Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Holy Monks in the Clouds

It’d be thundering all night and was still raining heavily when we went downstairs for breaky (which turned out to be really good with local yoghurt and fresh bread) but nevertheless we decided we’d brave the rain and hike up to see the monasteries perched on the cliffs as the forecast was for heavy rain for the rest of the week and we didn’t have enough time to sit around and wait for the skies to eventually clear.

View of the cliffs behind our hotel
There was a path leading up to the monasteries from behind the town and it took us about an hour of steep climbing on a muddy path to reach the top.  We almost considered turning back at one point when a wide stream flowed directly over the path, but we managed to use a nearby tree to leap across without too much drama. 

The first monastery, Moni Agias Triados, was the most remote one of all as it was built onto a rock piece jutting out of the cliff.  You could see the old pulley system they used to haul people and supplies up with until the steep set of stairs were carved into the rock face. Inside there was a sole monk wandering around and a dark, eerie old chapel that was covered in amazing frescoes depicting the saints and life of Christ.
Hiking up the path to the hiddenn Moni Agias Triados 

The next stop was 1.5 km down the road and was the large nunnery, Moni Agiou Stefanou.  Sarah wasn’t allowed to enter in jeans and had to borrow a skirt to wrap around herself in order to be presentable, it was so cold that the extra layer was more than welcome! Again the frescoes in the chapel were amazing, although this time they explicitly showed the torturing and murdering of the saints – the walls were covered with graphic images of saints being flayed, boiled alive, dragged behind horses, eaten by lions, beheaded and hung etc.  Interesting in a disturbing kind of way…

After returning the skirt, we started to walk back down the road to the next monastery which was around 5 km away, and the drizzle of rain instantly became heavier.  Thankfully a Bulgarian/American couple pulled over and offered us a lift so we didn’t get too soaked - it was greatly appreciated.  Moni Agias Varvaras Rousanou was a smaller monastery than the others but still precariously perched on an outcropping of rocks and also with colourful frescoes inside the inner chapel.  
Skulls of the saints in Moni Megalou Meteorou
Our next visit was to be the most famous of all the monasteries – Moni Megalou Meteorou, but it was also about half an hour walk to get there and by the time we arrived our shoes were soaked and our water-proof jackets were at their limit of being water-proof.  Fortunately it was a large monastery with two interesting museums about the Greek’s war history and the persecution of the saints by atheistic Turks, so the visit helped us dry out a bit.  The chapel was also amazing, but as this monastery is the most popular one and easily accessible by road, so there were busloads of Saint-kissing tourists coming through in droves.  We did find it interesting that you can’t take photos of the frescoes with a flash as this does damage to the fragile paint, however kissing the painting itself apparently does no damage at all…
View along the side of the Monastery

We took a different trail back down to get back to town and it sometimes traversed streams and at other times became one, which meant again we were dripping wet when we finally arrived in the small town of Kastraki, hoping to find a public bus to take us back to Kalambaka.  We had walked through the entire town when a bus finally came passed so we flagged it down and jumped on, only to realise that we had walked the entire distance bar 1 km to Kalambaka.  Oh well, it got us out of the rain for a couple of minutes and also dropped us off directly in front of a tasty looking patisserie and since it was 3.30pm and we hadn’t eaten since breakfast our stomachs directed us inside.  It’s really not possible to choose bad desserts in Greece, everything is delicious, and we enjoyed a couple of honey drenched, pistachio laden sweets to tide us over while we dried out and waited until till dinner time.

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