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Thessaly Travel

Meteora in 24 hours

April 10, 2019
St. Nikolaos Anapafsas Monastery

When faith and nature do miracles… Meteora is a rock formation in central Greece hosting one of the largest built complexes of Eastern Orthodox monasteries. Meteora, after Athos, is Greece’s largest and most important monastery complex and consisted of 24 monasteries during its heyday, six of which are still active Greek Orthodox monasteries. In a region of almost inaccessible sandstone peaks, monks settled on these ‘columns of the sky’ from the 11th century onwards. Meteora is one of the cultural Unesco world heritage sites in Greece.

The first time I visited Meteora was in the middle of the 80’s. Our Greek neighbours at Bastugatan in Stockholm came from Trikala and then it was not far to Kalampaka and Meteora. I visited them one summer and had the opportunity to walk up to the monasteries. At that time, there were most cars on the road and believers who wanted to visit the monasteries. The town Kalampaka was much smaller and the big tourist buses were rare. The monasteries became more famous outside Greece after the James Bond movie For Your Eyes Only was premiered. Some scenes in the movie were recorded at the monastery of Holy Trinity, despite the monks’ protests. Today, the number of monks has declined considerably and moved to the monasteries of Athos to get their call in peace and quiet. Although the tourists have increased significantly, I think that the sunset in the area is wonderfully beautiful and soothing, one must not miss when visiting the area.

How to get here

Meteora is located in the region of Thessaly in the middle of Greece. The nearest town is Kalampaka and the nearest village is Kastraki. I recommend you to get to Meteora by train, buss or car. By train with trainose.gr from Athens or Thessaloniki. By bus with KTEL from every town in Greece, the bus arrives to Trikala which is the nearest city to Kalampaka. Or by car towards Trikala, easiest with GPS of course.

The Monasteries

The Great Meteoron Monastery is the biggest and oldest one of all. It was called the monastery that was “suspended in the air” (meteoro), because of the formation of the gigantic rock on top of which it was built. The Great Meteoro Monastery was founded by Saint Athanasios the Meteorite who was the first founder of the monastery. For this reason, the foundation of this monastery is considered to be the beginning of the organized monasticism in Holy Meteora.

The Holy Monastery of Varlaam is the second biggest monastery. It resides at the opposite of the Great Meteoro Monastery and it was founded in the mid 14th century by the exercitant Hosios Varlaam. The elegant monastery Catholicon was built in the honour of Agioi Pantes in 1541-42, by two brothers and priests from Ioannina.

St. Stephen’s Monastery is the most accessible monastery, where instead of steps you simply cross a small bridge to reach the entrance. It is ideal for visitors who cannot use the steps and yet they wish to have a real experience of a Meteora monastery. The beginning of monastic life on the rock of Agios Stephanos dates back to early in the 12th century.

The Holy Monastery of Saint Nicholas of Anapafsas is the first monastery that we encounter on the way to the Holy Meteora and was founded at the 14th century. There are different stories about how the name came to be Anapafsas. The first one is that the name Anapafsas was attributed by one of the monastery’s founder, while the second explanation has to do with the monastery’s position being the first to be encountered on the way up and probably served to the pilgrims as a resting place before continuing on. Resting translates into Greek anapafsis, literally means Saint Nicholas the one who rests you.

The Holy Monastery of Roussanou has received the name of the first probable hermit who settled on the rock. The main cathedral was founded at the end of the 16th century and was decorated thirty years later. The monastery was initially founded by monks and it suffered severe damage during World War II. It became a convent in 1988.

The Holy Trinity Monastery (Agia Triada) is the most difficult to reach, but once you get to the top the you have a panoramic view. It has been a monastery since 1362. Visitors have to follow a pathway that directs them initially to the foot of the rock, before they start walking up about 140 steps. Part of the Monastery was used as the setting for the final scenes of the James Bond film For Your Eyes Only.


Opening hours

SUMMER TIME     April 1st – October 31st
Great Meteoron Monastery 9-17
Closed on Tuesdays.

Varlaam Monastery 9-16
Closed on Fridays.

St. Stephens Monastery 9-13.30, 15.30-17.30
Closed on Mondays.

St. Nicholas of Anapafsas 8-17
Closed on Fridays.

Monastery of Roussanou 9-17
Closed on Wednesdays.

Holy Trinity 9-17
Closed on Thursdays.

WINTER TIME  November 1st – March 31st
Great Meteoron Monastery 9-14
Closed on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays.

Varlaam Monastery 9-15
Closed on Thursdays, Fridays.

St. Stephens Monastery 9.30-13 15-17
Closed on Mondays.

St. Nicholas of Anapafsas 8-16, Sundays 9.30-16
Closed on Fridays.

Monastery of Roussanou 9-14
Closed on Wednesdays.

Holy Trinity 9-16
Closed on Thursdays.

Note the dresscode for monasteries. For men long pants and for women skirt or dress below the knee.

Activities

There are many things to explore in this area, besides visiting the monasteries. We choosed the sunset tour with a taxi and a tour in the monasteries with Meteora Thrones the following day. Both was booked with the help from our hotel staff where we stayed in Kalampaka. Other things you can do to explore the area is hiking, biking, climbing at the rocks among others. More inspiration can be found here.

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Kalampaka
Kastraki village
Roussanou Monastery
Varlaam Monastery
Holy Trinity Monastery
Athens Travel

Athens over the weekend

February 8, 2019
Monastiraki

Welcome to the city where democracy was born. When you think about Greece you visualise beaches and islands. Athens may not be the city you associate with vacation. The fact is that Athens offers a lot more then you might think in  the first place. Athens over the weekend or during a week is really is one of the best city vacations you can do in Europe. I recommend that you stay centrally so that you are within walking distance of the city’s attractions. It is wonderful to walk in the old quarter around the Acropolis.

Athens has a lot of nice museums you can explore. I visited the museum of Cycladic art the last time I was there. Some of the museum offers additional photo exhibitions as well. During the summer months, the city explodes by many cultural events. It’s all from festivals, theater shows, dance events and concerts. More information about current events can be found here.

What to see

Acropolis

The city’s main tourist attraction, queues in the entrances are the shortest in the morning and during the winter season. If you visit the Acropolis hill during the summer, you need a hat or cap and bottle of water, as it is always warmer on top than at the entrance. Opening hours and ticket information at the official website.
Herodion theatre, below the acropolis hill, was built by the Athenian philosopher Herodion Atticus as memory of his wife. The theatre is open during the summer and many cultural events and concerts is taking place here during the summer evenings.
The Acropolis Museum, modern and beautiful, where you can follow the history and originals of the statues up close. It´s also cozy to have a cup of coffee or eat in the restaurant with the best view of Acropolis hill.

Acropolis
Herodion theatre

Plaka

Plaka is the old town below the Acropolis hill, where there are plenty of restaurants, cafés and shops. The area was populated here in the 17th century and have today many neoclassical buildings in pastel colors and is really nice to stroll around. It is known as the “Neighborhood of the Gods” due to its proximity to the Acropolis and its many archaeological sites.

Plaka

Anafiotika

Anafiotika is the residential area under the Acropolis hill that looks like a small village. Here, artisans moved from the island of Anafi to renovate King Otto´s palace at the end of the 19th century. Anafi is the island from the island group Cyklades, which this area received its name from.

Anafiotika
Anafiotika

Monastiraki

Monastiraki square is the meeting point for tourists and Athenians. Tzistarakis Mosque was built during the Ottoman Empire and is now a ceramic museum. You have the Metro station here and many shops in the streets around the area. Collectors love this place as you have basars and a flea market in this area as well.

Monastiraki

I am not an Athenian or a Greek,
but a citizen of the world.
Diogenes

Syntagma

Every Sunday att 11.00 you can watch the ceremony of Evzones or Tsoliades when they change the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The place is in front of the Greek Parlament at Syntagma Square. You can watch the ceremony every hour every day, but Sundays has a special ceremony and with the official costumes.

Syntagma

Where to eat

Eat like a greek or local when you are in Athens. Here are the restaurants I have visited and I recommend. Athens offers tourists a lot of food tours as well, because food matters and it tells us something more about the history of each city.

  • Quick Pitta– Mitropoleos 55. This place offers the best classical Pita with Giro in a fresh and modern interior.
  • SkoubriDrakou 14. Fish restaurant witch resides in the upcoming area Koukaki. Fresh dishes and light interior with a nice fish menu.
  • Seychelles – Keramikou 49 Metaxourgeio. Trendy restaurant housed in a cute, early 19th century building. Don’t forget to make a reservation its a popular place.
  • To Kati Allo – Chatzichristou 12. A family restaurant serves greek homemade dishes, magirefta, in an old style taverna. It could be greek bean soup, moussaka and other traditional dishes that my mother used to make.

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Crete Travel

Rethymnon in 13 photos

February 2, 2019

My family comes from the mainland in Greece. I have traveled to many islands through the years but never been to Crete until recently. Now I understand why it´s such a popular destination. Crete is the largest island in Greece and its geographical position have made the people love and grow their land. Olive groves, orange trees or vineyards can be seen after the roads. I admire people with devotion or meraki as the greeks says. The Cretan cuisine is delicious, more about the gastronomic culture on the island here.

Are you going to Crete this summer? Are you thinking about where to stay? The island is large and there are many attractions to explore. If you choose Rethymnon then you will be able to make day trips to the east and to the west side of the island. Or just explore what is around the city of Rethymnon itself. Here are my best culture tips and photos.

Rethymnon port

The beautiful Venetian old harbor and the lighthouse are Rethymnons citys pride. The lighthouse we see today, 9 meters high, is built by Egyptians in the 1830s when Crete belonged to the Ottoman Empire. The harbor is the meeting point for tourists and locals. Here you will find many cozy taverns and cafes with the tables directly at the dock where the colorful fishing boats are located.

Old town

The city of Rethymnon was already there in the Minoan times. The old city we see today is the best preserved on the island built during the Venetian era of the 1600s. It so nice to stroll around old town and explore the old buildings and the architecture.

Fortezza castle

Fortezza is built on the hill Paleokastro (means old castle) under the Venetian regime. The Venetians built it to protect the city from the Ottoman occupation. But despite this, the Turks conquered the city in the 1600s. The fortress was destroyed during the second World War but is renovated and a mosque and two churches from the 1800s have been preserved.

Preveli

Preveli Monastery is located 37 km from Rethymnon in a beautiful hill overlooking the water of Preveli beach. The monastery is consisted of two main building complexes, the Lower (Kato) Monastery and the Rear (Pisso) Monastery  which is in operation today. The monastery is known for its battles against the Turks 1821 and in the battle of Crete 1941.

The beach is located about 2 km from the lower Monastery, has a nice parking place there. It takes about 15 minutes to reach the beach from the parking area, take the stairs and walk down the hill to the beach. It is a unique and popular place where the river Grand River opens into the sea.

Arkadi Monastery

Arkadi Monasterys church was built in 1587 by Italian architects and was heavily influenced by the renaissance art. But I’m more impressed over the interiors and beautiful colour of ochre on the walls. So nice to be a monk here and have time for reflection and inner thought in this beautiful environment. The Monastery is one of the Eastern Orthodox Monasteries underlining the catholicity and universality of the church and has therefore many visitors and pilgrims from the whole world.