Morning Sun on Igoumenitsa
The Greeks rise early and walk briskly by the waterside along Igoumenitsa’s curving bay. The sun follows more slowly, teasing the populace like an old-fashioned Burlesque dancer as it pushes gradually above the high encircling hills – the shadows stripped off inch by inch, one part of town at a time. Iggy’s overnight parking spot is near the northern edge of the harbour behind the stadium and by the time I’ve walked the fifteen minutes into the centre everything is bright.
I’ve picked a spot right down by the water to drink cappuccino in a park cafe and watch the ferries gliding in and out of the harbour mouth. The water is clear and satin blue, and Corfu beckons enticingly from oh so short a distance beyond. I would love to go. Corfu has been a dream since I was a child and first read Gerald Durrell’s fabulous book ‘My Family and Other Animals.” Sitting here, surrounded by modern Greece I fancy that my time in Levka was most likely more like Durrell’s childhood in Corfu than the island would be today. Minus the sea.
My head it seems is full of thoughts of past and present. The world of my mother’s childhood on the one hand, so soon to pass from all living memory, and on the other hand the world of today. The young people, and not so young people, continue to march along the promenade in search of fitness, and the old men sit with rod and line, and fish, as old men seem to do everywhere in southern countries. Beside me a statue of a man looks away from the water to the church – a memorial I think, for the Second World War. My mother is 82 now and was only 4 when that war ended, and suddenly I am struck by the thought that the old men fishing nearby are no longer old enough to remember that war. To have fought in that war.
For most of my life they have been there – these old men. Playing chess, boules, and backgammon. Holding up the edge of bars with a solitary, slow sipped small beer, and a shot of something stronger. Lining morning harbours with a rod and a line. Men who once were mortal enemies and became again just men.
They are all but gone now. Slipped into the final dreaming. A handful remain but they are too old for fishing by harbour sides and boules in the park. And I feel strange to sit here and note their passing in this beautiful place. To remember the old men and the old wars and wonder how it will change us all not to have their voices to speak of those horrors anymore. Will sense prevail? Or will the monuments and graveyards that lie scattered like autumn leaves across our beautiful Europe be used again, not to weep and mourn, but to glorify war and make boys kill boys in the name of madmen once more?
Out in the bay a huge fish leaps clear from the water chasing its breakfast, but the fishermen are gone. My coffee is finished, and my wandering thoughts turn back to the day ahead. Swallows skim the shoreline and I wonder if I should find a pharmacy and buy some mosquito repellent as we have left all ours behind in Levka. It seems like a lifetime away. I don’t even know how many days it is, and I relish my lack of knowing, resist the temptation to look at my calendar and check. This morning I am out of time. Floating between history and the future. I could stay here forever in this moment. If only my feet would not always pull me to go.
Going will come soon enough – at 23:59 to be precise, or as close to that as a ferry between Greece and Italy is ever likely to get. Corfu teases me from outside the harbour, but our tickets have already been bought. With our wallets seriously depleted from an expensive breakdown in Bulgaria, and a date to meet family in Spain in July, we need to return to Scotland for a few weeks to re-boot our flagging finances.
Sitting here in the warm morning sun it feels like a serious nuisance. It would make so much more sense just to make our way slowly to Spain over the next two months. We could hop to Corfu for a week or two, do that second month long trip to Sicily that we have been planning for so long. It would be fabulous… But no, even if our wallets allowed the Schengen Clock would not. If we want July in Spain, then back to Blighty we must go.
I curse Brexit in the new habitual way common to British travellers and turn my mind to more positive things. Count my lucky stars that Iggy’s breakdown had not been worse (we lost the timing pulley and are lucky to have an engine at all) and that we are here, together, in our beloved van. I look forward to seeing the people we love when we get home, and to the four weeks of travel that will take us there. And I cast my mind back over these last few days in Greece, days that seem to stretch back weeks in time, and smile at the journey just done.
There was the tortoise on the highway between Bulgaria and Alexandroupoli on our first day. A big one, staccato stomping across the dusty, Sunday quiet road directly in our path. Jay eased Iggy’s 3.5 tonne bulk to a halt with a few metres to spare, and I slammed on the hazard lights and jumped out to airlift Mx Tortoise to the safety of the verge. (Keep the tortoise close to the ground when you carry it. They don’t like being lifted high.)
As I did so the road behind us filled with cars, in that uncanny way of empty roads as soon as you need them to stay empty. Horns blared impatiently, but they could not see that I was helping a tortoise, and I did not care if they were inconvenienced for a moment or two. The tortoise hung still and heavy in my hands, only to start wriggling in mid-air as soon as it could see itself close to the ground. Its feet hit the hit running and Mx Tortoise was gone into the scrub – safe for another day.
Walks on the beach in Alexandroupoli followed the drive south. Chicken souvlaki dinner for under 10 euros for two in the busily charming lighthouse area, and a sunset to live for shining a blood red path across the sea to the west.
We followed that path for four days of driving through the ever-wondrous beauty that is this mountainous, sea-fringed piece of world. The ethereal perfection of light, shape and colour that is Greece. As a writer it always fails me to find the words for places like these. I wonder sometimes if it is something in our bones, our genes. If we are tuned by nature to landscapes that speak to our early beginnings as a species. Way back in the days before we wandered so far as to cover each differing part of our globe. A wandering that seems to be as much a part of my make-up as the gnarled, twisted trunks of the ancient olive trees, and the crystalline aquamarine of the sea.
We stopped for a night to revisit the filmset like perfection of Neo Irakleia, slipped past Thessaloniki and pondered the Gods as Mount Olympus towered over our passage to the left. The mountains swallowed us as we pushed on for Igoumenitsa, the Adriatic and the ferry to Italy. Time disappeared in tunnels and bridges, valleys and peaks and whispered in my ear that we should stay another day, one last stop on the way. I listened and set the satnav for Ioannina. These mountains were too glorious to pass through so quickly and the lakeside city looked like a perfect place to enjoy them for the night.
A lot of other people seemed to think so too, and the old town area took us completely by surprise with its bustling lively restaurants, cafes, and bars. We knew there was a castle but weren’t expecting the fully walled old citadel city and eclectic mix of bohemia and modern convenience that abounds in this stunning setting of mountains and lake. We slept for free in a carpark in the centre across from the lake, and in the morning, we set off on the last 50 minute drive down to Igoumenitsa and the sea.
And so, finally, here I am, writing stories in the harbour on our last day in Greece. Yesterday when we arrived, we went to the Anek desk at the ferry terminal and hooked ourselves a camping onboard ticket for tonight’s crossing to Bari. As we have always found, the price at the terminal was cheaper than anything we could see online and the cost was €322 for me, Jay, Marley and the van. It’s our first time being able to get a camping onboard ticket, and I’m ridiculously excited to be able to stay in Iggy for the crossing, sleep in our own bed, and not have to pack an overnight bag for the journey.
Now it is time to go home to Iggy and leave my pretty spot in the morning sun, midway across Igoumenitsa bay. Midway between the museum and the port, the past and the present, the old and the young. It feels like a rightful metaphor for life, this place of in-between, and I wonder if maybe that’s where we always are, all of us, all of the time. Poised between history and the future, hanging forever in one tiny, effervescent bubble of ‘now.’ Everything that ever was, and everything yet to be, dancing, shining; and gone.