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Published: April 29th 2017
17 hours on a boat!!!! It must be first apart from 1966. The SS Nevasa. A school ship that took me from Liverpool to Spain, Portugal and Africa. 2 weeks on board now that is long time. We did find things to do that passed the time. Food for tea, quizzes in the cabin. Looking out of the porthole until it got too dark to see anything. We even walked on to the upper deck where the wind blew the cobwebs away. Where a woman let her dog pee in the pool. Luckily the pool was empty but still she deserved a kick up the backside for doing it . I felt a sense of deja vue - we had only just seen the first grandpa, his son and their grandchildren peeing the bushes at an aire. What is it with Europeans that they feel the necessity to pee in bushes or let their dogs do their business anywhere. Is it me? Am I getting intolerant? Too right I am. Our cabin was fine apart from the noise from the air conditioners and the constant vibration of the bed from the engines below. Sleep did not come easy. In fact I
woke in the early hours feeling distinctly queasy. Next time perhaps we should struggle to get a green card and insurance and do the route through Austria and the Balkans. Morning broke at 5.15. What we had not thought about was the fact that Greece was two hours ahead of GMT. My watch told me it was 6.55. The ships clocks an hour later. The boat rocked her way through the narrow passage between Durrells Crete and the Greek mainland.
Breakfast was a sad affair. A sweetly sickly pain a chocolate and coffee. The tannoy gave out announcements which were undecipherable. Greek and English but not English that we could understand . We picked up the odd word - Wait - disembark - but nothing else . We asked at reception and were told that we would be called in 20 minutes or 25 minutes or whenever and would be able to go back to Suzy then and not before. We were told that we needed to get our return tickets for the cabin when we boarded on our return trip. What is it that makes you think you wont get a cabin? Glass half empty feeling I guess.
We waited and we listened . Another announcement more wait and wait . Eventually we did get the call to return to Suzy and a mad exodus from the ship occured. Luckily we had checked which deck Suzy was on and we found her quickly. The mad rush off the ship was just that. No order just the equivalent of a grand prix start with cars , vans , lorries and motorhomes making one dash for the small exit. We hadnt a clue where to go once we got off the ship. Luckily I had spoken to a Brummy guy before we got on and knew that he knew where to go. No signs , nothing so we followed him and found ourselves on Greek soil, on Greek roads with signs we could not read. A funny alphabet that made no sense .
We followed the motorway which had speed limits that changed as fast as a fiddlers elbow. 100 then up to 130 . A tunnel and down to 80. Signs advised us to wear seatbelts and crash helmuts and not to use mobile phones. All of which were lost on the Greek drivers who flouted every
law possible. There were few decent roadside stops along the way and no petrol stations. Roadside shrines were in abundance. Some old rusted and uncared for. Others brand new stone and ceramic small imitations of churches filled with plastic bottles, candles and other unimaginable things. We thought that they marked a spot where someone had died . A lot of people must have been killed in accidents however it seems they are erected both for that reason but equally to thank the saints for something. A sort of miniture place to worship along the way. We stopped in a piece of rough ground. The buses pulled up . The eastern European women trooped off , dropped their knickers and peed alongside the road. It hadn't taken us long to see this behaviour. In fact in St Croix french grandfather , his son and a number of grandchildren were taken into the bushes rather than walk the shorter distance to the toilets. As always I ask what that is all about?
Our first stop was to be Meteora North of Kalampaka in the North West corner on the Thessalonian Plain. Grey precipitous rocks rise out of the flat valley and
perched precariously on top of these lumps of rock are the monasteries that area is famous for. Looking at them I feel that all that is missing is a Tibetan Monk and the mountains of Nepal. It looks so other worldly and strange. The towers of rock are sandstone and were easily carved into by early monks trying to get away from it all. There are 60 of these peaks and they rise up to over 984 feet in places. Only reached by ladders these became safe havens to become a hermit. Impregnable the first monastery proper was built by St Athanasius from the Mount Athos region, Others followed and before long there were monasteries clinging to these impossible rocks right through the area. By the 15th and 16 centuries the walls inside were being decorated by frescoes. Sadly you wont see any pictures of the inside as no photography is allowed. Modesty was also the order of the day. No short sleeved shirts for men although they seemed more relaxed about this. Us women had to cover up our shoulders and wear skirts over our trousers. We visited Agios Nikolaos . Parking was easy with plenty of room for
motorhomes. We overlooked the plain and found the gateway up easily. Its a blooming long way up though through the woods in the searing heat of the midday sun. The path sloped upwards with steps and ramps. Wild flower grew everywhere. Greece is awash with flowers in the Spring. Red huge Clover , purple heathers tiny harebells. Yellow mignonettes were beginning to colour up. Exhausted we reached the top. We entered the coolness of the interior and were greeted . Welcome 3 euros . I looked in my bag . No purse I had left it in Suzy. The lovely guy on reception would have let us in for nothing but that did not feel right. He sent Glenn down in the lift which saved him half the walk down and told him to wait for the lift back. Whilst waiting a group of Germans barged their way in without paying and nearly knocked his hand painted icons down from their shelves. A french lady insisted her daughter was only 16 when she quite clearly was a tad older. I felt sorry for the poor guy on the counter as he was bombarded with nasty comments. He had the patience of a saint.
As I sat waiting I looked out and saw the monks beehives . They sold honey in the summer. The bees were enormous and feasted on the laburnum plants. Frescoes covered every inch of the walls. Saints, Biblical scenes. The young lad tried to tell us which saints were which. He tried to explain the Bible story depicted and serve at the same time. Multitasking he showed us visions of hell and destruction all painted in the 1500's. The frescoes were painted by Theophanes the Cretan who had a bit of a reputation of fresco painting. There were 10 cells in the small monastery, views to die for and a tiny Katholicon . An altar piece richly decorated that housed just three monks at any one time. Gold leaf everywhere . Boy did I want to take pictures. Abandoned in the 19th century it now is just a tourist hot spot.
Climbing down made muscles in our legs scream out in agony. OUr chests tight with the exertions. Our next task was to drive through the area to view the other monasteries before finding our campsite for the night. Roussanou a nunnery high up on the hill visible for miles . We got glimpses of other small monasteries perched on the hilltops looking in danger of falling off.
We stayed at Camping Kastraki. A scruffy campsite but rather homely in an odd way. Park up anywhere . See me tomorrow the owner called out. The plots were small but we found one in a corner next to a Swiss motorhome, a Greek one and a German. Grass no hardstanding, a small shop, a bar /cafe and poor wifi but with views of the hills The word Meteora means in Greek suspended in mid air and looking at them from the campsite it was easy to agree with this definition.
My last thoughts before going to bed - "And it sometimes seems to me when I watch the heavens in the silence of the night it is as if the stars in the profound silence of space were listening to the eternal music of the divine" Perhaps this was a similar thought that the monks took to bed with them.
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