As my train pulled out of Podgorica station on the final leg of its journey to Bar, I was met at the station entrance by Miki who was to be my driver for the next leg of my journey. I had made contact with him online through his boss Radoslav who appeared to be a sort of Mr Fixit: we had agreed what to me was a very good price – it seemed that anything and everything could be arranged through him! Miki took me to my hotel where I was expected for dinner, bed and breakfast and it was excellent in every respect. Only problem I had was finding a cash machine to withdraw some euros as the deal was a cash arrangement and I had been only in Switzerland and Serbia the last three days not in the eurozone. The city was very different from that I had known as Titograd in the late 1960s and my accommodation arrangements then at the local campsite were also in stark contrast to my night’s stay at the Ramada Hotel. 

Berat, Albania

Miki was to drive me through Albania directly to Greece as I only had a week away from home since with my wife I had spent 10 days in Albania the previous year visiting Tirana, Durres, Berat, Elbasan and Apolonia in our Dacia Duster hire car! He was there at the hotel at 8 o’clock in the morning and we set off in the pouring rain to the border which we passed smoothly through in our comfy Mercedes and on to Shkoder. He was a good driver, had been in the Montenegrin special forces, had been trained in America and so spoke reasonable English: I felt very safe with him and our conversation ranged broadly skirting travel, politics, food, drink and more interestingly the types of people he met in the course of his current occupation which seemed to be mostly film producers and film stars. I must have come as a bit of a disappointment!

We kept mainly along the coastal roads via Durres and Fier then stopped for a bite to eat and a coffee at the scenic town of Vlore. Luckily I had some lek left over from my trip last year as euros and dollars were not of interest let alone a credit card! During the afternoon we passed through Gjirokaster and on to the Greek border where we were held up for quite some time while I suspect Miki had to argue more for himself and the car than for me because I just sat quietly in the front seat minding my own business: I didn’t appear to be part of the conversation! Sixty kilometres into Greece and we arrived at Ioannina which was the end of my journey with Miki. He took me to the bus station to check on departure times for tomorrow and then onto the B&B I’d booked for the night. I paid him the fee in euros as arranged and off he went back to Montenegro, I assume!! Our journey had taken just over eight hours.

Ottoman courtyard in Ioannina

My B&B was a relic from the Ottoman Empire: a series of rooms round a central courtyard. My room had a four poster bed, some wonderful antique furniture, hand woven rugs and its own bathroom: it was also freezing cold as we were still only in the third week of March so it seemed important to go and find some food. I walked into town, once the centre of Ali Pasha’s rule, and down by the lake found a nice little place full of Greek music, retsina, Greek salads and stuffed chicken, really friendly and full of people half my age having their Friday night out. The next day I took the afternoon bus for the scheduled two hour journey to Kalambaka, over the mountains, through the snow via Metsovo driven by a middle aged bearded pony tailed driver obviously keen to beat his record for the trip! Together with a couple of other passengers I retired to a bar on arrival to calm my nerves with an early evening ouzo or two. The Meteora monasteries reach to the sky outside the town, well worth a visit, but I needed to take the early morning graffiti riddled diesel train to the isolated station at  Palaeofarsalos but which feeds central Greece on the Thessaloniki/Athens line. There is a cafe, open, and it has wifi which is surprising! Here I have a two and a half hour wait till the main line train comes in at 1145. The Athens train came in about five minutes late then we had to wait while they took off the electric engine and put on a diesel. My destination today was Delphi, so I needed to take the bus from the station at Levadhia, but being Sunday, and a holiday to celebrate the end of the War of Independence, no buses but one taxi to share with two others on the twisty route to the site of the Delphic oracle.

Kalambaka Station, Central Greece.

The classical site at Delphi was closed as the guards were on strike, just my luck, but the weather had improved, the cliffs at the Phaedriades were shining and Monday morning was good for a walk. In the afternoon I took the Athens bus for the three hour journey to the capital, got off at a suburban metro station to try out the new tram service to the coast at Phaleron and on to Piraeus. Next day the smart new airport train and a BA flight home.

DS January 2022