Day 80: Trikala

30.08.2013. As the local bus that I boarded at Kalambaka turned towards a stretch of long and winding dusty road, images of the quaint village life began to be displaced by scenes of dramatic and bizarrely-shaped rock pillars, positioned around the region so haphazardly it seemed as if they had been ‘dropped’ from the skies. The initial chatter, noise and sounds of excitement from the passengers were replaced with silence, interrupted intermittently by the sound of camera shutter. We had arrived at the ancient monastery site of Meteora, and it had left everyone awestruck.

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From Corfu I made several pit stops. First, a ferry to the port town of Igoumenitsa, followed by a bus to the city of Ioannina, where I stayed a night; and that was before I continued my journey to Trikala, where I used as the base town for exploring Meteora. Ioannina and Trikala are off the tourist track, and perhaps precisely because of that, were the most ‘Greek’ cities I have been- the legendary relaxed Greek way of life on full displays. I had my best Greek salads, Souvlakis, Gyros and Frappes here. They were the perfect breaks.

I first heard about Meteora from a friend at work, whom I shared my idea of a Balkans trip with. He knew the country well. Oh you are heading to Greece? You should check out Meteora!

Meteora is the name of an area of rock formations in central mainland Greece most remarkable for its blend of natural beauty and religious importance. Hundreds of years ago, this was an important site resided by hermit monks. Six notable Byzantine churches were built, each one of them spectacular. Built on top of the seemingly impossible areas that are these rock pillars, it was men’s singular effort to conquer the unconquerable, the truest testament of his devotion to religion.

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These days, we have the benefit of roads and well paved stairs. It had frustrated me to see loads of vehicles dropping tourists from one monastery to another, who snapped some pictures, and left the site. Meteora, while huge, should be explored on foot. If not to have a brief experience of the ancient monks, walking on the public footpaths reveals some of the most commanding views of this area. Besides the initial bus trip which brought me up to the highest point, I hiked the entire region, taking me a good part of 5- 6 satisfying hours.

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As I left Trikala, it soon dawned one me that I had completed day 80 of this backpacking trip. When it ends, quite soon it will, and when I am to recollect on some of the most inspiring things I have seen, the images of Meteora’s stunning rocks and monasteries may well be the first that pops up.

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