Magnificent Monasteries

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Europe » Greece » Thessaly » Meteora
October 3rd 2013
Published: October 1st 2017
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Geo: 39.7833, 21.6

We woke at 7am, while it was still mostly dark outside … all we could see were the lights on shore. Breakfast arrived shortly thereafter, and we ate as we pulled up to the dock. As soon as the chimes told us we could disembark, we departed. Our taxi driver (Demos – who was excellent) was waiting right outside the gate for us. It was raining as we left the ship, but the rain soon stopped, even though the overcast remained.

The drive to Meteora was not exciting. The territory reminded us a bit of the Inland Empire – very dry, very rocky, very light-industry. Some of the light industry appeared to be functioning, and others defunct. We didn't pass through many towns, being mostly on a dual-carriage way, so I can't report on store-fronts. On the whole, however, the countryside did not seem any more depressed that you would expect in a semi-populated, semi-rural area.

After a brief rain (lasting about one minute), the haze lifted, and we could see the rocks of Meteora in the distance. This valley has a remarkable topography, with rounded rocky tors, created of aggregate, with incredibly steep sides, standing hundreds of feet above the floor. Atop a few of the rocky tors sit monasteries hundreds of years old. The territory is stunning, and the monasteries are elegant and mystical. I was so glad we came.

Over the course of the morning, we visited four monasteries. (There are six total: one was closed – they all seem to be closed on different days – and one we opted not to visit. According to our book, at one point, there were 21 monasteries. You can see the ruins of several sitting on the cliffs and shelves.) Although we were ahead of the ship's busses, many tour groups were already there, and the roads were packed with busses and most monasteries were packed with tour groups. This detracted from the sense of peace and contemplation that should be the hallmark of monasteries, but it is good for business. All of the monasteries seem to have new stairs, new patios, and upgraded buildings. They charge only 3 Euros for entry, which tells you how many visitors must come each year.

The first site we visited was Agios Stephanos, which is a nunnery. This was less crowded than some of the others, and nuns seemed to run things. We were particularly enchanted with the super-friendly cats. The murals in the chapel appear to have been repaired or repainted recently. On our drive to the next monastery, we took photos of the closed Holy Trinity, which was the site of a James Bond film. Like many of the monasteries, it has a basket on wires that crosses a chasm, to bring stuff to the buildings. The second stop was Varlaam, which had a stunning setting. Here, we saw no monks … the ticket sellers and shopkeepers were not dressed as monks, although they might have been (but I doubt it). This monastery is famous for one of its prized possessions: a copy of the gospels, owned by Emperor Constantine. After Varlaam, we visited the largest of the monasteries, The Great Meteora (aka Mega-meteoro or Church of the Transfiguration of Christ). It has the largest church … also the ancient kitchen is preserved. The old refectory hosted an exhibit of portraits of heroes of the Greek Liberation. Byron was not one of them. J

Our final stop was Rousanou, which again appeared to be a nunnery (and where the nuns were working). It was actually quite calm walking up the path, as no tourist busses were spitting out Hungarian tourists. One of the ship tour groups were up in the monastery, but, for once, the Americans were not the most annoying tourists around. We could get up and down the steps without being shoved aside. Nice. (I know I'm getting old when I say things like this a mean it.)

Upon completion of the monastery, we requested a return to the ship. It was a long drive, and we were both tired. Paul actually napped for about 10 minutes; lucky. At the ship, we went upstairs for a quick lunch, then to the room to check email, then up for happy hour. Then back to the room to work some more. Then dinner. Then up to the bar to listen to the piano man, who was a fine pianist but an okay singer at best. He seemed to love Elton John and Billy Joel (both piano men, of course). Then back to the room, to bed.


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