Time for Greece post #2! Life is well back to normal at this point and references to all things Greek have slowed down in my day-to-day conversation topics (my friends are more than happy to note, I'm sure). Nevertheless, the blogging must go on. I left off in Meteora, with those spectacular rock formations and the monasteries perched above them. We start this series in the Zagori, a series of tiny mountain towns (46 of them) that retain an enormous amount of charm. The Zagori is a very special place. Many of the villages weren't connected by road at all until the last 50 years - the most remote ones not until the 70s. Used to be the only way one could get between the villages was by "goat trails" built into the mountain, and cross the rivers by bridges like this one, built in the 1700s. It's hard to tell from this angle, but that bridge was *enormous*. Also, a brisk Arctic wind was blowing through the riverbed. It's easy to forget you're in the mountains when the sun is shining, but the Zagori reminded us when we got to the valley and the shade. In fact, Greece was colder, on the whole, than I'd hoped. Its climate, in the North, is not so different from DC. We had 40s and 50s for much of the trip. This photo is staged, but based on fact. I turned around to see George looking at this sign completely perplexed. We got where we were going, no worries. This is a "votive church". They are everywhere in Greece. Eventually, we realized that they seemed clustered at hairpin turns in the road. Rick Steeves, the handy guidebook guy, later informed us that they are erected either as memorials to people who died in accidents or erected to thank God and such when people narrowly miss being in an accident (or dying in one, or something). This is a bit of a ramshackle one. We saw mini palaces and really lavishly decorated tiny altars and things. Probably most interesting and unfathomable is that probably half of them had candles burning. They are clearly actively tended. So we hiked straight up from the town of Kipi, over another bridge and up up up the mountain to the next town - Kapesovo. (Really, if I knew how to read a topological map, we never would have done this.) Our exertions were rewarded, however, as Kapesovo was one of the most charming places we visited the whole trip. On approach, a whole bunch of cows were crossing the road. And then we arrived at The Most Charming Store in the World. Called "Sterna" because it's built on a really old cistern (water storage), this store was filled with stuff Elli and her family *makes*. She does all the crafts and her various family members cook pastries and sweets, can jams, gather wild herbs and mushrooms, distill liqueurs, and make all other manner of thing. We dropped a lot of coin in this store. Actually, what happened is, since we were on foot, we couldn't buy a thing at the moment, not wanting to carry it on everywhere. Elli arranged for us to get a ride back to our car so we could shave some time off the return trip. In the meantime, we got to see another town. On the way back from the second town where we got a ride from local politicians distributing fliers (yes! that happened!), we came across this itty-bitty church at the top of these cliffs. Someone had been there just before us, because a candle was burning inside. Turns out George loves heights and tempting fate. Another one of these really old bridges. I wished I had my 24 with me. Also, check the ice on the river. It was damned cold in the shade. In the sun, though, especially if you've spent an hour and a half hiking straight uphill, it was quite pleasant. We got the car and drove back up the mountain to get to the "Beloit" - or "lookout" (that's a Slavic word - here we're very close to the border with Albania). The cows had wandered back up the hill and were all over the road. The Vikos Gorge is the deepest in the world. It's very difficult to see the perspective here. I tried all kinds of compositions and I just have to chalk it up to being an otherworldly place that refuses to reveal itself completely with photography. In any case, it's really, really deep. So deep you sort of aren't scared anymore because you have no concept of how far down it is. We got out just before sunset. That was such an exhausting day! But it wasn't over. Elli at the super-cute store had "invited" us to come back to town for dinner, and we had one of the best meals we had in Greece (George's favorite, I think). Elli's sister cooked and I believe we were the only customers a the restaurant. She let us order half-orders of everything on the menu and her food was so good. After that, Elli took us to the store and we dropped like 50 euro on jam and herbs. This is my husband. No trip to a European country could escape being filled with churches. They are everywhere in Greece and most of them are very pretty and still in active use. From the Zagori, we cut our drive to Delphi in half by hitting up the coast for a night. Preveza was a delightful sea town with a Christmas carnival right in front of our balcony (overlooking the gulf) that played U.S. dance tunes all evening. We also got into a somewhat heated political discussion with the hotel clerk / owner, who eventually revealed himself as a proselytizer. At that point in the trip, though, we seriously needed to have a conversation with someone other than each other, so it was all good. We popped open some wine from one of the monasteries in Meteora and bopped to Katy Perry at the kiddie carnival. Nafpaktos, home of the World's Cutest Venetian Port. It's about the same size on the other side and, as you can see, the yacht in the far middle is about the largest boat you can fit in here. On the left side, you can see where all the cafes and restaurants line up. We had a coffee and a sweet and just watched the port be outrageously adorable. We were only in Nafpaktos for a couple hours, but it was one of the most delightful places we saw. And then we finally made it to the big guns - Delphi (and we would later hit all the places you've heard of). The world seems to think the Oracle at Delphi was inside a circular thing (see below), but that was a completely different area and site. The Oracle at Delphi was actually ensconced in this Temple of Apollo. And hey, they knew I was coming! I pointed this out to George and he goes "did you carve that!?" - into the ancient freakin' tablet. Um, no. Oy. As always, there were friendly cats about. Here's a reconstructed piece of the circular thing everybody thinks the oracle was in. It's a cool site, but not Delphi. This is the Tholos at the Temple of Athena, just a bit down the road from the main site. We left Delphi on Christmas Eve. The town itself was super-adorable and we had amaaaaaazing gyros there. I could have eaten those gyros for every meal... but unfortunately we had them as our last dinner and they weren't open for breakfast. The town has a speaker system, and each night they blasted Christmas music through the streets. It was ridiculously romantic. On the morning of Christmas Eve, little kids went around to all the stores and restaurants "caroling" - they had a triangle and would sing and then the shopkeepers gave them some coins. Extortion! They were singing to the tune of Jingle Bells but something about the triangle - trigona, trigona, something something Greek. We spent that night in the crap town of Diakofto. It was the only place we went that wasn't clearly marked from the highway. The only reason anyone goes there is to ride the Odontodos train up to Kalavrita and that's exactly what we did, because every other thing I looked at was closed on Christmas. These are the old tracks. Glad they updated! This train was really something special - the scenery we passed through was brilliant as we climbed up the mountain... ...to find that apparently all Greeks go to the mountains for vacation at Christmas. This town was packed full of people. It was the only time the whole trip (outside of Thessaloniki) that we went to a restaurant and it was full. It's a super-touristy place, but still charming, and the main strip with a bunch of gift shops and things still had amenities, like this butcher shop, nestled between a restaurant and a souvenir shop. Mr. Deer does not approve, but Mr. Pig don't mind. One more to come!