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May 10th 2016
Published: May 10th 2016
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Woolly says – Our train from Athens departed exactly on time although finding our seats proved a tad more bothersome, being British we just plonked ourselves down in the first two we came to only to be told that we were sat in someone else’s seat at which point it dawned on us that it was allocated seating. Slight hitch, we were in wagon 4 and our seats were in wagon 2, I raced down the train and seemed to leave my backpacking pair way behind me........

Bearing in mind the size of our backpacks we had to wait for people to sit down rather than knock them down!

Woolly says - ........I sped into the correct part of the train and quickly located our seat numbers, it seemed to take an age for the other’s to arrive and then heft their belongings onto the overhead luggage racks, I tried not to snicker as I watched Jo attempt to lift hers above her head! The five hour journey passed with views across Greece of agricultural lands looking much like England itself but slightly drier, having run up and down the train several times I sat dozing in the window as the miles raced away from beneath us. Pulling into Meteora we weren’t sure of what we would be doing, having found some wifi from George the most helpful General Manager at Meteora Thornes Travel Centre, Jo established that our volunteer work place still hadn’t contacted us after four days of her trying to get through to them, looked like plan b was about to come into force.

Part of our travel plan is to do volunteer work in a variety of different situations on our journey, feeling very lucky to be able to do this type of trip we all felt it was a good idea to give something back, this was to have been our first place!

Woolly says – Having booked a room and dumped the hundred tonnes of stuff were carrying off, we sat contemplating the lovely quiet town whilst consuming some amazing food in the town square. Set in the region of Thessaly it has a population of around 12,000 and seemed quaint and peaceful, it is most famous for it’s rocks and the monasteries perched on the top of them. I sighed in contentment and looked forward to the trip that George had already helped us to book which would take in all the delights the area had to offer in the morning.

Refreshed and ready to go the mini bus picked us up and the guide, Dimitris seemed most pleasant and knowledgeable.

Woolly says – Having already done my research of course I still listened in. Meteora meaning "middle of the sky", "suspended in the air" or "in the heavens above" is one of the largest and most important complexes of Eastern Orthodox monasteries in Greece, second only to Mount Athos. There are six monasteries built on natural sandstone rock pillars and it is a UNESCO World Heritage site. As the bus took the twisty roads upwards I could see the caves that were inhabited up to 5,000 years ago hiding in the rock race, many Palaeolithic and Neolithic artefacts have been found within the caves, I bet some of my ancestors were living there at the time! In the 9th century AD, an ascetic group of hermit monks moved up to the ancient pinnacles, they were the first people to inhabit Meteora since the Neolithic Era. They lived in hollows and fissures in the rock towers, some as high as 1800 ft (550m) above the plain. This great height, combined with the sheerness of the cliff walls, kept away all but the most determined visitors. The hermits led a life of solitude, meeting only on Sundays and special days to worship and pray in a chapel built at the foot of a rock known as Dhoupiani. The exact date of the establishment of the monasteries is unknown, but by the late 11th and early 12th centuries, a rudimentary monastic state had formed called the Skete of Stagoi and was centred around the still-standing church of Theotokos (mother of God).

I was finding it difficult to concentrate on the commentary and take in the amazing view at the same time!

Woolly says – Being able to multi task has it’s benefits! Our first Monastery approached that of The Great Meteoro Monastery which was founded by Saint Athanasios who was the first founder of the monastery and the organizer of the systematic koenovion, this became the beginning of the organized monasticism in Holy Meteora. Unfortunately this monastery was closed as they all take it in turns to close throughout the week so I had to be contented to look across at the awe inspiring views and consider the pulley system that they have in place to get across the deep ravine.....quite glad I didn’t have to attempt that!

We were all glad not to attempt that!

Woolly says – our next stop and that of Varlaam Monastery the elegant building was built in the honour of Agioi Pantes in 1541-42, by two brothers from Ioannina, the priest-monks Hosioi Theophanes and Nectarios the Apsarades. Perched high on the rock face we made our way up the steep steps and into the main church which was decorated in 1548. It was stunning inside with hand painted pictures depicting Christ, the disciples, the Romans and many more with gilting adorning them, Jo looked downhearted as we couldn’t take any pictures but I could only stand and crane my neck to the ceilings to try and drink it all in. Allowing others to enter we made our way up the stone steps passing what appeared to be a huge storage for would probably keep Jo going for a few days!

Cheek of the mammoth!

Woolly says – having scuttled ahead I found myself in a room where the pulley system was and being careful not to over balance I peered over the side, oh boy it was a long way down! As I trotted down the stairway I came upon another room with colours so bright and beautiful, it made me speechless.....

It did, lovely to listen to silence for the few moments it took! I hadn’t seen any notices to not take photo’s so having tried my best to show it to it’s full beauty we crossed the courtyard taking time to admire the newly constructed bell tower before feasting our eyes on the view.

Woolly says – It was magical and having lingered as long as I dared I shot back to the mini bus and the next delights on offer. The Monastery of Holy Trinity (Agia Triada) is the most difficult to reach with a mere 140 steps to the top (shouldn’t be a problem as I’m sure Jo will carry me!) it was also the first Monastery to grant access to a film crew to film the Bond spectacular For Your Eyes Only in 1981 starring Roger Moore. It had become a monastery in 1362 and today only one monk lives there.....I wonder if he would like a mammoth as a companion! The climb up seemed to tire Jo somewhat but I was bursting with energy and raced through to capture the latest amazing view before investigating the tiny church with it’s beautiful paintings again, these guys are seriously talented artists! Reaching the summit I could hardly believe my tusks as I looked across the small town below us and the mountains in the distance, how much better can this get. With time ticking and a bus to regain I seemed to find myself with a slight paw injury which necessitated in Jo carrying back to our tour again!

I think he’s trying to kill me off! On the steep walk back I contemplated the solitude that the monk here must have, it seemed like such a spiritual place to be and somewhere that to live a life alone could be wonderful.

Woolly says – well of course she wouldn’t be alone because I would be with her! Our last visit was into one of the two monasteries that have nuns in them. St Stephens currently houses 36 ladies ranging in age from 25 to 47 and on entering it as easy to guess that it was a female sanctuary with all the beautiful flowers around. The original church is now only opened for two celebrations a year to try and preserve it’s insides, but the pretty outside with it’s beautiful gardens surrounding it made it worth looking at none the less. The 18th century main cathedral that is now used is dedicated to Saint Charalambos and includes his holy relics, it was packed with tourists and with Jo lifting me up to save me getting trampled I didn’t now where to look first, at the incredible painting, the immense chandler or the gold and silver funerary all of it was tremendous, pictures weren’t allowed but believe me it was well worth the visit. The view was breath taking and with the sweet smell of lilies floating around I could have happily spent the rest of the day there.

By this point we were all running out of adjectives to describe the splendours that we had seen but one last treat was in store.

Woolly says – One last stop and as our most informative guide led us over a huge rock face to take in the view of five of the monasteries that they area has in one panoramic view, it was spell binding with the majestic buildings nestled into their rocks and the view over miles and miles I didn’t know which way to look, spotting climbers scaling one of the largest peaks I could hardly believe their daring, one wrong move and they would be gonners! With no time left I retraced my steps to the bus and sat in a wonderful bubble of contentment on our journey back into the town. Thanking Dimitris for his wonderful tour we popped into the tour centre to thank the lovely George for recommending the tour, he asked if we would like to join the sunset tour or perhaps consider a climbing experience and much as I would have liked to I knew that our time was running out, if your passing this way pop in and see him or contact him on it’s well worth it.

With tummies rumbling we adjourned to a restaurant for lunch and a quick look at the map. Although tired we all wanted to do at least one more thing before we head off in the morning.

Woolly says – my suggestion of a look at the Natural History Museum was deemed a good one and even though my paws were aching the short walk led us to a cool place with hundreds of stuffed animals, I felt a little uneasy with all the beady eyes watching me but to see Vultures, Great Owls and the like close up was something that doesn’t happen very often and was fascinating as was the very impressive mushroom exhibit upstairs where we looked at enough fungi to feed the whole of the Greek nation. All sorts of edible and poisonous varieties were displayed but the highlight had to be watching Jo try out a range of species hehehehehehe and watching her expression, although to my even greater delight was seeing Zoe try out some sweet mushrooms..... her face was a picture! With bags to pack it was time to head back to our quarters and to look forward to our next journey tomorrow.

Additional photos below
Photos: 55, Displayed: 29


10th May 2016
Were going in there!

Oh yeah, beautiful.
11th May 2016
Were going in there!

Isn't it just
Definitely not a place to miss if your travelling through Greece
10th May 2016

Jeesus, Joseph and Mary!
Well.. whatever the Greek equivalent... you know what I mean... I want to go to these places.... I will consult.. .WOW... amazing views and amazing buildings and .......... WOW
11th May 2016

It is a WOW, we will be happy to pass on all the info Paul for when you get a chance to visit
10th May 2016
In the church

Monasteries on Mountains
Oh Meteora, one of my favorite places--so glad you visited! Amazing how those monasteries were built on such high rocks so long ago. Pretty amazing too those rock climbers scaling those sheer rocks. What a fine adventure!
11th May 2016
In the church

Even when they explained how they were built with carving grooves into the rock face it's hard to imagine how it worked. Defiantly one of my top ten places to far!
12th May 2016
Were going in there!

Reaching for Heaven
First thought was if in Ethiopia it would have been built on top of the rock and an ordeal to reach...but the Greeks are more practical aren't they?
12th May 2016
Were going in there!

There are indeed.....
....small tunnels in the rocks and lots of steps to climb, but worth every breath it takes
12th May 2016
Perched up high

Reaching for Heaven too
Ah that's better!

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