We had to stop in Thessaloniki for one night on the way from Skopje to Meteora. It would have been non eventful if it was not for the journey to the hostel. As we drove along the northern plains of Greece we watched as , in the distance, a spectacular storm light up the skies with strikes of lightning and rumbles of thunder. A comment was made along the lines of lucky we are not staying there, when the bus turned left and we headed straight towards it. By the time we arrived at the bus terminal we decided we should grab a taxi to avoid the storm. But there were no taxis. Luckily after we managed to book our train ticket to Meteora for the following morning, the storm had passed.
We wandered out of the station and walked along the tiny path beside the main road. We had to negotiate the massive puddles of dirty water, and pick our time when we walked, as the mass of cars would hit the water and spray it all over the sidewalk. I took the lead and we managed to make it to the final 5 metres – or the home stretch if you will. With one last ditch effort we powerwalked along as a car sped around the corner and drenched us in the lukewarm brown liquid. Laughing, we turned the corner to see branches lying over scooters after being hit by the lightning. There were even fresh holes in the bitumen that looked like mini explosions from where it had been struck. We were wet, but thankful we weren’t walking in it at the time. After 20 minutes walking up a hill we made it to the hostel for a quick Hellas Beer and to bed in a very stinky dorm.
We were on the train the next morning and after one change at the small station of Paleofarsalos we made it to Kalambaka where, after buying our seats on a train to Athens that had no seats, we grabbed a taxi to our hotel, San Giorgio Villas, in the small village of Kastraki. We walked into the beautiful home with marble floors and huge living area, thinking to ourselves it was a big step up from the previous night. We had booked a few nights before, but unfortunately, they had no reservation for us. After a bit of shifting around, the lovely lady at reception managed to put us in a room with a balcony overlooking the amazing mountains. We asked where to eat and they said the owners of the hotel had a Taverna around the corner and we should head there. Ten minutes later we were sat at the plastic tables of Taverna Boufidis smelling the delicious aromas from the Souvlaki being grilled by the son of the owner. The souvlaki grill was situated on the side of the road, being attended too by the owners son. Meanwhile, the matriarch of the family business would wander in and out of the restaurant trying to attract any car driving past to come in.
We ordered an Alpha Beer and a white wine that came in a huge metal mug, much to Sarah’s delight. There was a decent sized menu but really there was only one choice for us, the Pork & Beef Slouvaki that we could smell, and when it arrived, we were in barbequed meat heaven. It was delicious. Within a minute it was devoured and the plate, practically licked clean. We contemplated ordering another but decided to be thrifty and just finish our beer and big glass of wine. As we came to settle the bill, the owner spotted we were staying at her house so yelled to the 3rd generation who were waiting tables to get another beer along with the big tin cup of white wine, on the house. As we walked away, we made a promise to return before we left.
We had planned a sunset tour the mountains and monasteries before we had arrived, so at 5pm, the bus arrived and we climbed the hill to one of the former monasteries that is now converted to a working convent. The view was incredible, but more incredible, was the fact they were able to build these incredible buildings so high up just teetering on the edge.
We continued by driving from monastery to monastery along the top of the mountains, before heading down to the incredible Byzantine Church of Virgin Mary. Situated at the base of the mountains in Kalambaka, the church still displays the original frescoes from the 11th century. Outside, you can still see parts of Ancient Greek Temple dedicated to God Apollo. We continued along the base of the mountains where, we wandered up to the remains of the hermit caves, where the hermit monks would situate themselves high up a cliff in a small cave and live in a solitary environment. They would rely only on the generosity of the villagers to supply them food and water. What was also amazing, was when we noticed small markings up the near vertical rock faces that was actually the foot holes worn into the rock from when the monks had to climb.
We then climbed back up the mountain to reach a point that jutted out above the convent we visited earlier and walked to the cliff edge to find a seat to watch the sun set over the valley. Definitely worth it. We finished the day by comparing the souvlaki of another restaurant, Gardenia Taverna. It was good, but didn’t match the one earlier, however, the staff were fantastic. When we settled the bill we started chatting and when the discovered we were travlleing for a year, the word spread around the floor and as we got up to leave, we were demanded to sit back down and to drink some ouzo on the house. For some reason, we slept pretty well that night.
We woke the following morning and wandered to bus stop opposite our favourite restaurant. After 25 minutes, we started to wonder if the bus worked on a Sunday and decided that we should try and hitchhike up. Five cars drove past while we were still discussing who would stick their thumb out. Thankfully the bus arrived and we made it to the Great Meteroan Monastery, the biggest of them all. You need to walk down some steps of a cliff before crossing a bridge a few hundred metres above a valley before climbing more steps up another cliff face. The monastery was huge, but nowadays is only inhabited by six monks. We wandered in and out of the different rooms, escaping the intense heat. One room contained the skulls of the monks who had lived there, which was… interesting. We left via the massive kitchen and on towards the 2nd biggest monastery Varlaam. After wandering around we then took the road less travelled and found a small path that led down between two large cliffs towards the vicinity of our hotel. Halfway down, but still a long way up we came across two little creatures who we did not expect to see – tortoises.
Our intention was to take a left after we crossed the road towards another cave the was actually used as prison for all the naughty monks. We missed the turn, but as fate (or a map) would have it, we ended up right out the front of Taverna Boufidis again. Strange. They all recognised us from before, so already knew what we wanted, which was good. Unfortunately, there was no free booze this time, instead, we were given a sausage from the souvlaki grill that was even better than the souvlaki. We were full – but very content – so grabbed our bags and headed for our train “with no seats” to Athens.