The train from Thessaloniki to Kalambaka takes about 3 hours and is, at times, fast. We reached 100mph at times. But there are lots of stops and slow bits. You go on the line to Athens as far as Palaeofarsalos, where the train starts going backwards, along a branch line, to Kalambaka, passing through Karditsa and Trikala. Because it was the weekend we could only buy second class tickets but could sit anywhere on the train. We got on early so were rather comfortably ensconced in first.
When we got to Kalambaka it was dark and rather difficult to find our B&B. A taxi driver refused the fare as it was too close, but he did point out the way. We found the place and found we had a comfortable room filled with old furniture and very poor lighting. We dumped the stuff and went off to eat. Lady B&B suggested a restaurant on the main street and the place was well worth going to. There was even a poor caged parrot whistling at all the customers.
But looming out of the gloom like giant elephants were the rock pinnacles of Meteora. They are too big to be adequately floodlit but you could sense their presence just beyond your ken.
Next morning we agreed to share a taxi with a young Japanese woman whose command of English was on a par with our knowledge of Greek. Her name was Eme. The taxi took us to the largest monastery, Grand Meteora.
The pinnacles are made up of sandstone, ranging in grain size from coarse to conglomeratic, with a tendency for the coarser types to be the more abundant. Contained clasts can be up to about a metre in diameter. They are all rounded to some extent. They remind me of the Old Red Sandstone near Stonehaven, except that the rocks are greyish yellow to brown in colour, not red. The sources I have found suggest an Early Tertiary age for them. So the rock type is not particularly unusual.
But the geomorphology most certainly is. My interpretation, based on a day in the area, is that there is a large fault running along the Kalambaka valley. The rocks on the side opposite Meteora look different from that of the rock pinnacles. Behind the pinnacles is a plateau. So we are at the edge of a massive sandstone block with various small faults breaking the edge of the sandstone into small blocks. Erosion has worked along these faults so that now only the cores of the blocks remain. Why are the valleys so steep – sided? Probably because the sandstone mass was being uplifted at a rate which did not allow the streams to do other than cut down. It was taking all their energy to erode downwards, never mind going from side to side. The result was the pinnacles we see today. And on these some mad monks built monasteries.
The typical way to get to a monastery is to go up a valley from the main valley until you get to the level of the plateau. As you go up, other valleys lead off at right angles. At the top, you walk along the edge of this secondary valley till you get to a monastery. You then have to descend to the bottom of the valley and then up some 150 steep steps to the monastery. At the monastery you look down on Kalambaka grateful that you did not have to climb up from that side!
In the picture above we see Grand Meteora Monastery with the secondary valley between us and it. Beyond the monastery is a huge drop to the Kalambaka valley.
Despite their unusual position a monastery is a monastery and these have all the usual – libraries, hospitals, treasuries, chapels etc. What they do not have is space for a graveyard so bones of dead monks are kept in a storeroom.
The monks are not keen on photography inside their buildings and they are not at all keen on women. I was able to go round in shorts, but women had to put on wrap-round skirts and shawls if their shoulders were showing.
After a look at their buildings and their ancient manuscripts – some going back about a thousand years we set off for the next monastery – Verlaam. We were walking from now on so we made sure we carried a bottle of water with us. On the way we saw Rousanou Monastery.
Verlaam – named after its founding monk – is smaller than Grand Meteora, but equally difficult to enter.
Varlaam has all the usual monastery stuff, especially paintings of Orthodox saints martyred by the Ottomans, and old manuscripts with wonderful handwriting, but the most approachable was a 21,000 litre barrel which, I suspect, is no longer waterproof. What monks would do with a barrel this size I do not know. Surely not wine?
We then set off on a long hike (5km) to the Aghia Tridia and Saint Stephen Monasteries topping up our water supplies before we set off. On the way there were various viewpoints from which to take photographs – see below!
On the map following, after inspecting the map, click on “View larger map” to see additional information regarding the positions of the monasteries.
When we got to Aghia Tridia (Holy Trinity) we noted that their was a path to the village which started at the low point of the path to the monastery, so we decided to do that last, and pressed on to St Stephens.
And when we got to St Stephen’s we discovered that it was about to close for a two hour lunch break.
So back to Aghia Tridia where we discovered that hunger for lunch had triumphed over hunger for monastic knowledge. So we took the footpath down – very steep, very hot and very long.
When we got to the bottom we had our lunch and decided we needed a rest. Next morning we found that we had to take an early train to get to Athens on time, so we could not get back up to Aghia Tridia as we had hoped.
But we were certainly impressed by what we had seen – World Class Scenery capped by World Class Monasteries!