Metéora to Mount Olympus – Day 10

Tuesday 17th September

It was a bit damp when we woke up in Hotel Sydney, Kastraki but it soon brightened up. By the time we got to our first Monastery of the day, it was very sunny, though not as hot as the Peloponnese.

We started at Varlaam which was a big one and full of tourists. There were quite a few steps to get to it, although it’s a lot easier now they have a bridge rather than winching you up the rock in a rope basket. They had a very colourful church of which, all of the inside walls were totally covered in paintings. We were stuck in there for ages as independent tour guides didn’t care about blocking the routes and we were stuck listening to commentary in various languages.

In every monastery you can buy candles to light, stick in a pile of sand and pray. There was a monk cleaning the area and a lady bought her candle, lit it and blessed herself. The monk must have waited a minute before grabbing over half of the burning candles, including hers and blew them out in front of her. He then chucked them in a nearby box, most of them were not even three quarters burnt down! I do wonder if they are going to be resold.
There were great views from the monastery and a very cuddly white and black tom cat.

We found the place where the original rope basket (more like a giant fisherman’s net) and rope was used to haul people and building materials up to the monastery before it became a tourist trap. Glyn was most disappointed as the rope was obviously long since redundant and had been replaced by a large metal pulley, wire basket and winch. It still didn’t look very safe to ride in though. (Note from Glyn – I was surprised they hadn’t thought to put a bungee in there to make more money!)

There seemed to be more shops in this monastery than the others, selling very expensive tat, icons (uber expensive, you’re talking €1000+) and religious stuff. One guy got turned away because he couldn’t afford rosary beads at €20 even though it was meant to be a ‘donation’ to pay for them. The rosary beads were made of plastic. There were lots of Metéora souvenirs: mugs, fridge magnets, plates and suchlike all being sold with monk music wailing in the background. Very lucrative, it made us think of the Bible story of Jesus and the Moneylenders in the Temple.

Next we went to Agia Triáda (Monastery of the Holy Trinity) which was featured in the 1981 James Bond film, ‘Live and Let Die’. There is no mention of this at the site. This was the most strenuous monastery so far to get to and not many tourists were at this one. There were only two members of staff on duty and not much of it was open to the public. And like all monasteries, the loos were squat ones which is doubly annoying when you’re forced to wear a wrap around skirt over your trousers. It was quite nice up at this monastery, quiet and simple, no shops and no tat.(Glyn again-a zip wire could have livened this one up a bit….)

So we’d seen four of the six monasteries and decided that was enough as they only seemed to differ in size and amount of shops.

So we decided to start the journey to Litóchoro near Mount Olympus. The journey started off OK even though I had to navigate for a while as I thought the satnav wasn’t charging (it turned out that I’d not plugged it in, but instead the cable that attached the thing that tunes Ipods into the radio to play your own music – no we did not listen to local radio!).

Glyn drove us to Elassona where we stopped to go in a supermarket to buy groceries including ‘Scandal’ Greek frozen yoghurt in a pot with honey – ZOMG that was good! We sat near the supermarket in an empty square scoffing the Scandal and weirdly there was free wifi there, so I checked us in at Mount Olympus on facebook although we still had around 40 miles to go.

I only have myself to blame that it was my turn to drive over the wiggly mountain roads. I’d checked the map and seen the road that looks like a toddler’s scribble, so I knew what was coming! There were some great views along that road however, and when we stopped to photograph stuff, only one solitary car passed us. In all that 40 miles along that road, less than ten vehicles came the other way, but two were coaches which is never a laugh on hairpin bends with sheer drops on one side.

The road led to the E75 which at that point was running along the coast of the Agean Sea and it as an awesome view in the warming sunshine. We were only on the E75 for a short time before I had to turn off to Litóchoro which was only a few miles away.

Litóchoro is the base town from where hikers and sightseers visit Mount Olympus, which is in fact a range of mountains, the highest being Mytikas at 2,917 metres or 9,571 feet. The clouds over the mountains were pretty dark but also unusual in that some were whirling over it in strange shapes. I could see why the Greeks once thought it was the home of their Gods.

Naturally Litóchoro is rather touristy, so we didn’t look for accommodation in the main area as it would cost an arm and a leg. Glyn directed me up the main thoroughfare – a very narrow and cobbled serpentine steep climb up the back of the town, often in first gear, never more than second. He saw a sign for ‘Pension Olympus’ (Pension means hotel I’m told) and we followed it until we saw another sign and then a few more – I thought we were on a wild goose chase. Eventually when we got to the edge of town we found it. I parked on a road so steep the handbrake made worrying creaking sounds.

Glyn went into the hotel and met the proprietor, an elderly Greek called Alex who spoke a bit of German, French and English and was never sure which he was using. A lovely chatty guy though and Glyn got us a great room for €30. I say room, but as well as the bedroom, bathroom and balcony, there is even a kitchen!! With a Greek coffee kettle that Glyn has proudly made himself Greek coffees, although he may never sleep again.

It was late afternoon and too late to go walking up the mountain. Alex directed us to a place called Prionia, the national park that is as close to the mountain you can get in a vehicle. Glyn drove us up there to have a look and we took a few photos. We saw a black squirrel! Glyn has never seen one before and I never knew they existed until I came across one in Canada a few years back thinking it was a mutant skunk, much to the delight of my Canadian friends.

We had the satnav on just to see the elevation and it got to over 1000 meters but then Metsovo had been 1200 meters or thereabouts. With the satnav, you can also see if you’re going North, East, South, West etc, and with the road winding so much, we managed to go through all of the points of the compass. Bonus.

Back at the Pension Olympus, we sat on our balcony eating and drinking and as it’s on the ground floor, Alex walked by and chatted to us, we didn’t really understand him, but still had a laugh!

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About the author

Having only one cat, Claire is currently failing at being a mad cat lady, but she does have a mad cat, Bod. When Claire isn’t chasing cats and other animals with her camera, she works as a Graphic Design Manager.

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