A friend from the US came at the beginning of the month for a semester studying abroad in Thessaloniki. Before his school started, we made a trip to the Holy Mountain, his first and my 13th. Above is a photo of Trifon with Simonopetra (our first stop) and the peak of the actual Mt. Athos in the background.
We had a little trial getting on to Mt. Athos. Apparently, two days before, the police did a spot-check of the insurance on all the ships in the area. The company running the main boat to Mt. Athos was found with lapsed insurance and therefore taken out of operation. Therefore, the only way to get on Mt. Athos was on the small speed boats which can only take a limited number of people at a time. We waited in line to put our names on a list and then waited around some more. We didn't manage to get on the first available boat and were told to wait around a couple more hours until the boat came back to get more people. In the meantime, another company's speed boat pulled in and everyone went and crowded around it. The captain and crew shouted and pleaded for anyone who did not have a reservation to please get out of the way, but of course -- in true Balkan style -- no one moved. Soon, I saw the abbot of Simonopetra, along with Fr. Iakovos (the Greek-American from New Jersey who was on the 60 Minutes piece) and Fr. Makarios (the French monk who did the new Synaxarion) come up to the boat. I went to greet them and told them we were hoping to come stay with them that day. They had reservations (plus, he's the abbot of an Athonite monastery) so they got on, but we were still out of luck. I knew enough to hang around near the boat and hope something good would happen. Fortunately, at the very end, one of the crew came out and signaled for us to get on -- apparently, the abbot had put in a good word for us, and we were off.
A view from the top balcony of Simonopetra, just outside the entrance to the main church.
After spending a wonderful day at Simonopetra, as usual, we decided to walk down to Grigoriou, which is about an hour's walk downhill. Here we walked by the donkey waypoint. Donkeys are still used in many places on Mt. Athos to haul goods from the sea up to the monasteries and cells.
Here's a photo of Simonopetra from the path down to Grigoriou.
Our first sighting of Grigoriou along the path.
Fortunately, we found a monk at Grigoriou who let us into the church so that we could venerate the icons. Here's a photo of the outside of their main church.
At Grigoriou, we ran into an Anglican visitor from England and his Greek tour guide from Athens and we all decided to walk together to the next monastery, Dionysiou, which was nearly 2 hours away along a path that at no point seems to go along even ground, instead going continually up and down the ridges of the peninsula.
It was tough, tough walk, but as Bishop Athanasije (Jevtic) says, "The Holy Mountain is in the legs." Part of the experience is walking the paths that the saints trod.
The photo above is of the last uphill from Dionysiou's port up into the monastery.