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Friday, November 19, 2010

Magnificent Meteora Monasteries

On Thursday night we had stopped at a travel agency to find out what time the ferries were running to the Islands, primarily Santorini one of the southern most Island. And also the one that Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants was filmed on. We decided that we would take the ferry that left at midnight the following day so that we wouldn’t lose more time during the day traveling and it would be one night we didn’t have to pay for a place to stay. And this meant we had all of Friday to take another adventure on the mainland.
Many months ago I typed in on google search “best places to see in Europe.” There was one site that give a top ten best. One of the places was Dubrovnik, Croatia, which is why I knew about it to take Ryan there on his surprise birthday trip. And there was also a place in Greece that stood out to me and we looked into now that we are in Greece. The place is the Meteora Monasteries. 10 million years ago there was water in this area of Greece (the central region of Thessaly) and somehow it created these huge towering sandstone cliffs which for hundreds of years now have had monasteries built perched on top of some of them. The picture I first saw online was more than enough to spark my interest. And Ryan and I decided we’d like to include something out of the ordinary on our Greece adventure.
We woke up early (well early for being on vacation) to catch the 8:20 train out of Athens to Kalambaka. That is the town at the base of the cliffs. Finding information about transportation in Greece on the Internet is surprisingly and frustratingly difficult. We weren’t expecting our train ride to take 5.5 hours, but I guess in a way we got lucky that at least it left at the time we had believed it was suppose to. But we definitely got a lot of reading done and we got to see a lot of the Greek countryside. What surprised me the most was that until we got out of the train at our stop we didn’t see the cliffs. The surrounding landscape does not share the remarkable feature of these monstrosities.
As soon as we got out of the train we headed into town to find the tourist information. The woman there wasn’t the most helpful or the most outwardly friendly tourist informationist that we’ve come across. She gave us a pamphlet on the monasteries and getting answers to our other questions was like pulling teeth. But eventually we had enough information to know which monasteries were open that late in the afternoon and that we’d need to take a taxi to get to the top.
So we got a taxi on the main street and he drove us up the very scenic road to the Holy Trinity monastery. Even from the road where we were dropped off it was quite a walk up to the monastery. I can’t imagine the people who walk from the very base of the town to all six of the monasteries.
You have to pay a small entrance fee for the monastery. Inside there isn’t a ton to see, it is very small. But once you walk out the back door the view was fantastic. We took a lot of pictures that I will have to get put up because I don’t know how to describe in words what this place looks like.
I was thinking as we stood up here about how many photos have been taken. And then my mind went to artists whether they are photographers or painters or any other type. They are simply capturing God’s masterpiece in a new way. But He remains the greatest of all artists. He is the one who caused these cliffs to form and He is the one responsible for all the natural beauty we find ourselves surrounded with. I doubt many people who walk into an art museum stop to think that the pieces before their eyes are all just copies of the greatest artist of them all.
From the Holy Trinity Monastery we walked a short distance down the main road to St. Stephen’s Monastery, which is actually a nunnery. The building was larger than our first visit and there are two gift shops with trinkets for sale by the nuns. On the terrace on the back of the building was another beautiful view although you didn’t have the same vantage point of the other cliffs, so of the two I think I prefer the first.
When we decided to leave we weren’t sure how to get down off the cliff. On our brochure there was a vague map and we tried to find the path to climb down but part way along what we thought was the path we decided it was too steep and dangerous and maybe not a path at all so we climbed back up to the road. Then we tried to ask people driving by if they were headed down but no one we asked was. And we were hesitant that if we walked we’d make out train back to Athens that night. So we had to walk back to St. Stephen’s monastery where thankfully there were a couple of police officers who were nice enough to call us a taxi…. Although when we saw them back in town just shooting the breeze we wondered why they couldn’t have just taken us down to town with them. Eventually our cab came though and in not too long we were back at the train station to by our tickets.
Since we still had a little time before the train came be walked a couple blocks to the grocery to by food to eat for dinner and breakfast the next morning since we’d be on the ferry. Our dinner consisted of a can of rice stuffed grape leaves, rice pudding, orange juice, baked pumpkin seeds and a loaf of delicious kalamata olive bread we bought (with a couple extra sweet treats) at a nearby bakery. We enjoyed our dinner aboard the train as we were pulling out of the station.
Thankfully the ride back was only 5 hours, which made it 10:30pm when we arrived. We took the metro back to our hostel to get our bags we’d left there. When we arrived we had a dispute about what we owed them and eventually had to say here is the money we agreed upon with your owner via email and we need to leave to catch our ferry. The next day Ryan corresponded with the owner via email and he said he was glad we paid what we did and he had no idea why they tried to charge us more when we left. It seems like they should figure out a new system because they seemed like they had no idea what was going on when we checked in and out. But it was a roof over our heads with breakfast in the morning and it was cheap, so I guess that is what you get for cheap.
We ran to the metro and unfortunately had to wait about 10 minutes for our train. We got off at our stop and ran to where we needed to transfer to a different line to find that the line was shut down at that point and we’d have to back track and switch at two other points to get on the line we needed. I knew we didn’t have time for this as we watched the clock tic. I told Ryan that if we wanted to make it and not take the ferry the next morning we’d have to try and grab a taxi one metro stop back the way we came.
We decided to go for the taxi. Of course with our luck it had started to rain and that really slows things down in Athens. The taxi driver even said he had no idea why there was the traffic we were experiencing. He was a great driver though and when we reached the port he drove from boat to boat that was docked preparing to leave asking if that was the ferry going to Santorini. Finally at the far end of the port we found our boat. The driver sped us over to the ticket kiosk and then back to the opening of the boat. We had made it. We couldn’t believe it, but we were so grateful.
On the boat we found some less than comfortable seats and watched a movie until about 2 in the morning. Then I tried to fall asleep in the chair and Ryan moved directly onto the floor. After some time I just couldn’t fall all the way to sleep and I saw Ryan passed out on the floor and was jealous so I moved onto the floor as well. The ferry did have cabins that you could purchase a ticket for that sounded awfully good while I was chilly on the hard floor, but we’re young and we’re tough and we can survive a night on the floor to save the amount of money we did.

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