Friday, October 29, 2010

Meteora and Makrinitsa

Above and below were the views from our hotel room at Meteora at sunrise the second day.

Our first stop was the nearby men's Monastery of St. Nicholas Anapafsas, which is famous for its iconography by one of the most celebrated Byzantine iconographers, Theophanes the Cretan. As we began the walk up to the monastery, we came across the monastery's abbot, Fr. Polykarpos, who it seems had just finished a morning service in a small cave chapel near the bottom of the rock and was leaving to run some errands. He greeted us and told us to seek out Fr. Dimitrios, the only other monk at this small monastery.

We stopped in the cave chapel on the way up and could still smell the incense burning (see above).

This is a photo of the landscape around St. Nicholas as we made our way up.

We finally arrived up in the small monastery and came across Fr. Dimitrios. Since the monastery is small and somewhat difficult to access, and since it was still quite early, there were no other visitors there when we arrived. Fr. Dimitrios was very kind to us and gave us a tour all around the monastery. In the photo above, he's showing us some of the famous 16th century iconography by Theophanes the Cretan in the main chapel. The photo above is from the exo-narthex.

Here, Fr. Dimitrios showed us Theophanes' iconography underneath the church's altar. Since the altar represents Christ's tomb, it's only fitting that the iconography depict Jonah in the belly of the whale.

We then made our way to the top of the monastery to have a look around. The photos above and below are the views.

Here, on the nearest rock, you can make out some ruins of a former building. This, apparently, used to be one of the 24 monasteries of Meteora -- a very tiny hermitage. None of us could understand how they built what was there, since it seemed to take up almost the whole surface.

When we left, Fr. Dimitrios showered us with gifts and then let us ride down on the monastery's pulley system. Of course, originally, it was simply a net; now it has been modernized as a corrugated metal box with a motor operating the pulley. My dad wasn't too sure about this, but he did finally agree to ride down with us, where we then let him off. Fr. Dimitrios then took me back up and down and we opened the door so that we could appreciate the view. (See photos above and below.)

Our next stop was the neighboring women's Monastery of St. Barbara Roussanou. Here's a view from the entrance at the top of the monastery. Across the way, you can see the Monasteries of Grand Meteoron and Varlaam.

Again, of course, the sisters insisted on treating us to coffee and sweets and speaking with us after we had visited the monastery. The nuns explained to us that there are about 15 nuns there, but only three at a time are in the old part of the monastery that is frequented by visitors. The real monastic life goes on just below the old monastery in a new part of the monastery that is shut off from visitors (see photo below). Still, the nuns do not consider all the tourists a burden, but rather look at it as a witness; it is also necessary for the monastery to survive financially. (Tourists are charged a 2 euro entrance fee at all of the monasteries, plus the gift shops are a source of revenue.) I was surprised to learn that, according to the one nun we spoke to, the number of tourists dropped precipitously (over 50%) this year, almost certainly due to the economic crisis in Greece and abroad.

After a nice visit, we headed out from Meteora. Unfortunately, Holy Trinity Monastery was closed, so that is the only monastery I have yet to visit in my two trips to the region.

Next, we headed east toward Volos.

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It takes about the same amount of time to get from Thessaloniki to Meteora (and vice-versa) by either going along the coast or by going inland. Thus, we decided that, in order to see something different, we could make a big circle in order to return to Thessaloniki. By going this way, it was only a short detour (perhaps 45 minutes each way) to go to the top of Mt. Pelion to the lovely village of Makrinitsa, which overlooks the city of Volos.

It took about 2 hours to get there from Meteora and the weather was still lovely, so we even got to sit outside and have lunch before finishing our return to Thessaloniki. Above, my mom and I are walking down the narrow cobblestone alleys of Makrinitsa.

My mom and dad stopped for a photo overlooking Volos.

In the village's main square, we had a wonderful lunch of traditional Greek food (including many local specialties), with a view about 3000 feet above the city and the water.

We then made our way back home to Thessaloniki, which took about 3 hours.

For more photos from the second day, click here.

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