Mysterious Meteora

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Europe » Greece » Thessaly » Meteora
September 24th 2007
Published: February 26th 2010
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Death on the Orient ExpressDeath on the Orient ExpressDeath on the Orient Express

OK, so it wasn't the exact route of the original Orient Express, but it did leave from Istanbul, one of the original end points. This was the lovely view out of my window when I woke up. Sadly the reason I had this view was that the train had hit a man on the tracks.
I woke with a start. Where was I? What was going on? It was clear that I was still in my tiny sleeper car on a Greece-bound train, but there was no sound. The rhythmic clacking of the steel rails, the grating, high-pitched squeal of the big wheels, the low rumble of the diesel engine - They were all silent. A glance out my window revealed deep blue skies over a stunning, green countryside with a few farm buildings and a distant ridgeline. It really was a perfect view to wake up to, but it was unlikely that the engineer had stopped the train for us to see it. I looked up and down the tracks as best as I could from my window. There were no official looking structures and no station, just green. I heard some elevated voices out in the hall, so I opened the door to see what was up. There was a man in a room at the far end of the hall and he was shouting after the cabin attendant who was quickly walking down the hall away from him. When the attendant passed my door I started to ask him what was up, but
Another View of The Holy Monastery of St. Nicholas AnapausasAnother View of The Holy Monastery of St. Nicholas AnapausasAnother View of The Holy Monastery of St. Nicholas Anapausas

This monastery was beautifully photogenic. This one was abandoned, but due to the important frescos inside, it was restored and opened to tourism (except when I was there)
he cut me off with a shaking of his head and a simple, “I can’t tell you what’s wrong now. Please stay in your cabin.” The look on his face and his tone made it clear that something was very wrong. I left my door open and took a seat next to the window and ate the last of my cookies. We were not due to arrive at Thessaloniki for a few more hours, but I had no idea how long we had been stopped. It was likely that we would be very late. I started reading my book, occasionally staring out of my window at the stationary scenery trying to find clues.

A large group of people wearing a variety of uniforms walked past my window, heading towards the front of the train. About half an hour later a few of them returned. One of the women in the group was carrying an old, long-barrel shotgun, holding it out in front of her with gloved hands, as if it were diseased. The shotgun and the large number of police led me to conclude that our impromptu stop was not mechanical in nature, but I was no closer to
In the Wilds of MeteoraIn the Wilds of MeteoraIn the Wilds of Meteora

The views from the ravine made any hardship I faced worth the effort.
knowing the reason. The attendant came back down the hall a little slower, clearly shaken up a bit. I asked him how long we had been stopped. “A little over two hours” was his answer. He then whispered to me, “A man was hit and killed by the train” and then he walked away. The man at the end of the hallway was even angrier as the poor attendant passed him again - Clearly his schedule was more important to him than the dead man’s life. About an hour later the train lurched forward and we were on our way again. I was unable to get any more information out of the attendant, but I suppose one of two things happened. Either the man was out hunting for dinner and didn’t hear the train coming, or he had tried to hold the train up at night with a shotgun by standing in the middle of the tracks - Not a good situation, either way.

We pulled into Thessaloniki Station about seven hours late. I had not eaten since my early-morning cookies, so I was starving - The food cart had been forgotten in all of the confusion on the
A Closer View of VarlaamA Closer View of VarlaamA Closer View of Varlaam

Imagine trying to reach this place without the stairs being there!
train. I bought a map of Greece and a candy bar from the first all-in-one stand I came to and then I found a bench to sit on. I had no guidebook, but I did know where I wanted to go. It was a place that had been highly recommended by everyone I had talked to about Greece. It was also one of the amazing places that James Bond had introduced me to when I was a kid in one of my favorite movies, ‘For Your Eyes Only’. I scanned the map until I found ‘Meteora’. I was in luck; there was a set of rails that would take me all the way there. I went to the counter and tried in vain to find someone who spoke a bit of English. I then resorted to saying the name of the nearby town of Kalambaka, which was on the rail. The lady at the desk smiled in understanding and pointed to the timetable, which indicated that there was one more train going there that evening. I bought a ticket and then I went in search of a big, much-needed meal.

The train pulled out of the station on time.
Mysteries in the RocksMysteries in the RocksMysteries in the Rocks

This hermitage reminded me a lot of some of the monasteries I saw in the Himalaya.
I sat and watched as the hustle and bustle of Thessaloniki, Greece’s second largest city, gave way to the lovely Greek countryside. At times I could see the coast out the left side of the train, but I was keeping my attention focused on the scenery to my right. I was hoping to catch a glimpse of the famous home of Zeus and the other gods of Greek mythology, Mt. Olympus. According to the map I had we were supposed to pass it about half way through our journey. When we pulled out of the last station before the spot on the map where the mountain was I started getting excited, but when we passed the location I was hoping to see the mountain from all I could see was fog and mist up high - I don’t even know if it’s possible to see Mt. Olympus from the train, but it certainly wasn’t possible that day. My train pulled into the station where I was supposed to change trains about half an hour late. It was a tight connection, so I was a bit concerned that I had missed the train. I quickly scanned the departure board, deciphering the

This is my first view of Kastraki, the second town I stayed in. Look closely between the large pinnacle and the small one next to it and you can see the Holy Monastery of Rousanou.
Greek letters as I went. I found the platform and boarded my train just before the doors slid closed - I had made it, but just barely! I watched as the stations went by in succession. By the time Kalambaka Station appeared it was dark. The train pulled away leaving me alone on the platform. There was not a person in sight. The streets were empty and it felt very late, though it was only around 8:30. I started walking towards the lights of town. A man sitting under a light next to a large, pinkish building asked me in broken English if I needed a room for the night. I did, so I took a look at the room, negotiated an agreeable rate and then plopped my bags down on my bed and headed out in search of dinner.

I love arriving in scenic towns after dark. Knowing that there is an amazing landscape just past the edge of darkness, completely invisible and inaccessible is an amazing feeling for me. Kalambaka was one of these towns. As I searched for food I scanned the edge between the light of town and the mysterious darkness just beyond, hoping to
A Distant View of RousanouA Distant View of RousanouA Distant View of Rousanou

This is a close up of the view of Rousanou from the hill above Kastraki.
find a clue as to what the scenery looked like. I found it in the orange light just above an old church at the edge of town. There was a sheer rock face that rose up from behind the church and disappeared in the inky blackness above. I also noticed some faint lights high up in the sky above the town, possibly coming from the mountaintop monasteries I knew were up there. I was going to have to wait for the morning light to fill in the gaps. I set my sights on dinner, which was proving to be difficult, since most of the restaurants had already closed for the evening. I ended up in a part of town that was clearly set up with the tourists in mind. I found a decent meal in one of the heartless shops there and then I went into another shop and purchased a topographic map of the area. My imagination ran wild as I scanned the rugged landscape that the map detailed. I walked back to my room looking forward to the following day’s adventures.

Like usual, I was up early the following morning. My bed had been quite uncomfortable, so
The Holy Monastery of RousanouThe Holy Monastery of RousanouThe Holy Monastery of Rousanou

The sheer pinnacle this monastery sits on made it one of the more impressively situated of the Meteoran monasteries.
I had decided prior to falling asleep the previous night that I was going to find a new home. I packed my bag and checked out, leaving my bag with the man at the counter, and then I set off to explore. My first priority was to find a new hotel. One of the people who had sold me on visiting Meteora had been very emphatic regarding where I should stay. They had told me that the large and fairly heartless Kalambaka was too busy and big to really enjoy. They then told me of another town not far away that was quaint and lovely, right in amongst some of the more spectacular pillars. I couldn’t remember the name of the town, but there was only one other place listed on the map I had, Kastraki. To get to Kastraki I followed the main road out of town, skirting the base of the massive, sheer-walled mountain that separated the two towns. The walk took a little more than an hour, but it was pleasant. Along the way I came across a pair of frisky tortoises that were making a lot of noise, which was quite funny. I arrived in town
A Lovely Wooden DoorA Lovely Wooden DoorA Lovely Wooden Door

This door was located on a lovely stone building across the street from my hotel in Kastraki.
just as things were starting to wake up. My first view of Kastraki confirmed what the other person had told me. It was definitely small and pleasantly rural feeling with winding, hilly streets, a few stone buildings and a huge church in the center. On a distant mountaintop I got my first glimpse of one of the ancient monasteries that make the area so famous. I walked around until I found a hotel that was open - I was in Greece outside of the usual tourist season, so a lot of the services, such as hotels, were closed. I found a lovely café that was just starting to serve breakfast. They had a sign in the window that said they also had a few rooms available. I ended up getting a nice room in an adjacent building for less than I had spent the previous night for hostel-like arrangements and the building was one of the prettier ones on the street. I sat down and had wonderful breakfast at the attached café and made a plan for my day of exploration.

I headed back into Kalambaka with the intention of picking up my bag and taking it to my
Climbing Up the FootpathClimbing Up the FootpathClimbing Up the Footpath

This is the route I took to get up to the Monasteries of the Holy Trinity and St. Stephen on my first day in Meteora.
new room. Somewhere along the way I got a little sidetracked and ended up at a lovely little path at the edge of town that led up into the mountains. The path had started its life as a difficult route for monks to climb up from the city to the mountaintop monasteries, but with the coming of tourism it has become a well-maintained path that allows those who want to skip the bus tours and the busy roads a means of getting to the monasteries. I had my sights on one particular monastery, known in my mind as San Siros, the villainous hideout of Kristatos in ‘For Your Eyes Only’. Its actual name was ‘The Monastery of the Holy Trinity’ and it was built in 1475 atop a sheer pinnacle of rock overlooking the plain that is now the location of Kalambaka. The walk up was amazing. The path led up a steep, green valley between two massive pinnacles of rock. The sheer cliffs rose high above my head on both sides. To my left was a huge cliff face crowned by what looked like a natural landscape and to my right was the cliff that led up to the
The Sheer Cliff Over KalambakaThe Sheer Cliff Over KalambakaThe Sheer Cliff Over Kalambaka

This imposing monolith separated Kalambaka and Kastraki. I climbed through a narrow ravine on the back side of this mountain on my last day in town.
Holy Trinity, the same cliff that James Bond would have had to climb in the movie. Gradually the trail steepened and then it turned into a series of switchbacks that led up to the entrance of the monastery. During my climb I didn’t pass a single person and when I got to the monastery I discovered why - Each of the monasteries closes for one day a week, generally on different days to ease the blow to tourism, and, that particular day - whichever day it was (I had no idea) - was the Holy Trinity’s day. Just to be sure I read the sign correctly I walked up the long staircase that led to the top. About half way up a huge steel door set into a thick stone wall blocked my way - The sign had been correct.

I walked back down the stairs and decided to explore the cliffs around the monastery instead. I spent about an hour squeezing between boulders and climbing up and down ravines. In that time I got to see several amazing views, including the famous view up from beneath the ‘winch house’ that had stuck in my mind from the movie.
San Siros' Winch HouseSan Siros' Winch HouseSan Siros' Winch House

This is the view of the winch house from the movie 'For Your Eyes Only'. I have not gone back to see the movie yet, but that is how I remember it - No, there was no girl with a crossbow.
I took a seat next to a huge stone sentinel that looked like a giant seated on the edge of the cliff overlooking the city below. I let my mind wander back in time to try and picture Meteora in its heyday. Originally hermit monks, who lived in the caves and fissures that dot the pinnacles, lived secluded lives in the Meteora area. In the fourteenth century the monks and nuns turned to the inaccessible summits of the pinnacles for solitude and for protections from the Turkish raiders that were pushing into their territory. In total twenty monasteries were built on the pinnacles of Meteora. They could only be reached by climbing long, wobbly ladders to the top or by being hauled up in nets. Both means of access insured that only the most persistent, and welcome, pilgrims could reach the monasteries and, since the ladders could be pulled up when the raiders were in the area, they effectively isolated them from the outside world. In their day, the monasteries were perfectly impenetrable fortresses. In the 1920’s ‘improvements’ were made at the six remaining monasteries and now they can be accessed by stairways carved out of the rock. The landscape
The Stone GiantThe Stone GiantThe Stone Giant

I sat by this small pinnacle of stone for a long while and thought about the history of Meteora.
I formed in my head had all of the sheer-walled pinnacles crowned with a lovely stone monastery. Each one close enough to wave to its neighbor, but completely isolated from them. Many of the monasteries were so difficult and dangerous to reach that they ended up being abandoned for the same reasons that they had been built in the first place. The six monasteries that remain are all open to tourism. Inside their fortress walls monks and nuns of the Greek Orthodox Church preserve the ancient structures and treasures while moving forward into the modern world. Grand religious artwork, amazing libraries containing manuscripts and books from all over the ancient world and colorful frescos in dark sanctuaries stand harmoniously next to new and restored structures. Each of the mountaintop structures has awe-inspiring views and boundless mystery.

I was excited to explore the inside of one of the monasteries, so I left my post next to the stone giant and walked up to the main road that links all of the sites together. According to my map there was another monastery a short distance away along the road, so I started walking in that direction. The paved two-lane road wound
On the Road to St. StephenOn the Road to St. StephenOn the Road to St. Stephen

I climbed and played all over these wonderful rocks on the way to the Monastery of St. Stephen - It was a playground for adults.
its way through the mountainous terrain near the edge of the cliff. There was a wide band of craggy rock that separated the road from the vertical drop into town. The rough terrain was filled with excitement and mystery, which proved to be irresistible to me, so I decided to leave the road and make my way to the monastery along the cliff edge. I spent the next few hours exploring the ravines and crags that dotted the cliffs. There was a large, high ledge of rock that jutted out over the edge of the cliff like a thumb and served as a beacon for me. It was beautifully exposed on three and a half sides and somewhat difficult to reach, but after a bunch of scrambling and a bit of climbing I walked out to the edge and took a seat.

The view over the town of Kalambaka to the mountains on the other side of the valley was amazing and a bit dizzying. To my right I got a lovely view of the Monastery of the Holy Trinity and to my left, perched on the edge of a cliff on the far side of a wide ravine,
the Monastery of St. Stephenthe Monastery of St. Stephenthe Monastery of St. Stephen

Fortress-like and beautifully situated.
was the fortress-like Holy Monastery of St. Stephen. St. Stephen was one of the most accessible of the monasteries. It was built on a flat section of cliff on the far side of a narrow, moat-like chasm. It was built in the 1500’s and abandoned during World War II after the Nazis attacked it, thinking that it was providing refuge for insurgents. After the war, nuns took over the monastery and rebuilt it. Now St. Stephen is the only one of the six Meteoran monasteries occupied by nuns. After another long break I continued walking around the ravine to St. Stephen. I rejoined the road just before the large parking area for the monastery. There were a few busses and a bunch of people milling about at the entrance gate, which was closed and chained up. A really bad feeling swept over me - Could both monasteries at this end of the road be closed? I was thinking that I had picked a bad day to explore that end of Meteora, but something wasn’t right - The tourist busses and the two snack trucks that were parked there surely knew the schedule. I was hungry, so I went and bought
Across the Chasm Across the Chasm Across the Chasm

St. Stephen is now accessed by this beautiful bridge over the moat-like chasm, but I imagine the early setup involved a drawbridge of some sort.
a snack and asked the vendor when the monastery opened. As it turned out, I was about half an hour early, so I took a seat on a stone wall overlooking a lovely garden and I started reading.

The rattling of chains and the labored creaking of the iron gates interrupted my jaunt through Middle Earth (I was reading ‘The Lord of the Rings’) and brought me back to Meteora. I glanced over my shoulder and saw the gates standing open - It was time to explore my first Meteoran monastery. From the outside the Monastery of St. Stephen looks like a heartless, military fortress. Its cold, stone ramparts did a great job of hiding the paradise within its walls. There were lovely gardens and stone-paved courtyards built on the edge of the sheer cliffs, mysterious churches with colorful frescos adorning every surface and superb stonework throughout. It was amazing in every way. I spent a long time exploring the monastery. Most of the big wooden doors were locked, so most of my time was spent on the rails at the edge of the cliff and in the museum, which contained some amazing religious artifacts and several nice books
A Natural MoatA Natural MoatA Natural Moat

All of the monasteries had a feature that made them difficult to access in ancient times. This is St. Stephen's. Note the amazing stonework.
and manuscripts dating back to the sixteenth century. I watched as the sun slowly made its way towards the horizon. I reluctantly said farewell to the monastery and took advantage of the remaining daylight to walk back down into town on the same path I had followed up there.

About half an hour later I walked back into Kalambaka, just as the last hints of light left the sky. I found an Internet café and got back in touch with my family back home and then I walked back to the hotel I had stayed at the night before, grabbed my backpack and started walking. It was a pleasant walk up over the hill to my new home in Kastraki. The darkness was pleasant and the traffic along the road was light, so I made quick time. I took a much-needed shower and then I took a seat under a large awning at the lovely little café attached to my hotel. A short time later the storm clouds rolled in and the skies let loose one of the most pleasant downpours I have experienced. The awning kept all but the most persistent mist off of me, so I decided
The Monastery of the Holy TrinityThe Monastery of the Holy TrinityThe Monastery of the Holy Trinity

Yes, this is San Siros.
to stay put and eat my dinner in the rain. The storm grew in intensity until I thought I was back in the jungles of Central America. As the rhythm of the falling rain grew into a thundering roar I couldn’t help but think back to a few of my most enjoyable moments on the road - A wild pizza dinner I had in Copan Ruinas, Honduras in a similar downpour and a night in Flores, Guatemala sleeping in a hostel’s open-air loft amid a thunderstorm of epic proportions. It was a little surprising when I realized that most of my happiest memories happen when the weather is at its most violent! The storm was still raging when I finished my meal, so I ordered some desert so I could keep enjoying the storm. After dinner I headed back to the room, planned a walking route for the following day and then drifted off to sleep to the sound of falling rain.

I woke up the next morning refreshed and ready to start the day. I ate a quick breakfast at the same table I had experienced the storm at the night before and then I set off to explore. I had selected what looked like a nice footpath that would take me past four different monasteries and several ruins. I walked past Kastraki’s central church, which was lovely, and then I left the town behind me. In front of me on a slender pinnacle of stone was the first of the monasteries I would pass. It was The Holy Monastery of St. Nicholas Anapausas. That monastery had been one of the abandoned ones, but due to its important frescos by the Cretan painter Theophanis Strelitzas the monastery was restored and reopened for tourism - Sadly, it was not open when I was there. I was not sure exactly where the trail I was looking for started. The map I had was fairly good, but a bit small in scale. I followed a path along the edge of a farmer’s field that looked right. Eventually the path turned into a dry creek bed and then, when it reached the base of one of the large pinnacles, it disappeared all together. The explorer in me decided to push on, so I climbed my way up through briar patches and thick groves of holly trees until I reached a high point
The Holy Monastery of St. Nicholas AnapausasThe Holy Monastery of St. Nicholas AnapausasThe Holy Monastery of St. Nicholas Anapausas

This was the view of the monastery through the trees during my walk on the second day.
in a narrow saddle between two spires of rock. The view of the monasteries was amazing from my perch and it beckoned me to continue. The climb down from the saddle was difficult, with lots of exposed, rocky slopes and a tangle of briars at the bottom. Just past the briars the trail (yes there was actually a trail there) continued through a mossy forest of stunted trees. Everywhere I looked the landscape glowed a brilliant green in the early morning light. I passed through another field and crossed over a small creek. I found the footpath I had been looking for in a grove of ancient hardwood trees. I followed the path along the creek through the lovely grove of twisted and gnarled trees until it rejoined with the road. After a big bend in the road I found the second part of the path that led up through a ravine to two of the largest monasteries in Meteora. I spent the next several hours trying to find my way up that ravine. The trail disappeared early on, so I had to make my own way scrambling and climbing over huge rocks and through narrow gullies. I made several
A Path Through a Twisted ForestA Path Through a Twisted ForestA Path Through a Twisted Forest

I absolutely loved this forest and these trees.
wrong turns and had to backtrack at least half a dozen times, but eventually I made it to the high road. My adventure in the ‘wilds’ of Meteora was a lot of fun. I found several mysterious caves that had been used as hermitages and several stunning vistas that I would have missed if I had followed the road. The landscape was so full of mystery that my mind wandered into the realm of the unknown every time I saw signs of human presence in the rock.

The first monastery I came to on the road was The Holy Monastery of Varlaam. Built in 1541, Varlaam is the second largest of the remaining monasteries in Meteora. Like the other monasteries, Varlaam was built on a high pinnacle and until recently was only accessible by being hauled up in a net. The beautiful winch house is still a dominant structure at the monastery and is still used to haul supplies and building materials up to the summit. The ‘modern’ stairway that leads up to the monastery was carved out of the rock like a three-sided tunnel - It must have been a monumental task to build! In my journal I described the view from Varlaam’s patios to be the most amazing of all of the Meteoran views. Instead of looking out over the city of Kalambaka, like St. Stephens, Varlaam’s views are of a natural landscape of jagged pinnacles and verdant ravines. In addition to the stunning landscape, you can see three of the other monasteries, as well as a ruined one, crowning nearby pinnacles of their own. Varlaam had the usual museums and mysteries that the other monasteries had, but my favorite part was the winch room. Inside the original hand winch was preserved (they use a modern electric cable winch now) and the view down to the ground was amazing - There were stonemasons down there cutting stone for a new construction and they looked like ants.

I left Varlaam and continued climbing up the road to the highest and most important of Meteora’s monasteries, The Holy Monastery of Great Meteoron. The Great Meteoran was built starting in the 1300’s. It now serves as the main museum of the Meteoran monasteries. I toured the old kitchen and rectory, which was full of huge paintings depicting monastic life. I took in the amazing views, which I humorously described
A Hermitage in Shark-fin PinnacleA Hermitage in Shark-fin PinnacleA Hermitage in Shark-fin Pinnacle

Ok, I made the name up, but the hermitage is located in the big cave-like feature. The path I followed into Meteora on the second day took me between the large pinnacle and the smaller one on the right of the picture.
in my journal as being better than the “best in Meteora” view from Varlaam, and I explored the lovely Church of the Transfiguration. My favorite part of the Great Meteoran was the book and manuscript museum, which contained many of the world’s most important works. Most were of a religious nature, but there were many early works from authors such as Aristotle and Plato as well - Monasteries such as these are the reason so many ancient works of literature have survived to modern times, since they systematically copied and translated the ancient sources that are now lost to us. One of the coolest things I saw in the museum was a modern Xerox copy of a news story that described how a researcher had recently uncovered a crypt that had been specially designed to house the monastery’s collection of ancient books and manuscripts to hide them from Ottoman persecution. Apparently a forward thinking monk had built the crypt and hid a large number of the most ancient and important works from the monastery’s collection in it, sealing it and taking its secret location to his grave. The article went on to describe how most of the works were still
Monastic RuinsMonastic RuinsMonastic Ruins

This is one of the original twenty that was abandoned due to the difficulty of reaching it.
unidentified and that it would take years of research to catalog them and bring them to the attention of the modern world - That article excited me more than anything I had seen in a long time; just the thought that there may be more of these secret repositories of ancient knowledge hidden throughout Meteora (and the rest of the world) was exciting.

When I left the museum the wonderful aroma flowing out of the monastery’s modern kitchen assaulted me. I was starving and I had not eaten any lunch, so I made a quick retreat away from the heavenly smells. I made a quick stop just before the exit to see a collection of antique tools from the monastery’s collection. When I turned to leave I peeked into a dark hole in a bid wooden door. Inside the skulls of all of the past monks from the Great Meteoran were staring back at me in a somewhat macabre scene - I wonder if the man that hid all of the ancient books was there? I said farewell to the Great Meteoran and I retraced my path down the stairs to the parking area. There I found a snack
The Holy Monastery of VarlaamThe Holy Monastery of VarlaamThe Holy Monastery of Varlaam

This is the view of Varlaam from the ravine I was trying to reach it from.
cart selling granola bars and ice cream - Another wonderfully healthy lunch! I decided to follow the road back down to town. I knew it was a long walk, but it would take me past one last monastery and I knew that there was no way of negotiating the treacherous ravine at night, which was rapidly approaching. I let my mind wander as I walked. I couldn’t help but wonder about all of the knowledge hidden inside that wonderful cache of books and manuscripts that had been found. I hopefully pictured the monks from each of the twenty monasteries that once existed in Meteora building similar crypts to preserve the knowledge contained in their books. I then wondered if any of those crypts could have survived even in the absence of the monasteries - I know, wishful thinking, but I have always been a dreamer! Just before I reached the last of the monasteries I came to a deep hole in the base of a cliff face. It disappeared into darkness, but it was large enough to climb down into and I could just barely see some of the usual roadside garbage on the floor of the chamber that the
In the RavineIn the RavineIn the Ravine

A fiery red tree.
tunnel led to. I wanted to explore, but I had no rope and the tunnel was nearly vertical - I decided that there were definitely treasures hidden inside (I know, wishful thinking again) and hoped they would be found before they were lost.

I made it to the last monastery, The Holy Monastery of Rousanou, about an hour before it closed. Rousanou was built in the sixteenth century on a sheer pinnacle that stood by itself on a sloping mountainside. It was beautifully situated, but very small. It only took a little while to explore Rousanou, but it was packed full of amazing sights. I decided that were I to choose one of the monasteries as a home it would have been Rousanou, mainly because of the lovely courtyard-like patio near the entrance. I stood at the rail of the patio and watched as a load of supplies was winched up from the road below and then I stared out over the lovely landscape towards Varlaam and the Great Meteoran. When the attendant came through and told everyone that the monastery was closing I took one last look around and then I headed back into town along a nearly
Varlaam's Winch HouseVarlaam's Winch HouseVarlaam's Winch House

This was the only non-technical way to get there in the old days.
deserted road. I decided that Rousanou was my favorite of the monasteries that I had visited, though I loved them all about the same. That night at dinner I tried to decide what I wanted to do the next day. I was considering moving on to my next destination, but I was having a lot of fun hiking in Meteora. I decided to sleep on it and see what I felt like doing in the morning.

I woke up early the next morning and went to breakfast on the patio. The early morning mist shrouded the tops of the pinnacles in mystery, inviting me to come and explore more - How could I resist. I let the owner of the hotel know that I would be staying one more night and then I packed a bag and set off to explore. I decided to leave my camera in the room and just go play among the rocks and forests in the area. I tentatively set my sights on finding a back door into Kalambaka over a lovely little pass between two of the larger pinnacles. There were no trails on my map, so I picked a route where the
Water Storage?Water Storage?Water Storage?

This beautiful cask was on display in Varlaam.
topography looked passable. I followed the roads out of Kastraki toward a spire of rock called Adrarthi that rose up above the forest in the saddle I was heading for. Eventually I reached a set of stairs that disappeared into the forest and I followed a pleasant, green path all the way to the slender tower of rock. The base of the spire rose up at an angle that allowed me to climb up and see a bit of the surrounding landscape. The views were stunning. In every direction sheer cliffs rose high above my head and disappeared into the mist. I knew that most of the pinnacles would have been crowned with monasteries in the past, but I wasn’t able to find any signs of them. The ravine that led down the far side of the saddle was more rugged than I had anticipated, but I decided to push on. The going was slow as I searched out a route down. In some places I had to climb down short ledges, making sure I would be able to get back up them if the route proved impassible. I found a lovely ledge overlooking the ravine I was following into
Looking Down the CableLooking Down the CableLooking Down the Cable

This is the view from Varlaam's winch house to the ground. No, those are not ants at the bottom, they are stone masons.
Kalambaka, so I stopped and had a snack while I chose a new path to follow - The ledge I was on ended in a hundred foot drop. I found a safe way down and eventually I reached a slimy creek bed in a canyon that seemed to lead out. A little further and I was stopped in my tracks. There was a huge briar patch blocking my way! I looked down at my sandaled feet and back at the briars - I had definitely chosen the wrong footwear! I carefully blazed a trail through the jungle of thorns, paying close attention to my poor feet, and eventually I was through and into an open forest. It took me several hours, a lot of hard scrambling and some badly scratched up feet, but I finally emerged from the forest onto the little footpath that I had followed on my first day in Meteora - What a great adventure!

I spent the rest of the day taking in the last of the sights in Meteora. I retuned to the Monastery of the Holy Trinity (San Siros) to walk in the footsteps of 007. I was amazed at how different the
The Hand WinchThe Hand WinchThe Hand Winch

This is how they did it in the old days.
place was from the movie and I decided that most of the scenes had to have been filmed elsewhere. Despite the differences between the movie and the actual monastery, the Holy Trinity was an amazing place. Most of the monastic buildings were clustered together on a small portion of the flat summit of the pinnacle. The rest of it was open and somewhat natural. The best part was that there were no guardrails - The monastery had held fast with the early thinking that ‘if it was God’s will that I fall then I will fall.’ The Holy Trinity was also the only place in Meteora that I actually saw a monk. I spent an enjoyable afternoon sitting on the summit looking out over Meteora and then I headed down into Kalambaka. I ate dinner in town and then I found out where the bus station was and when the busses were leaving the following day. During the walk back to Kastraki I reflected on my visit to Meteora. I had always wanted to travel to the amazing monasteries there, but I was not prepared for how amazing it actually was. The stunning landscape of jagged pinnacles and mysterious monasteries
At VarlaamAt VarlaamAt Varlaam

In the winch house.
is easily near the top of my list of amazing places in the world. I was so happy that my friends in Istanbul reminded me to visit. When I got back to my room I packed up my bags and got everything ready for my departure. The following morning I ate a big breakfast, said farewell to the friendly hotel owner and then I hoisted my bag and set my sights on the bus station on the other side of the hill and my coming journey. It was time to pay a visit to the Oracle of Delphi…

Additional photos below
Photos: 47, Displayed: 46


Flags in the BreezeFlags in the Breeze
Flags in the Breeze

The blue and white flag is that of Greece and the yellow one is that of the Greek (or Eastern) Orthodox Church.
Another View of VarlaamAnother View of Varlaam
Another View of Varlaam

I couldn't stop taking pictures of this monastery.
At the Monastery of Great MeteoranAt the Monastery of Great Meteoran
At the Monastery of Great Meteoran

This was the highest and most important monastery remaining in Meteora.
An Old StaircaseAn Old Staircase
An Old Staircase

Great Meteoran was built beginning in the 1300's, so it is no surprise that some of the stairs are a little worn.
The Holy Monastery of Great MeteoranThe Holy Monastery of Great Meteoran
The Holy Monastery of Great Meteoran

This place was stunningly situated at the edge of the Meteoran area.
Wave to Your NeighborsWave to Your Neighbors
Wave to Your Neighbors

Many of the monasteries in Meteora were in sight of each other, but all of them were isolated.
The Holy Monastery of RousanouThe Holy Monastery of Rousanou
The Holy Monastery of Rousanou

This was one of my favorite monasteries, though it is difficult to pick favorites when I loved them all.
Don't Look DownDon't Look Down
Don't Look Down

The view from Rousanou's patio.
A Perfect PatioA Perfect Patio
A Perfect Patio

This is Rousanou's amazing patio.
At RousanouAt Rousanou
At Rousanou

The monasteries didn't allow photos in the 'indoor' areas, but this semi-outdoor room seemed to be an exception, since I could find no signs and everyone else was taking photos.
The Pinnacles of MeteoraThe Pinnacles of Meteora
The Pinnacles of Meteora

This was one of the most stunning landscapes I have been able to explore.

I truly loved this place.
Another HermitageAnother Hermitage
Another Hermitage

These little constructions were all over the place and all of them were seemingly impossible to reach.

2nd March 2010

Keith, really enjoyed journeying with you to the monasteries of Meteora. "Bindy"
31st March 2010

I loved how you described in detail you journey from Kalambaka, all the way to Rousanou. I felt as if I were right there with you. Thank you for a wonderful adventure!
10th January 2011

Enjoyed your journey
Keith, thanks for posting such a great blog. Great title!
26th November 2011

Great Blogs
Thanks Keith for the great photos and travel info. I want to go to all of these places!

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