I am not the most confident of travellers. Some may be surprised by this, for I have travelled a lot – in recent years even more so. A large part of this is that I have got out of practice of managing on my own, having relied for so many years on Val. When there is someone there who seems happy to take on the role of, say, passport carrier, it is all too easy to hand over one’s passport without even thinking about it. Which is a long-winded and rather convoluted way of saying that this trip has been hanging over me for some time, casting its own dampener upon my forthcoming adventure.
Val also takes care of the planning and admin – the research, the booking, all the rest – and of course she has taken that on for this trip as much as ever. Though in this case her responsibility has gone as far as booking me as far as Thessaloniki airport, and even I can manage that comfortably enough: get to the airport, get on a plane (though I did have to negotiate what described itself as “the biggest automated check-in system in the world!”)
Giovanni, who is (I think) the founder of Second Tree, had assured me that it would be too difficult to get from the airport all the way to the other side of the city to the bus station in time to get the afternoon bus, but various things made this relatively easy: I was among the first into the terminal, through immigration, re-united with my bag, and out again: fifteen minutes, tops. I then swiftly circumvented the problem of getting across the city by taking a taxi. Easy-peasy.
The bus station was a pretty impressive circular building, though somewhat gone to seed, but it worked efficiently, and I was booked, with plenty of time, onto the next bus to Ioannina. It’s true I did have to be told off for the crime of trying to take my kit bag onto the bus with me, and the bus turned out to have even more cramped seating that the Easyjet plane – so more bruised knees – but I was nearly done.
Nearly done except a three hour bus ride, past some pretty astonishing snow-capped mountains (who’d’ve thought?) and through masses of impressively built tunnels. But then Ioannina. I had kept in touch through the magic of WhatsApp with various Second Tree contacts, but there was still a lot of confusion that I might really be arriving so early.
But, to my surprise and relief, it was done, and the black cloud that had been hanging over me lifted. There was a flurry of introductions – most of which I have forgotten – and I was in the volunteer’s house. Of which more later.
And not a mention, you might have noticed, of Coronavirus, the topic which seems to have occupied the whole world. For myself, a bit of avoidance of the occasional cougher, a bit more hand-washing, and the occasional squirt of one of those anti-viral foams (which in itself is noteworthy, as my usual response is that I am building up my immunity). And very few masks, apart from some at the bus station, but that might have been as much against the diesel fumes as anything else.
And everyone here is pretty dismissive. Which is either sensible or insane. Time will tell.