Monthly Recap: Month 4

Wow! Month 4! The month was characterized by slower travels and more connections! We are also so pleased to announce that we have become first-time uncle and aunt this month. Congrats to Eric’s sister Suzanne on the birth of her beautiful baby girl, Sofia.

Here are our stats for this month.

Countries visited: 3 (Montenegro, Albania, and Greece)

Beds Slept In: 12

UNESCO Heritage Sights Visited: 7 (Historic Centres of Berat and Gjirokastra, Butrint, Meteora, Archaeological Site of Delphi, Archaeological Site of OlympiaArchaeological Site of Mystras, Archaeological Sites of Mycenae and Tiryns) Total on RTW: 30

We traveled by 0 planes this month!

We traveled by 0 trains this month!

We traveled by 20 long distance buses.

Top Moments:

~ Our first top moment came at the very beginning of the month! We had been looking forward to our visit to Kotor for a long time. We really enjoyed slowing down in Kotor at the end of last month and the beginning of this month. One of the best days we had there was when we climbed the fortress walls. It was an absolutely gorgeous day weather-wise. We waited until the late afternoon to miss the cruise ship crowds. We climbed up the mountain, enjoying amazing views, and even a sunset on the way down. It was lovely!

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~ Our second moment came in Berat, Albania. We knew almost nothing about Albania when we arrived (though learned a lot while we were there) so we didn’t know what to expect. We had heard that it was not really on the tourist track in Europe. We were so impressed with Berat! Our top moment came when we decided to take a tour of the city offered by the worker at our hostel. He was a native of Berat, and knew a ton about his city and the history of Albania. The tour was particularly personalized because there were only 4 of us. The other couple was an amazing pair of bikers from Belgium. The tour started at 10 am and after seeing the beautiful city of Berat, we sat down for Turkish coffee (tea for us) and then dinner with both our guide and the Belgian couple. It was a fantastic way to spend the day, full of everything we love about traveling – new friends from around the world and learning a lot about cultures we didn’t know much about!

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~ We mentioned above that this was a month where we made some really great connections. The first was our Belgian friends in Berat, the next was a couple of Americans from Washington state (and Idaho). There is almost nothing better than seeing another pair of travelers trying to make the same long travel day as you are. It helps with confidence, knowing that someone else is attempting the same trip, as well as company! It is even better when you find out that you have a lot in common and really enjoy chatting with each other. Our top moment was when we were able to visit the ancient site of Delphi with our new friends. Wow, we have to say, it is a wonderful experience to find another couple who enjoy reading Rick Steves (and other informational signs) as much as we do, and who enjoy talking popular culture, TV, and books (even the Wheel of Time series!!!) in the breaks. What luck! We had a great time!

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Runners up for Top Moments:

~ We already mentioned in this recap that we really enjoyed our time in Albania. Another example of this was our time at the archaeological site of Butrint. This was a wonderful place with a lot of history, but the best part was that we got to experience it practically on our own! We didn’t see any other tourists almost the whole day! What was even funnier was that when we got back to our hostel in Saranda, we found out that 4 other people from there had done it as well, separately, but it was big and empty enough that we didn’t even see each other. This is not to say we don’t enjoy company, but there is something special about experiencing an ancient city (and tourist attraction) without having to dodge the crowds.

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~ Our second runner up was in Meteora, Greece. We were pretty excited to finally reach Greece, which we had been looking forward to for a very long time. Della has dreamed of visiting Greece for as long as she can remember. Meteora did not disappoint. We walked among the monasteries taking in the unique, impressive scenery and imaging what it must be like to make your home on the top of vertical pillar, high above the world. It was especially good when we were able to escape from the tourist bus crowds.

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~ We had a wonderful time with our new friends in Delphi, Greece. One of the activities that we did with them was to take a walk from Delphi, down the mountain, through the olive groves, and to the coast. It is actually the reverse of what many pilgrims did in ancient times on their way up to hear their fortune from the Oracle. We had a magnificent day, with perfect weather. The scenery was shockingly beautiful and our company was grand. It was hard to beat!

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~ As some of you may already know, we celebrated 10 years of being together as a couple this last month. We couldn’t have picked a better locale. Delphi, Greece was absolutely beautiful. It is hard to imagine a better way to remember 10 great years with a person you love while overlooking one of the most fantastic sunsets you’ve ever seen!

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Items Missing, Broken, Discarded, or Added:

Discarded/Broken:

1. Simple Wine Opener

Added:

1. New toothpaste

2. More Complex Wine Opener

3. Butter knives

Packing Update:

We got to use our summer gear a bit this month which made us happy! We also have used our winter and rain gear, so we are glad we have it all. Della hasn’t used her dress since Budapest so is wondering if it is necessary. Eric is happy with all of his contents.

Books Read: (Have you read any of these??)

Della has read Fire From Heaven by Mary Renault and Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn.

Eric has read The Persian Boy by Mary Renault, The Golden One by Elizabeth Peters, Black Ice by Lorene Cary, Making Money by Terry Pratchett, Crescent Dawn by Clive Cussler.

Eric and Della have BOTH read The Greek Treasure by Irving Stone and Hope of Earth by Piers Anthony.

Make sure to catch up on all our monthly recaps: Monthly Recap 1, Monthly Recap 2, Monthly Recap 3

Meteora, Greece

Our first stop in Greece was the Meteora region. This area’s claim to fame is a large number of Orthodox monasteries that have been built on top of rock pillars. We were excited to spend a couple of days exploring the different monasteries and the natural surroundings.

Getting There

Our hostel host in Saranda helped us catch a bus from Albania into Greece. The border crossing took a while but was ultimately fine. We had to get off that bus in the town of Ioninna, where we needed to find another bus to the town of Kalabaka (the closest town to Meteora). We went in the station in Ioninna not knowing what to expect (but excited that there was such a thing as a station!) and discovered that the next bus passing through Kalabaka was leaving in just 10 minutes! We bought our ticket and hopped on that bus.

Goodbye Albania!

Goodbye Albania!

Approaching the pillars of Meteora

Approaching the pillars of Meteora

Where We Stayed

When visiting Meteora, you have the choice of staying in the main town of Kalabaka or in the smaller village of Kastraki. We eventually chose Kalabaka because that was where the bus would drop us off. There are no hostels in Kalabaka, so instead we found a hotel on booking.com for not too bad of a rate. We stayed at the Hotel King on the main business road. The room wasn’t large, but we were pretty excited to have a big bed and our very own bathroom. The hotel manager gave us lots of very useful information about visiting Meteora as well.

Our room

Our room

Our room did come with a balcony - only with a view over town though

Our room did come with a balcony – only with a view over town though

What We Did

Hiked to The Monastery of the Holy Trinity – We had assumed that our first evening in Meteora would just involve relaxing after the long bus journey. However, the hotel manager informed us that one of the monasteries, Holy Trinity, would be closed the next day, so he recommended that we try to visit it right then. You can drive up to the monastery, but we didn’t want to pay for a taxi. Instead, the hotel manager showed us a nice hiking trail that would take us straight to Holy Trinity.

As we hiked out of the town of Kalabaka and headed up, we really enjoyed the views looking up at the pillars. The trail was quite steep though, and then to get to the monastery itself you have to hike up more stairs carved into the pillar it sits on top of. So were pretty out of breath by the time we made it to the top!

The interior of the monastery was pretty with a couple of different chapels, but there were no interpretive signs so we weren’t quite sure what we were looking at. Outside, there was a great view looking back down over Kalabaka and out towards the other monasteries.

A nice garden outside the monastery

A nice garden outside the monastery

The view from the edge of the garden looking back over town

The view from the edge of the garden looking back over town

Walked Around Meteora – The next day we wanted to see some of the remaining monasteries as well. We decided not to see all of them, mainly because the admission fee is actually quite steep – 3 euros (4 US dollars) per person per monastery. We didn’t feel like doing the steep hike up again, so this time we decided to get driven up. The public bus company actually offers a bus three times a day that drives from Kalabaka up to Meteora. We were amazed to discover that we were the only people doing this! It was much cheaper than a cab and quite convenient.

We got off the bus at the farthest east end of the circuit. The monastery there was overrun with tourists (just dodging tour buses in the parking lot was a challenge) and didn’t sound like it had anything inside of particular interest either, so we skipped it. We walked along the mostly level road back in the direction of the other monasteries. We were a little frustrated by the weather – it was cloudy and grey. It did not make for very impressive pictures, however, it did keep us from getting too hot and sweaty, which is a benefit, we suppose.

We did stop at the Rousseau Monastery in the center of the circuit. We only saw nuns here so we think it may technically be a nunnery. Again there were some interesting works of art, but with limited interpretation, so we didn’t linger for very long. There were some other overlook points in this general area that did provide for a good place to take pictures in either directions.

We made our way to the western end of the circuit and visited the biggest of them all – The Great Meteoron Monastery. This one turned out to have three different levels that could be visited. Not only did it have the biggest chapel we had seen so far, but it also had a few different small museums that showed some items from both Greek and Orthodox history. We’d recommend for future visitors to start here (or only go here if you only want to pay one admission), because it definitely does the best job providing a context for what you are looking at.

To get back down to Kalabaka, we found a trail that left from just below the Great Meteoron. It was steep, but not as exhausting since we were going down this time!

Walked Around Kastraki – We had originally planned to spend three nights in Meteora since we figured we would need two full days to really see everything. However, since we had already seen everything up with the monasteries that we wanted to see, we didn’t have much we felt like we needed to do on our final day. We ended up just walking over near Kastraki (the small village nearby). We wanted to explore some of the old hermitages, which were wooden structures built in some of the caves in the pillars which were used by religious hermits. Unfortunately, the road to get closer to these was gated off, so we only admired them from a distance. We did find a nice shaded gazebo nearby where we could relax and admire the views, both of the monasteries and of a group of goats that were nimbly climbing over one of the pillars.

Met Up With Travel Friends – We were able to meet up again with the couple that we connected with back in Berat. Our schedules synchronized so that we were both in the area, so we were able to spend another lovely evening hanging out with them.

Where We Ate

After being able to eat out for very cheap in Albania, our first stop in Greece was naturally a bit of a letdown. Compared to American prices, it actually isn’t that expensive, but it still carried a bit of sticker shock for us. So, on two of the three nights we actually just ended up getting something cheap to go, like a gyros pita or some tzatziki from the grocery store.

A gyros pita and the cheapest beer we could find

A gyros pita and the cheapest beer we could find

Tzatziki and retsina (Greek wine_

Tzatziki and retsina (Greek wine)

Final Thoughts

The natural setting of Meteora is very beautiful, and seeing the monasteries on top of the pillars is definitely awe-inspiring. Visiting the monasteries themselves was actually a little bit of a letdown, with the steep admission fee, lack of interpretation and lots of crowds. We’d definitely recommend going, but don’t feel bad about just limiting yourself to the Great Meteoron unless you really are into Greek Othodox art.

Connections: Belgian Bikers!

Traveling is a wonderful way to meet people! Unfortunately, often those connections are strong but only fleeting. Connections is our tag to recognize and remember some of the wonderful people we meet.

We really enjoyed our time in Berat, Albania. We were able to meet and enjoy a lot of people from around the world. Not only did we meet an amazing Albanian tour guide/hostel worker, but we met another amazing traveling couple. This Belgian couple is traveling from Europe to Asia on bikes! Yes, that is correct, they are biking across the world! Amazing, right? Let’s just say that our trip felt positively cushy when thinking about theirs.

We met them during our tour of Berat and found we had a lot of similarities relating to our trip, age, and interests. We particularly enjoyed chatting about teaching (he works at a university to train teachers) and the differences between Belgium and the U.S. especially related to voting, politics, and other governmental systems.

One of the really fun things about meeting people on the road is being able to share experiences like this. We spent a wonderful day and fun evening with them in Albania. One of the really sad things about meeting people on the road is having to say goodbye knowing that it is unlikely that you will meet again. One of the slightly unusual things about this connection was that we didn’t have to say that goodbye right away. We knew that we were traveling the same directions, from Berat to Gjirokaster, and then on to Greece. They would be leaving ahead of us, though arriving behind us (they’re on bikes remember??) but we discovered we would be in Gjirokaster at the same time. We exchanged contact info and planned to meet up again. Unfortunately, our plans in Gjirokaster fell through. What a bummer! However, that made it all that much more fun when we realized a few days down the road that we would be in Meteora, Greece at the same time! We enjoyed another excellent evening with this excellent couple!

Now, it is hard to expect more than that, so we were especially thrilled when we saw the same couple (ever so) briefly in Delphi, Greece as well. After all of that, I hope we do manage to meet again some day!

Unfortunately, we failed and this was the only picture of us... Boo!

Unfortunately, we failed and this was the only picture of us… Boo!