Another issue was gasoline. I generally try to refill the tank when I am just under half full. The last couple of stations I passed before coming to Delphi either were on strike or were not displaying their prices, so I decided to continue. I had half a tank and there was a petrol strike at the only gas station in Delphi so I would have to go the next town 20 km away to get gas. My gauge indicated that I had 160 km to empty so I should be ok and when I asked how far the next town is after Amfissa I was told 120 km. This made me nervous. Fortunately, there were many gas stations open there and after getting gas and getting lost we were on our way north. We also got hopelessly lost in the city of Trikala where nobody seemed to speak English. With my rudimentary French skills and many hand gestures, we finally made our way out of that town and arrived at our hotel but I by that time we were both stressed and tired. I was feeling pretty awful with my eyes watering, nasal congestion, sneezing and coughing. Mom said I looked awful and I pretty much felt it. She wasn't feeling well either. Fortunately the plan for the rest of the day is to relax! Tomorrow we would visit the monasteries in the area at our leisure, sleep here one more night and then return to Athens on Thursday.
The receptionist here speaks perfect English and showed us to our room which is on the good side with a view, explained how to visit the monasteries (only 10 – 15 minutes away to see them all) and mentioned that one of them will be closed tomorrow. Since it was still early in the day we would have plenty of time to see it today if we wished. She also provided us each with a book about the monasteries so we could read up. When I enquired about a pharmacy she spent quite a bit of time phoning around to find one that was open.
We crashed in the room and rested. Mom napped a bit. Afterward we sat on the balcony reading and Mom suggested we go up and visit the one that would be closed the next day. We could also just drive around and see the others. Well, I am always happy to take a few pictures so off we went. All thoughts of my miserable cold disappeared upon seeing these places.
Backing up a bit, as we approached this area we had left the mountains and suddenly crossed the plain of Trikala. This area used to be an enclosed lake which when emptied naturally left behind a plain and some incredible sandstone rock formations which from a distance look like a forest of stone.
It is a very popular destination for rock climbers who can walk out of their hotel and start climbing the sandstone. In the 11th century Byzantine monks climbed up the sides of the rocks to be closer to God and used live in the caves and depressions they found. They practiced an ascetic life renouncing worldly pursuits to achieve higher intellectual and spiritual goals. Every Sunday and feast day they would come down and celebrate the Liturgy together. Over time more monks came and this area became a strong monastic centre. In the 14th century there was a time of instability when the Turks occupied the area. A new monk arrived and established the first monastery on top of one of these rocks. This would provide the monks with a very spiritual place that was inaccessible in which they could continue their monastic life without interference. He called his monastery Meteora
which is a Greek word translated to mean “suspended in the air” because it seemed to hang suspended between earth and heaven.
Over the years more monasteries were built (24 in total) of which 6 are still open today including the original and largest. The whole area of rocks and monasteries is now known as Meteora. Nobody quite knows how these structures were built and as you look at them it is a real marvel.
Today there is a road which brings a traveller part of the way up but then you must climb stairs in the rock to reach the top. It costs 2 Euros to visit each monastery. First for us was the Rousannou Monastery which is now a Nunnery. It is accessible by stairs up the side of rock and then 2 bridges which hip hop across other rocks and lead to the actual rock that the nunnery sits on.
Women are not permitted to wear shorts or slacks or skirts above the knee, or sleeveless tops, but as you enter you are provided with a wrap-around skirt that can be worn during your visit. There was a small peaceful balcony with a seating area which overhung the rock and made Mom quite dizzy and nervous. Looking out over the balcony at the scenery with other Monasteries perched on their rocks in the distance, I could imagine the peaceful, reflective life that the monks were able to cultivate. I also wondered what daily life must be like for the current nuns.
We then descended into the church which is covered in murals and in very good shape after 400 years. I was shocked to see the walls covered with depictions of the torture and martyrdom of Christians. It was very gruesome with many types of torture and blood and gore. I was to find out later that many of the churches in these monasteries have frescoes such as these.
This morning at breakfast we met the owner of the hotel. We got to talking after I told her how wonderful her receptionist is. She shared that she suffered a stroke after an operation in Germany years ago and has some physical disability. She was also dressed in black as she is mourning the loss of her child 6 months ago as a result of another doctor’s mistake at a hospital. She was very friendly and explained the entire breakfast layout which was very impressive and included about 10 different kinds of homemade jam made by the owner’s mother-in-law. I tried the fig and the strawberry jams and both were delicious. This is the first morning Mom was able to enjoy her tea. Up until now the milk has tasted off for her.
The plan was to take pictures this morning after breakfast but it was a very overcast and dark day so we decided instead to visit a monastery and see if things brightened up a little later.
We went to the largest and highest monastery called The Great Meteoron. This was a very interesting visit as we were able to visit more of the building and it is very large. The wine cellar contained many large barrels and ancient jugs and wine making equipment. There were many terraces and seating areas. The Manuscript and Neomartyre Museum was interesting as it housed very ancient scrolls and bound parchments dating back to the 11th century. It is considered to be one of the most important collections of historical documents in the world as Greece is one of the oldest civilizations. Much of the information about Greek history here illustrates the oppression of Christians and the strength of the Greek freedom fighters who became martyrs for their faith and the Greek culture they wished to protect. There was a historical museum containing the costumes and weapons of soldiers and residents of the area at various times in history. I was struck by how very ornamental and decorative the weapons and dress were. The church once again was fairly large and filled with frescoes that were less graphic than those in the Rousannou monastery.
There was also a carpenters shop and an ossuary filled with skulls, some of which were from martyrs and some from saints. I guess there really wasn’t anywhere to bury the dead. On the first floor you could see the hanging net which was used to transport goods and people up to the monastery before the stairs were built. This church has also built a little cable car that can and does transport people across the gap. Not me though. I’ll take the stairs over that car any day. We saw some monks dressed in black with grey beards and black caps. They smiled and looked friendly although we didn't talk with them. I read that they eat no meat or root vegetables as part of their lifestyle.
We then visited the Agios Stefanos monastery which is also currently a nunnery. We chose this one because it is one of the favourites of the nice receptionist at our hotel. The other monasteries are more commercialized and this one (as well as the Rousannou) are more peaceful. Outside the church we were able to tag onto a small group that were getting an English tour (the first I have found here). We learned that there are 31 nuns presently living at the church and who have taken a vow to devote their lives to living here. They are permitted to go out and visit parents, or shop in the town for provisions for the monastery but for the most part they live their life devoted to God at the nunnery. They devote 8 hours a day to work, 8 hours to prayer, and 8 hours to rest. We also learned a little more about the frescoes inside the church before leaving the group and walking around the rest of the public area.
No pictures or videos were permitted inside most of the rooms in the monasteries although I was able to take pictures outside on the terraces as well as get a photo of the ossuary in the previous monastery.
We returned to the hotel for a lunch on our terrace and then went to visit one more monastery... the smallest one called Agios Nikolaos. There is just one monk living there and sometimes he can be seen sitting on a terrace and will chat with you as he is friendly… but we didn’t see him today. He must have been in the private area inaccessible to us. It is thought that once he dies this monastery will close. It was a long climb to the top and this one also had a sort of elevator built where the net used to be.
By this time we had seen enough of the insides of these amazing buildings. We went back to our rooms to rest up for tomorrow’s drive to Athens.
Yesterday morning I realized that I did not have my adapter for electrical power here in Greece and my computer was running low on battery power. I realized that between recharging my computer and camera batteries, I had left it in the socket at the hotel in Olympia. Drat! At the front desk I asked if they had one I could borrow which they did, but I really needed one to bring along with me. I asked where I could purchase one and the receptionist thought about it and said "Athens". Yikes! He said you can't find them in these small villages in Thessaly. I guess the look on my face must have told a story because he said, “Just wait, I will look for another one and if I find one you can keep that one.” After some rummaging around for a few minutes he did come up with another one so I am able to continue my story for you now. I am also able to recharge my camera battery and take pictures. I am very grateful for the nice people who have crossed my path on this trip.