General Travel,  Greece

Meteora: Monasteries on Cliffs

When I first saw pictures of Meteora, I thought it was unreal. And then I arrived and it stole my heart!

Meteora is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and it’s got six active monasteries perched high up in the rocks above the village. The villages at the base, Kalambaka and Kastraki, are perfectly nestled in the valley with red-roofed houses and incredibly walkable streets. Meteora is in inland Greece (basically the center of Greece), and it’s compared to Mount Athos – with one important difference. Women are invited to Meteora.

I took the train in, which was about six hours from Athens. I met a Greek girl named Iri on the train, and it was fun to have her narrate different parts of the train ride. It was one of the most spectacular train rides. It wound through the Greek countryside, across fields and valleys, through olive groves and around cliffs. I spent most of the ride just watching the world pass by while being completely mesmerized by it.

Then I got off the train and walked to my hostel, which was right on the main street. Thank goodness! It was way up over 100 degrees when I got there, and that’s a lot of heat to be carrying my 33lbs bag on my back and my 12lbs bag on my front! I have noticed through these times that I’ve gotten stronger on this trip – it doesn’t bother me nearly as much to carry both bags for long distances, and I can handle them much easier.

I checked into my hostel and then decided to go for a walk around town. I ended up on a hiking trail that was low-level but just above most of the rooftops in town, and I knew that the next day at the monasteries would be amazing. I watched the sun set near the rocks, and with each moment I fell more in love with the town.

I discovered this incredible small restaurant that served gyro wraps for €1.50 each, and they were so good. I ate way too many of them. I think that’s practically all I ate in Kalambaka – well that and ice cream. And bread. The town had a ton of local bakeries that produced the most amazing baked goods that were so cheap! I could get a giant croissant filled with Nutella and two cookies for a total of €1.90!

I met two people – Lauren and John, both from the US, and we ended up hanging out for much of the time in Kalambaka. We went to dinner two nights in a row, and they were great fun. Lauren is just finishing up her own 9 month round-the-world trip, and John owns a sod farm in Georgia so he travels for about a month each year. They were full of interesting stories and we spent much of the time laughing!

The next morning, we all went up to the monasteries together. Luckily, there’s a bus that will take you up, but it’s generally recommended to walk between the monasteries (if you’re not on a guided tour with a bus that takes you from stop to stop). I looked up, and I honestly cannot even begin to imagine how people in the fourteenth century were able to build a monastery so high up. They didn’t even add stairs until the twentieth century! They used a basket and pulley system until them.

Going into the monasteries, each has lavishly decorated chapels and each has their own kind of museums inside. Meteora, the main monastery, had a museum dedicated to the manuscripts the monastery kept – both the ones written by hand and those done on early printing presses. As silly as it sounds, I was almost brought to tears looking at those and thinking that these monks were the people who saved so much of our knowledge about history, and this was the way they did it!

Europe (apparently all of it) was in the middle of a record-breaking heat wave when I was in Meteora, and each day the temperatures climbed well over 100 and even close to 110! It was too hot to be out for too long, and I was glad I’d planned two days of Meteora rather than one – when Lauren and John went on to do all the monasteries in one day, I stopped around 1pm at the third one and headed down. I’m so glad I did – even ending early (and drinking crazy amounts of water), I spent the afternoon feeling quite ill.

But I woke up feeling fine the next morning, and headed out to see the remaining monasteries. Lauren and John headed on to their next destinations, so I was alone for the second day. I so enjoyed it! I got an early start and walked between the three monasteries I hadn’t seen, and then walked down the path into town.

Apparently, a James Bond movie has an ending scene that was filmed at the last monastery I went to! (I don’t know which one, and I know I haven’t seen it – but I’ll add it to the list!) It’s easy to see why movie producers would have a damsel in distress be in one of these monasteries.

There are hiking trails all around, and beyond the monasteries, the scenery alone is just incredible. Between the monasteries, the scenery, the town and the food, Meteora was a small town that is a highlight of my trip so far!

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