Thursday, 20 October 2016

The Stone Forest

Our mainland route
Driving from Delphi to Metéora we went through farming country. Cotton, crops and sheep. There is cotton all along the highway because the trucks that carry it from the farms are cages and the holes are about 7cm (3”) so it escapes as they drive along. Only one toll booth today with no-one manning it. It didn’t like my coins and we fed it much more than it needed while the cars behind us were getting frustrated at having to wait.

Metéora (Μετέωρα)


The Stone Forest
Varlaam Monastery
We had trouble finding the town let alone our hotel. Our GPS wouldn’t bring up Kalambaka. It turns out it can be spelt three different ways. We drove through a town about 21kms from where we needed to be to try and get WiFi because I had forgotten to take a screen dump of the map near our hotel but now we also needed to find the town. I had seen a sign but graffiti made it difficult to see where it was pointing. We double parked like the locals, found an open network and found our route. Maybe if we put in Metéora… and hey presto it said “Metéora (Kalambaka)” who knew? The address of the hotel just said a road and wasn’t very helpful, and thankfully I was able to find a local who not only was helpful but she knew the hotel. A very nice hotel, she said, it’s in Kastraki. Actually it’s between the two towns. Drive through town, up the hill and it’s on your right, signaling with her left hand. Left? Yes, left. And there it was, easy when you knew where. Our spacious room was lovely with double glazed French doors leading onto a private balcony with views of the huge rocks that are Metéora. I love the doors and windows they have in Europe where you can open them two ways, vertical and horizontal.

Great Meteoron Monastery
We only had two days here and the weather for our second was forecast to be raining with thunderstorms. After lunch we drove around the monasteries taking photos of outside. Lindsay didn’t want to do anything much as he was tired from driving the past few days or maybe I should say the last six months.

St Stephen's Monastery
The monasteries, retreats and caves of Metéora were built as hermits cells for the Orthodox monasticism since the 11th Century on top of a few of the thousand or so vertiginous rocks which look like a forest of stone from afar. The rocks were formed in the tritogenic period 60,000 years ago. It is believed that monks have been in the area since 950AD.

St Nicholas Anapafsas Monastery
A monk called Athanasios built his first monastery on the rock called Platylithos which is 413 metres above Kalambaka. He called the rock Metéora which means “in the air” as it looked like it was suspended between the earth and heaven. He built a few cells and invited 14 monks from surrounding rocks to form a brotherhood. When he and his son died they were canonized as saints, which led to Metéora becoming the centre of monasticism and Orthodox religious life. Two hundred years later Varlaam’s monastery was built on the rock opposite and over the centuries a few more were built to accommodate the growing numbers of monks. There used to be about 24 in the area but now there are six that you can visit. The Monastery of the Transfiguration – the Great Meteoro was built before 1382 and is by far the most impressive. At one stage it held a hospital for sick monks downstairs and upstairs an area for looking after the old ones. At one stage it had up to a hundred monks living there. The only way up to the monastery was by suspended rope ladders; the steps that exist today were only built in the 1950’s.

Monasticism declined after the C17th and the number of monasteries diminished.

Roussanou Monastery
We also went to St Stephen’s but it wasn’t nearly as impressive. After exploring the monasteries we had been told to visit the Byzantine Church in town. The trip there was more interesting than the church, which like the monastery churches, you couldn’t take photos in. High on the hill of the town, we had to drive up steep, narrow streets that looked like they were made for donkeys. Coming down we took a wrong turn and ended up in a road that had subsided and was only narrow enough to walk, we reversed only to came across another car, we didn’t have to reverse very far but at least we could. In other places it would have been impossible.

Holy Trinity Monastery
I was so glad that we took some photos on the first day as the fog and mist rolled in as we were arriving and it was nearly impossible to get any photos let alone see the cars in front of you. There are many stray cats and dogs in Greece and the dogs seem to think it’s a good idea to sit in the middle of the road.

A fire in one room heated the one above by this ingenious ceiling. This has been rebuilt as the original one fell into disrepair, otherwise it would have soot all over it.
Inside the chapel
Incredible detail in the ceiling
Even if you are cut off from the rest of the world, you still need wine
The rain started later in the day and continued through the night and next day. The thunderstorms disrupted the power and the poor cooks in our hotel had to prepare breakfast by emergency lighting and candlelight. They gave us tea lights for our tables which you had to take to see what food you were actually putting on your plate.

The Kitchen, the walls were covered in soot
The drive back to Athens was pretty straight forward even though our GPS couldn’t find the address – again. The highway was single lane for most of the way and only turned into a dual road when we got onto the toll section. As the GPS didn't recognise the address we had for Avis, we put in Syntagma Square* as we knew how to get from there to Avis. To return the car we had to drive through the railing panels along the road onto the footpath. The Greeks are actually very courteous drivers outside the city. We do however have a few observations to share: Speed signs are just advisory, double lines means pass when it’s safe, and the pedestrian crossing just marks a good spot for you to cross but don’t expect the traffic to stop for you.

* yes, the same one in the new Jason Bourne movie

The town below
Diesel is cheaper than petrol here, just under a euro a litre, a bit more than we are used to paying in the US but about the same as home when you convert the currency. There are many motorbikes which are convenient for parking and fuel consumption, but unfortunately the 2-strokes add to their pollution problems. The pollution was doing terrible things to the old buildings let alone what it must have been doing to the residents themselves. They have reduced their pollution in the past few years by restricting access to the city on certain days with odd and even number plates but some people get around this by having two cars.

Related Posts:

1. Athens - Greece - The First Democracy
2. Olympia - Let the Games Begin
3. Delphi - Ancient Delphi
4. Metéora -  you are here
5. Mykonos
6. Santorini