Last week, my parents and I took a chance that the weather would break and we took a little trip southwest. First, we headed to the traditional, little mountain village of Metsovo, which, with the wonderful, new highway, takes about 2-2.5 hours. There, we walked around the picturesque main square and visited many of the shops selling local goods. We also bought some of their famous meats and cheese to take home.
Then we had a great lunch in a restaurant overlooking the main square.
Here my parents walk down the path from the restaurant to the main square.
We then got back in the car and headed to the famous monasteries of Meteora. With the recently completed road, the ride took about 1 hour and 15 minutes.
At one point, there were 24 monasteries among the rocks of Meteora, but now just six survive. They all close between 4-6 in the afternoon, so we headed straight to one of them, the Great Meteoron. Above are my parents at the monastery, with the neighboring Monastery of St. Varlaam in the background.
Here's another view from Grand Meteoron, with white ribbons tied on a nearby tree, probably as tamata (the plural of tama). While the article linked suggests that something (such as a small metal plaque) is tied with the ribbon, in practice some times just a ribbon is tied, especially if it is an outdoor place. Although this usually strikes westerners as strange or even "pagan" (inasmuch as they see it as somehow "bargaining" with God), in reality it is nothing more than a material manifestation of a prayer. Since Christianity is a faith based on the fact that God Himself became man, it is not out of character, although it has become so in the last few centuries as we in the West have been taught to separate "the material" from "the spiritual." Of course, this does not mean that some nominally Orthodox people do not misunderstand it as some sort of bargain with God, but it's not uncommon in any faith to have people who are nominally committed and poorly informed (see, for example, the recent Pew Forum survey on the jaw-dropping ignorance of many Protestants and Catholics in the US).
After Great Meteoron, we headed over to the women's monastery of St. Stephen's (above). Although it appears daunting in this photo, this is actually the most easily accessible monastery, as they're the only ones who have built a ramp essentially up to the door (see the very left side). The nuns there were very kind to us. At the monastery's older church, one elderly nun was stationed at the back, weaving prayer ropes. She struck me as such a wonderfully simple soul. She told me how the sisters who went shopping would bring her one bag of candy each week that was to be used to offer to the guests who visited the church. She confessed to me, though, that she had a weakness for little kids and priests (and from what I saw, just about everyone else), and so the candy never lasted the whole week. In fact, she had just gotten it that day and it was almost gone. She told me how she just couldn't resist a little girl who had come in earlier, and had wanted to eat all the red ones. Then she gave a Japanese women, who was visiting with a group at the same time, a whole bunch to take with her for the rest of her trip. This all made an impression on me because the monasteries there are literally flooded with tourists, the vast majority of whom are not at all religious. This could be tough for some monks, but here was an example of a woman making the most of it.
We left St. Stephen's about 6, so all the monasteries were then closed. We stopped along the road for some views as we headed to our hotel, which was located in the little town of Kastraki, very close to the first monastery of St. Nicholas. Above and below, you can see the sun starting to set on the road between Holy Trinity and St. Stephen's.
Here's my dad on a rocky outcrop, looking out over the valley at the magnificent rocks.
We went down the road to the hotel and checked in and found this view awaiting us.
For more photos from the day, click here.
For comparison purposes, check out the blog from way back in August 2007, when I made my only other trip to Metsovo and Meteora, with my in-laws.