Holy Rocks

There used to be a bus all the way from Delphi to Kalambaka, the jump off for Meteroa which is basically a landscape of interesting rocks. Obviously Covid shat all over that and now you have to spend over five hours bus hopping your way up Central Greece. Fortunately your route is planned for you and you can buy your ticket for the whole journey in Delphi so at least there’s that. It’s not actually that painful and you get to press your greasy little face against the bus windows to marvel at the Greek landscape.

Well this isn’t your standard Greek landscape but welcome to Kalambaka.

Kalambaka though! I’d have come here for the rocks alone but around the 11th century hermit monks started climbing up them and building monasteries perched atop these towering cliffs. I’m doing them a disservice by calling them rocks. They are utterly majestic and you don’t have to go looking for them, they’re right there, towering over the town. We actually stayed at the smaller town of Kastraki which is only a 20 minute walk from where the bus unceremoniously deposits you. Dear reader, we did not walk. We rented a car for three days so we could head to Mount Olympus afterwards.

Views from Kastraki.

Having the car also meant we could pop up to one of the many sunset points in Meteroa. It’s good having a car for popping places isn’t it? It’s always lovely having a vehicle albeit not so much for the ol’ bank account. We opted for Psaroperta sunset point, plonked the car on the side of the road and hoped it didn’t get hit by a bus. Then we headed out onto the rocks with the many other humans, some of which were getting bum-clenchingly close to the edge. Oh my fucking gosh, nope. I sat down in a nice, safe place and waited for the fiery skyball to do its thing.

Definitely took a few moments to appreciate this view whilst perching precariously on a rock.

Unfortunately it wasn’t the best display on account of the clouds shrouding the horizon but to be honest, I’m just blown away by the landscape here. It’s unreal. It’s like it has no right being here in Greece and being so accessible. I feel like it should be off in some manner of Tropical country, only reachable by an expensive boat trip. I just don’t have enough eyeholes to take it all in, seriously. We didn’t stay too much longer, we just headed back to the campsite for food, a cheeky beer and a bit of sleep.

Psaroperta sunset point.

At 5am a chorus of bells startled us awake but then that’ll teach us for camping at the foot of several cliffs housing six fucking monasteries. There was no point in getting up yet, we went back to sleep. Until the rain started up anyway, that woke us up again and it kept me awake, largely on account of the teeny little holes courtesy of some manner of adorable feline. We’d patched it but we had no way of knowing if the patches would hold.

Anyway. We did eventually get up, pack our shit away and drive into Meteroa in time for the first monastery we wanted to visit. There used to be 24 of the buggers but on account of bandits many were abandoned or destroyed. Six remain and two of them are convents. Varlaam is the second biggest after Holy Monastery of Great Meteoron which was closed today, and it’s one of the most popular so we wanted to see it first before too many people showed up. We threw sarongs around our waists and waited in the queue for it to open at 9am.

Varlaam is on the left there, and you can just see Great Meteoron off in the top right.

It’s actually really cool and has a little museum attached. The first guy to inhabit this particular rock was the hermit monk Varlaam in 1350. He climbed up it and built a few cells and a churcg, but nowhere does it say HOW he built these things. It’s 373 metres off the fucking floor! One does not casually build cells and an actual church atop a cliff that high without it being some manner of process worthy of documentation, it didn’t even get proper steps until the 1920s. So he died and the rock remained uninhabited until the brothers Theophanis and Nektsrios revived it in 1517.

Varlaam monastery. It’s actually really nice.

They’re refurbishing a tower that houses a net lift which was used to hoist supplies up to the monastery. I learned in the museum that this is called a vrizoni. You used to have to get up with quite precarious looking ladders, both rope and wooden, so you couldn’t really just nip out for a Mars Bar. These days there are stone steps, and they have a fancy looking cable car to get supplies from the road to the rock.

This would have been used to drag nets full of stuff up from the bottom.

We wandered around and found ourselves in the church which was covered in the most vivid paintings, brightly coloured, of all manner of brutal fucking torture. Like, one guy was hung upside-down from one leg. There were severed heads all over the place, people being stabbed, one bloke was being flayed alive. Apparently it’s something to do with the persecution of the apostles after Jesus’ death? No fucking clue. We weren’t allowed to take photos inside this area so I can’t show you but you could probably stare at it all day and still keep seeing something you never noticed before. Mad shit.

They had this room with this barrel in it, and the room was labelled The Barrel, but there was no further explanation. People have chucked money in though.

Our next stop was Roussanou which is a convent. Same rules apply; trousers for men, long skirts for women, everyone has to cover their shoulders. We got stuck behind a huge school group and apparently nobody had gotten the memo about the skirts. The woman policing it all was really good though and helped them tie their jackets around their waists in a fashion she found acceptable. We managed to get past them and into the nunnery.

Both these photos are Roussanou from different angles. People reckon Holy Trinity is the most photogenic but I disagree.

This is much smaller, and there’s a little room they’re in the process of painting where you could take photos. It’s far less gruesome than the chapel where photography was forbidden. Here were more paintings of similar murder death kill to Varlaam albeit in more muted colours. Again with the decapitated heads, one bloke was being crushed in a vice, your standard stabbings were occuring all over the place, one fellow was on fire. Fucking hell, Catholics! Are you okay? Do you want to talk about it?

The happier room that we were allowed to photograph. Whoever is painting it is very talented.

It didn’t take us long to see this one so we headed outside to take more photos now the school group had gone. It’s amazing how they’ve built it. Obviously you can tell where the monastery starts and the rock finishes up close, they’re different materials, but from a distance they may as well be one and the same, as if it were carved from the rock. It’s absolutely incredible. Roussanou was established in the 14th century and became a nunnery in 1988.

It’s not the most exciting photo but it shows you how the building and the rock are basically just one thing now.

We’d decided to only visit three monasteries as we wanted to get to Litochoro at a reasonable hour, plus we didn’t feel like we needed to see all of them. We chose the Holy Trinity on account of it being very photogenic. We are that shallow. It’s a bit more of a ballache to get to, you have to walk down a paved trail first then up a lot of steps. A kid was counting them and there were definitely over 120 of the fuckers.

Holy Trinity.

This one has a little cable car too, they’re missing a trick not offering rides to tourists for €20 a pop. They’d make a fortune, I’d do it for the novelty value. We didn’t spend long here, just had a wander, marvelled at the view, gawped at the paintings in the chapel, then off we fucked, my camera packed full of so fucking many photos of rocks and holy places it’d take the rest of my life to sort through. It’s been an absolute highlight though, I would 100% recommend making the effort to visit.

This is a terrible photo of a Hummingbird Hawkmoth but I had to share it because what the actual fuck? How does this little wonder of nature exist? It’s moth sized but it moves exactly like a hummingbird, its wings beat so fast you can’t see them as it moves rapidly from flower to flower. Tarrant was adamant is was a hummingbird, I thought it was a moth but I doubted myself because moths don’t act like that. I managed to get this photo with a burst shot at a very high shutter speed which forced the ISO right up causing it to be very noisy. I wanted to try with a slower shutter speed but it had already buggered off. I feel quite privileged to have seen it at all.

Jump to “Useful shit to know…”

Meteroa, Central Greece, Greece / Μετέωρα, Στερεά Ελλάδα, Ελλάδα

Stayed at: Camping Vrachos, Kastraki

Camping Vrachos. Absolutely fine. They have a little tavern too which was full at dinner so they’re doing something right. They have cooking areas for campers too. The pool wasn’t in use when we were there which is completely acceptable as it’s not the weather for swimming now. Facilities are clean. Really can’t fault it.

Useful shit to know…

How To Get From Delphi To Kalambaka/Meteroa

  • In the Before Times there was a bus that’d take you from Delphi all the way to Kalambaka in one go. Now you have to take three buses costing, at the time of writing, €25.40 each.
  • You can buy your ticket in the In Delphi restaurant. There’s no signage saying they help with buses but they do.
  • The 6.30am bus leaves, weekdays only, from the sign saying “bus station” next door to In Delphi restaurant.
  • It took about 50 minutes to get from Delphi to Amfissa. We changed buses to one terminating at Lamia and left straight away. Our Delphi-Amfissa bus was running ten minutes late.
  • We arrived in Lamia just before 9am. The next scheduled bus to Trikala was 9.30am but it comes from Athens so it’s unlikely to be on time. Ours arrived at 9.50am and left straight away. It leaves from bay 2.
  • We arrived at Trikala bus station on the outskirts of the city at about 11.15am and waited there for half an hour before the same bus took us to Kalambaka.
  • The monasteries cost €3 each to get in.
  • There’s parking for every monastery and at viewpoints but don’t count on actually getting a space, especially if a tour bus shows up. People just park along the road.
  • Men have to wear trousers and a top that covers their shoulders.
  • Women have to cover their shoulders and wear a skirt that covers their knees, trousers aren’t good enough. They were happy with us tying a sarong around our waist over our trousers.
  • Varlaam sold skirts for €3.50. Roussanou also sold them but had a bucket of skirts you could borrow but had to give back. The guy selling tickets at Holy Trinity had a pile of skirts to sell but he wasn’t enforcing any skirt wearing. We were the only women in skirts.
  • Not every monastery is open every day, it’s worth checking online for the schedule.
  • There are a couple of sunset viewpoints. For Psaroperta head to the parking at 39.719254, 21.637257. We got there early and still had to park on the road.
  • It’s possible to do this by bus but it’s not a hop-on, hop-off situation. There aren’t many buses a day (right now in October there are three leaving Kalambaka bus station at 9.30, 12.39 and 14.30) but they do stop at every monastery.
  • If we hadn’t rented a car we’d have taken the first bus, which does stop right outside Vrachos Campsite where we were staying, all the way to Varlaam and just walked back via whatever monasteries we wanted to see.
Kalambaka to Meteroa bus timetable, October 2022.

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