Day 2 in Greece
05 June 2012 | Enroute Thessaloniki, Greece to Psarades, Prespa Region, Greece
Andrew & Vera Waldby - Fine & Warm
Well after a delayed start leaving Thessaloniki via rental car, because of much stuffing around trying to get a Vodafone Greece SIM card for the PocketWifi device we finally got on our way just after midday. The drive is about 4-4.5hrs.
The northern part of Greece; in particular the NW part is very beautiful, especially when you get up in the mountains. We are heading towards to the village of Psarades in the Prespa region of NW Greece. This region has a major lakes system called Minor & Major Lake Prespa; with the bigger lake being intersected by three different countries right in the middle of the lake; Albania to the W & NW, Greece to the SE & Macedonia (Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia - FYROM) to the NE. The village of Psarades is where Vera's Mum was born and family lived for many, many years and it has been 16yrs since Vera has been back.
Driving up towards to NW of Greece is amazing; the villages slowly start to be made up of buildings that are built from local stone, with some that are built from blue stone looking absolutely fantastic; although they are small buildings. As we get further in the mountains the countryside becomes spectacular. When Vera was here 16yrs ago she has a vivid memory of the mountains being logged and de-nuded of trees. However, she (& me) was pleasantly surprised to see the mountain slopes green and well wooded. We later found out that this region was becoming more and more protected and many re-aforestation programs occurring. And, it really does look magnificent. As we got past Florina, which is the Prespa prefecture 'capitol', and into the mountains the roads obviously got narrower and more and more windy, with sheer drops on one side and especially the hairpin switchbacks. Vera kept reminding me to stay away from the edge, as in the left hand drive car I tended to drive to far right on the road, and on these mountain roads there is not much room for error.
We went over the land bridge between minor and major Lake Prespa, and there were birds everywhere. Apparently the Prespa region is a serious ornithologist destination, and there are hides and bird-watching locations everywhere.
We finally made it over the last mountain and around the last hairpin corner to get to the village of Psarades. Psarades is set at the end of the road leading to an inlet of Lake Prespa and looks to the north towards Albania. There are many new (or renovated) buildings in the village, but there are also many derelict buildings. The buildings in this village, like a few others in the area, are all protected and nobody is allowed to demolish them just because they are falling down. You are allowed to re-build them, renovate them or maintain them but no demolishing.
We are staying at the Taverna Syntrofia which is owned by distant cousins of Vera's. Now Germanos (brother) & Christina (sister) Christianopoulis run the tavern after the untimely death of their parents in a road accident in 2005. The are assisted by Christina's husband and a close long time family friend Vasilis Germanos who is from a village about 30mins away. We were warmly welcomed, and after settling in we were presented with some 'on the house' refreshments and meal. Christina was away for the night at her in-laws and Germanos does not speak English too well, so we were well looked after by Visilis. As well as helping out with the Taverna he also conducts boat tours to the local sights including bird-watching tours. He is a guru on local sights, flora & fauna, history and in particular birds. He also has a local marine snail named after him back in 2008. After talking with him for a while, we also found out that he travels widely through Greece and the Balkans guiding bird-watchers and is very, very knowledgeable.
He said that if we were ready early enough in the morning (8am) and the wind was right he would take us out on his boat for a tour for a couple of hours.