Ioannina is a fascinating city. I don’t feel like I’m in Greece. I’ve seen some Greek islands, I’ve been all around Athens, and I’ve driven the southern coast of the country, but nothing is like this little city positioned up here in the north, just an hour from the Albanian border.
I’ve spent the last two days being shown the city by my friend, J, who has been living here for the last 5 months, but I’ve also had the opportunity to slip out of the flat in the mornings while he is still sleeping and get a feel for this place on my own. There are 100,000 people in this place, but it hasn’t felt this way to me yet. I suppose the city stretches further out toward the surrounding mountains than I’ve been able to see so far, but from where I am in the city center, it doesn’t present to be this large. Ioannina is blowing my mind because of the way the streets are designed. It feels as if I’m living in an old Disney movie, like Cinderella or Beauty and the Beast. Perhaps these silly films are some of my only references to cities with cobblestone streets, created solely for walking and no vehicles, with storefronts coming right out to the sidewalks in front, each turn another piece to the maze that is this city. The shops are all a bit higher-end than I’ve seen in other places, and there are more coffee shops per block than in Athens as well. This place is quaint, but I can tell that the people here must have some money as well, the city center is well put together. Outside of the city center, certainly within walking distance, there’s a picturesque lake, tucked next to a snow peaked mountain, which is part of a range that surrounds the majority of the city. The snow is no bother though, it’s just for show as the temperature this weekend has been cooler than I’m used to, but probably still about 50 degrees or so in the sunshine.
On the north side of the city, there is a massive castle which was designed to protect a large portion of the houses from attackers, so, essentially, thousands of people live within these castle walls. Unfortunately, J’s flat isn’t within this area, but we have been able to walk to the castle and explore within it’s walls on both days. Entry is free and the castle boasts a great view of the lake and mountains and the homes within the walls all have identical rust-colored shingle roofs, which makes the whole place a real time warp.
Other than tripping-out on just how different this place is than the rest of Greece, I’ve been thoroughly enjoying having some quality time with my friend who I haven’t seen in 11 months. He’s a solid, solid human being and it’s such a privilege to just be in his presence. I really don’t know if I can express how great it is to be able to have spent two full days with him without any interruption from the outside world. I’ve even been without internet the majority of my time here, so it’s been really great to just disconnect from the outside world and CONNECT with who is in front of me.
J had me look into flying back to Athens since he heard the cost of the bus ticket was the same as the cost of a plane ticket. I looked into this and discovered he was right. The plane ticket was fifty cents more than the bus ticket and would save me five hours of sitting on the road, so I’ve purchased a plane ticket back to Athens in the morning and will make my way back to Leros after this flight. It’s strange to think that I’ll travel by bus, plane, ferry, and train all in the same weekend, but I guess you take what you can get when you’re here in Greece. It’s hard to imagine leaving in the morning after being here for just a short amount of time, but I’m glad for the time that I did have here and will only remember it fondly. I don’t suppose I would ever have a reason to return to Ioannina, especially since there are so many other great places in the world to see, but you never know. I’d love to see Albania someday, so maybe passing through this place again would make sense. Time will tell, but I’m grateful for what (and who) I’ve seen here.