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A Visit to Meteora

We left Megalo Hori and drove north to Karpenissi and then took the mountain roads towards Karditsa. The temperature never got above 27c and I never realized how many miles of pine forests still remained in Greece. We passed a small Sarakatsani settlement where they bring their sheep in the spring and a fighter jet parked at a crossroads high in the mountains. Past a large man-made lake and a spa town (which I forget the name of and am too lazy to go to the car and get my map) of we met up with another river and followed it down through the mountains and on to another agricultural plain and the long straight road to Karditsa, yet another ugly agricultural town of apartment buildings.(sorry if you are from here)

Trikala, GreeceAndrea was reading the description of Trikala, the birthplace of Tsitsanis, and it sounded kind of attractive though the road leading into the town looked like all the others. But once we got into Trikala we were really pleasantly surprised. The first thing we found was an enormous old mosque next to a river that was full of trout. There were so many they were bumping into each other. Thousands of them. I don't know how safe they were to eat, being in the middle of an agricultural city surrounded by farms and industry but if you wanted to fish here for the fun of it what could be more fun than catching a trout every 5 seconds, even if you are just going to feed it to your cat, (or the cat of your neighbor who you don't like). Further on we found the center of town where there were two bridges over the river and a tree shaded park. The river was lined with trees and flowers and it looked like Paris in the springtime. The city was full of young people, some on bicycles and though it was hot as hell Trikala seemed like a place I would want to come back to and seriously explore. Above the city is a kastro with a pond and a cafe in the shade where the waiter brought us water even though we were not going to stay, just because we looked thirsty. Below the kastro was the old Turkish settlement of small winding streets and historical houses. 

Meteora, GreeceFrom Trikala its just another 25 kilometers down a long straight road to Kalambaka and Meteora, in fact you can see the giant rocks as soon as you leave the town. As you get closer it gets more touristy and on the edge of town the factories, warehouses and farms give way to hotels and signs advertising hotels. Kalambaka is totally built up, it's a small city, not the little town it used to be, with a main street and traffic lights and shops, restaurants and cafes and a fountain in every square. It sits below the giant rocks that make up the backside of Meteora. You can drive up one of the streets that lead uphill, park the car and go walking off into the hills on a path among the olive groves. If you go through the city you come to Kastrika which is a smaller town below the monasteries on the giant rocks of Meteora. Lots of hotels and tavernas with their menus in English and German. We drove through town and up to the monasteries. It was late in the day but over 100 degrees. Everytime we found a spot to pull off I took a photo though often the sun was in the exact wrong spot. Thats OK though because the photos my father took in 1963 were better than anything I could take.(See www.greecetravel.com/photos/sixties and they are in the mainland section). There were lots of tourists looking totally American but speaking completely foreign eastern European languages, victims of the global economy and giant tour buses driving up and down the small mountain roads. It kind of made me want to take my photos and get out of town and we talked about leaving and heading up to the mountains towards Kastoria where it was cooler but I had been driving all day. I really didn't like Kalambaka though. OK, its a place you have to go if you visit Greece, because the monasteries of Meteora are essential, but I can't see spending more than a night here. Its too busy, too commercial and too ugly, like those agricultural-industrial provincial towns like Lamia and Karditsa only the industry here is tourists.

hotel in kalambaka greeceI called Billy, the son of George the Famous Taxi driver and asked where he thought we should stay. He gave me a couple choices and we went to the big American style place called the Famissi Eden with a swimming pool on the edge of town because I thought that had the best chance of having a good air-conditioner. It didn't. Eventually the room cooled down enoughto survive the night. The hotel was full of American highschool students and had a large cafe area full of Greeks who were there for some kind of performance because all the children were dressed up in costumes from the last century. We never knew what it was about because they all climbed on a big bus and drove away and we never saw them again. The pool was nice and I swam around for about an hour looking at the giant rock above the hotel. One of the best things about the hotel was the copies of famous Greek paintings that lined the hall, maybe not enough to forgive a room with bad air-conditioning, though hopefully enough people will complain about their antiquated system so that they replace it.

kokoretsi, kontosouvli at Neromylos Taverna near KalambakaI asked Billy where we should have dinner. "Go to Pellenion, in the third square. Its the only good place. If you eat anywhere else you will get sick." This seemed extreme to me. For every restaurant in the town to make you sick except one would have to be some kind of conspiracy. Its not possible, even in Greece. We drove to the restaurant and Andrea vetoed it right away. Big signs in English advertising mousaka and pastistio and fried squid, and tables in the hot square where it was still about 90 degrees with a handful of tourists drinking draft beer was not what either of us had in mind. Maybe it was the best in Kalambaka but if so we would not eat in Kalambaka. Instead we followed the advice of Rough Guide and drove out of town to the small village of Diaba, down a small road through farms and trees to the Neromylos (watermill) Fish Taverna. The restaurant was built in an old watermill and they had made cement ponds in the mill itself where there were trout. It was also a psistaria with kokoretsi, lamb and pork kontosouvli (on the spit) and lots of other grilled meats, all from their farm. It was the most perfect taverna in the world. They were playing my favorite palio rembetika songs and they gave us a table next to the bridge over the small pond where several frogs courted each other with voices louder than the music. The food was exceptional. In the north they serve a politiki salata which is like a spicy cold slaw. We had that and cheese crokettes, fried zuccini and sadziki, andrea had a delcious grilled trout and I had what I had been craving the whole trip, roast lamb and kokoretsi. In case you don't know, kokoretsi is the intestines of a lamb, stuffed with liver and spleen and whatever is edible inside a lamb. We drank the red wine and the white, both delicious and even drank some local tsipuro. As we ate the taverna filled with more and more people, mostly local so we kept eating a drinking just to continue the party and by the time we left we were so stuffed we could barely walk. I was sick all night. (Billy was right!)

But I would go back again. It could have been too much wine I suppose, or some weird combination, but I keep thinking it was the kokoretsi. They told me the restaurant is famous for it and people come from miles around. It tasted great but I could not eat more than a couple pieces. So if you come to Neromylos order the trout and any of the meats but leave the kokoretsi to the locals whose stomachs can handle it. I thought I was one of them. I guess I was wrong. But besides the impressive monasteries perched on the giant rocks, the best thing about Meteora is the Neromylos Taverna in Diaba.

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