We enjoyed two days of luxury. We sank into the lakeside armchairs of Kastoria and sipped cappucinos. We explored the Byzantine churches and old fur trader mansions, and we got lost in the narrow streets. But mostly we did nothing at all, just ate and slept and read our books.
Kastoria was a strange place, especially New Kastoria with its fur workshops and showrooms, which we’d walked through on our arrival. The area had first thrived on the beaver fur trade, then when the beavers had been hunted to extinction, the resourceful inhabitants set up mink farms. The trade got a boost when the Scandinavians outlawed the fur trade. The best customers were Russians, and many of the restaurants had Russian menus.
We saw where the mink came from when we took a taxi out along the busy main road, avoiding the first few miles walking on the next stage of our journey. The taxi driver had been born in Australia to Greek parents and had returned to live in Greece eight years ago, preferring the laid-back lifestyle and the beaches. He insisted on driving us on beyond the turn-off from the main road. “You shouldn’t walk this stretch. The sheep dogs would attack you. There are enormous flocks of five hundred or more around here.” Actually, we weren’t sure if he’d got this right. There were cultivated fields on either side, and sheep were far more likely to be way up in the mountains. “Now you’re safe – this is pig country!” he said as he dropped us off. We could see the large agricultural sheds with their tin roofs in the distance, but we found out later that we’d misunderstood what he’d said. They weren’t pig farms, but mink.
There are now thriving colonies of wild mink too, bad for local waterlife maybe, but worth more per skin. Maybe hunting will keep the numbers down.