No one told us about the pelicans in Prespes National Park.
I mean, if my Greek village was full of tame pelicans I might keep it to myself, too. But we had to find out about the pelicans the hard way.
As we took a morning walk from our country cottage in Prespes National Park to the shore of the lake, we wandered through a small village. In the center of the village square, we saw a pelican statue. Drew noted that a breed of large pelican is native to the area, thank you very much internet research. We thought it was nice for the village to commemorate its most famous bird with a statue.
And then the statue started to walk.
We gasped. Stared incredulously at the huge, waddling bird. Tiptoed nearer in the hopes of getting a good photo before the bird took off in fear of two tiptoeing humans. We inched closer. And closer.
And the bird just stared at us.
Nearby, the village dog lazed in the sun of the only restaurant on the square. Several cats waited eagerly for scraps from incoming fisherman. The pelican was completely unfazed by the gathering of animals and humans, and periodically passing cars. We quickly realized that just like the cats, the bird was waiting for a handout from a fisherman. The pelican was particularly impatient, as it tried to snag a treat from the bag of groceries in the opened trunk of a nearby car, parked alongside the docks.
I mean, fishing is hard work, even for a giant pelican. Might as well get the handout if you can.
One pelican became two, and the crowd of cats grew, as tiny fishing boats drew in to the village dock. This must be a daily ritual, we reasoned. Every person and animal seemed to know their roles. The cats jumped directly into the boats from the dock as they arrived. The pelicans belly flopped into the water, their lack of grace highlighting their strangely proportioned bodies.
We sat, dumbfounded, watching the entire scene unfold, symbiosis on display.
Other than the drama of the pelicans, our time in Prespes National Park (sometimes spelled Prespa in the Latin alphabet) was uneventful. We knew we wanted to spend our time in Greece in the northwest of the country, easy access from Macedonia and to the ferry that would eventually take us back to Italy. A long drive to Athens or even a flight to the Greek Islands was not on the books for this visit, and believe us, we looked into it.
It was just as well. A serendipitous search on AirBnB led us to a lovely isolated cottage in a tiny hamlet of 5 houses within the national park. While it was technically above our daily accommodation budget, we reasoned that our other expenses would be low, with nothing much to do other than walk, cook, read and sleep.
We took full advantage of the downtime. Our tiny portable speaker was on all day, as we cycled through various Spotify playlists, background noise to our stunning view. We drank coffee on the patio. We watched the various animals mosey around the fields, several horses, wild pigs, goats, sheep and cows. I got caught up on my Netflix documentary queue (I really enjoyed The Barkley Marathons for anyone needing a recommendation. Here’s the trailer.). I read at least one book.
Each night we built a fire in our cottage’s fireplace. As two fire building novices, we had a surprisingly difficult time getting the hang of the fire structure. The first night was an epic fail, a smoky, non-burning mess. We cursed the wildfires that seem to start with a mere spark, while we went through an entire box of matches with nothing but, well, an empty box of matches to show for it. By the second night we got the hang of it, and found the stash of dry wood.
A few days in, we were fire-building machines.
One afternoon, after spending more than half the day zoned out on our various electronic devices, we went for a hike up the path that began in front of our house. The trees were starting to turn red and yellow, and while warm, there was a slight crispness to the air.
The highlight of the hike was when a herd of goats passed us on the path.
We could hear these goats all week, their neck bells ringing and echoing around the valley. But we could never see them, as they prefer to graze under the cover of the trees, not out in the open fields. And just like that, they were in front of us. A few lazy herding dogs led the pack and the herder, a young guy chatting away on his cell phone, brought up the rear.
Prespes National Park is stunning and was an unexpected treat for two people just looking for a location to crash on the way to somewhere else. Maybe we loved it so much because we had no ingoing expectations, so our propensity for being delighted was high. Maybe we just got lucky and stumbled into one of Greece’s most gorgeous corners without trying too hard.
Or maybe, just maybe, it was the pelicans.
Travel Tip: Prespes National Park is in northwest Greece, near the borders of Macedonia and Albania. The closest major city with an airport is Thessaloniki, about a 3 hour drive to the east. We came from Ohrid, Macedonia, which is also about 3 hours drive, thanks in part to the twisting, mountain back roads that connect the two areas. If you want some beautiful vistas and a little rest and relaxation, with no crowds and very few tourists, then this destination is perfect.