After breakfast this morning I left the hotel and drove round to the lake. It was a cold start with a frost but soon warmed up.
This morning I took the boat over from the city centre to Ioannina Island. It was actually quite busy which I wasn’t expecting; I can only imagine how busy it would be in the Summer.
Ioannina Island is only a small island, I wonder how they get so many tourist shops, cafes, tavernas and monasteries on to one island!
In a couple of hours I managed to walk all the way round the island, have a hot chocolate in the village, browse the tourist shops, visit the Ali Pasha Museum and have souvlaki & chips for lunch.
I wasn’t expecting there to be so much to do on the island but I enjoyed it – Must stay longer next time!
Returning to Ioannina City Centre I had a quick look round the Ali Pasha Mosque before I got in the car and hit the road.
Here are some photos from my morning in Ioannina and on the island…
When I returned to the car it was time to get on the road: Leaving Ioannina behind I set off on the journey to Kastoria, which took 2hrs 10mins. Quite a good run. I didn’t realise the sat nav would take me all the way round the edge of the lake on arrival in Kastoria though – not the most direct route I’m sure!
In Kastoria I’m pleased to say I have a room with a view…
For dinner tonight I ate at a restaurant looking out over the lake – I had a meze with the gigantes beans, bread, grilled chicken, pita bread and a dip.
Tomorrow’s my last day of sightseeing before the long journey home starts first thing Monday morning.
I slept late this morning – recovering from all the travelling on Wednesday and Thursday. For breakfast this morning I walked to a bakery nearby and had μπουγάτσα – bougatsa (filo pastry pie filled with custard, with sugar and cinnamon sprinkled on top): My favourite!
I started off by walking down towards the lake. The Sun was shining and while I set off in my coat it was actually quite warm – no need for my coat in the sunshine.
The view across the lake to snow topped mountains in the distance was quite impressive. A reminder that it is still winter even though the Sun has made an appearance.
I had originally planned to get the boat over to the island but as time was getting on and I wanted to get to the Meteora at a decent time I decided I’d do that tomorrow instead.
I returned to the hotel and got the car out of the garage, ready for my journey to the Meteora. Nowhere near as much driving as yesterday though – Just under 2hrs drive away so I’d be able to get there without stopping.
The Meteora is the name of a rock formation in central Greece (in the Thessaly region) upon which a complex of monasteries were built. Of the original 24, there are now 6 which are open all year round. In the Greek Orthodox church, the Meteora Monasteries are second only in importance to those on Mount Athos.
This time of year is actually quite a good year to visit. After the Acropolis in Athens the Meteora is the second most visited place in Mainland Greece…
There are days with traffic jams occurring outside the most popular monasteries because of the big coaches and the many cars that will arrive from nearby places to do a day trip at Meteora monasteries. During those days you won’t be able to find a parking space anywhere near the monasteries and most likely you might end up stuck in the traffic. That’s why we highly recommend if you can avoid taking your car for the visit then, by all means, please do so! Choose either to join a local tour, take the public bus, a taxi, a wonderful bike tour or walk
In February though – perfect! Loads of parking outside each monastery, not too many visitors although they were there… I kept seeing the same 3 or 4 cars every time I stopped.
I had good weather today too, always a plus. 13 degrees according to my car, clear blue skies and bright sunshine, a light breeze.
It’s a €3 entrance fee for each monastery and they’re all open all year round. In Greek law the Meteora is a designated Holy Place so it is worth remembering that there is a strict dress code for entering the monasteries – for men: no sleeveless shirts, no shorts. For women: long skirts, and shoulders must be covered at all times. Long skirts for the women are provided. Under 12s don’t have to comply with the dress code. Also: Taking photos inside the monasteries is forbidden.
As I paid my entrance fee at one of the monasteries one of the monks asked me ‘Ελληνάς είσαι;’ (Are you Greek?): I do quite enjoy that the Greeks can’t figure out where I’m from!!
Not all the monasteries were open as I arrived a little too late but that wasn’t too much of a problem. To have the best chance of getting in to them all it really needs a good couple of days here anyway – but I saw enough to have made the trip worthwhile. The last time I was here was in 2014 when I came up from Athens on the train to stay the night while on the way to Thessaloniki – Back then I didn’t have a car to get around in, so I only saw 1 monastery. This time I saw a decent amount!
After visiting monasteries I headed in to Καλαμπάκα – Kalambaka – the main town in the area – and had a hot chocolate before I got on the road to drive back to Ioannina.
From Kalambaka to the A2 (Egnatia Highway) it is a good half hour, possibly even 45 min drive, on single carriageway twisty, winding roads (I’ve now got the Beatles song “The Long and Winding Road” playing in my head), but with little traffic that wasn’t a problem. I set off in bright sunshine and it was dark by the time I made it back to the motorway – 30 miles of motorway then 7km from the motorway in to the city centre.
This evening I went for a pizza and enjoyed a Basil Pesto pizza… Very good – Freshly made on site too (I watched them make it through the window!) The temperature does drop at night. I was wandering around in a t-shirt during the day, and driving with the air con on. After dark the jumper, coat and scarf come out as the temperature drops (-3 tonight according to the TV weather forecast); the header gets switched on in the car, and overhead electronic signs on the motorway warned of low temperatures and the possibility of ice.
Moving on to Kastoria tomorrow and I’ve just seen the weather forecast. It will be cold!
I’ve made it! After a journey which took just short of 22 hours I’ve made it to the city of Ioannina in North Western Greece.
I drove my own car to Greece last year but this holiday is the first time I’ve rented a car abroad (not counting Cyprus where they drive on the left) and driven in a car with the steering wheel on the wrong side.
After de-icing and de-misting the car before I drove away from the airport, the suburbs of Athens at 5 o’ clock in the morning were certainly an experience! At least traffic was light which meant it didn’t matter that I made a few mistakes – such as setting off on the wrong side of the road, before winding the window down as I tried to change gear on the motorway sliproad.
By the time the first 25km journey from the airport to my hotel was finished, I was relieved! I stopped overnight at the Palmyra Beach hotel; one I stayed in last year when I drove here in my own car. I’ve only ever stayed here one night at a time before but it’s not a bad hotel so when I’m in Greece in the Summer and I have a few days to spare after Mum and Dad come home, I might stop for a few days.
The car I’ve got for the next few days is a Mazda CX-3 – Diesel – small SUV. It’s quite big, but has a very powerful engine – Accellerating while joining the motorway I’ve already achieved the 130km/h limit while still in 3rd or 4th with 2 more gears to go. Also…. It’s so quiet while I’m driving that when I looked down at the dashboard I was surprised to see I’d hit 150km/h (93mph) for a brief moment, without realising…
Perhaps I should get one of these cars when it’s time to replace my VW. This car would be great on the German Autobahn.
After breakfast and packing the car, I got on the road. It was overcast and as I made my way along the coastal road towards the motorway, the rain started coming down.
I got stuck in an Athenian traffic jam where the A1 (Greece’s main North-South motorway) meets the A6 (Athens’ outer ring – a bit like the M25) but once clear of Athens I had miles of empty motorway all the way up to Ioannina which was nice.
For the first 45 minutes of the journy coming out of Athens until I got to Corinth, I had the radio on listening to Greek music. Greek FM radio reception isn’t great for long distance driving though so once I got outside the reception area for FM signals from Athens I plugged my phone in and alternated between country music, Radio 2 on the BBC Sounds app, and a Spotify playlist of Greek music. Driving for miles on empty Greek motorway, Tim McGraw’s song Two Lanes of Freedom never felt so appropriate!
The “difficult bit” was driving out of Athens while still trying to get used to the car. I stopped at Corinth (Korinthos to call it by its local name) for a short rest and to enjoy the view over the Corinth Canal.
The weather improved as the day went on and as I approached the half way point – the Rio-Antirrio bridge just outside Patra, the Sun came out and I had clear blue skies for the final 200km of the journey. The small village of Antirrio was my next stop, where I took a photo of the bridge I’d just driven over. (Top tip for anyone else doing a similar road trip: The bridge costs €13,50 or you can take the ferry for €6,50).
The really weird thing about driving in Greece – as I found last Spring – was that when you stop at a motorway service station it isn’t unusual to be the only customer there. At one service station I had the entire car park to myself.
Perhaps not a bad thing as I can’t park my rental car properly. It’s so big I can’t see the lines. But this is Greek and most of the locals ignore the lines too.
Shortly before 6 I hit the outskirts of Ioannina. By now driving with the steering wheel on the wrong side felt normal but it was the evening rush hour and my car is…. a bit wider than I’m used to. And I had to turn left across oncoming traffic to get to my hotel. And my hotel is down a narrow pedestrianised street on the edge of the Old Town – which I had to drive down to get to the underground garage. Perhaps an SUV isn’t the best vehicle for this city…..
At least this time of day in Greece in February it is still daylight – the last of the evening Sun shining down on the city!
Within walking distance from my hotel is the Castle of Ioannina, and the lake not too far away too. Before dinner I had a walk around the city then ate at a taverna opposite the castle.
It had been a long 2 days of travelling so an early night was needed!
Friday’s itinerary sees me spending the morning in the city before I head off to explore the Meteora, about a 90 minute drive away, during the afternoon.