Meteora & Delphi

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May 28th 2008
Published: June 3rd 2008
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Athens to Delfi(Delphi)

Additional maps: Delfi to Kalambaka | Kalambaka to Athens


Breakfast of Greek proportions- of boiled eggs, cereal, yogurt, honey, cheeses, hams, good coffee and teas, great bread rolls sufficient for the girls to collect for a snack on the way.

The car was delivered - a Volvo S4 series, which was just big enough for us to squeeze in. We left all the large bags at the hotel and packed our subset of “stuff” into small bags into the boot.

Rodger kindly offered to drive but had to get used to the gears again and to an English girl giving instructions. Carmen, the English speaking Garmin GPS, sat on the windscreen. Carmen, aptly named by Charmaine on a New Zealand trip, had received a transplant with the roads of Europe in fine detail, other than Greece and Croatia, in which only the main roads were available for upload.

We left Athens about 11.00, turned on Carmen, who sent us on our way through the traffic and winding roads across to the express highway heading to Lamia.

The Greek expressways have three and sometimes four lanes in which we sat in the middle lane in case we had to swing a right or a left turn. The Expressways are superb but getting into the fast lane was reminiscent of German Autobahn fast lanes or formula 1 tracks, where cars whistle past at what seems to be in excess of 200+ kph.

There were no speed zones except when you approached toll ways and they recommended you slow down to 100 then 80 - 60. At E2.75 a toll we passed through three (the last one was unattended- and we then realised that Carmen was only programmed for highways so turned off towards Livadia and worked our way across to the country roads to Delphi.

We tried to find that piece of road you could drive off, to sit under a tree, and look at the stark rock mountains of Greece and eat our boiled eggs and ham and cheese but no luck. The roads over the mountains had gutters about 30cm high and the road had no verge so you couldn’t get off and parking by the road was dangerous.

While there were no speed limits on the expressways the smaller roads were signposted at 50km, which meant most cars, traveled at 100-120+on winding two lane roads. We eventually found a small village with a tree, had lunch, and watched the cars ricochet thought the small village. The New Zealanders would have put in a high judder bar and operated a suspension workshop to take advantage of those that didn't slow down.

The mountain ranges that lead to Arahova on the top of the road were just spectacular - stark, rocky and shrubby to what appeared to be the snowline. There was an alpine feel to the towns and Arahova, at the highest point of the road was an extremely narrow street town.

The houses and shops appeared to have grown up by the road ways, crowd over the footpaths and roads, and seem so close they look as if they have been pruned by the passing traffic.

Delphi was about 13 km down hill and the road hung onto the escarpment that swept from 1500 m down to the sea. Delphi is at about 1200 meters high.

We stopped at the ancient Delphi Gymnasium - which was in its peak in 800 BC. This was a Greek university of learning where no one wore clothes so they weren't distracted by the latest clothing fashions. They could thus spend their time earnestly studying Greek, maths, philosophy, trigonometry, astronomy, poetry, and a course in political science which set the evolution of democracy in the modern world - and all with no clothes on….. so now you know why so many students failed Democracy 101 and as a consequence democratic governments have been run badly every since.

Unfortunately, the site was closed until the following morning so we went into Delphi to find the Arcopole hotel, which clings onto the edge of the range. After three rounds of the one-way narrow streets, we finally found the hotel on a lower road.

After several beers went for a walk around the town which consists of three one way streets that had narrow gutters over grown with houses, with rows of bright flowerpots along the curbs and cars snuggled beside them.

Bought a Greek phone sim card and 20 euro top up card but could not get loaded. I finally asked a Greek to have a go it took him some 15 minutes and Greek frustration looking at the sky, grumping until finally with a smile he said it's all done.

The girls went shopping for lunch makings and to find a restaurant for dinner tonight.

Dinner that night was at a top restaurant - at the top of the town overlooking the valley stretching down below us in the fading light of dusk with the town of Itea twinkling below us.

The meal was cheaper than Athens by a long way, and, more importantly, about three times better. Wandered home past the cats and to bed- the body time clocks are still not set- for an early morning start.

The Acropole is a friendly family pub and Swiss in character with golden wooden beams supporting the floors and pots of bright flowers but we found that the breakfast settings in the restaurant was 2/3 the size required to fit all the guests who all wanted to have a 7.00am breakfast. I guess everyone wanted to get to the site at 8.00. We packed in, grabbed the mandatory cheese, hard boiled egg tomato yogurt honey bread and jam and coffee breakfast and took off to the Delphi site by the town.

The site was recorded as a centre from 1400 BC, was one of the few towns that the Persians could not conquer - because, the records say, a natural rockslide annihilated a lot of the Persian Army, and put the rest to flight. Seeing the slopes, which are akin to the Dedua slopes in NG where the locals set up many tonnes of rocks in baskets and waited for the coastal folks to come up before cutting the ropes and dropping the rocks on them to tenderize them!

Delphi sits against the backdrop of a great rock cliff with the buildings dispersed across the hillside. There are a large numbers of treasuries. Since Delphi’s origin is from the gods visits to earth - the earliest oracle was Gaia the mother of the gods and it was her grand daughter who gave Apollo his surname for a birthday present - Helen said most women get their surname for their wedding present!

The wealthy and famous King Midas sent his royal throne as a symbol of respect to the oracle and King Gyges of Croesus sent to Delphi a 250kg gold lion sitting on 117 while gold bricks as tribute for the advice he was given. Ironically the recent stories says that the oracle lived in the caves which were subject to a gas that seeped from the earth that was mind bending, so when the oracle came out she was in a trance and she needed interpreters to convert the gibberish to a meaningful prediction. I guess this is akin to the legislators proclaiming the law that needs to be interpreted for the common man...not inferring that it gibberish....

In addition, of course in tragic Greek circumstances, a neighboring King saw the opportunity to impose a ΗΠ tax on the gifts and prophecies, which understandably upset the “Delphiniums!” that some upstart middle state government was taking a cut of their loot. So they called for a holy war to rid them selves of these unfair impositions and with the overthrow of the king (after nine years of fighting) they brought down the first gift and prophecy tax. It was finally the Romans in 165 BC who finally conquered Delphi. Enough of ancient history….

A most gorgeous male Greek TV current affairs presenter was up on the site and was doing a “thing” on Delphi supported by a cameraman, producer, director, gaffer, and a portable camera track line on which the camera was rolled. The camera man wheeled the camera up
The Monastery of the Holy TrinityThe Monastery of the Holy TrinityThe Monastery of the Holy Trinity

This is the axel for the winch to which the ropes are attached to pull the provision up to the monastery.
and down to correct all the bumps with little rocks under the rail, while the presenter fluffed his hair and practiced his lines while the director mothered around him and adjusted his collars and flicked his hair to make him look the way he wanted for the take.

We wandered off thought the massive piles of cut and numbered stones that obviously made up the buildings and looked as if they were in the process of partial reconstruction. This was bigger than any 10,000-piece jigsaw puzzle… and a lot heavier.

I was fascinated to see how the granite/marble blocks had been put together. Cut into the slabs of rocks and marble were key holes into which they had poured bronze locking connectors with a place for a metal pin to lock adjacent blocks together to ensure the face of the blocks were true.

We spend the time wandering around the site, which though interesting, was not as elegant or as delicate as Ephesus or Dilos? (Apollo’s island off Mikanos) although the mosaic floor of animals interposed with fishes adjacent to another mosaic of large mythical animals and then a whole floor of birds. They were impressive but more in keeping with a common court area than the private residence of the oracles of the gods.

Headed back to Delphi town, filled up with petrol, where we met a Greek International pilot serving at a BP service station who kindly cut and polished a small scratch we put on the car, bought some bread rolls and headed off to Kalambaka. I guessed Kalambaka’s position and plotted onto Carmen's maps. Now that we were in Delphi, Carmen could actually find us and she directed us very easily to the bottom of the range through the extensive olive groves shimmering silver green.

From the top of the range, we thought the valley was grassland but it was olive groves stretching for miles by the roads. The road then swept up north across to Lamia but Carmen took us off the main road across country towards the expressway. We stopped in a small town; coffeed, photographed the local church and wandered off along the narrow country road to the highway.

At Lamia the by-pass road missed the city but we were caught at a crossroad and eventually crawled up off the coastal plains into the foothills and then across the plains with bordering mountains. It is a little like the Canterbury plains with rich soils and water irrigators pumping water on their wide range of crops.

Thence to Karditsa and Trikala and then the long, straight run into Meteora.

The roads then entered some beautiful countryside of wheat and rolling fields surrounded by hills with irrigation pumps spraying the fields. New sections of roadway were like glass and although they were two lane there was construction work being undertaken the whole route to make it a dual highway.

As we approached Karditsa we noted it was the Truck crane centre of the universe. Almost every car yard was packed with 3 to 10 tonne truck with the cranes extended to the sky to show how tall they could go - we thought it was very Greek.

We were traveling along the valley floor and we began to approach the head of the valley where giant rocks projected out of the earth. This was Meteora, the land of the rock forest.

It was on the pointiest and least accessible that the monks had sought solitary refuge from the world and set up monasteries on these inaccessible rocks with, for most of them, only rope ladders until 1923 when the steps were eventually cut into the rocks.

Arrived at the Orphaeus hotel, on the edge of town unpacked and headed, courtesy of the receptionist’s advice, to St Stephens and the Holy Trinity Monasteries some 5 km away on the top of the escarpment. The road up was an easy driving and beautiful. You could see the small town on Kalambaka nestled at the foot of the massive rock abutments.

St Stephens closed 5.30pm so we went back to the Holy Trinity which closed at 5.00, in the foolish believe that we could visit a couple of monasteries in two and a half hours. At the Holy Trinity you had to walk down about 150-200 ft along 9 switchback, across a small bridge that joined the main range to the jutting rock on which the monastery was built. Then up the steps and narrow staircase cut into the rock was like walking up the inside of a castle turret and through tunnels to the top which opened to a small court yard with shaded trees and a wooden door covered with metal spikes to discourage people trying to bash it down, which leads into the monastery.

The attendants all had relatives in Melbourne but they didn't know Kimon Kouralis or Peter Lambos!
There was a large dish of “Greek delights” which I thought were more delicate in flavour to the Turkish delights I’d tried.

Just inside the monastery was the area in which the ancient monks used a rope winch powered by men walking in a circle with a wooden spoke through the main drive, on which the rope was laid and to which they attached a sledge upon which they strapped the provisions and wound them up the monastery.

The work areas were closed off as it is still a working monastery and the chapel is always perched on the highest point with a dome elaborately painted with the host of saints with golden halos, surrounding the domes. They are all dark with chandeliers and all photographs were forbidden. Outsides were gardens filled with fruit trees, rosemary, roses and lavender. On the cliff, some 600 ft above the town were the bell towers and a cross overlooking the town.

By the time we got back to the road it was too late to get see St Stephens so returned to town and went for a walk around the town. This is a cute town, which is obviously a tourist town. Found a Restaurant with an interesting menu owned by a Greek lad Petros, who had lived in Tasmania for 25 years. Returned that night and had the restaurant special of a chook roasted in a lemon and oregano sauce and a signature disk of pork cooked on a skewer and served on grease proof paper This was the name of the restaurant - Grease Proof Paper. We thought it should have been “ Greece Proof Paper”. And we finished off with a quince yogurt.

This was the cheapest and the best meal we’d had. The local wine was a trifle sharp of a variety of grape we didn’t know.

In the early morning the rocks overhanging the township look like a giant castle and St Stephen’s was perched on the top of the great tower.

Breakfast at the hotel was in a huge restaurant. We sat outside overlooking the swimming pools and over breakfast watched three pink gowned women mop the tiles surrounding the pool.

We returned to St Stephens which was a monastery that you could just walk into without the steps and the ladders. There was a portico entrance with a little nun busily talking on the phone who waved us in. The entrance swept into a delightful courtyard surrounded with gardens and a couple of nuns dead-heading flowers and one was picking the most beautiful aromatic white/creamy flowers that hung down from a deep green leafed tree and was putting them into a basket.

There were gardenias and roses and the air was heavy with the fragrance of flowers. Outside the chapel were metal gongs and timber slab drums, which were beaten to call the people to prayer. The chapel was light and airy and you could easily see the painting which were fresh and alive not dark and dreary as may are. A large sand dish, filled with sand held burning candles and we lit a few for friends.

The gardens outside extended to the edge of the rock and allowed you to see down over the town nestled below clinging like moss to the base of the ancient stone forest.

A small gift shop full of icons including St George and the dragon and all of others crowded the walls. Jan bought a tablecloth and found it was a bargain with three for the price of one. Di and Helen spoke to the nuns who called them into their quarters and gave them some of the flowers with instruction to dry them in the dark for 20 days and then infuse the dried flowers in water- brought to the boil and then, when you drink the infusion, there will be no tomorrow. We laughed and though of the little nuns sitting up here brewing up their tea for a good nights sleep.

We walked around the rocks and there was a gentle quietness with only the twittering of birds in the trees below.

We drove back to town and up the back road to the other monasteries - the road along this side of the mountain was narrow and crowded with busses carrying visitors, crept through the switchback to the monasteries. The loop road was being repaired and so traffic now all had to travel back through the town to reach the other monasteries.

St Nicholas was the first and it was a steep climb straight from the road up, maybe 150 ft and we though we would rather go to one that was higher up the range. St Barbara Roussanou was next and it looked about 150 ft up. It had a five way switchback of stairs under the canopy of cool trees that climbed to the dark chapel at the very top. The gardens are crowded into the narrow gaps between the rocks and the views of St Nicholas below was impressive. The other monasteries you could see further up the range. This was a monastery established where Roussanou a hermit had lived on this rock. We didn't find out about St Barbara.

Then drove to Varlaam and up the stairs to the entrance. This is one of the larger monasteries and they operated a large winch to bring in supplies. We were getting a little overwhelmed by the monastically life and construction of the places. There was a room filled with various implements including a large wine? barrel and a sled with metal cutters underneath- we have no idea what that was used for.

At the bottom car park was a cool and shady resting place so we lunched and watched the dozens of busses bring in the tourists. After lunch we drove up to Metamorphossis or the Monastery of the Transfiguration, around which there were 30 busses and a queue that went for ever, so , in spite of this being the largest Monastery we gave it a miss and all thought that St Stephens was the best Monastery we visited and I guess that was because it had a fresh, open peaceful air and we could see the nuns at work in the garden happily chatting .

Returned to the town after iced coffees at a very Greek taverna at Kastraki the sister town to Kalambaka which is halfway up the steep valley from Kalambaka to the top of the range.

Rodger dropped us off at the top of town and Di, Helen and I slowly walked through this very pleasant “alpine like” town back to the hotel.

Returned to “Grease Proof Paper” and had the lamb and chicken skewers which were really tasty. This time we tried the house wine, which was a little better than the Meteora wines. Petros the owners was talking about Australian flavours he misses - Tim tams, vegemite and a good meat pie and tomato sauce.

Returned home through the bustling streets where the shop keepers badger you to come in to buy the tourist “stuff” generally made in China and made to look Greek.

Next morning we booked out and the receptionist at the hotel said it snows in Kalambaka for a few days a year which explained why the windows in the hotel were serious double glazed with storm latches to protect the windows against storms. Headed back to Athens.

Between Trikala and Karditsa there are massive cash and carry stores with expansive car parks and other wholesale outlets including a bright JUMBO toyshops with almost no cars in the parking lot haphazardly dispersed along the road, between the rural farmlands.

Petros said that the people in the small towns will come in to Trikala and do a month's shopping rather than spend in their small towns and rather than driving to Athens...except of course for the cloths sales.

There were dotted along the way Nurseries, warehouses, motorbike distribution centers, even a BMW display car yard. As we approached the hills we could see the villages flowing down and along the hillside besides the winding roads.

The petrol price here is 1.30 E/litre = AUD$ 2.10 which we thought wasn’t too bad.

Between the corn and the wheat fields was what appeared to be a large club house with a tarmac parking lot to cater for 100’s of cars with dozens of streetlights and we wondered why a club would be build so far out of the town.

We arrived back in Athens and poor Carmen lost satellite connections in the narrow street so we had to stop to ask directions. We were only about 400 meters away and finally arrived at the Jason Inn which is not far from the Plaka and the Parthenon.

Picked up the luggage from Oscars where we has stayed before, by taxi and re-sorted stuff. We then had dinner on the roof garden over looking the Parthenon.

This was the end of the Meteora trip. Tomorrow we head for Naxos for three days, then Santorini and finally Crete.

Di said we look forward to messages from you but may not be able to reply.

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