Saturday, March 6, 2010

Meteora, Greece

By Claire
We left Thessaloniki feeling really good about Homer's repairs and arrived at our next destination, Meteora where monasteries and nunneries cling to the mountain tops. We settled in at Camping Rizos, €19 (great bathrooms, no WiFi), located in Kalambaka, the town beneath the mountains, deciding to relax for the rest of the day and take in the monasteries the next day. As usual we were the only campers until a German couple arrived at around 7 pm.

We weren't sure whether Homer could make it up to tops of the mountains and couldn't find any information about how to get there—our campground hostess spoke only a few words of English. We did find out that no public buses go there. We decided to drive into town and try to find out. We managed to find a Tourist Information office but the woman was only helpful in confirming that no buses go there but the roads are "normal." So, off we went.

View from Campground

She was right, the roads were fine and the views were stunning and awesome as we made our way up and up and up by driving around and around.

The long and winding road

View of Kalambaka

We chose two that were open on a Friday and in the same direction to make the best use of our time. We're anxious to get going south to our stopping point for a couple of weeks. First up, Holy Trinity Monastery, perched atop a slender pinnacle and accessible only by 140 steep steps. We found out there is a tiny cable car traveling on high wires over a deep chasm—only for residents of the monastery.

Holy Trinity

Stairs leading up

I had read a notice on a fading metal sign written in several languages that sleeveless dresses, shorts and trousers were not allowed for women. No problem. I arrived in my home on wheels. We parked, I pulled the curtains and swiftly changed into tights, a skirt and my black Keen Mary Janes. Add a nice jacket and a scarf and I was ready to go. They do offer one-size-fits all skirts but I wanted to wear my own. The Holy Trinity Monastery is originally from the 15th century and has been remodeled many times up until 1741. It was beautiful, peaceful and smelled like cloves. I loved it.

Carved into the rock off the passageway into the courtyard is a round Chapel of John the Baptist (1682), which may occupy the site of an early hermitage. The chapel was gorgeous with many typical Greek Orthodox chandeliers and frescoes. Holy Trinity was also the site for a scene in the 1981 James Bond movie, For Your Eyes Only.

From one of the windows inside the monastery we could see Homer in the distance.

We walked around on the rocks outside, taking in the sweeping views of the village below and signs of spring.

The walk back

Our second choice was St. Stephen's.

St. Stephen's was founded around 1400 and is now a nunnery. The monastery suffered much damage in the 20th century: it was bombed during World War II and desecrated during the subsequent Civil War. In the latter period, most of the frescoes were defaced by Communist rebels. It was virtually abandoned until 1961, when it became a nunnery. It is currently inhabited by 28 nuns led by Abbess Agathi Antoniou. It is dedicated to the martyred St. Charalambos, whose head it contains. We found a number of people on a pilgrimage, kissing the glass box which contained his skull. They were also kissing almost everything in sight. A number of nuns and orthodox priests (with Old Testament beards) were also in attendance.

We're glad we took the time to visit Meteora. With Sunya programed to take us to a "tolerated" free camping spot, we drove off and everything was fine until we trusted her and took a turn off the highway. Our blog title could have been LOST IN THE MOUNTAINS. We'll never know where she thought she was taking us but when we ended up in a tiny lane of residential homes, stuck between a pickup truck and a cement mixer, high in the mountains, we knew it was time to turn back. Fortunately, the owner of the truck saw us, came out, moved his truck and gave us general directions, in Greek, of course, of how to get back to the main road. We lost some time and fuel and gained some gray hairs but found a decent spot to camp for the night.

Free camping, Galaxidi, right on the water

We trusted Sunya again and she managed to get us to the Rio-Antirrio bridge at Patras (€11.80 toll!) but then had us heading in the wrong direction once we got to the Peloponnese on the other side.

We were driving along when Chuck said, "Why is the water on our left if we're heading west?" I scrambled with the map and tried reprogramming Sunya and sure enough, she had us again. And this was after we unnecessarily paid the €7.20 road toll. We made an executive decision to keep her turned on while ignoring her when necessary. I kept the map handy to make sure where we were and where we were going and we made it to our first stop, Methoni. If it wasn't for the photo on our AAA road map of a really cool castle on the water in Methoni, we never would have stopped.

Castle Methoni

OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) would have a field day here. Will those boards really hold up that arch?

We are now happily ensconced in a wonderful campground, Camping Finikes, €10, free wifi and.....wait for it: our very own bathroom with keys! Plus, we have a boardwalk with private access to the beach. A good sized market and bakery are about a 3 minute walk from here and we can bike the 3 km. into town. There are other campers here, some since last September. Apparently, they come every year and stay for months and months through the winter. I met Erica, from Bavaria, tonight and she told me it's snowing there right now. They too are waiting until April 1 to head north. The owner, Spiros, is so nice and friendly and his backup helper, Rod, from England, is also very friendly. When I asked him if it was safe to bike on the road he said "Sure, you don't even need to look before you cross the road. There is no traffic here."

Rod bringing large lemon

We are really looking forward to relaxing and enjoying ourselves here for the next two weeks.

Travel and change of place impart new vigor to the mind. ~ Seneca, Roman Stoic philosopher


Toni said...

I love your pictures of the monasteries. Well worth the climb. And the smell of wonder Claire loved it. The contrast with the modern bridge was shocking. All, in all, a wonderful post and pictures. Your two week campground looks heavenly.

Elisabetta said...

Omg Claire & Chuck!! After x-ing the Rio bridge by bus/es from Igomenitsa, I had to hitch hike to Patras in order to make the bus into Lakonia (for the baptism of my student's little brother.) It was a cluster-you-know-what starting with failure of wake-up call in Roman hotel; I still love that place.. another story..

So I reacted to that bridge foto - actually mailed a postcard of it - and recalled the desperate gap in bus service. Story ends with me eating drinking dancing Huppah! in circle with greek women friends old and new. Then my days of "captivity!" as a houseguest w/out a Homer! haha.

I'm with Toni on the cloves. Are you incorporating new herbs and spices into ur Homer Kitchen Cuisine? I make something similar dubbed "eggplant moosh" by my eldest which starts with onion/eggplant/tomatos/garlic in olive oil with herbs balanced by many splashes of sturdy red wine! Ciao 4 niao, e*

Chuck and Claire said...

Thanks for the additional ideas for my recipe. We're still eating a lot of Greek salads and never tire of them, but then, we eat a lot of them at home too.