We left Bulgaria on a beautiful sunny morning with a light heart since we were leaving for Greece. Greece! 😃 We have planned our itinerary to arrive in Greece in early September, right after the peak season. We knew that we would still enjoy the nice summer temperature without the exorbitant costs and heat waves from the high season. While doing our research to decide what we would do in Greece, we learned about the village of Kalambaka and its monasteries. We have been amazed by the images on Google, and have decided to make a stop there on our way to Athens.
The train from Sofia to Athens was making a stop at Thessaloniki and this is where we would have to take the train to Kalambaka. Since we had already had a 7-hour drive in our body, we decided to spend the night and discover this coastal town instead of going straight to Kalambaka. So, after leaving our bags at the hotel, we set out to explore the city. But before venturing too far, we absolutely had to stop in a restaurant to enjoy a Greek Salad. We were not disappointed by our first Mediterranean meal. We walked on a nice long promenade, which runs along the side of the Thermaic Gulf (part of the Aegean Sea) that led us to the White Tower, a monument that was once an integral part of the walls of the city of Thessaloniki. From there, we headed towards the Church of Agios Dimitrios, which is the largest church in the country. Since we visited this church in the evening, we were able to benefit from a dimmed light for the occasion.
The next morning, we took the train to Kalambaka. We had rented a room in Kastraki in a charming villa at the foot of Meteora. This area is classified by the world heritage of UNESCO. Meteora’s specificity is basically a set of imposing Orthodox monasteries, dating mostly from the 14th and 15th century, which sit at the top of rocky peaks. Today, there are six monasteries in activity, four are occupied by men and two by women. We visited three monasteries, the Monastery Agio Nikolaos which is accessible only by climbing a long set of stairs, the Varlaam Monastery and the Monastery of the Great Meteor. Back in the days, there were twenty-four monasteries established in Meteora, one for each summits. Today, it is possible to observe the ruins of monasteries which have not survived the passage of time and of those who are not occupied. The monasteries that are open to the public have been restored, it is possible to observe a massive collection of paintings dating from the post-byzantine era as well as several artifacts. In addition, these real “museums” explain several historical facts related to the region.
It is possible to visit the monasteries by bus or by car on a road that leads to the top of the peaks. There is also an attractive alternative, hiking to the top 🙂 The ascent is very good and the path is well signposted. The hike helped us better imagine all the hard work that the monks had to accomplish to get materials to the monasteries. At the top, the view is simply stunning, breathtaking!
We took advantage of our stay at Kastraki to spend another day hiking, which allowed us to see two small churches built inside the mountain. We also went to see the “standing man”, a large obelisk that has the form of a rock giant, this locations also offered a spectacular view of the city of Kalambaka. We saw on the map that there were caves of hermits down the hill nearby and we went out of our way to get a chance to observe with our own eyes those buildings in the rocky walls. Still inhabited, we unfortunately could not visit these little wonders of nature. While the parents were ecstatic at the beauty of those building built in the wall, the children were playing in the caves that had formed naturally in the sandstone.
Disappointed we could not visit the building in the walls, we decided we could “visit” ancient caves of hermits that had been left abandoned. Questioning the security of the premises, we took a quick look & lucky, we brought our headlamps, the caves were so dark we would have seen nothing otherwise.
We loved our short stay in Kastraki. The quiet village, the view of the mountains, the serenity of the place made us feel really privileged to be able to travel without the pressure of squeezing everything in a two weeks vacation. We left even more excited to visit other temples in India and Asia to compare our experiences. But that’s another story that will have to wait a few months 😉