|January 27, 2011
Today we left Korinos nice and early and embarked on a three hour drive to Meteora. There was no highway driving involved and we were cutting straight through the mountains and across country. We got some amazing views of Mt Olympus as we left Korinos and as we would up and down the hills and valleys we saw lots of other snow-covered peaks, too. The drive was long and windy through the mountains but the scenery and small villages we passed through were great. About 2 hours into the drive I realised I’d forgotten my passport, left behind at the hotel. Thankfully, we were heading back past the hotel tomorrow on the way back to the coast so we didn’t have to turn back otherwise I’d have been really pissed off!
As we neared Meteora the scenery changed and rolling hills were replaced by rocky outcrops which were equally stunning. We weren’t entirely sure where we were going but when we pulled into one of the viewing areas we could see what we had come all this way for. Meteora is known for its hilltop monasteries, perched precariously on top of the rocks, and from the viewing point we could see at least 4 or 5 different places. The views over the valley were lovely and the sun was out and shining. We’d certainly been lucky with the weather in Greece so far as it is quite easy to ignore the cold if the day is bright. We stopped at the parking bay here for lunch and climbed up the rocks a little further for more great views of the monasteries, the valley below down to the village of Kalambaka and rocky outcrops.
Once we were done with lunch we made our first monastery visit and this was to The Holy Monastery of Rousanou. This was actually a nunnery and was a very small and pretty place. From the road we hiked up the steps and into the main entrance where we were met by a fairly friendly nun selling tickets and a grumpier one showing us where we had to go! Verne had warned us over dinner that the nuns could be a bit surly! Inside there weren’t many areas open to the public but we were able to go inside the amazingly decorated church. The frescoes inside were really well maintained and had impressive biblical and historic scenes, including some quite graphic scenes of martyrs being beheaded and having limbs removed. It was certainly quite funny imagining the nuns praying in here surrounded by pictures of headless Christians! The views from the balcony of the nunnery were also stunning and gave us different angles of some of the other monasteries, in particular Varlaám. In the shop we were greeted by a much friendlier, happier nun and we bought a book about the sacred rocks of Meteora.
Our next stop was the oldest and largest of the monasteries, The Holy Monastery of the Metamorphosis (or Great Meteoron). From the car park there were steep steps down and then back up again to reach the entrance, including a small section of tunnel dug into the rock face. This means of entry has only been available since 1923 and prior to that the ascent was by hanging ladders or a net (called vrizoni) in which visitors, supplies and baggage could be hoisted up! Given the monastery is 400 feet above the valley floor on one side this is quite a feat and I’m glad we had the steps! The monastery was built in the mid-14th Century and not only are the setting and structures amazing but the fact they were completely built by hand makes them even more remarkable. They truly are a feat of architecture and planning. Given these buildings are over 600 years old they have been maintained superbly. The monastery still maintains the vrizoni, too, although now it is more of an electric lift which goes horizontally, to avoid the steps going down and up, for goods to be delivered to the monastery. The original net which was winched up is now a thing of the past. There were a number of museums inside the monastery and many focused on the heroes of Greek wars which seemed strange for such a religious place but they were interesting nonetheless. One of the things that was most interesting was the older paintings of the heroes. All too often, we see pictures of such people in modern art galleries but when you think that this building has existed throughout all of the battles it exhibited you realise truly what an amazing history these places have and how privileged you are to be able to visit them. Some of the monasteries in Greece, like those in Mt Athos, require you to apply for a permit to visit them and even then they expect you to have a special reason for your visit and under no circumstances are women allowed. Elizabeth might’ve had to wear a silk shawl as a skirt here but she was at least allowed in!
The remaining four monasteries which are open to visitors were closed today so we drove past a couple to check the opening hours for tomorrow. We wanted to try and visit as many as possible before we have to drive back to the coast tomorrow. The others we checked out were Varlaám (which was very impressive but was closed tomorrow, too), Saint Stephen’s (the final one on the ridge with great views down to the valley and, apparently, the richest) and The Aghia Triada (Holy Trinity). I really wanted to visit the last one as it was used in the James Bond film “For Your Eyes Only”. I took some pictures of it from the side of the road as we left and it looked quite isolated and a bit of a trek to get out there. It also made me want to watch the film so I can see if I can recognise it!
After finished at the monasteries we drove down into Kalambaka, which is the closest town to Meteora, and we found our hotel, the Hotel Odyesson. We got checked in and lazed around before deciding that we would actually watch the film. It wasn’t really a tough decision given that I have all of the Bond films on my external hard drive! We had to wait until the final scenes to see the monastery but the valley and rocks of Meteora were easily identifiable and we were glad we didn’t have to scale the rocks to get to the monastery like Roger Moore had to!
For dinner we went to a lovely little restaurant on the main square. Like many we’ve encountered so far it was pretty quiet and the owners/waiters/chefs were busy watching the TV as we entered. We ordered meatballs for me and chicken with lemon sauce for Elizabeth. We didn’t worry too much about getting wine as we had the bottle Verne got for us back at the hotel! Dinner was good and we headed back pretty stuffed to chill out and relax. We did stop on the way back though to pick up some Greek yoghurt and honey from a local store to have a bit of dessert. The pot of honey was quite big but we reckoned we could pack it well in our suitcase when we fly out in a couple of days! With the three hours of slow, windy driving it had been quite a long day and I was ready for a lie down!