Saturday, May 27th
Tim and I caught a train at 8:27 in the morning to head to a place called Meteora (mat-or-a) in central Greece. Our train ticket was almost all in Greek, so we weren’t able to decipher much from it other than our departure time. I figured it would be a 2-3 hour trip up and we’d have some time to explore. 6 hours later we arrived at the train station and got picked up from the touring company we booked with. They took us to our hotel and told us to be ready at 4:00 for the sunset tour. The area of Meteora is a holy place with monasteries dotting the tops and sides of massive rock formations, which combine for some spectacular views.
Tim and I got settled in at our hotel before going out to grab some lunch. We got some food at a nearby restaurant with a great view of the rock formations. Our tour van came right on time, and we hopped in with a few other people. We made 2 more stops, then the guide started telling us about the rocks and monasteries and some of the history behind it. We drove up to the top of some of the rock pillars and could take a look at some of the monasteries. There are 7 active monasteries still in Meteora, 2 inactive but in tact, then roughly 15 that have fallen down or been destroyed in some way.
The views were spectacular. It is hard to believe that anyone would take on the challenge of building in some of those places. The guide said that monks learned how to climb from local rock climbers. They then carved holes in the rock as they climbed. They would then put a wet piece of wood in the hole, and when it dried and expanded, it was sturdy enough to stand on. After reaching the top, they would then throw a rope down and hoist up some building blocks. They would then use these blocks to build a tower that extended out over the edge of the rock pillar, so they could raise and lower a rope without scraping the rocks. They would then hoist up all of the other building materials for the monastery.
In addition to communal monasteries, there were also hermit monks who lived in natural shelters in the rocks. Each one would have a path of some sort to reach their home.
We drove around and saw some more of the sights before venturing into the town of Kalampaka. Here we went to the Kimisseoss Tis Theotokou, which is now a Byzantine Church. An initial shrine was build on he site about 500BC, and destroyed some time after that. Around 200AD, the church that stands today was build using some of the same pieces of marble as he original shrine and are clearly visible when looking around the church. One interesting thing to factor into our church visit was that there was a baptism going on inside as we were entering and a wedding following that. I was a bit underdressed and unsure about crashing a baptism, but the tour guide led us into a entryway and told us to come close so he could talk. The ceremony by the baptismal font couldn’t have been more than 5 yards away from where we were gathered. Our tour guide definitely did not lower his volume when talkin to us, and there is no way they couldn’t hear him talking. Oh well. He explained the paintings around the areas we were in, then we filed past where everyone was gathered for the baptism into the middle part of the church. Keep in mind the priest is chanting in Greek while this is all happening. Not long after we gather close again, the baptism finishes, and he mother walks up to the tour guide. She introduces her baby in a very friendly way and was happy that we could kind of take part in the ceremony. I thought we were going to get an earful, but it was the exact opposite.
After saying goodbye, the guide pointed out other notable features of the space, like the alter and the different structural elements of the space. We left the church and headed to a viewpoint a little ways away from the rock pillars. This vantage point offered a wholistic view of he space and kind of brought it all together for me.
We eventually got back in the van and drove up the road to a good spot to watch the sunset from. It was a quick little drive, and unfortunately it was a bit cloudy so our view was a bit hampered. However, we were still able to get a few good pictures of the sunset. Our driver then dropped us off in the center of the city and Tim and I walked around for a little bit admiring the view and snapping a few pictures. After we were satisfied we started walking to the hotel to get ready for bed. We passed a little restaurant that had the F.A. Cup Final on the tv, and it was between Arsenal and Chelsea. Arsenal were up at the time, so we stopped in and got something to drink. The game finished up not long after, and then the owner immediately switched it to the D.F.B. Cup Final between Dortmund and Enrich Frankfurt. Dortmund was up 1-0 and the game was about 15 minutes in. We watched the first half at the restaurant, then walked back to the hotel at halftime. I quickly showered threw went to the lobby to watch the game. By this time it had started pouring, which was interrupting the satellite signal. I was able to watch enough of the game to be satisfied with it, and Dortmund ended up winning 2-1, their first trophy in 5 years.
Soon after watching the trophy ceremony, I went to bed.
The next day Tim and I got some breakfast then got picked up for our hiking tour. We went to our drop off site and started up the path. There were two instructors and roughly 12 other people hiking with us on the beautiful, sunny morning. As we made our way up the path, our guide stopped a few times to point out different sights and important little monuments around the way. It was a beautiful hike, and as we got higher we could see farther into the distance to the surrounding Meteora which featured beautiful mountains and valleys. The mountains ran far off into the distance and created a spectacular backdrop for the rock pillars. We stopped a little ways up to get a nice view of the valley and pillars while eating a snack.
Casually standing in a tree
After a little bit longer, we arrived at a monastery and went inside. Tim and I were in awe at the artwork inside the chapel area as well as the views into the distance. After about 45 minutes of wandering around, we met back up with the group to hike back down the pillars. It was a tricky walk back down to get picked up in the van. Slippery and small steps led us down the wet path through the tree canopy. Birds were chirping, the clouds were rolling in; it was beautiful and peaceful. We arrived at the van a little while later and got dropped off back in town.
While Tim and I were eating some lunch it started to rain, and as we were in no rush, we sat around a little longer. After a little bit, we walked around and wondered in some souvenir shops before heading to the train station. While I was not looking forward to our 6 hour train trip back, I was looking forward to getting to Athens. Unfortunately somewhere on our way back, we had a hour and a half delay where we just waited on the tracks. Our train arrived at Athens Railway Station at 11:45pm, and to make things more fun we still had 5 miles to our hostel. We opted to take the metro, and boarded a train at midnight exactly. After 10 minutes we got off at our stop, and arrived at the hostel after a 20 minute walk. We were in a 4 person room, and the two other people probably did not like us making much noise at 12:45 in the morning, but hey, what can you do? We quickly went to bed, as we had a busy day ahead!