The seven hour journey by train from the west of Italy (Napoli) to the east coast (Brindisi) took me through so many changing terrains – mountains, farms, beaches!
Traveling in Greece is a little tricky! For one – it’s not the same ALPHABET so deciphering words and directions is difficult. AND, they have multiple names for the same city – so once you do get someone to help you with directions or tickets, you’re never really sure that you’re going where you think you are going! I was allowing my stress to take over. At times I thought about just going straight to Athens as I knew the bus went there, but decided that this was when I needed to TRUST more than any other time on my trip. I had to trust that I was strong enough to figure this out, and trust that people were kind enough to help me.
Arriving at my final train stop in Italy, I found a sweet young couple that helped me get on the correct bus to the ferry port. Arriving at the port I was met with huge long lines of people waiting to purchase tickets. I met a couple from America that are now retired in Mexico and had been stranded in Brindisi for four days due to strikes – thus explaining the large amount of people waiting to cross to Greece! They were so helpful in finding the right person to walk us through ticketing, security, immigration and on to the ferry! Another couple from Atlanta and one from France made the overnight journey a blast!
Our ferry departed at 11:30pm and arrived in Igoumounitsa Greece at 5:30am the next morning! I happened upon a taxi driver (only my second taxi this entire trip!) that spoke perfect English, only charged me $E5 and on the way to the bus station, called ahead and gave me the exact time of departure and the amount of the fare! When I purchased my ticket I asked ‘what time does the connecting bus leave Ioannina’ to which the ticket agent replied “you get on the bus, you ride the bus, you get off the bus, you ask that man”. Well – okay!! After a four hour layover at the next stop, I was on the bus headed to the little town that was causing all of this drama for me! Yep – headed to the town – and right PAST the town! The driver did not stop at the town! I ran up to the front of the bus and told him – his response – “you can ride back on another bus when we get to the final stop”. The ticket agent at the stop was so kind – gave me another ticket for no charge! This bus actually took me directly to my village rather than just the town – SCORE – especially since it was now pouring rain! Off down a country road to my room!
So – what is all of this fuss about? Meteora, or Kalampaka or Kalambaka or Kalapaka!! Home to six of the remaining (at one time as many as 24 – most destroyed during wars) monasteries built around the 14th century on top of the Meteora rocks. The place where for centuries man-kind has exercised the ultimate trust! You can’t help but feel the shift in energy here – your senses are awakened like nothing I have ever experienced! I could begin to understand why Monks on pilgrimages would want to be here and just see and hear and not speak! To reach the monasteries, some of them perched atop 1,200ft tall cliffs, you can hike by road or mountain paths. There is a road that gets passengers to nearby parking lots, but then you must climb steps, sometimes as many as 140 stairs, up to the monastery.
Checking into the room I had rented, I slept with the windows open to a view of the stunning rocks, and listened to the storms all night long. I was only here for one full day but determined I was going to hike to the top no matter what the weather!
I woke up to full sunshine and the most beautiful day one could ask for! The host of my guesthouse gave me great tips on where to hike – so map in hand – I take off. First turn out of the gate – was wrong. I ended up walking about 2 miles in the wrong direction, but got to see beautiful views of the valley, mountains and cliff formations! Finally headed in the right direction, the next 10 miles of the hike was so exhilarating! I can’t even begin to understand the strength of the Monks that built these stunning structures on top of these cliffs when at times I struggled just to walk up the hills and climb the stairs!
I visited Agios Nikolas, one of the smaller monasteries, then up the hill to the Roussanou Nunnery where I watched a nun paint beautiful souveniers.
A very long hike up to Varlaam then on higher to Megato Meteoro.
To get back down, I hiked a trail between the two last cliffs – I still have no clue how they could have gotten the equipment and materials needed to build these churches up those cliffs! I did figure out one thing though – if they had the willpower and guidance from their Higher Power, then surely I could quit stressing out about catching a bus!
The next morning I walked to the village square of Kastraki where I was staying and waited for the bus to Athens. I had been told there was only ONE bus that came to the village so I was feeling very confident! The bus arrived, I lined up to get on with all of the elementary school children that had just arrived in the square, and after much commotion from the children, figured out I was trying to get on the School Bus! TRUST – even the children were there to help me!!
One last LONG bus trip – 5.5 hours to ATHENS!!