Mainland Greece Day 1: Monasteries and "Magic" of Meteora

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May 11th 2009
Published: May 15th 2009
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Train to KalampakaTrain to KalampakaTrain to Kalampaka

They REALLY like graffiti in Athens.
Visiting Meteora was to be the big question mark of the trip. Google Earth did not have a clear aerial, the hotel was not very communicative, and I had no mre information beyond the fact that it is the location of the monastery where the James Bond movie, For Your Eyes Only was filmed.

Greek Trains

I think we are becoming enough of an expert on the subject, having been on Serbian, Austrian, French, Chinese, Romanian, Bulgarian, and Hungarian railcars and trains. What we have experienced so far are the regional trains, these are okay, a little beat up, but still comfortable, and timely at the start of the day, but not the end. Larissa Station in Athens is quite dimunitive, but that makes it easy to navigate unlike the huge Communist Era stations we experienced in Balkan Europe.

I am writing now as we are onboard Train 592 from Kalampaka to Thessaloniki where hopefully we will meet up with Roberto, but we will only be able to do so if I can locate his phone number. So this was an early departure this morning at 7:42AM and we arrived yesterday in Kalampaka from Athens at about 1:15PM
View from Meteora HotelView from Meteora HotelView from Meteora Hotel

The view was great, probably unparalleled, the hotel itself . . . clean and comfortable but some basic functionality missing.
(10 minutes behind schedule).

One comment about taking the subway from the station near the Hilton to Larissa is that just like the inconsistent signage, the escalator situation is also spotty. You'll have an up escalator in some situations and then none in others, despite the fact that it would be a continuation in path of the previous. Just another one of those little eccentricities.

All About Meteora

Kalampaka is the nearest train station to the Meteora area and sits at the bottom of the "rocks" on which the monasteries are built. Yes, there are more than one, they still function. There are also a number of ruins where I suspect now defunct ones once were. In total, there are 6 monasteries spread across a number of eroded piton rocks, they are very beautiful and afford amazing views of the valley below. We stayed closer to Kastraki which is further north than Kalampaka, and therefore closer to Meteora. It is even more of a tourist village though with tour busses constantly cycling through and a handful of backpackers milling through and staying at the inns. The bulk of the visitors to Meteora are the tour busses, followed
More of a Great ViewMore of a Great ViewMore of a Great View

Too bad that pool wasn't ready for action . . .
by Europeans with rental cars, followed by backpackers. All-in-all it is not that congested though, and not even close to how Olympia was.

We were recommended to take a taxi up to the monasteries as they closed at 5PM, but we set out on foot to eat in Kastraki around 2PM and didn't start what turned out to be a very hot, long, and arduous ascent to Megalo Meteoron, the largest, highest, and first monastery on the site, until about 2:45 PM. On the way we did have great views of the other monasteries and of the valley below so ultimately I would say it was worth it, but we did not have enough water and by the time we got up to Megalo we had perspired all of our water away. Thankfully Capitalism had taken hold at each of the monastery entrances and there was a guy selling all kinds of liquids that we promptly consumed. The climb from center of Kastraki took us about 1 hour and 15 minutes. There is a short cut that we could have taken rather than taking the main paved road, but as is typical for Greece, there was no signage indicating
More Climbing . . . God Help Us!More Climbing . . . God Help Us!More Climbing . . . God Help Us!

And he did, there was a water vendor at Grand Meteoron!
where these were and we only figured out this last shortcut after careful study on the way up of where this trail went beside the road. If you are a power hiker, don't mind a few bugs and plants brushing you, then take the shortcut. If you like hot, sweaty asphalt, then take the road. We took the path back down, it cut the distance down by about 80%! (MISSING)

Megalo Meteoron

We ultimately only visited this one main monastery, first on advice of the hotel staff that this was the best one and second because it was getting late and we had little time to visit another one, plus we were tired and the old adage that if you've seen one, you've seen them all seemed quite fitting. In any event, the monastery was very very impressive. The founding monk first established a monastery on the site in the 14th century but most of what we saw was done in the 1550s which is quite old regardless. As is typical with most sites in Greece, the whole place was very well taken care of and a good amount of restoration work had been performed. The flipside is that
The Holy Monastery of St. Nicholas AnapausasThe Holy Monastery of St. Nicholas AnapausasThe Holy Monastery of St. Nicholas Anapausas

Not so much a monastery as it is a church, built in the 16th Century.
explanations were good but not excellent so that I will have to consult Wikipedia or a guide book later to understand the geological history of the area as it is quite unusual compared to the rest of the surrounding area. The Old Refectory was amazing, as was the Ossuary with lines of real skulls visible and in the open air. Apparently, at the neighboring monastery there is also the skull of one monk who was martyred by the evil Devil Turks who smells sweet and performs miracles. This interesting piece of information and others was provided by one of three museums on the premises which are all particularly well-executed, in part because the manuscripts and religious items in the monastery's possession are so old and plentiful. There are many beautiful manuscripts, some scrolls as old as the 13th Century (1260AD I believe) and many more from the 16th century along with a number of icons in varying conditions. A section also expounds the exploits of martyred Greek monks who kept alive the Greek identity and died at the hands of the cruel and evil Turks who did not just stop at torturing them but would burn off parts of flesh,
Attempting to find the ShortcutAttempting to find the ShortcutAttempting to find the Shortcut

It's just right over these huge boulders blocking the path honey!
build walls around them while still alive, and maybe after all was said and done, take their heads off. In one instance the scheming Jews also betrayed a monk to the Turks and he had his head chopped off. Taking a positive spin on that unfortunate situation, it's good to hear there was some cooperation between the Muslims and Jews back then, it's too bad it involved this poor Greek monk.

The Basilica on premise was equally impressive and the views, since this is the highest of the monasteries, are also grand. Be advised there are a number of cats running around this monastery, including one three-legged fellow; and more importantly, that it is only after long and hard arduous climbing that they tell you you are not to wear shorts and women must wear a long skirt (no pants) and must have their shoulders covered. My guy let me slide but Jennifer had to wear a goofy rag over her capris, which didn't even extend past her capris. Kinda pointless in Jen's opinion... but when in Rome...err, Greece...

Hotel Meteora
We were pleased with the hotel initially but it ended up falling short on a number
The Rousanou MonasteryThe Rousanou MonasteryThe Rousanou Monastery

Founded in the 16th Century, catch me here Turk!
of fronts which ultimately did not surprise me based on the way their website was put together and the communication I was having with the owner, or lack thereof. The hotel is brand new which is part of the problem since it is not entirely finished and it seems they have run out of money and will which translates to a place that labels itself as 5 Star, and very well could be, but the service is not there since clearly none of the staff or the owner have ever worked in a real 5 star hotel or stayed in one either. It also meant that the pool was not filled, the spoiled kid of the owners had toys all over the place and would run around yelling in the lobby, there was a beautiful balcony with great views but no place to sit, there was a phone in the room with no dialtone, there is an elevator that I got stuck in and there was no phone in the SOS box, etc. No big deal really, but want to make an accurate representation for anyone considering staying in the area. In our opinion, though not a thorough one, Hotel
Varlaam MonasteryVarlaam MonasteryVarlaam Monastery

We first confused this with Great Meteora Monastery but when you are climbing for an hour and staring up the whole time you figure out what is what.
Kastraki is the place to stay at, it is on the road to the monasteries and looked very well kept and beautiful. It does not have the views of Hotel Meteora but frankly, I would prefer to be closer to the monasteries AND the restaurants in Kastraki as the "restaurant" at Hotel Meteora is more of a kitchen putting out decent but non-Greek food and does not have much menu variety which is amplified by the fact that they don't have some of the menu items on top of it. Getting to the monasteries or into town by foot is also a bit more challenging from Hotel Meteora as you have to go through a rough dirt path and road for about a half a kilometer and then cross all of Kastraki just to get to the base of the hill.

Additional photos below
Photos: 18, Displayed: 18


Megalo Meteoron's OssuaryMegalo Meteoron's Ossuary
Megalo Meteoron's Ossuary

These are presumably all monk's skulls. None of these had the sweet smell though.

They're everywhere there are warm spots in the sun and free food, go figure!
View from Great Meteoron's Main GateView from Great Meteoron's Main Gate
View from Great Meteoron's Main Gate

Before starting on the descent.
Church DetailChurch Detail
Church Detail

The interior was amazing.
View from MeteoronView from Meteoron
View from Meteoron

We have seen so many high altitude views on this trip, that you kind of get jaded, but even this photo shows how amazing this was. You can see the red tile roof of our hotel to the right of the smaller sandstone rock pillar on the right. Good luck finding it, it is a LONG way away!
Entrance PathwayEntrance Pathway
Entrance Pathway

The complexity and self-sufficiency of each monastery is absolutely remarkable. They did have a wine room though, so you know they at least had a good time . . . the wine to the blood of Christ. Right.
Cautious CatCautious Cat
Cautious Cat

The danger here was not so much slipping on a rock, but getting attacked by a man-eating beetle (they were pretty big and odd-looking).
Our BeekeeperOur Beekeeper
Our Beekeeper

One last obstacle on the way down, we had to walk within 10 feet of this guy and his hives, Greek bees are most definitely not Africanized!
Room at Hotel MeteoraRoom at Hotel Meteora
Room at Hotel Meteora

No shenanigans in here okay kids?
Lobby at Hotel MeteoraLobby at Hotel Meteora
Lobby at Hotel Meteora

They should turn the lights on and replace the dead ones once they've done that.

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