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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
Crete Travel

A day trip to Spinalonga

February 17, 2019

The first time I heard about Spinalonga was when the Greek channel Mega sent the first episode of the series “To Nisi”, meaning The Island in Greek. It`s the captivating story of the Greek family from Plaka, which achieved record ratings for Greek television. Plaka is a small fishing village in Elounda bay in Crete, opposite of the the small island of Spinalonga. The Greek history books did not cover the history of the leper colony Spinalonga, the island was unknown and forgotten until then.

It´s the fictional story is about leprosy patiens who lived and survived in Spinalonga and their relationship with the inhabitants of the little village Plaka. Giorgos Petrakis and his wife Eleni are the main characters in the story, they live in Plaka with their two daughters. He is a fisherman who trasports supplies to the lepra colony. One day he is forced to transport his wife to the island and later on his daughter. Its a story about fear, passion, love of three generations and the best tv serie Greek television ever produced I dare to say.

Plaka

The history

The island´s fortress was built in the end of the 16th century by the Venetians, who wanted to protect themselves from the Ottoman Empire that had invaded other islands in the Medeterranean. The islands name originates from this time, Spina Longa means Long Thorn. Two hundred years later the Turks invaded Spinalonga and in the late of 1800s as many as two hundred families lived on the island with two-story houses and a mosque. Around the turn of the century there are troubled times in Greece, French rule over the island and the Muslim population decides to abandon the island.

In 1903 the greek government decides that the abandoned island will become a leprosy colony as many, with Dr Hansen´s disease as it called, live in caves to avoid to infect others. In the beginning there was no treatment and many lepers died. But as time went by doctors came to the island and a hospital, shops and school was established. The lepers lived in the houses that the turks abandoned. People fell in love and married at the island, they had children, some of them who grow up at the island never get infected. When the cure of the disease was found the numbers of lepers fell and the leper hospital closed 1957 and the island was abandoned.


Spinalonga or Kalydon which is the official name of the island is reached by boat from Plaka, Elounda or from Agios Nikolaos in Crete. Visit the site early in the morning or late in the afternoon, its very hot temperatures during the middle of the day due to the little amount of vegetation at the island. The island is uninhabited, but there is a coffe shop and restrooms at the entrance. The island is open for tourists from April to October, more practical information at the official website for Spinalonga

There are a number of books written about Spinalonga.
“The island” is the name of the novel that made Spinalonga known to the public.
Victoria Hislop British writer and journalist made her debut 2005 with the novel. The book became a bestseller in UK and is sold over two million copies worldwide in more than 17 countries.

The Greek tv channel Mega broadcasted the series of 26 episodes in 2010.
Shot in Crete and in Spinalonga over two years. Watch the trailer in English version here. The story begins with Alexis who wants to learn everything about her mother’s past. To her surprise, she finds out that her family is connected with the isolated island of Spinalonga, the former settlement of lepers.

Victoria Hislop about Crete and Spinalonga
“Visiting Spinalonga for the first time was a very strong experience and I knew even in the first minute that I arrived there that I had to write about it.  It was very compelling and very emotional.  And I admit that this visit made a profound change to my life”. Read the article at Athensinsider.com .

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Saint George church
The entrance
The view from Elounda