Improbable place

As I write this, I’m looking at what must be one of the most incredible panoramas in the world. The sun is just beginning to peek over the sheer vertical cliffs to my left, and the spires directly in front of me are already half-bathed in light.

The town of Kastraki is tucked in underneath these cliffs, with houses and churches built up as close to the bottom as they dare. Above that, ivy climbs up perhaps 50 or 60 feet, but then is defeated by the mountains and can grow no higher.

Atop one of the taller cliffs in front of me is a cross and a Greek flag. Lower, in a cave about 200 feet up, are dozens of flags, apparently placed there by climbers in an annual ritual for good luck, when they also bring down the fortunate scraps of last year’s flags.

To the left, much higher, rises an almost vertical column of rock that must be at least 300 feet tall. Atop it is one of the six remaining monasteries of Meteora, Roussánou, which looks a bit cockeyed since it is perfectly level and the column it sits on isn’t quite straight.

There were once over 20 monasteries and hermitages in Meteora, and of the ones that remain, only two are active.

Yesterday, Wednesday, our bus took longer than we expected to get here, so we got a late start trying to visit the monasteries. I wanted to see at least Varlaám, which closes on Thursdays. Our two guidebooks offered conflicting times for when the monastery closed, one saying it was open until 2, and another saying it reopened from 3:30 to 5:00. After an exhausting hike up a steep trail, we arrived at 4:11 and found that neither book was right — it closed at 4:00. They were right about the Thursday closing, though. We’ll be leaving here early Friday morning, so we won’t get to see Vaarlam.

There’s a road that leads right up to the base of the monastery, and if we’d hired a cab to take us there instead of walking up, we would have made it. Instead, we called a cab to take us back down. Nora said she didn’t want to be scrunched in the cab between Greta and Jim for the five-minute trip, so I agreed to walk back down with her. We were back at the hotel in about 40 minutes — half the time it took us to walk up.

Needless to say, though I was disappointed in not being able to enter any of the monasteries on our first day in Meteora, I was still amazed by the scenery.

Here are some of the pictures we took on our walk:

Approaching Aiyou Nicholáou Anápavsas (St. Nicholas) Monastery:

A closer look at St. Nicholas:

Our first glimpse of Varlaám:

Approaching closer:

Greta and Nora arriving at the front door — 11 minutes late!

We’re a lot better prepared for today’s visit to the monasteries, so I’m hopeful that you’ll soon be reading a post describing today’s delightful adventures.

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