After a delayed start from the Greek Hovel, making sure we had all we needed and shuttering the place up, a bit of a schoolboy error saw me leave the Motorway on the way up to Corinth and thus I found myself on a “short cut” to Patras. That is to say a non-toll old road. What a disaster. 110 km an hour became 60 and I compounded that with a wrong turn. Having seen signs saying Patras 40 km, suddenly there were no signs at all to Patras.
I consulted a map I had brought with me. My four-year-old son exclaimed “nobody reads paper maps anymore”. I said “I do.” About 45 minutes later, I saw a sign saying Patras 96 km. One nil to the 4-year-old. When we got lost in Patras, I used my phone and was guided, with ease, through a maze of streets to the amazing suspension bridge across the Gulf of Corinth which Joshua agreed was very impressive and from there it was plain sailing.
I had explained to Joshua how it used to take my father more than a week to get from England to Metsovo by train, ferry, train across Europe and then rickety old buses on winding mountain roads with hairpin bends all the way up from Athens. But we zoomed ahead. It was Motorway all the way to Metsovo. No windy roads even in the mountains, modern tunnels just slice through the mountains. It is this accessibility which has done so much to destroy the Vlach culture which my father treasured. Instead of these small towns and villages in the Pindus being isolated, they are now very much connected to the rest of Greece.
And so we arrived in Metsovo by six and checked into the hotel. Within minutes we had changed into our swimming trunks and were in the small and very cold hotel pool. Joshua says he knows how to swim but does not want to try it yet. So though the pool was a metre deep, I just held him as he splashed and screamed with joy. Then a supper of lamb not goat and he is in bed while I write.
In winter, folks come here to ski. In summer, it is a cool retreat, a bit like Shimla, a place to escape the City heat. Not though a fashionable place. This is where those with local connections and older Greeks seek a cheaper summer break. Tomorrow we drive over the valley to Anelion which we gazed at from the pool. In the old days, there was no road and one had to brave the bears and walk.
Is my father’s oldest Greek friend, Mike the Vlach, still alive? That is the great question. Perhaps not but I am sure that his younger sister and much younger wife will be. We prayed tonight that he is or that if he is not, God has taken him to a better place. But I very much hope that he is still with us. There is a sense of trepidation as we prepare to cross the valley.
And also thoughts about the journey home. I am pondering a visit to Zitsa, where Byron sheltered and where, at a low point in my life in 2012, I was shown such kindness by the baking barrister and her husband. I’d like to thank them in person for they did make me change my take on life. And, of course, there is also the sparkling red wine for which it is famed. That I can ponder tomorrow after Anelion. Everything is after Anelion.