It looked so easy on the map.
“Instead of returning the way we came,” I suggested, “let’s just go this way through the mountains to the coast and cross over to the Peloponnese on that new bridge – maybe stop by a lake for the night?”
Who knew the mountains in Greece are really, really high and that twelve inches from the roadside, the drop to the bottom of the valley would probably take three minutes of free fall? Silly us!
We left Meteora and stopped at Karditsa for a quick coffee. Once again, the small town square was full of kids playing, parents socializing, older men sitting together playing cards – it seemed that hardly anybody was at home stuck in front of their TV set or playing Solitaire on their computers. It had been the same everywhere.
Off on the road again, we climbed the foothills and found a pleasant place with a great view for our picnic lunch. Jerry had to turn the car on the verge and the tires squished the wild sage enough to scent the hot air. We found a shady spot and if it hadn’t been for the ants and thistles, could have easily stayed for a nap.
(below right, I try to match letters on the map)
Jerry had agreed to the jaunt through the mountains, so there we were motoring pretty much straight up to our next stop, Karpenisi, saying things like, “look, we must be at the top of the mountain, I guess it’s all downhill from here!”
True, it was. We went down, and then up again, way, way up, and then in a series of unprotected hairpin turns, down again – a number of times. The roads were lined with hundreds of bee hives. Karpenisi finally attained, we stopped for a chocolately pair of desserts and coffee, because we hadn’t really had breakfast, unless you call one coffee, a handful of Pringles and a couple of licks out of the yoghourt container, breakfast. And, we had found our way back from being lost past a middle of nowhere village called Klitsos which had prompted Jerry to ask, “ I wonder what they do here?” When questioned for directions, two eleven year old Greek boys had explained, in a torrent of Greek that you want to turn around and go back – crazy tourists! Unless of course, you came to see Adonis’ two headed goat – or something like that.
So off we went, oohing and awing over the magnificent scenery, much of which looked like Banff. We drove through Proussos, clinging to the mountainside and along the road as it wrapped around to the other side of the valley. We just had to stop for another photo of the clock tower built on a pinnacle of rock far below and could hear the far, far off singing of the monks at the monastery below that which is about a thousand feet from the valley floor. We carried on winding our way to what we thought was our destination, Thermo, which sounded like it held the promise of hot springs and on the map, looked like it was beside a gorgeous big lake.
We wound, and wound, came across more and more rock fall from the hillsides, (not unusual here) some road machinery – stopped as it was Sunday. We drove through another impossibly vertical village, where there were indications of all kinds of hiking trails. It all looked invitingly alpine, if a little scary with the total road wash out now and then. We soldiered on knowing that this must be the way as there were no other turn-offs past Proussos.
Then we hit complete gravel, went a bit further, then my laughing about how things couldn’t get worse, ha ha, lots of laughs, turned to a sudden choked sob when at the crest of the road, I saw far below, a sliver of paved road weave its way up the next mountain but that to get there, we must hairpin our way down on a gravel road above a canyon we could not actually see the bottom of.
Did I mention that Jerry is not happy with heights? Nor am I anymore. He drove, I prayed and at the bottom where there was a gurgling stream under a bridge, we had a celebratory small glass of wine. Then the mood was festive as we climbed up the paved road to the few buildings at the top, anticipating a sign to Thermo at any moment.
The road petered out at a small stone house. Jer got out for a look. Nothing. He knocked on the door of the house. A man appeared, looking uncannily like Sean Connery’s younger brother, from around back and interpreted what Jerry was saying and responded in emphatic Greek with gestures that this was not the way to Thermo and that we had to return to Proussos. I believe he could see the tears welling in Jerry’s eyes and noticed the terror in my face because he offered us a shot of something very strong, in a bottle which we gratefully accepted as it might be our last drink.
Back we went, “every sphincter choking furlong,” as Jerry referred to it. It wasn’t as bad as the way there – of course, because we were looking up more than down. When we were almost at Proussos we noticed the 170 degree turn we had missed on the way out that would have brought us to Thermo. Not in the mood for anymore driving, we got a room at a beautiful little hotel, “Hotel 796” named after it’s altitude in the mountains, shared some wine and enjoyed the view from the safety of the deck.