How not to see Meteora

It seems a bit of a shame that when I think of Meteora, I always think back to that one time last June.

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It was hot. It’s always hot at Meteora. We had hit a record of six chuckers on the drive in from Thessaloniki; dozens of hairpin turns combined with a couple of sharp drops doesn’t seem to be the best hangover cure known to humankind. Add frappes for breakfast into the mix and all of a sudden you’re a tour guide facing a very difficult day at the office.

I wasn’t feeling so hot myself. Unlike most of the bus, I’d put myself to bed at a kinda reasonable hour, getting myself a luxurious five hours of sleep before the Bus Day From Hell. I’d do this leg of the tour once every two weeks and I grew to dread it; we’d leave Thessaloniki at eight and not arrive in Athens until seven that night. Apart from our couple of hours at Meteora, I was left to my own devices in terms of entertaining forty hungover souls.

I’d been busy that morning, running up and down the aisle and passing out sick bags and my ever-dwindling supply of Imodium. This had kept me relatively distracted from my thumping head and churning stomach. That was, until I turned around to address my charges.

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Getting on a microphone in front of anyone is pretty tricky, but try doing this on a very moving bus, upright and with your back turned away from the direction of travel. I suppose I could have faced the front and stayed seated, but I like to eyeball all my passengers to make sure that they’re listening. Hey, I’m the daughter of two school principals, what can I say?

That’s when all of those gin and tonics hit me. And the ouzo that they’d all chanted at me to chug down, despite my insistence that I hated licorice. Plus that morning’s frappe, which had seemed like such a good idea at the time. Straight away I was wishing I’d listened to the advice of the More Beer Club back at Melbourne Uni; milk was a bad choice.

Everybody sported various shades of the colour green and nobody would look me in the eye. Now was not the time to lecture them about Greek monks and promises of solitude. So I did anyway, wiping the beads of sweat off my forehead. And then I turned on some of the Three Tenors, just to give us a bit of atmosphere.

As Pavarotti did his thing, I sat back down again and tried breathing slowly and calmly. At least now I was facing the right way, and was being treated to the dazzling views of Meteora.

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Approximately half of the bus knew that they were somewhere pretty spectacular, and were doing the requisite things; going ‘oooohh’ and taking photos through a bus window which would undoubtedly all be deleted later. Along the way, I pointed out the monasteries we could see. Holy Trinity. Saint Barbara. Grand Meteora. Saint Nicholas. Each one would be up in the air above us somewhere, dizzyingly beautiful and serene at the same time.

The other half, however, were wishing they were anywhere but there. They were in all sorts of pain and as we climbed higher and higher and the views got more and more spectacular, some even started verbally worrying about coming down again. Then, nice and quickly so nobody could have time to protest, I informed them that we were stopping to explore Varlaam Monastery and right-o, everyone get out of the bus and come back in an hour.

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Diligently, they all followed me up the stairs and into the monastery, without much protest. I headed back, needing to make a few calls as well as seriously considering whacking my head against one of the stone walls, such was the pain around my brain area. I needed some shade and maybe even an icy pole. Ooh, an icy pole, I thought, cheering up. That could work.

But when I climbed back in the bus to grab my notebook, I spotted him. Let’s call him Tim.

Tim had been in a world of pain that morning; it had been a struggle to get him on the bus at all. He’d come straight from Valaoritou and hadn’t even been to bed. He was having his snooze now, while we were parked outside a World Heritage-listed 450-year old clifftop monastery.

I stood there for a moment. I may have even theatrically scratched my head. Then I did the only thing I could do; I shook him awake, yelled at him that he had to see Meteora, and enlisted the help of our jack-of-all-trades driver to carry him out, pretty much by all four limbs.

So there we were, our strange motley crew of Tim, our Croatian Sensation driver, a random Greek dog we had acquired and me. We stood (Tim sort of leaned) and took in our view.

Meteora, for those who have absolutely no clue of what I’m actually talking about, is the name given to the monasteries built on top of the cliffs looming up behind the town of Kalambaka in northern Greece. Even if the monasteries weren’t there the area would still be noteworthy; the cliffs were created around 60 million years ago after the earth was moving around a bit – picture it as if the ground was pinched and pulled upwards various times. The landscape around Kalambaka is pancake flat, making the cliffs look otherworldly.

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But then you add the monasteries, and this is where Meteora gets even more interesting. Around twelve hundred years ago, a number of monks moved into the area, seeking solitude and uninterrupted time for prayer. Some stayed in the caves at the bottom, whereas others moved to the tops of the cliffs. Within a few hundred years there were twenty monasteries at Meteora, providing refuge for hundreds of monks fleeing the Ottoman regime in Greece.

Today there are six monasteries remaining, and all are still inhabited by either monks or nuns. Thankfully, they’ve also built some roads and steps up to the monasteries. For much of their history, the only way up was via a series of ropes and ladders. How did they know when to replace the ropes? As the legend goes, only ‘when the Lord let them break’. I wouldn’t want to be their test dummy.

I told Tim all of this, giving him a personal run-down of what exactly we were viewing. I like to think that he took some of it in. Probably not. As soon as I dismissed him, he stumbled back to the bus. Later, when we stopped to take photos at a couple more monasteries, Tim didn’t even get off the bus.

I don’t understand people like Tim. But I do understand the ones that forced themselves get out of the bus and see as much as possible, fighting through the hangover. I’ve done that in the past myself – the Salt Mines in Krakow and the Flanders Fields tour in Belgium both come to mind.

I don’t really understand the people who were back after twenty minutes though, eager to get back on the bus.  But I do understand the ones who later told me of their regret, that they’d feel embarrassed when they’d hear about or see pictures of Meteora for the rest of their lives. But I wouldn’t understand when they’d wake up in the same fashion the next day. And the day after that too, and the day following. For the rest of their holiday, the one they’d been saving for and planning for years.

My advice? Don’t go to Meteora when you’re horribly hungover. You’re not going to appreciate it, and you’re going to hate yourself for it later. Instead, stay in Kalambaka, and then spend a full day or two exploring the different monasteries. They are still extremely holy places (Varlaam houses the finger of St John) and are living, breathing examples of history.

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I visited Meteora half a dozen times last year. These photos aren’t of that fateful day in June, but two months later when I was guiding my last tour in Greece. There had been no chuckers that day. People were gasping in amazement as we started our climb up the cliffs, cameras clicking away. Pavarotti was belting out something in Italian, and as he reached his crescendo, I heard the sound of sobbing.

‘It’s just so beautiful!’ a girl halfway down the aisle cried.

Well, that startled me. It wasn’t exactly what I had been aiming for, but I’ll take that any day over hungover indifference. I just wish I would think of her rather than Tim whenever I’m reminded of Meteora.

 

This week I’m connecting with some other travel blogs through #SundayTraveler. Click the below link for some other great stories through chasingthedonkey.com.

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29 Responses to How not to see Meteora

  1. frankaboutcroatia March 2, 2014 at 12:37 PM #

    I’ve been to Meteora site only once, back in late 90s. But we never had a chance to visit them properly, just admired the view over the monasteries. My mother has a serious fear of heights, and that road almost destroyed her. She was actually sitting at the floor of the bus not to watch out the window.
    frankaboutcroatia recently posted..Five things I love about Croatia beachesMy Profile

    • Caitlyn March 2, 2014 at 10:04 PM #

      The views are incredible, aren’t they? I feel so sorry for your mother, that would have been torture!

  2. SJ “Mrs Chasing the Donkey” Begonja March 2, 2014 at 3:25 PM #

    What a breathtaking place! Damn shame you were green, and had a bunch of drunkards to look after. I could see myself enjoying a lovely glass of wine and plate of olives over looking that view for many hours. Big thanks for linking up with us again for #SundayTraveler!
    SJ “Mrs Chasing the Donkey” Begonja recently posted..7 things you must do while on holidays in Croatia #SundayTravelerMy Profile

    • Caitlyn March 2, 2014 at 10:06 PM #

      Oh definitely. I would always be so jealous of those staying in Kalambaka and taking in the experience nice and slowly. Meteora definitely deserves it :)

  3. Bex March 2, 2014 at 4:22 PM #

    I’m so glad you got to properly appreciate the majestic beauty of this place in my adopted home country. I got the opportunity to visit here in 2009 with my dear father at Easter. It brought tears to my eyes too.
    Did you know the James Bond film “For Your Eyes Only” was filmed here?
    Bex recently posted..On your own journey, be prepared for changes – as “The Journey” discovers.My Profile

    • Caitlyn March 2, 2014 at 10:07 PM #

      Thanks Bex! It truly is a wonderful place. I had heard that, and I also threw in a bit of pop culture on my tours by playing a bit of Linkin Park’s ‘Meteora’ album :)

  4. Bianca @itsallbee March 2, 2014 at 5:53 PM #

    Stunning pictures. I will take notes and lay off the alcohol the night before the trip to Meteora. This place has been on my bucket list for ages! I am going to Greece later in the year so i will be sure to keep you bookmarked!
    Bianca @itsallbee recently posted..Kölner Dom | Cologne CatherdralMy Profile

    • Caitlyn March 2, 2014 at 10:08 PM #

      I would definitely recommend staying off the alcohol the night before! It’s the type of place you want to see with a clear head to truly appreciate. Good luck with your trip planning!

  5. Gran Canaria Local March 2, 2014 at 6:02 PM #

    Personally, we quite like a hangover. Because coming out of it is a great experience. However, it’s best done at home with the aid of an early siesta, perhaps with a black and white film on in the background. Definitely not on a bus. So, we’ll make sure we see Meteora sober. Thanks for the tip.
    Gran Canaria Local recently posted..InShape FactoryMy Profile

    • Caitlyn March 2, 2014 at 10:10 PM #

      Haha I completely agree! I never understand why people think that they can deal with a hangover on a bus!

  6. Sammi March 2, 2014 at 6:34 PM #

    Don’t think I’d have needed to have been drinking to have joined in with the throw up party. I am utterly terrified of heights (hey, I’m 4ft 10, I should be scared of heights). I think this is a place that I am only ever going to see in pictures.

    We had a couple of odd people like that in our group, tho’, one girl who announced she “didn’t want to see all the historical stuff, just to have fun” and i was like, well why did you come to europe then? go to america! and a guy who, whenever Mel got on the microphone would throw his head into his hands and shake his head. Tho’ she didn’t tell me that until after the trip- which was probably best because I would’ve smacked him around that shaking head of his so hard that it would’ve come off! How rude can a person be?!
    Sammi recently posted..A Cry of Despair: Auschwitz & BirkenauMy Profile

    • Caitlyn March 4, 2014 at 7:39 PM #

      I share your amazement in that people come to Europe without actually wanting to learn anything about it! It is a very expensive pub crawl 😛

  7. Agness March 3, 2014 at 3:05 AM #

    Lovely, lovely, lovely! Never heard of this place and I love the monk story behind it. Definitely need to add it to my bucket list!
    Agness recently posted..5 Tips On How To Travel Central America On The CheapMy Profile

    • Caitlyn March 4, 2014 at 7:41 PM #

      I was one of those people who had heard the word ‘Meteora’ before but never knew what it was!

  8. Dave Cole March 3, 2014 at 3:10 PM #

    Gorgeous photos – what a unique destination! Too bad you can’t hide from the ouzo chanting – once it starts, the result is a foregone conclusion.
    Dave Cole recently posted..Monday Morning Photo – Stephansdom, ViennaMy Profile

    • Caitlyn March 4, 2014 at 7:42 PM #

      Ooh the ouzo chanting… don’t remind me! 😛

  9. Phoebe @Lou Messugo March 3, 2014 at 8:01 PM #

    Oh my, there’s nothing worse than siteseeing with a hangover! But what were these people thinking gettting so wrecked the night before such a unique visit? I can understand your frustration. I’d have been mad too. Your photos are fab BTW!
    Phoebe @Lou Messugo recently posted..Lady Liberty of Nice – the new StatueMy Profile

    • Caitlyn March 4, 2014 at 7:43 PM #

      Thanks Phoebe! And in terms of what people were thinking… I think it was something along the lines of ‘free shots!’

  10. Catherine March 3, 2014 at 11:05 PM #

    That’s such a shame that anyone would go somewhere just to sit around and be hungover – you can do that at home! It looks so beautiful as well – if I ever end up there I will definitely be gasping in amazement rather than snoozing!
    Catherine recently posted..Reading List #1My Profile

    • Caitlyn March 4, 2014 at 7:45 PM #

      I know Catherine! I think there was a lot of regretful people the next day.

  11. Gabor Kovacs March 4, 2014 at 2:33 PM #

    It is a pity that you weren’t able to enjoy the visit this time, but you are lucky that you already had been there several times. The Meteoras are a unique place, I really hope I can get to see them one day. I have seen only Athens in Greece.
    Gabor Kovacs recently posted..Far from everything on Easter IslandMy Profile

    • Caitlyn March 4, 2014 at 7:45 PM #

      Thanks Gabor! Yes I am definitely lucky, going there many times :) They still amazed me every time!

  12. The Dessert Engineer March 4, 2014 at 8:54 PM #

    What an amazing place. I can only dream that I will get there one day… Love your pictures!
    The Dessert Engineer recently posted..The allure of the beaches of the Florida KeysMy Profile

    • Caitlyn March 5, 2014 at 10:03 PM #

      Thanks! It’s one to put on the bucket list :)

  13. Ashley @ A Southern Gypsy March 6, 2014 at 6:33 AM #

    I’m also one of those people who has heard of Meteora but never really knew anything about it. Great photos and thank you for linking up to the #SundayTraveler :)

  14. Heather March 10, 2014 at 4:28 PM #

    Meteora has been on my radar for some time now. We spent three weeks in Greece on our honeymoon, and really wanted to see this place, but decided we didn’t want to climb mountains on this particular trip. Next time for sure!
    Heather recently posted..Becoming a Celebrity in ChinaMy Profile

    • Caitlyn March 10, 2014 at 7:09 PM #

      You can always go the lazy way and grab a bus up, like me :)

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Sunday Traveler Anniversary - December 29, 2014

    […] How not to see Meteora – Olympic Wanderings: “That’s when all of those gin and tonics hit me. And the ouzo that they’d all chanted at me to chug down, despite my insistence that I hated licorice. Plus that morning’s frappe, which had seemed like such a good idea at the time. […]

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