Monday, April 4, 2016

Meteora: You gotta come here once in your lifetime

When you find yourself in Greece, don't stop your exploration at Athens and Santorini. Greece is so much more than these obvious destinations. Try Meteora. You won’t be unmoved even if you are a seasoned traveler. From the moment we set eyes on the cliffhanging monasteries, we’ve been “wow”ing all the way from the bottom of the stone pillars to the monastery’s doorstep. It’s staggering to envisage how they did it at a time when there was no road access. The monks have to carry their building materials in baskets on their backs or hauled them up with some kind of pulley system. When tourism started in the area, only then was stairs built for visitors. Meteora means "middle of the sky" or "in the heavens above". It’s really an awesome sight. There were originally twenty-four monasteries built and 6 remains today. You can go crazy and hike to all of them. We didn’t. It was scorching hot and we were not inspired enough to move in the heat. We visited 2 monasteries and lingered in one of them till we were chased out for their lunch break. Strict dress code is enforced: all shoulders must be covered, men must wear long trousers and women must wear long skirts. There’s wrap around skirt, shawl and shirt to borrow at the entrance if you are not in the right attire.
Waiting for the public bus in town centre and our excitement mounted even as we look at the rock pillars here.
Our first glimpse of the monastery from the bus.  Great Meteoron Monastery - Largest monastery among the 6 remaining monasteries.
 Motorized cable cart for quick access
The interior of the monastery is all modern and pretty, not what we expected of a monastery built on top of a rock pillar. There must have been vast renovations and additions over the years to make it into such a complex. We couldn't imagine the monks having the energy to hoist or carry up so much building materials centuries ago. 
Varlaam Monastery which is nearest to Great Meteoron Monastery, literally just down the road.
St. Stephen’s Monastery
Beautiful grounds which was serene till different busloads of tour groups came in. The ladies were busy hitching up their borrowed wraparound skirts and posing for photo. Then they rushed for the toilets and gift shops. We watched all these brief flurry of activity, willing them to board their buses soon. Peace descended again. The monks and nuns must be resigned to all these tourism madness. They certainly stayed clear as much as they could.
Take note of opening hours for each monastery that you want to visit on a particular day. A different monastery is closed each day and lunch break hours are different. One great resource: Visit Meteora
Getting there from Athens:

Find your way to Liossion Bus Station. Take a direct bus to Trikala (about 4hrs and that excludes a 30min pit stop break). Connect to Kalampaka if you choose to stay in this town. Do note the last bus to Kalampaka from Trikala is 10.30pm. We reached Trikala at 10.45pm and had to take a taxi to Kalampaka. At least the taxi is metered, so we do not have to go through the hassle of haggling when we were already drooping with tiredness.

Easiest way to get to Meteora as there’s direct train between Athens and Kalambaka. However, take care to take the correct train as you have to make a transfer if it's not the direct train.

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