Walking on the wild side - August 13
Steve exploring the Vikos Gorge
Cave dwellings of Matera
Steve at Delphi
Jo and I decided to head off into some of the most remote parts of Greece and Italy for an adventurous journey to various places we'd wanted to see and explore for some time...
On arrival in Greece we headed off to Delphi. The journey was intriguing, gradually winding our way up the side of huge and craggy Mount Parnassus. The site of Delphi is particularly beautiful, situated on the flanks of the mountain above a deep ravine. Once believed to be the navel of the Earth it was the most important oracle of the ancient world. But there was a whole other side to Delphi too. This sanctuary of Apollo was given over to Dionysus in the winter...
Further up the mountainside, a car ride followed by a walk up a rocky dirt road for well over an hour, is the extraordinary Corician cave, sacred to Pan. Here the Maenad women gathered to perform their mysterious rites of Dionysus. It's like a huge womb inside, flanked with colourful stalactites and stalagmites that almost seem to come to life. You see faces everywhere in its primal depths. We wanted to explore the chambers beyond but the sun was low in the sky outside and we decided to wait until next time... It's possibly the spookiest yet most enthralling place I've ever been into and a great inspiration for music.
Beyond Delphi we drove to Northern Greece, where we saw the Meteora, fabulous dramatic towering rocks on which old monasteries perch precariously. We also visited Dodona, ancient Greece's second most important oracle centre, and the Vikos Gorge, one of the deepest in the world. Its massive scale brought to mind the Grand Canyon. It's in a very remote and wild part of Greece near the Albanian border.
Finally we travelled to Mount Olympus. It's as big as many of the mountains in the Alps and the road took us a fair way up before it ended and the steep ascent by foot began. We never quite made base camp, but it's a beautiful mountain - with huge rocky outcrops, thundering waterfalls and lush trees. You could see how people believed it to be the home of the gods.
And so on from Greece to Southern Italy. Our wonderful friend Vania met us at Bari airport and took us to the town of Matera, where cave dwellings gradually became houses over many centuries. In the labyrinthine streets of this old part known as the "Sassi", you feel transported back in time to an exotic world of the past. No wonder film makers have come here to recreate old Jerusalem... Vania's friend Lorenzo Rota who showed us around has been a leading light in the move to turn this place from a virtually abandoned zone into a thriving, vibrant community.
The following day we actually did see a ghost town. As you approach Craco it looks like a huge, towering Babel. Then closer in you realise by its dark windows and crumbling facades that everyone left years ago. You wonder why, because the buildings in this town are old and beautiful. It's because the earth on the hillside gave way. People were forced to leave and set up home in a new town, bereft of all the great atmosphere of those once proud dwellings. You feel the ghosts of ages whispering through gaping doorways and you can virtually hear their footsteps on the crumbling steps...
On the last morning Vania took us to see a the "Cave of Original Sin", where 9th century monks painted frescoes from the book of Genesis... one of the many caves in that region full of chasms and fissures. Then finally we sought out Jo's grandfather's grave in the war cemetery at Bari. He died there in hospital in 1944. By coincidence my grandfather Jim was working in the same hospital at the same time.
And so we come full circle. Jim died many years ago now, and while I was away I heard about the death of Peter, his son and my inspirational dad. My family wanted me to stay put because there was nothing I could achieve by returning at that point. I was relieved it was a very active holiday, because otherwise I would have been overwhelmed by sadness. Now back home, all the memories are flooding in and I'm preparing for the funeral.
The experiences of our time away give food for thought and lead to several questions regarding continued life and how the souls of many carry on living through us all...
Steve with view of the Meteora
Steve in the Corycian Cave
Jo with Vania in Matera
Jo and Steve at the war cemetery, Bari