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Meteora Day 2

[Kalabaka, Greece, Sept 20, 2017]

Mom and I saw four of the six Meteora monasteries yesterday. Today, we headed for the other two. We took dad with us, as one of the monasteries involved no stairs.

The monastery of St. Stephen was first on the list. It was built in the 16th century. It was bombed by the Nazis in WWII because they believed rebels were hiding there. In 1961, the monastery was turned over to nuns who turned it into the flourishing nunnery it is today. As of 2015, there were 28 nuns in residence.

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Monastery of St. Stephen

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Lots of kitties hang around the monsateries

We immensely enjoyed the grounds here. There was a huge terrace overlooking the city of Kalabaka. The church, like all the churches in the monasteries, had beautiful frescoes.

As we were leaving, I was mesmerized by the door. I wondered if the spikes were there to help defend the monastery from unwelcome guests?

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On the way to the next monastery, we stopped at an overlook and took some more pictures of St. Stephen’s. It was still fairly early in the day, there weren’t any other people around us and the sun kept coming out of the clouds. It was such a beautiful morning!

Next up was the biggest monastery of the six – the Great Meteoron. There were only three monks in residence here as of 2015. The Great Meteoron was built in the mid-14th century with subsequent renovations and additions in the 15th and 16th centuries. We left dad at a bench at the front, since this monastery involved climbing quite a few steps as well. In most of these monasteries, the stone steps were not carved into the rocks until the 1920s.

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The people look like ants climbing the stairs to the Great Meteoron

There were a couple of small museums on the grounds here. One of them featured scrolls and books created by the monks who lived here. This was what occupied a lot of their time – transcribing books and scrolls. We don’t appreciate the work that goes into creating a book today. Mass printing means that a book can have thousands of copies in no time. Back in the middle ages, a book had to be transcribed by hand, which took a very long time. Some of the books and scrolls were as old as the 9th century AD! We also  learned that the monks took great care to hide these from the Turks in crypts that they constructed specifically for this purpose. Some of them were not discovered until the 20th century! I couldn’t take pictures in the museums, but here are some photos from the grounds of the monastery.

From one of the terraces here, we had gorgeous views of the Varlam monastery, which we visited yesterday. Another photo opp presented itself as I was walking back to the car – that’s where the last photo was taken from.

It took mom and I awhile to see all the sights in this big monastery. When we came out, we found dad talking to a local who was selling tourist trinkets at the entrance where we had left him. He said that the guy complained about all the new taxes imposed by the local government. These are not some exorbitant, unheard of taxes – just normal things such as property taxes and taxes on profits. Many of you have likely heard about the Greek economy being burdened by enormous foreign debt and huge unemployment. The conversation my dad had with this local explained some of it. If people here were not paying basic taxes, then of course the government had to borrow money for basic services like trash collection, infrastructure projects, etc. Greece is also notorious for failing to collect the taxes it already levies. In Greece, as in Bulgaria, there is more resistance to paying taxes compared to Western Europe and the US because enforcement mechanisms are lacking. Corruption is also a problem, leading people to believe that any tax money collected is likely not coming back to them in the form of government services and infrastructure but is rather lining the pockets of politicians.

Alas, as we drove back to Kalabaka, we realized it’s time for lunch – or, as my parents call it, time for a beer. We sat down at a little restaurant in one of Kalabaka’s squares, where I enjoyed “feta cheese in the oven” – feta cheese baked in oil with slices of tomatoes, onions and peppers. Delicious!

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After lunch, we tried to find the old Byzantine church in town. We drove there, as we still had the car with us and it seemed faster than dropping off the car at our AirBnB, then walking to the church. We also wanted dad to see it. However, not all Greek roads are alike – a fact that is clearly not known to Google Maps. It took us on the narrowest, steepest Kalabaka streets that were barely passable even by my dad’s tiny little Citroen C4. As a matter of fact, the last street Google Maps wanted us to take was so narrow and steep that my dad didn’t think his car would be powerful enough to climb up it. The narrow 80-degree curve we had to take to even get on that street was even more of a problem. We ended up turning in the other direction towards an equally steep and narrow downhill street. I was so scared, I was shaking! If you are ever in Europe and Google Maps takes you on a steep narrow road, don’t go!

Once we were out of this maze, we parked the car and mom and I walked up to the church, which was just a couple of blocks away. We saw a normal road leading all the way to the church, and we wondered why Google Maps didn’t pick that route. I am assuming both of these roads are the same kind of road from what Google Maps can tell, so it just took us the shorter route… We will never know.

The church, built in the 6th century, was quite striking. It was built right up against the rocks of Kalabaka and it is one of the oldest churches in Greece. The giant terrace in front of the church had a great view of the city of Kalabaka below.

When we came home, our lovely AirBnB host, Keti, had made some food for us! This is Greek hospitality for you – guests are fed relentlessly! 🙂 She made pasta with a garlic sauce we thought was made with tomatoes, but later discovered was from the preserved juice of cooked beets. It was so yummy! Keti had also made a cake for us. Earlier that day, she had scolded my mom when she saw her return from a quick walk to the city center to pick up breakfast with take-out coffee in hand. She promised to make Greek coffee for us the next morning before we left, which she did. It was so good!

I am so grateful I got to visit this amazing place! Meteora is somewhat off the beaten path for most tourists, who flock to Athens, the Peloponnese and the Greek isles instead. The hoards of summer tourists who still make it here were gone, and we were lucky to squeeze our trip in between major Bulgarian holidays when most other people head to Greece. Quality time with parents and another UNESCO World Heritage Site – check! 🙂

 

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