Postcards from a Journey

Travelling in Europe

A journey. A difficult journey, because getting from Greece to Catalonia proved a trip surprisingly taxing to pull together. Thessaloniki to Athens. Athens to Rome. Then a bit of an adventure. A sea voyage from Civitavecchia to Barcelona, sailing past Corsica and calling at Porto Torres in Sardinia, featured in the top photo. Sounds good? One day I’ll tell the story of this misadventure. Currently I’m far too cross.

However, it produced one – actually rather picturesque – photo which sums the whole thing up. The rusting chimneys of our ship, Roma.

And, not to be totally negative, a half way decent sunset.

We’re here now though, at home with the Catalonian branch of the family, for a satisfyingly relaxing end to our holiday. Well – as relaxing as a lively and charming 16 month old granddaughter will allow.

Balkan Postcards 12: A Final Feline Tale


All over Thessaloniki, you’ll find little tableaux like this: a stray cat in a cat-hostel for one. A wooden fruit-box or similar, with a plump cushion. On it sleeps a cat. Next to it is another box, a covered one, just big enough to let the cat jump in when the weather’s poor. Alongside these are dishes of cat food and water.

Semi-feral cats are all over the place here. But many of them have benefactors providing food and shelter, and even more get daily doses of cat food, left on street corners and on doorsteps.

Balkan Postcards 11: Street Life in Thessaloniki


Our time in the Balkans is coming to an end. But there’s just time to send a few postcards of life as it’s lived here in Thessaloniki – in the street. Time enough for history lessons when we’re back in England.

And we’re not going home … yet.

Balkan Postcards 10: Portraits from Thessaloniki


We’ve had a tiring day, and each of us has a severe case of Museum Foot. It’s been fun and varied too. Perhaps I’ll share a portait or four.

This funerary portrait in the Archaeology Museum impressed me. Did this man, who could easily be The Chap Next Door, really live more than 200 years BCE?;
Here’s another figure from the past, Alexander the Great. He’s posing outside the White Tower, part of Thessaloniki’s defences since the Ottoman era.
Spotted on a wall in town. I don’t know any more about it.
I know how this cat feels. Might join her.

Balkan Postcards 9: Thessaloniki, Gateway to the Balkans.


Our first morning in Thessaloniki: a day in which to find our feet & get used to the heat. Here are a few postcards ….

… and from the Bey Hamami, a peaceful and still beautiful public baths to the city from 1444 till 1968, and closing today at 2.00 pm for two years for much-needed restoration.

And finally, a bit of street poetry, helpfully altered for a twenty-first century audience.

Later, when the heat dies down a bit, we’ll be ready for more.

The featured photo shows the entrance to the Bey Hamami.

Balkan postcards 7: Pastoral Prespa.

Balkans, farming, Wildlife

Today was a day of birdsong: of nightingales without end, of golden orioles and hoopoes. It was a day to watch bee-eaters, pelicans, grey herons, night herons flying over the lake. It was a day to watch sows idling away the morning under a shady tree, or goats commandeering the hillside. Or to see a wild tortoise lumbering across the path.

Birdsong in the woods

Balkan Postcards 6: Postcards from Prespa

Balkans, Wildlife

Today, we journeyed to Lake Prespa, Grecian section. To Little Prespa to be exact. We are staying on an island where we were promised a cacophony of frogs – all night – and a plethora of pelicans. The frogs are delivering: but the pelicans, up to perhaps 80% of them, have been decimated by avian flu. They were not there to greet us as we hoped. But aided by powerful lenses, we finally saw them. Trust me, they’re there, and there in abundance, roughly in the middle of the first shot.

Little Prespa and its pelicans, behind a carpet of asphodels.

I’ll send just one more postcard this evening, taken just as the sun set.

Balkan Postcards 5: Separating the Sheep from the Goats

Balkans, farming

I’m still in rural life mode, still observing an everyday story of country folk.

Today, we were at Little Prespa, wildlife haven for birds, lizards, butterflies and above all frogs. Yet again, we saw shepherds spending their day guiding their flocks, meandering along mountain paths. What we noticed was that goats and sheep prefer not to talk to one another. Goats in front, surging ahead to find the lushest bits of grass, sheep dawdling behind.

And later, as we ate our own picnics, we saw the sheep sheltering from the hot mid-day sun, huddling up close together, so that as little as possible of their bodies was exposed. Goodness knows where the goats and shepherd were at this point.

And here is a workhorse, carrying a load of wood  for his owner.

Balkan postcards 4

Balkans, farming

Off to the hills around Albanian Lake Prespa today, we got to see something of the tough life of a farmer here. Though the sight this morning of a shepherd with his small flock – fewer than 40 animals – of sheep and goats and three sheepdogs wandering slowly along as they grazed seemed idyllic, I’m sure the reality of this subsistence-level existence is rather different. We spotted several other such flocks throughout the day. Do take the time to look and listen to the grazing sheep with their melodious bells in the video I link to below. It all seems to be from a very different world.

A shepherd, his sheep and his goats

Throughout the day, we saw solitary elderly women working alone in their narrow fields, weeding and wielding heavy mattocks. We spotted distant farmers working with ancient tractors. The thin rectangular fields set in regular grid formation in the picture below are a throw-back to communist days, but have been retained because they work.

A grid of fields, shared fairly between local farmers.