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Published: September 21st 2016
Looking out over the landscape. The Roussanou Monastery is in the foreground.
As I left Corfu, I did something I've rarely done on this trip, which was not booking anywhere to stay at my next destination. This was because I had no idea whether I'd even make it to my next destination that day; Meteora.
Basically I had no idea what the bus connections were and therefore how far I could get; but the hostels in the towns around Meteora seemed to have plenty of room so if I managed to get there, then I knew I'd probably be alright.
With the ferry dropping me off in Igoumenitsa, I knew that I'd be able to then get to Ioannina but with only two daily buses onwards from Ioannina to Meteora, I wasn't sure if I'd make the last connecting bus and end up being stuck in Ioannina.
In the end I needn't have worried; I arrived in Ioannina around 2pm and the last bus to Kalambaka - one of the towns that people base themselves at to explore Meteroa - was at 3.30pm so I made it easily. And the best thing about Greek bus station is that they all have free wifi!
Greek buses are however, expensive. 24€ for essentially four hours
Courtyard Inside Gran Meteora
Pleasant and well-kept courtyard inside the Gran Meteora Monastery.
of travel is steep considering that I did similar travel times in France
and Italy for much less. This is maybe due to the state-run monopoly on the bus network here.
Anyway, I ended up at my second-choice hostel in Kalambaka because my first choice was full. Meteora Central Hostel was second-choice because it was more expensive; but I think that you definitely get your 3€ extra a night's worth as this was almost a completely and newly refurbished building where everything was modern and ultra-clean - maybe the cleanest hostel I have stayed at in Europe. I even had my own room as it was only me and two other guests in the whole place that night and I started to question the viability of the place considering the expense the owners must have gone to in order to have the place in such condition - everything worked perfectly from the showers to the air-conditioning and the switches to the toilet flush. Everything was brand-spanking new.
It was with one of the other guests at the hostel, a French girl called Veronique, that I went to explore the majestic mountains and monasteries of Meteora.
Orthodox hermits were the
The second monastery we visited.
first to come to the area around the 9th century and upon seeing these towering, titanic slabs of rock and their sheer cliff faces, it's no wonder that they thought they'd arrived somewhere sacred.
Initially, these hermits lived in the natural caves carved into the rocks, away from the world and its temptations. This form of self-imprisonment was a sacrifice made in order to show how complete their devotion was to God. As more hermits started to show up, soon a monastic community was formed and monasteries and nunneries were built atop Meteora's rocky pinnacles.
There were originally twenty-four monasteries in total, but these days only six remain. Looking up at them, it really made you wonder how the hell they got up there in the first place. In order to get supplies up to the monasteries, many of the monasteries had winches which pulled up supplies - as well as people - up in a net. I'd heard that you could still use this winch-and-net method to get yourself up there but it seems that they don't go in for that anymore.
Instead, Veronique and I took the bus up which dropped us off at Gran Meteora, the west-most
Inside the Gran Meteora monastery.
monastery and the biggest of the six. It also had the biggest crowds of the six as we waited in a long but moving queue through the tunnels and carved-in staircase that led you up inside.
Inside, visitors can view the old kitchen, the old workshop, a spectacular view across the area from a viewing platform and most importantly, the chapel with its elaborate frescoes and chandeliers on the inside. It was a shame that you couldn't take photos of what was the nicest parts of the monasteries - so lucky I had Veronique with me who was a bit more willing to break the rules.
The second monastery was just a ten-minute stroll in the baking sun away. Varlaam was much smaller than Gran Meteora, but no less impressive. The highlights here were its winch and its massive old barrel that was used to store wine.
A further twenty minutes walk away was the nunnery of Roussanou, which really wasn't worth the 3€ entrance fee as it literally consisted of just two rooms, one of them being the chapel. Veronique did appreciate Roussanou's intimacy however. What Roussanou really had going for it however was the view from the rocks
Hermits may have lived in caves such as these in Meteora.
above it. Simply stunning and possibly the postcard pic of Meteora.
I read a blog about Meteora which described the landscape as being reminiscent of the scenery from the old Road Runner cartoons. The blog wasn't far wrong. I'd even go as far to say that this has been the most spectacular place I have seen on these European travails thus far. Highly, highly impressive.
Walking back to Kalambaka from Kastrati - the nearest town to the three monasteries we had just visited - we then bumped into the hostel owner at a cafe who shouted us a drink and then a lift back to Kalambaka on his scooter, which was a godsend in that heat. What a champion; he was very nice and helpful throughout my stay. En route, he took me to one of the old hermit caves where locals left an array of clothes and flags. You couldn't get up to the cave unfortunately, as only a skilled rock climber would have been able to scale the twenty-odd metre up - which made me admire even more the efforts of the original monks that first arrived here.
Although really friendly and nice, the hostel owner
Holy Trinity Monastery
Used as the setting for a Bond villain lair in the film "For Your Eyes Only".
and his wife did typify Greeks somewhat. Talking to each other, it seemed like they were in some sort of permanent argument and even while talking to me the wife would talk with a fiery passion that made me feel like I had said something wrong.
And I had - having explained my plans for after Meteora, I told them that I was going to Macedonia.
"That is not Macedonia! We are Macedonia!" she tells me with intense eyes.
Macedonia of course, is the northern province of Greece and there is an international dispute between Greece and Macedonia over the use of the name "Macedonia".
The hostel owner's wife defended her country's argument with typical zeal.
This passion is something that is reflected in Greek football culture - where average teams in an average league have almost religious support. Much like their neighbours Turkey although a Greek would definitely dispute that comparison!
As for the town of Kalambaka itself, there isn't much to it. It is almost completely dead during the day, especially in the afternoon when all the tourists are in the mountains above but it comes to life at night with its many bars and fast food
Some of the monasteries have staircases carved into the rock; this is the one leading up to the Holy Trinity Monastery.
joints. Trying to save money, those 1.50€ gyros were lunch and dinner.
It had a weird supermarket too. It was a Carrefour so I was expecting it to have a decent variety of products; but it seemed that all it had was three aisles of cereal. Put it this way, I couldn't find anything that I went in there for. Individual items were carefully placed equal distances apart on all the shelves. It felt like I was back in Cuba
Otherwise the town is well-developed and well-kept.
I decided to stay an extra night because I needed some time to properly investigate how to get to Lake Ohrid, Macedonia from here, which looks complicated at best. It also allowed me to rest a little after a hectic few days as well as visit the Holy Trinity Monastery, which was closed the day before.
I really wanted see this one because it is arguably the most spectacularly located of all the monasteries and it had arguably the best views too. Which was probably why it was chosen as a Bond villain lair for Roger Moore's outing as 007 in "For Your Eyes Only" - so as a huge Bond
Surveying The Scene
I look out at the rock formations from the rocks above the Roussanou Nunnery.
fan, I just had to get up there.
No bus was required this time as there is a trail up from Kalambaka up to the monastery - a steep, 35-minute climb. It was however, much more preferable to walking along the ashphalt with the cars the previous day however. Also, the sun was nicely hidden behind the clouds meaning that it wasn't so much of a sweat getting up there. Still loads of sweat, just not as much.
And it was totally worth it as Holy Trinity did indeed have the best views - it had the best staircase too. While Croatia's water and coastline
is stunning and while Corfu's beaches
were amazing, Meteora's scenery is from another world.
I was supposed to write up another blog entry that evening but ended up watching the Olympics all night. I've got a bit tired of the sightseeing/blogging routine. I had my own dorm again that night and having got fed up at Greek TV's Olympic coverage (sorry, but I just can't get into rhythmic gymnastics) I decided to stream the BBC's coverage of hockey, football and basketball. Watching the Beebs again and watching with English commentary (even if it was crap) did make me
Inside The Chapel
Sneaky photo I took inside the chapel in the Holy Trinity Monastery.
pine for London again. While I enjoyed some privacy that night in a dorm so clean, modern and comfortable that I wanted to stay even longer, I realised just how much I missed having such privacy and comfort on a permanent basis.
So I decided there and then that I had enough things to sort out to warrant me returning to London once I am finished travelling through Europe.
But for now I had to carry on - and sort out a very tricky passage into Macedonia.
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