by winter’s warming sunshine. All this has been a pleasure as we practise our new travel stillness.
Yet now, after five weeks of being still, our feet have become itchy, our tyres ready to stretch out on the tarmac and our wanderlust yearning to explore the vast expansion of sights and sounds that this country has to offer. No longer can we travel with stillness. We must move, we must fulfil our passion for exploration on a wider scale. So what has this period taught us? We’ve learnt that to travel with movement without stopping is not quality travelling. Travel is, after all, not just simply a means to an end. Travel is the uncovering of pleasures that each country has woven into the fabric of its culture. And yet travelling stillness equally has its end point for us too. To be still for too long creates an inertia that steals away something from our nomadic spirit. And so we leave Denia with grateful hearts as it has shown us about travel’s balance. Travel is neither movement nor stillness as separate identities; it is a blend of the two, such that it serves the heart’s joy and the mind’s curiosity in equal measure.
For the friends we’ve made, we thank you. For the experiences we’ve had we are grateful and we leave Denia richer in so many ways.
So onwards we move to a richer travelling experience that is now coloured with a greater awareness of how travel is a true blend of stillness and movement. We look forward to the adventures ahead that somehow only movement to a new space can offer and yet with a promise to create the stillness to appreciate its unique heart-beat.