Hiking with Meteora Monks, Greece

I heard whispers of a magical place north of Athens in Central Greece. Mainly from other travellers like Shelley and my favourite travel bloggers that I follow. Other travellers in the islands hadn’t heard of Meteora before. But that’s because they were beach bum travellers only interested in places with sunshine and sand. Rather than wanting to see the true beauty and culture of Greece. You know the kind I mean.

Before I knew it, I was on a bus heading north to a small town called Trikala. I knew I would like Trikala immediately as the directions to my hostel started with: Look for the peeing boy foundation in the central square. Who couldn’t be amused by that?

I got to Trikala and settled in with a bit of a wandering walk. I went to the local zoo which contained chickens, goats and llamas. More of a farm really. But then on the way back, I found a hillside filled with tortoises. Must be a Greek thing to have so many running about?


This little fellow was very shy. I had to sit with my camera for almost five minutes before he popped his head out for a look

 I went to bed that night  feeling rather excited about my plans for the next day in Meteora.

When heading to Meteora, you can stay in closer town called Kalambaka which is right at the bottom of the famous Meteora rocks. Trikala is further away with a fifteen minute bus ride required, but much less touristy and considerably cheaper.  My Trikala hostel was also particularly awesome which made the extra €3 bus ride worth it to me. And now I guess you’re wondering what all the fuss about Meteora is about. Well it’s a UNESCO site consisting of six different monasteries built on top of tall isolated rock pinnacles. It is insanely beautiful and moving to see. You can visit the sites by bus tour, or catching another bus from Kalambaka to the top, but I decided to do it by hiking. A harder option of course but I wanted that sweaty sense of achievement and satisfaction when I reached the top on just my two little feet.


Image from flickr.com, this is the fantastic map my hostel gave me. I was very impressed with the amount of detail!

It only took me about one hour to walk the distance of 6 kilometres and 366 metres elevation from the Kalambaka bus stop to the Great Metero monastery. Definitely very achievable and special.


The first pinnacle. One of the shorter ones

Walking through Kastraki


There were regular signs so it was easy to not get lost


I could see my target in the distance!

It was a very hot day. But the trail I took was quite foresty and shady


The second monastery I planned to visit in the distance


Fantastic views over Kalambaka from the Great Metero (the biggest and most popular monastery)


One of the many monastery cats. This one was quite friendly


Varlaam monastery. Reachable by a bridge from another pinnacle


The inside


The view grew better and better as I walked along the road linking most of the monasteries. This monastery is called The Holy Monastery of Rousanou


Looking back at the final monastery I visited while on a trail leading back down to Kalambaka. It was staggering how high I had climbed

My feet were pretty darn sore by the end of that day. Almost nubs after a good six hours walking. I also don’t want to think about how I smelled after so much hiking and heat. But I do know I felt amazing after my shower that night. It was one of those showers where you feel re-born and actually human again afterwards. That shower was certainly counted in one of my top five showers of all-time.

Some tips for visiting Meteora:

  • I strongly suggest hiking the whole way. It may look daunting from the bottom but is most definitely achievable. The sense of achievement is quite spiritual and satisfying. There is a great trail to get up to the Great Metero Monastery from the road which is shaded and pretty. It is unmarked, but also the only trail so hard to miss. On the return to Kalambaka, I used another good trail from the St. Nicholas Anapausas Monastery which was cleared marked with a Kalambaka sign.
  • Do wear decent shoes
  • Don’t worry too much about wearing trousers as the monasteries provide wrap-around knee-length skirts to make you ‘decent’. You do need to wear something that covers your shoulders though. Also try not to think about how many other sweaty strangers have also worn that skirt that day.
  • It does cost €3 to enter each monasteries. I only had €10 cash with me which limited the number I could visit. No ATMs or eftpos up on those remote rock pinnacles.
  • There are snack stands by the Varlaam monastery with the usual crap tourist food and souvenirs. I suggest stopping by a bakery in Kalambaka to stock up on tasty snacks.
  • Water is a great idea.. But don’t feel you have to bring a massive bottle. There are water taps in the monasteries.
  • Be aware that all the tour buses full of tourists seem to arrive at lunchtime causing massive queues. They were all gone by two-ish and only visit the two biggest monasteries.

 

Where I stayed: Hostel Meteora
Price: €12.50 per night in a 5 bed dorm
Overall: Excellent hostel. I would highly recommend. The staff give you a brilliant map of Meteora and talk you through all the steps of visiting it. I only decided to hike the whole thing after feeling so inspired by their speech and reassurance that it was indeed very doable. The hostel itself is clean and tidy with a great cozy atmosphere.

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Athens Loop, Greece

It was a long ferry ride to get to Athens from Santorini. The competition for obtaining a couch to lie down on during the journey is quite ferocious requiring an almost chessboard focus with the other passengers. Eight hours is a long time on a boat. Sleeping I find passes the time quite nicely. I arrived after midnight in Athens and ended up taking a taxi to my hostel feeling unsafe to walk that late at night.

The next morning I started with the hostel’s walking tour lead by a rather funny Australian. He took us to see things like the Temple of Zeus, a marble stadium and the Presidential guards with their funny pom-pom shoes.


One of the many many temples

It was getting rather hot and sweaty by the time the tour finished high up on the Acropolis. I had to go hide in my air-conditioned hostel room to recover for a while.


The famous Parthenon on top of the Acropolis in the centre of the city

I emerged later that evening once the air cooled down to go watch an outdoor movie by the Acropolis with some lovely Irish folks I met during the tour, and went to bed happy late that night.

The next morning I decided to go walk to another landmark easily seen from anywhere within the city – Mount Lycabettus. The highest point within Athens city at 277 metres above sea level, I thought it would be a good challenge.


As seen from the Parthenon later that day

To get to Mount Lycabettus, I took the scenic route through the National Garden. It is worth noting that as big and intimidating as it looks, it is definitely climable even for beginners. As long as you don’t mind a bit of sweat. You can take the metro most to the bottom rather than walking the whole way like I did. The hard part was choosing to tackle the challenge.

A tortoise posing for me in a pond


An unusual but pretty flower


It was a long sweaty climb but eventually I made it to the top! A church and over-priced restaurant are located at the top. And a sense of satisfaction.


See the dog in the first photo?


The view. It’s hard to see but the Parthenon is there in the distance. It is the second highest point in the city

After the appropriate air-conditioned rest and shower back in my hostel, I again emerged to this time go visit the Acropolis Museum. This museum was AMAZING. It is an archaeological museum all about the history of the Parthenon. I would highly recommend it. It’s one of those rare museums that are very modern and well designed. The displays set out in an interesting and engaging manner. My favourite kind of museum. I went to the Parthenon right after finishing the museum feeling well informed, and found the actual Parthenon site less exciting than the museum. Huh.


Image from moreaedesign.wordpress.com


The only photo I remembered to take of the museum. I was too busy being fascinated to remember my camera. It is built over top of some ruins in a way that shelters and preserves them.


The Parthenon itself. Covered in scaffolding as usual due to the city of Athens slowly rebuilding it


There were almost no signs about the history or anything around the site. Just the temple to Athena itself


It gets very crowded with tourists being the most visited attraction in Athens

Other things I achieved that day included wandering about the flea market area of Athens called Monastiraki and viewing a couple of other temples. And eating some Greek yoghurt.


Fresko, my new favourite yoghurt bar near Plaka

The next couple of days I actually spent in North Central Greece. But then I looped back to Athens for the final part of my Greece trip and continued the sight-seeing.

In Athen’s first cemetery are some very beautiful and elaborately craved graves

Interestingly I learned that you can only be buried in this graveyard for three years. The remains are then moved to an ossuary so the next person can have a turn. Unless you have a mausoleum. Then I guess you get to stay forever. It is considered one of the most beautiful graveyards in Europe. And yes I know it’s strange to hang out with dead people!

For the afternoon and evening, I did a wee trip out to the most southern point of Attica to watch the sunset at Poseiden’s temple with the Singaporean friend I originally met in Santorini. The bus leaves every hour to get out to Sounion for about €6 each way. It’s quite isolated on the point but does have a restaurant and some beaches to help occupy time until the sunset.


The water was so warm


The Temple of Poseidon


Stunning views. This was my last Greece sunset.

I met up with an old kiwi workmate the next morning. It’s always so great to see a familiar face and hear that kiwi twang. Made me feel a little homesick. But all too quickly our coffee date was up and it was time for me to race to the airport.


Where I stayed (first time): Athens Backpackers / Studio
Price: €22 per night in a 6 bed dorm
Overall
: Great hostel. Very new, modern and clean with an amazing location right next to the Acropolis. It’s run by Australians with a rooftop (with cheap cocktails) and sports bar. The hostel cafe had cheap delicious food and was rated as a top place to eat in Athens by TripAdvisor.  I really liked this hostel. The only reason I didn’t stay for the second part of my visit was the price. It went up to €26 per night for my return dates which was sadly just too far out of my budget when there were much cheaper hostels available.

Where I stayed (second time): Cosmopolit Hotel
Price: 
€16 per night in a four bed dorm
Overall: Definitely a step down from the first hostel. It was located much further away from the centre, and right next to a strip club. Hm charming! But it was clean and comfortable. A place to sleep.