Best Kind of Lost

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A Quick Tour of Northern Greece

by Dave
September 3-6

 

Greek flag 2 copyWhat’s the best way to cure a Turkish hangover? How about plenty of fluids and a dose of Northern Greece? That helped stop the meat sweats anyway…

While the islands with the blue-domed white buildings and breathtaking sunsets were the initial impetus to securing Greece’s spot on the itinerary, our origin of departure and a desire to see a lesser-known gem steered us toward a start a bit further north. That, and we love us some UNESCO World Heritage sites, so Meteora was booked.

The White Tower along Thessaloniki's waterfront.

The White Tower along Thessaloniki’s waterfront.

But before we made it to the amazing cliff-top monasteries, we spent a night in Thessaloniki. Aside from being one of the harder words for Noelle to say out of everywhere we’ve gone (which is saying something), (EDITOR’S NOTE: You say potato, I say potato, you say “loniki,” I say “noliki.” Samesies.) this waterside city in northeastern Greece served as our first taste of a few Greek staples. Starting with our introduction to Greece’s notoriously tardy public transportation, and onto our first Greek salad and frappes (the iced coffee drinks that Grecians are practically weaned on from birth) in their place of origin.

The transportation issue was expected (and, at times, laughable) based on the country’s famed insistence on doing things only when personally convenient, the salad did not disappoint, but the frappe left a little something to be desired. I’m not exaggerating about the weaning. Most Grecians suck about 4-5 of these bad boys down a day. While our first sips didn’t meet expectations, there were better ones to be had later on.

The sunset was much better than the frappe...

The sunset was much better than the frappe…

And (EDITOR’S NOTE: …more importantly, and most definitely infinitely more devastating to Dave…) I still had to wait it out to finally tear into some gyros. The lack of them in this part of our trip was fully made up for when we headed south, but I digress…

During our one night in town, we took a stroll along the Mediterranean to the White Tower (where we realized our frappe failure), and then weaved around downtown before picking a random spot for dinner to enjoy our incredibly fresh and elaborate Greek salad (EDITOR’S NOTE: Seriously America, you’ve been holding out. I expect full halves of tomatoes, plump olives and a full brick of feta upon our arrival home.). Even with an early morning departure the next day, we had no regrets heading a bit south as we felt we got a good flavor of this small city. And really, we had to move on from Thellasonick Thelsaloniki Thelessanoliki Thessaloniki for the sake of Noelle’s verbal confidence. So the next morning we boarded a train to Kalambaka, the closest station to Meteora. This two-legged train journey is what caused us to hit a bit of an unexpected delay.

See, Greece having a different alphabet than English and all, we weren’t the best at deciphering signs or making out most words spoken in our direction. So you’ll have to excuse us for jumping up to change trains when we watched nearly every single fellow passenger get off and heard the one word I forced myself to remember as our transfer station (or course I’ve forgotten it now, but it started with a “P”) followed by the only other recognizable word, “Kalambaka,” our final destination on the connecting train we were meant to board. Two words, same sentence. Seems like a no-brainer that it was our transfer stop, right?

Wrong.

Right after we found out we were in the wrong place.

Right after we found out we were in the wrong place.

The news was broken to us by a friendly ticket agent that we were in the small town of Larissa, still a few hours short of our elusive final destination with no viable transportation option other than the next train, scheduled for 6 hours later. She was nice enough to not charge us extra for a ticket on that train and she even offered to store our bags for us to let us explore the town during our layover. We told her we wouldn’t take “no” for an answer smiled with sheepish appreciation, handed our bags over and set off to explore.

In the end, the unexpected side trip was a pleasant surprise. We found ourselves in a great little café with wifi where we made the most of our unexpected stop by catching up on writing some blog posts and booking additional travel for the upcoming weeks.

Sipping on something in some cafe in some small town.

Sipping on something in some cafe in some small town.

Probably catching up on the blog.

Probably catching up on the blog.

Duh.

Duh.

Arriving a mere 6+ hours after our expected arrival, quick glimpses of some of the enormous rock cliffs through the windows of our train and taxi rides were our only hint of what was to come the following day.

Some of the hermit caves in the rock where people used to live.

Some of the hermit caves in the rock where people used to live. (EDITOR’S NOTE: Very stone-chic. So now.)

Meteora, Greek for “into the air,” is home to six monasteries that were built right atop the cliffs that they still stand on today. Centuries ago monks built the monasteries to escape the violence of the Byzantine Empire. The six still standing make up only one quarter of the 24 that were here hundreds of years ago, and are easily explored in just a one-day stopover. (EDITOR’S NOTE: The monks that slaved centuries building these remote, meditative oases just rolled over in their graves and disdainfully muttered something that sounds suspiciously like, “…schmourists.”)

A view from our hike up.

A view from our hike up.

We spent our day walking around and taking in the incredible views among the monasteries atop the rock cliffs overlooking the deep valleys. It was a quick visit, but well worth it for the views alone, as you can see from some of the pictures below.

St. Nicholas's monastery, with cables used to make deliveries. This is the latest innovation, and not long ago monks had to be wrapped in nets and pulled up manually by other monks working a rope. And if/when some of them died from falling, it was viewed as the will of God and they moved on.

St. Nicholas (the first monastery we encountered), with sturdy cables used to make deliveries to the top. Although modern stairs now make each monastery more easily accessible, long ago monks and other goods had to be wrapped in nets and pulled up manually by rope. And if/when some of them died from falling, it was just viewed as the will of God and that was that.

Roussanou Monastery

Roussanou Monastery

Noelle posing with Roussanou Monastery in the background.

Noelle posing with Roussanou monastery over yonder.

Me with Varlaam monastery in the background.

Me with Varlaam monastery in the background.

Varlaam Monastery with Roussanou in the background.

Varlaam again, with Roussanou in the background.

Varlaam from the other side.

Varlaam from the other side.

Grand Meteoron, the largest of the remaining monasteries.

Grand Meteoron, the largest of the remaining monasteries.

Another shot of Grand Meteoron.

Another shot of Grand Meteoron.

The best part of the day was taking in the sunset from a panoramic viewpoint just above the Roussanou monastery looking out over the two towns below Meteora. It was a very peaceful spot to watch from, even with the unique company with whom we shared the stunning views. We had one guy trying to explain to a friend that he has two girlfriends – one in Greece, and one back in Minnesota. Real good guy. And then a Jerry Garcia lookalike joined the fun, saying that he traveled to Greece from the U.S. on “Pegasus, the horse with wings.”

But, all of that was pretty easy to ignore when we had these views in front of us.

These...

These…

...views...

…views…

...weren't...

…weren’t…

...bad.

…bad.

You can absolutely enjoy all this town has to offer by squeezing it into a 1 day, 2 night stay. Or of course, you could probably do it in even less time, assuming you can find a way to hitch a ride with Meteora Jerry Garcia atop his friend Pegasus. Your call.

Next up: the islands.

What do you think?

Please keep your comments polite and on-topic.


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