Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Meteora. Grand Meteoron Monastery.

My turn to be in front of the camera :-)

 I woke up bright and early this morning. Not quite well rested. I think the room was a tad too warm for me last night.....don't sleep well unless I'm chilled :-)

Bro was still asleep and since we weren't in a rush, I let him snooze a bit longer before rustling him awake.


Our room came with breakfast so we headed to the dining room.  Flavia was attending to the tables.  There were quite a few other people in the room, including two families with babies.  I was surprised to see anyone traveling in this part of the world with a baby - both were definitely less than a year old.  Seated at the table next to us were the two men who had parked their car next to ours.  Based on age, my assumption is that they were father and son but these days, who knows.  After all, I've traveled with people far younger than me.  In any case, they had arrived carrying backpacks and this morning, both were dressed in hiking gear.

Breakfast was truly modest but there was enough to fill the belly.  Over breakfast, we worked out our game plan for the day.  Check out of the hotel, head to Meteora to visit a few of the monasteries and then continue our road trip to our next destination, Kamena Vourla - a seaside town near Athens.

We decided to start our visit of the monasteries with Grand Meteoron.  Having already been there yesterday, we knew exactly how to get there and where to park.

Walking towards the footbridge.

Getting inside the monastery took a bit of time. From the parking lot, we had to walk down a set of steps and then cross a small footbridge.  We passed through a tunnel and then made our way up a series of steep steps that headed up, switchback style, to the actual entrance of the monastery.  I was worried that my weak lungs would be problematic but all the work outs at the gym have finally paid off!  I was able to make it to the top and final step with ease.  I can't say the same for a lot of the folks that I passed by.  I have to continue to work on my cardio exercises.....which I hate.....yes, I hate but I do because I know they're good for me and today was proof.

Anyway, I did take the occasional stop, not to catch my breath, but to take in the amazing views and some photos.

Up the steps. 

Passing through another tunnel.

Looking back over at where we had parked the car and the steps leading down towards the footbridge.

Looking up towards the entrance into Grand Meteoron.   The monastery's dangles from the tower.

Closer view of the net that, back in the day, was used by the monks to bring goods and themselves, up and down, to and from the monastery.

Currently, Grand Meteoron is a museum.  Bro paid our 3 Euro per person entry fee.  I had already donned my long black skirt and head scarf so the monk who was selling the tickets waved me on.  They are very strict about the dress code for women.  I noticed quite a few who were instructed to wrap borrowed scarves around their waist to cover their legs and heads. 

Heading up towards the entry where he bought our tickets.


As we walked past the ticket booth, on our way inside the monastery, we noticed a few people crowded around an opening.  We were curious so we check it out.  Turned out to be the monastery's ossuary....basically a room filled with human skulls and bones.  There was no sign saying who the bones belonged to.  I guessed maybe monks or parishioners?


The ossuary.  A bit creepy if you ask me.

Grand Meteoron does live up to the adjective, "grand".  The monastery is a complex of building surrounding several well landscaped and well tended courtyards.  It's a lovely place and I imagine, very peaceful, when the horde of tourists are gone.



Pretty stone plaques decorate the walls.

I loved the exterior brickwork!


Happy to be the photographer for a fellow tourist. :-)

When we parked our car, we noticed the tour buses standing nearby.  By the time we made it inside the monastery, so had the dozens of tourists who had arrived via those buses.  Grand Meteoron was a pretty crowded place.


Grand Meteoron is known for is frescoes and murals. Of the murals, this was the most beautiful one, facing the first courtyard, just around the corner from the ossuary.


Above the door was Jesus above and rows of men to either side, each with a scroll.


The scrolls are quotes from famous Greek philosophers, scientists and mathematicians on their thoughts about God.  Most were written centuries before Jesus.



Several of the smaller buildings now serve as museums.


As with many a museum, photography was not allowed inside and of the ones at Grand Meteoron. Having been to countless dozens of museums, you would have thought I would have known better than to take a photo without first asking but I forget.  My bad.  I got this one photo before the monk reminded me.


Bro somehow managed to take a couple of photos as well.  I don't know if he got stopped by a monk or not.



Between visiting the museums, we checked out the courtyards, especially the one that offered a breathtaking view of the monastery's surroundings.



From Grand Meteoron, we got an amazing view of Varlaam.  It's only from certain locations that you can really appreciate just how high up these monasteries are perched on their respective boulders!  It seems like every inch of the boulder top is built on! You have to marvel at the tenacity of the monks to build their monasteries up high when they could have easily opted to build at *ground level*.


Close up view of Varlaam.  Roussanou Monastery, just to the lower right.

View over Kastraki and Kalambaka. 

Had to take this photo.  Our guesthouse is one of the larger buildings located along the path.

Before we left Grand Meteron, we went to see the Katholikon (i.e. Church) of the Transfiguration of Christ.  Gathered near the entrance was a tour group, standing in front of a large fresco in the narthex.  I don't know which religious figures or events were being depicted.




On the opposing wall was a large wooden, log shaped bell.


Photography was not allowed inside the Katholikon but as with the one in Roussanou, this one was also very ornately painted and decorated.

I found this photo of a painting in the nave on the web.  You can see just how stunning the art work is....a glorious example of Byzantine religious art.  The colors are incredibly vibrant and *crisp* -  the work still looks pristine.  I suspect it has been carefully and lovingly restored.

Fresco in the nave of the kathlikon.  (Image from visitmeteora.travel)

Floor to ceiling, every bit of wall space was covered by dramatic frescoes and paintings of religious figures.  Small gold chandeliers provide light and dark wood furniture filled the space. It's a lot to take in and I was quickly overwhelmed by it all.

From the katholikon, we somehow ended up on a walkway that took us past the monastery's kitchen.  Of course, I had to peek inside.  Very rudimentary by today's standards but obviously it served its function.  I cannot imagine what it must have been like to produce daily meals for dozens of hungry monks, out of this kitchen!



I think we had somehow wandered off course. We were at the top of a set of original pebble stone *steps*.  We carefully descended and found ourselves back at the ticket booth.  Perfect place for us to exit the monastery.


Our final view of Grand Meteoron, taking from the parking lot.

Next, it was on to Varlaam Monastery!