Meteora, Greece: A Guide to Clifftop Monasteries

If you’ve seen the “For Your Eyes Only” James Bond movie, then you’ve seen Meteora. Frequently overshadowed by Mount Athos, Meteora is a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the heart of mainland Greece.

Meteora: An Overview

Meteora refers to a collection of six active monasteries perched on clifftops in the heart of Greece. The monasteries are open to visitors, and each one has a museum of some sort that’s always interesting.

The cliffs make for excellent hiking and rock climbing, so if you’re into adventure sports, Meteora is an awesome place to go! Read more

Spreadsheeting: What I Spent in Greece

I was so excited when I touched down in Greece! This is my first time ever in Europe, and I was so excited for food, sun, beaches, and history!

Because I switched my itinerary to not spend two weeks in Nepal, I got to Greece earlier than expected – in early August rather than early September. The only problem with that is that August is the absolute top of Greek high season, so everything was super crowded and expensive! Because of that and my love of history (and knowledge that I’ll likely come back for them), I skipped most of the islands you’d normally go to (no Santorini or Mykonos or Crete).

That helped cut down on the costs, and I got to spend 9 days discovering how amazing mainland Greece is! (With an island thrown in for good measure!)

In nine days, I spent $937.11.

How did that work out?

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Meeting the Gods at Their House: Mount Olympus

On the morning of my only full day in Thessaloniki, I started talking to some Australian guys at my hostel breakfast. They started the conversation by comment on my hot pink Lilly Pulitzer shorts, and I just laughed and said “Florida.”

We ended up hitting it off quite well and they mentioned they were going to Mount Olympus for the day and asked if I’d like to join them. I decided to go! I was so excited to be invited because I’d really wanted to go to Mount Olympus, but it’s really hard to get to even with a car, and I wasn’t ready to rent a car and drive in Greece.

So Tom and Shannon (the Australian guys) also invited another guy named Tom from the UK, and the four of us set off for Mount Olympus.

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Thessaloniki

After Kalambaka, I headed on to Thessaloniki – yes, that Thessaloniki of “Thessalonians” fame. Thessaloniki is right on the water, and it’s in far north Greece. I knew it would be my stepping off point for other countries in Europe, so I took the train there.

When I got off the train, I decided to walk the mile and a half to my hostel because I really didn’t want to deal with cab drivers. Whoops. I definitely got lost and probably ended up walking more than two miles in 100F+ heat and with all almost-50lbs of luggage. I did mention I feel like I’m getting stronger, right?

After getting into the hostel and settling in, I went out to see some of Thessaloniki. It’s a gorgeous city, and like so many cities here, you can practically trip over the history. Right outside my hostel was the Rotunda, an ancient Roman church. It’s pretty big and pretty from the outside, but I didn’t get a chance to go in!

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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.

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Island Hopping Close to Athens: Agistri

Greece is known for its islands – so I knew that although my Greece trip would focus on the mainland, I’d also like to get out and swim in the Aegean.

Luckily, there are a few islands an easy day trip from Athens. Two easy ones are called Aegina and Agistri. Aegina is the bigger one, and having just a day there, I decided to do Agistri because the small size made it seem more manageable.

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Ancient Athens Beyond the Acropolis

Athens is a city filled with history, and they’ve done a great job preserving it. There are even parts of the sidewalks that have windows down below to where the ancient streets were!

Beyond the Acropolis, there’s still so much to see. I bought the combined ticket that let me into the Acropolis and six other ancient sites. I made great use of it, and managed to get to all the sites except one, and then even a few others.

One other place I was happy to visit (and it’s free!) was the Aeropagus. This is a giant rock next to the Acropolis, and it’s filled to the brim with history. The ancient assembly met on top of that rock – the very beginnings of democracy. And the Apostle Paul preached from there, converting a number of Athenians to the then-nascent faith.

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Visiting The Acropolis!

I knew the Acropolis was going to be a highlight of my trip, and I also knew it was going to be insanely crowded. It’s the biggest attraction in Athens, and I was there at the peak of high season.

So I woke up early, and went to stand in line. I got there at 7:30am when they open at 8am, and I was the only one in line until 7:50am. That surprised me!

As soon as they opened the gates, I practically sprinted to the top (yes, I was incredibly out of breath by the top!) so I could try to get some pictures without other people in them. It worked! I had just a few minutes where I was able to explore the top and get pictures without masses of tourists crowding the background.

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A Non-Acropolis Day in Athens, Greece

I don’t think I’ve ever been as happy to have a plane touch down as I was the plane to Athens. Europe, blessed Europe. Where I can drink the water and eat the food! And hopefully not be leered at as I walk down the street! It was such a refreshing change to be somewhere that’s made for tourists, too.

The airport in Athens is well-signed, and it’s easy to figure out where to go. It’s also easy to figure out where and how to catch the train into Athens. It did not, however, say that you’re going to need cash for the train ticket! I hadn’t gotten Euros yet, so I had to walk from the train station back to the terminal to get some. Then, of course, the machine only gave me 50s. And alas, the automated ticket machines won’t accept higher than a 20! So I went to the window with a person at it and was able to get my ticket.

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