Sunday, April 25, 2010

Day 21 Meteora

It was to be another big driving day today, but our main mission was to visit Meteora and the monasteries that used to house Monks. We got there by a big 3 hour drive on the motorway, and due to the very light traffic, managed to get the camper up to full speed – about 120km/hr, so covered a lot of distance quite quickly. The GPS paid for itself by alerting us to a 60 km/hr area in the middle of what still seemed to be the motorway, and sure enough, round the corner were a string of police radaring and charging people for going too quickly along this stretch of road! We also saw some evidence of parts of motorways never completed – half built flyovers and bridges, motorways with only one side completed etc, obviously started long ago as there was grass growing over them, and rust on the metal bits etc. I guess they just ran out of money or something.

We reached our destination Meteora, just on lunch time. The enormous rock formations which dwarfed the town were an absolutely incredible site. Perched precariously up the top of one of the tall narrow rocks, was a monastery! Now I was thinking it was a darned long way to walk, when Richard said there is a road that drives up the back of them , right to the top. Right I thought, much better plan than walking up... these things reached to the clouds!!! The road up was a surprisingly easy drive, and near the top, we came across our first of 9 remaining monasteries, all perched on top of tall narrow rock formations (really, they were like something out of a cartoon, but real)! This first one was open, and not many people around, so we decided to visit it. There is a strict dress code, so Sarah and I had to put our skirts on, and Hayden had to change into long pants. I tried not to think of how far down it was, as we walked down to the start of the ascent up the rock to the monastery. There were stone stairs literally carved into the side of the rock, with a stone wall to stop us from falling to our deaths. At the top, just the same size as the top of the rock, was a monastery. It was beautifully restored, and had a cool, calm melancholy feel about it. There were beautiful frescos painted on the walls and in the domes, and I could actually imagine loving living somewhere like that... oh, except for the walk down and up and the way it was just perched atop the hill! We had to take some Grandma photos – you know, the ones were it looks like the kids are ontop of a vertical cliff with miles to the ground... only this time, that is exactly where they were!!! There weren’t any guard rails, so you had to be just a bit careful you didn’t go too close to the edge.

We saw about 6 of the monasteries all together, and every one of them was incredibly balanced on top of a rock, with bridges or steps to get to them. Richard is very keen to come back and explore this area in more detail some time in the future. In the lower rocks, closer to the town, there were signs of people having lived in the caves that pocked the side of the enormous rocks. We were even lucky enough to see some climbers abseiling down a particularly high rock face.

We were loathe to leave this amazing area, but we had to press on as we had another 3 hours of driving ahead of us. In the hills it was quite common to see small herds of goats and/or sheep grazing the hillside, being tended by a goad herd boy (there were no fences). The animals seemed particularly well trained, and didn’t want to run all over the roads or motorways, as I know very well our NZ sheep and goats would want to do! I guess it is just part of their daily routine.

We got up to nearly snow level before we started dropping down to sea level again. The scenery has been nothing short of spectacular! Once we got lower, there were a whole lot of fruit stalls on the side of the road, selling a wide range of produce. Finally we reached our destination – Ionina – a town where we are camping next to a lake. We have been entertained by some guys waterskiing just out in front of us. Tomorrow we head to Albania – we are about 1 hour south of the border. Richard has the children convinced that the camper will be searched at the border crossing, so much so that they have tidied up their cupboards.... a jolly good thing really!