Meteora: The Most Beautiful Place You’ve Never Heard About

While still back in Japan, I was researching some of places that I thought I might be going.  I knew that Greece would be happening, so I sought to find out out what my options might be.  As soon as I saw photos of Meteora, it became a ‘must’.

I left from Athens on a slow moving morning train.  I was able to sleep a bit, but when I woke I was very much in a different world.  The metropolis had flipped completely and was now desolate mountains.  There were some flashes and agriculture scattered about, but mostly nothing.  Here you see more the farms.

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Eventually I arrived in the larger city of Trikala.  There was almost nothing worth seeing here, but it had a very cheap hostel that I could use as a staging area for my trip into the smaller town of Kalampaka.
I navigated from the train station to my hostel, where I found no one waiting for me.  The doors were locked and there was not a soul in sight.  Hmmm…  I was questioning the merits of my booking the cheapest possible.  The owner Dimitrius returned just as I was getting annoyed and gave me the rundown on the city.

I felt disgusting, and while taking a much needed shower some of my roommates showed up and made it feel a little less lonely.  These were a few Canadian girls from Ottawa initially came off as normal.  After I cleaned up we decided to walk down the road for something to eat.  We parted ways immediately as I was thinking cheap and they wanted somewhere with good salads.  The quality of my meal was a bit questionable, but the flavor was still passable.  I scarfed it down and returned to the women.  They were just getting their meals as I sat down, and I’m confident that I made the right choice.  They did let me try some of their fried feta cheese appetizer which had a much fuller taste than anything I’ve ever had back home.

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The main topic of conversation was how upset they were that they wouldn’t be able to cram all that they wanted into their schedule.  Now, I’m a guy who likes to be on the move, but the death march that they were planning would have made every one of those destinations inappreciable.  And on top of that, they were now upset because they couldn’t do it all.  I was critical of their planning prowess of course, but it was the female nature of their conversation that was slowly killing me.   When I could endure no more, I took my leave and started to explore the city.  I did enjoy my new favorite Greek beer while waiting as well.  Can you read this one?

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The concierge pointed out a couple of places that I could go, but these were quite unimpressive because really, the only reason that anyone comes to this city is as a place to call home base before going to Meteora.  Anyway, I saw the ruins of Trikala Fortress and climbed a clocktower to see a nice view of the old town.

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I walked along a bit more, stopping to admire some churches.  I was a bit surprised to find myself back at the hostel within two hours, having adequately ‘done’ the city.  On my way back, a saw the girls still at the restaurant and trying to get some stranger to drive them them to Delphi.  Dumb.  I was back at that restaurant soon enough for dinner to have a cheap meal of chips and skewered meat some some of the others that had arrived to the hostel.  I shared in the company a Stanford PhD candidate from Cali and a retired Australian guy who spends 8 months a year on the road.  Both were interesting and made for much better company than the first trio.

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Then that evening Dimitrius took myself and a late arrival for a couple beers in the park with his friends.  This was where I really felt the Greek culture, because the entire youth of the town was out.  Everyday of the week people are usually at the street side bars until 3 am, sleep until late and then take a few hour siesta in the afternoon.  This suits my nocturnal tenancies very well.

He also explained the current financial crisis and dichotomy between the public and privately employed people.  Basically, way too many people work for the state.  The government tries to rectify the balance sheet by taxing the private sector in all sorts of crazy ways.  Things like having your own garden, or a person water tap, and then there are police blockades that exist only to raise money in times of deficit.  This pits the two labor groups against each other, so when one of them strikes it is never supported by the other.  The more he spoke, the more Greece’s situation made sense to me.

The next morning, we all rose early enough to catch the 8am bus to Kalambaka, where we then hopped on another that brought us up to the summit.  The ride up was beautiful, but standing at the top offered a most incredible vantage point and preview of what the day would entail.  During the heyday of the Byzantine Empire in the 14th and 16th centuries, these monasteries we built high upon the rocks.  It used to be that one had to climb a rope to reach them, ropes that were only replaced when at the will of God they broke.  These are different days, but the architectural accomplishment was no less astonishing.

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There was a little monetary on the map that most people ignore completely, but we men three had both the time and energy to make out over there.  There was an unmarked trailhead that we had to track down, but we were soon on our way.  It was a perfect hike for me, not too long yet very worthwhile.  The mini monastery built into the rock face at the end was cool to look at, though locked and not so photogenic. 

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We returned to where we started and got going with the rest of the walk.  We would be walking several kilometers along the upper rim of these mountains, stopping along the way at a couple of the monasteries.  It was three euros to get in the first one, and it was definitely pretty cool.  Everything was built on top of itself and the chapel has some beautiful ornamentation; very different than any of the churches I’d yet seen.  The murals are all done in a distinct style as well.  Not sure why, but Byzantine Jesus is always ripped.

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We carried on along the high road, stopping many times to take photos of the dynamic landscape and small town situated at there bottom.

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We stopped at a nunnery, which was basically the same but a little different before making our descent back down to town.  As we went, pillars of stone appeared to grow taller.  Of course it is impossible to capture that sense of being towered over with a two-dimensional image, but be amazed all the same.

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When we had arrived back to the hostel, I was absolutely dead.  The late night and early morning left me feeling utterly drained after the long, hot hike.  I laid in bed for a moment and passed out.  That seven hour ‘nap’ was one of the best I can recall.  I did wake at midnight, which was slightly less than ideal, but found it in me to sleep shortly thereafter.  I had another early morning departure waiting for me, but at least I was well rested this time around.  Central Greece was done, so now it was off to the north.

Typical pastry from this part of the world.  It is filled with Φέτα and spinach, but had an overly healthy taste to it.

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