Birdsong. Cow-bells. Cool pine-shade. A mirror lake. Time to take stock of our trip so far.
Eight weeks in and five-thousand feet up in the Sila Grande mountains and our little vancar has stood up excellently to the four-thousand miles already covered on sometimes parlous roads down through the Balkans and across the Adriatic Sea on a ferry to Italy. By dropping into Calabria and visiting the remains of the temple of Hera on the outskirts of Crotone we have been as far out south and east as we intend to travel on an irregular six-thousand mile loop with diversions that will return us to our starting point in the UK. These largely-unknown Calabrian mountains are the quietest and loveliest resting-place we have camped in over the whole trip*. The looming Montenegrin peaks in all their cragginess were probably more awesome but the pine-covered slopes falling down to the lake here offer more serenity. The countryside of Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina was too steeped in recent violent history to contain any real sense of peace. The same was true of Albania and its Accursed Mountains. Northern Greece was just too barren beyond its olive groves. Of course, we have been following the Adriatic coastline for the most part and that first hit of southern warmth still lingers in our northern veins. We have swum in the sea and rivers and lakes and such cooling water has been absolutely necessary as we have endeavoured to remain comfortable in sometimes overwhelming temperatures. Insects have been an issue and only in Cetinje, Montenegro did we find a solution when we bought a cheap mosquito net at a hardware store and adapted it to fit round the back-doors of our van. Food has been adequate, mostly preparing meals for ourselves and only eating out occasionally as it has suited. The best meal of all was with our daughter at a fish restaurant in Ada Bojan; while the best beer was the stuff made at a brewery in Niksic, Montenegro and sold chilled in bottles from the supermarkets throughout the region. (Alpha beer in Greece is pretty good, too. Can’t complain about the Peroni here in Italy either… I only wish there was a fridge in the van…) The red wine from the Ciro vineyards here in Calabria is just perfect, as is the food!
Right now, Anne is finding out where the best mountain trails are located and whether it is possible to easily walk into the nearest village for provisions. A car has just arrived from a local farm with a couple of women selling cheese and fresh vegetables…
The temperature is a perfect twenty-five degrees. We will most likely spend at least a few days here camping by the lakeside before considering our options as the mass August holiday gets underway and millions of Europeans take to the roads for their annual summer break. Ideally, we will make our way back in a zig-zag through the German Black Forest and Moselle and Alsace regions of northern France that were denied us on the way down on account of the gloomy northern spring climes and unexpected onrush of belligerent traffic. We would have liked to visit friends in Switzerland but that now looks unlikely this time round.
So much time, and so much travel, all bound up in one neat paragraph… Never mind, I’m saving the real meaty stuff for the novel!
*A walk into the village revealed a place where people are struggling to get by, with closed-down restaurants and dilapidated hotel buildings, while a long chat with the Ukrainian owner of the grocery store – who had left his home country after his parents and friends were killed in a series of shootings by state thugs following the collapse of the USSR – revealed that the Calabria mafia still holds sway in this region, squeezing locals and holding back any economic progress. He has put his business on the market but surely no one will make the purchase. We felt too embarrassed to ask what he and his family would do next or where they might go.
Posted from beside Lago Arvo, in the Sila Grande mountains