Monday, June 27, 2016


We saved the best for last - as much as I adored those islands, I would skip them all-every last one-to see this: Meteora, home of the mystics.
We hitched a 7-hour train ride north through some gorgeous country, speckled in mountains and red-roofed villages. It was a long trek, especially after 4 hours on a ferry the day before, but I wanted to go somewhere that most tourists wouldn't get to.
When we stepped off the train in Meteora, we were overwhelmed by its majesty. (It's no wonder Game of Thrones sought permission to film here, but the monks wouldn't allow it.)
We stayed right beside the cliffs in this wonderful hotel, Dellas Boutique. The staff was so friendly, and the breakfast was lovingly homemade by a gentle elderly woman who, in the midst of telling us about her delicious marmalades and pastries, began to prophesy over Gryffin (it was before Lorelei had arrived) - that he was a special soul who would do something very great. (Twice when I was pregnant with Gryffin, elderly foreign strangers in restaurants - though both of these were men - came up to me and told me in no uncertain terms that I was having a boy - what's the deal with that?!)
 This was a very luxurious hotel, especially compared with our hole-in-the-wall in Athens. Here's the view from our balcony, overlooking Meteora. We were steps away from a gorgeous hiking trail that took us into this UNESCO world heritage site.
I stole this photo from the Internet, since I didn't have a good one from above - this is the first monastery we visited, the Roussanou Monastery, now a convent.
Here's a photo I took of the gardens, before we crossed the wood bridge to go inside and were greeted by nuns. It was lovely to peek out the tiny windows, and then to step inside the chapel (no photography allowed on the interior, but the iconography on the walls was just exquisite)!
 Here's the chapel inside (also taken from the Internet):

 We went on a sunset tour with an awesome local tour guide, "Jim." He was so good to our family and took us to this, an ancient Byzantine Church from the 6th century, with relics from an temple to Apollo embedded into the wall, which was painted with glorious iconography from the 11th century, all around. Here's Lorelei outside the Byzantine Church of the Virgin Mary.

 I've got to steal some photos again, because interior photography wasn't allowed. So I can't claim credit for these next three photos, but I want to remember what it looked like. Gorgeous, huh?
Only men were allowed in this part. Lorelei was asking more and more about why men have more privileges than women. We have a long way to go, still, especially in religion.

Wow - did I ever learn a lot about Eastern theology (and some of what I learned contradicted what I'd been taught in seminary about the Eastern Church's interpretation of the afterlife - fascinating!).
Here's our view from outside the church.
 The bell tower.

 Next, we came upon this cave-dotted beauty. You can see why it was a favorite of hermits.

 A single, solitary monk lives in this little monastery here. Our tour guide knows him, and said he's a very holy man.
 A white lily, so fragrant! This is a symbol of the Virgin Mary.
 See that little fruit in Gryffin's hand? It's very sour, and the kid couldn't eat enough of it. We picked them off the trees and stuffed them in our pockets.

 The charming foothill village of Kalambaka, which I hiked through the next day.

 Lorelei's signature pose. Love it!
 Look how cute they are. I hope they soak in these memories of this very magical place.

 All of a sudden, the storm clouds rolled in and the rain came down hard and fast. I've never loved a thunderstorm more than hearing it rumble and echo off these mystical cliffs. Our guide said that this was highly unusual for this season, which is usually very dry.

 When we arrived at our next monastery - Hagias Nikolaus - we were greeted by a heavenly sign. It began as a single rainbow and eventually tripled! I felt as if God were truly smiling upon us.
 Here we are, about to explore the glorious Hagias Nikolaus!

 I lost track of where we were after that - there are so many monasteries topping these cliffs!

  When the sun began to set, we drove over to the best viewing spot - a large outcropping of rugged rock, where several people had gathered.
 I took this photo on my iPhone. This is a small glimpse of the wonder we experienced as the sun set.

 I think this is the top contender for the most beautiful/spiritual/mystical place I've ever been!

 We spent the next morning playing chess and hiking the trail from our hotel. Here's a bit from our hike.

 We explored a ton of hermits' caves! They were everywhere.

 We climbed this massive hill - I tried to capture a panoramic.

 And this was our favorite restaurant, Meteora Panorama. Here we are with the owner, who kept sending out more wine (after already serving us a barrel - that's nearly a bottle right there) and gave us free desserts each time we ate there. All around us, Greek people were gathered singing, laughing loudly... there was even a wee bit of dancing. (We gave this place highest marks on TripAdvisor.)
 Hiking back to the station to end our trip in Greece, I snapped a photo of our travel gear. I'm a huge believer in packing light. Everything we brought was carry-on. The kids had a backpack (best ever - and Mark and I had one carry-on each plus this backpack. That's it. Got us through two weeks, no problem!
 Goodbye Meteora! Goodbye Greece! We love you!

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