Last night Team Basil made its way up the steep nautical stairs to the small deck area where dogs are allowed and supped an alcoholic beverage as our ferry left Bari. Sarah said she thought the watery scene looked romantic. I, on the other hand, said I couldn’t see much difference between Bari and Hull. Not that Hull’s not romantic you understand! What was even more romantic was Sarah’s Birthday dinner – a cold ratatouille made with my own loving hands yesterday. No cooking allowed on the boat, see.
This morning’s alarm call had even Mabel wiping her bleary eyes. At 4.15 am tannoys blasted a message in every European language under the sun that the ship would start unloading at 4.45am. This message was somewhat more pleasant than what greeted me on the occasions where I was woken on Royal Navy ships and bases as a Royal Navy cadet. “Hands off c***s on with socks”, I think, was the charming form of words!
We got everything sorted and put away ship shape, but at 5.15 am it was apparent we had not even docked. Some of the truck drivers got over excited and started their engines, luckily they switched them off again before we all died of carbon monoxide poisoning. Finally Basil rolled onto Greek soil at about 5.30. We manoeuvred through the empty streets of Igoumenitsa to a large empty car park where we quickly fell back to sleep. When we awoke at 9 the car park, like magic, was crammed full with hardly room for Basil to move.
After breakfast we hot footed it on a fantastic EU funded motorway inland into the spectacular mountain landscape which had surprised us two years ago. Great snow covered peaks whichever way you looked. Before our 2017 visit we had never really imagined Greece as a mountainous country, but we were very wrong.
Our first stop was at the ancient theatre of Dodona. This site was one of the great oracles of Ancient Greece. It was based around a single oak tree with no buildings initially. Zeus resided in the tree’s routes and the priests made pronouncements based upon their reading of such things as the rustling of the leaves and the movement or calls of birds in the branches.
Eventually a whole complex built up around the tree including a theatre capable of seating 17,000 people. This was all around 300 BC! As with all of Greece, the Romans eventually took the site over and converted the theatre into an amphitheater for, among other things, fights with wild animals and they rather thoughtfully built a wall around the old stage to protect the spectators!
In amongst the Greek and Roman temples the early Christians, under the Roman Byzantine Empire, built a church, the ruins of which are still visible.
We have seen a few Greek theatres before but this one was particular impressive firstly because of the massive retaining walls built around the theatre but secondly due of its beautiful setting in a lush valley surrounded by soaring peaks. At times as I looked round all I could hear was the mournful jangling of bells on the sheep as they cropped the grass nearby.
It was necessary for the two of us to visit separately because, as we found last time we visited Greece, no dogs are allowed on these ancient sites except the numerous well fed strays which seem to be the exception to the rule.
It was only a few miles from Dodona to the large lakeside city of Ioaninna, which has a population of 130,000. We will base ourselves here for the next day or two while we explore some of the other sites in the northern mountains. Our first night will be spent on a car park (39.673237, 20.854438 €10 for 24 hours no facilities) in the centre of the city where we were welcomed by a lovely parking attendant who spoke excellent English and told us all we needed to know about his city.
From here we have had a walk along the lake edge and into the old walled town where there are still some impressive remaining Ottoman buildings including a mosque, some baths and the tomb of Ali Pasha.
Mr. Pasha is a somewhat confusing figure being somewthing of a local and Greek hero, when in reality he was a regional Ottoman ruler with some particularly unpleasant habits. His semi hero status, as I understand it, stems from his willingness to fight his fellow Ottoman overlords in Istanbul to maintain his personal control over this region of Greece. Some have interpreted this as some kind of proto Greek nationalism, my view from what I have read, is that in reality he was motivated with lining his own pocket rather than by any love for the Greek people.
One of the reasons for parking in the centre of the city was in order to find somewhere to have a belated celebratory meal for Sarah’s birthday, although personally I thought my ratatouille was more than adequate. We have found somewhere authentically Greek looking, that welcomes dogs, a short stagger away from the car park where we shall be repairing shortly.