On July 9th 1978 I was in Metsovo in northern Greece. I'd been in Metsovo before and liked the town. It was renowned as a centre of Vlach culture, the Vlachs being the semi-nomadic Romanian speaking shepherds of northern Greece and elsewhere in the Balkans. A little of the culture was still evident during this visit, especially on the evening of this day, a Sunday. I wrote in my notebook:
Metsovo: My picture taken in 1984Sunday night kurso in full swing, it must be about 10.30 and my usual cafe is full as I try to get service. Earlier I had to hide in my room from the hordes of tourists thronging the central square, but now it's no longer full of tourists, just a few visitors like me. I had a good meal at the Athinae, soup, keftedes and beans and the strange-tasting local purple wine. Heard a couple of elderly Belgian teachers discussing in Italian with some locals the differences between Italian and Vlach, demonstrating that the words are remembered even if the use of the language is dying. Certainly on Sunday the clothes survive as the ladies put on their best, even some of the forty or so year olds, maybe younger ones as well. Big wool skirt in a sort of tartan plaid, heavy embroidered blouse and velvety very short jacket and a kerchief on their hair, sometimes a brocaded velvet kerchief, but the wife of the guy who runs the most sympathetic tourist shop has a bright green silky sort of long jacket - very smart I expect. The old men wear their black, but they're not in evidence tonight. But it's an active night for the locals, Sunday. Some women wear "gold" coins in their kerchiefs, all wear an apron, some well-woven, their hair in braids. One wears a very fine brocaded dress, but it seems like fancy dress. How like normal Balkan costume is all this?
Although there was a lot of building going on, there were still a lot of old houses, particularly higher up and there were still well-tended gardens with onions and courgettes and beans and fireflies flicking among them in the evening. Metsovo was also a great base for walking in the hills. Twice I wrote in my notebook:
View over Metsovo: My picture taken in 1984Have climbed a little mountain opposite Metsovo, down to the river and up to a village where I had a coffee, and on up the tracks, passing an old man with wood who was cheerful and a costumed family higher up where it's forested, and on up the mountain to the pass ridge and up to the highest local peak. Beautiful views all round. To the south a scarcely touched valley with fields and some logging with snowy peaks to the right and the highway on the ridge opposite. To the east is a long ridge which is rocky with a ski-hut and to the right a long grassy slope higher than this one with a beacon which would be nice to climb. Walking through the trees was beautiful, spruces, pines, beeches, birches, juniper, coal tits and crested tits. On the top is a grassy circle above the trees covered with flowers and insects. It's all beautiful, not exactly quiet because of the road building and wood working, but beautiful.
Again I have come up into the mountains, this time to the northern side and again it's very good though I had my doubts at first, as the ridge I had picked led to the top of the ski lift and beyond it was the road to Katara. It got much better as I came over the top of the escarpment above the Ioannina road through a really dense meadow with a stream running through it and a fountain where I changed water, and then up to an old track which had been built as a road, but not for cars, winding around a couple of densely wooded little valleys, till I reached a ridge where I had lunch overlooking the main valley among pine smells and goat bells jangling in the distance. Then I climbed the higher more northerly end of the ridge, and can see a ridge continuing for miles and miles, going towards the high snowy peaks which I can see now, one of which might be Smolikas. A goatherd was on the top when I came, tending an injured sheep; now he's moving the flock, calling "capra, capra."
I had left London on June 29th, taking the night ferry to Ostend. From there I hitched through Belgium and Germany and over the Swiss border near Basle. A truck-driver who gave me a lift pointed out a sawmill before Luzern that had a shelter outside and I curled up there in my sleeping-bag with the rain pelting down and traffic roaring past. The next day I hitched on into Italy over the St Gotthardt and past Lake Lugano. My final lift took me right to Milano Centrale, where I got the overnight train to Brindisi. I had to pass the day there before putting up my hammock on the night ferry to Igoumenitsa, still a little dock with a scruffy township around it in those days. After four nights without a bed I slept long and hard in Ioannina, an old favourite of mine from the sixties. I visited the island, watched the shadow puppet show by the lakeside and noted that the little kestrels still nested in the city walls. I was relieved to find that some things in Greece were still the same, at least on the surface. I planned a few weeks in Greece before heading to Turkey and then to Afghanistan and India.
|Metsovo: My picture taken in 1984|