Friday, June 6, 2014

Lakeside Kastorias once centre of fur trade

Thankfully, it was time to leave Thessaloniki and head west in our rental car. On the roads we found more signs of austerity, plenty of potholes and the sides of the roads overgrown with broom and weeds, to the point of obscuring some road signs. On the plus side, tolls on the autoroute were minimal.

We passed fields of lovely red poppies and odd but pleasing combinations of broom and pink roses. Eventually we were surrounded by high limestone mountains. We found ourselves on a very modern piece of highway lined with tall metal fencing apparently to keep bears of the road. This went on until almost right to Kastoria. I wonder just how many bears there are on the other side of the fences?

As we drove into Kastoria, we passed building after building selling furs. Kastoria was probably originally named after the beaver as the town had a thriving European beaver trade before the animal became extinct. Today it is a centre for mink. The town has a very mixed history starting with the Romans in 200 BC. Subsequent rulers were the Bulgarians until 1018, Byzantines, Normans, Niceans, local rulers, Byzantines, Serbs and Albanians just to name a few. The Ottomans conquered Kastoria around 1385 and kept until the Greeks took it in the First Balkan War in 1912. Following the end of the First World War the bulk of the Muslim population was transferred to Turkey.

During both World War II and the Greek Civil War, the town was repeatedly fought over and heavily damaged. It was nearly captured by the Communist Democratic Army of Greece in 1948, and the final battles of the civil war took place on nearby Mount Gramos in 1949.

After checking into our hotel, which had a lovely view over Lake Kastorias, we headed into town for lunch. There were lots of little restaurants lining the lakefront. We settled on one and ordered moussaka but of course it was not to be. It was time for yet another Greek salad. By now I could recite almost any restaurant menu including all the things they would be out of. However, it was fun to sit and watch the grebes with their babies floating by as well as the pelicans, who seemed to be having a lovely time feeding on fish and water snakes.

We went for a drive around part of the lake, a little scary as the road was narrow and if you went off only slightly you would certainly end up in the drink. It was time to return to the hotel. We were very close to the Albanian border and contemplated a short trip there but as we couldn't take the rental car across the border we thought better of it. It was time to plan tomorrow's adventure and have some tapas at the hotel.

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