The High Mountains And The Call Of The Sea
Stage 4, the longest day of The Odyssey, 137km, saw us come into Meteora, possibly one of the most special and scenic stops of the tour and luckily a rest stop as well. The landscape around Meteora has a surreal and otherworldly feel. The impressive pillars of rock are theorized to have been formed by the flow of a delta which drained over 60 million years ago leaving the large exposed columns to be weathered and smoothed by wind and rain. If the geology isn’t breathtaking enough, finding out that numerous monasteries are built on the tops of these monoliths certainly is. Some 600 years ago, Orthodox monks, inhabiting the valley, started building on the tops in order to literally climb out of the reach of Ottoman invaders that were making their way into Europe. It is believed construction and life afterwards was limited to transporting people and supplies up tall, lashed ladders or hauling them up in nets up the 400m sheer rock walls. Nowadays steps and roads will take you there, and the monasteries have become open visitors and also a tourist attraction. A small monastic community still calls the “middle of the sky”, Meteora home. The cliffs are popular for rock climbers and the surrounding network of trails in the valley and nearby mountains great for mountain biking. It is a UNESCO world heritage site and national park.
No one said this was going to be an easy tour, so leaving Meteora we headed for the highest mountain road in all of Greece. Luckily, despite some recent economic trouble in Greece, the bridge that 13 months ago had collapsed into a river, was rebuilt, and opened the way to some amazing countryside and miles and miles of quiet scenic winding roads. Though we had a range of read outs from our GPS devices we all agreed we did at least 3000m of climbing before making it to Metsovo, a village plastered almost vertically on the side of a mountain and our stop for the next day. Numerous adjectives were used to describe the day, but the consensus was that the view is certainly worth the effort.
When the TDA decides on creating a new tour, long before its proposed start, the route is scouted and the hotels are booked. Sometimes the route changes because of say collapsed bridges or the group grows bigger and the hotel cannot accommodate us anymore as another example. No one was pleased when they found out at the rider meeting that the new hotel for the next day would be an extra 2km of steep climbing. Some people even shared that they think the tour leader has it in for them personally. Many of the riders are TDA tour veterans and know each other and Gergo, our tour leader, quite well. The forecast read rain leaving Metsovo, and we got lots of it but life is full of contrast and we wouldn’t know pleasure were it not for pain, hot for cold, and in our case, the beautiful sunny days if it weren’t for the humbling miserable rainy ones. Rain or not, everyone was pleasantly taken back by the beauty and charm of the quaint little village of Elati, where our new hotel was. There were no corners cut here, real stone shingle roofs, mined right out of the hills beneath them, beautiful cobble pathways, delicious homemade food, and some very impressive and funky rooms.
Greece has been good to us, the feta creamy, the locals friendly and even the dogs surprisingly polite but there was an air of excitement to enter our next country. A very smooth border crossing and we were set free to burn our rubber on Albanian roads. A mountain pass or two later and finally we were by the sea again, in Sarande, and enjoying another rest day.