Saturday, April 30, 2011

Meteora and beyond…

Last trip to Greece we intended to see some of the inland but weariness overcame us at the end of a long trip and we opted to spend 4 days in Nauplio instead. That was indeed very restful and we will revisit for a few nights. But this time we have some time planned early in the trip for the sights of Meteora, Delphi, Olympus and eventually Nauplio. The hotel we chose at Meteora looked a little far from the town of Kastraki but turned out to have an amazing view over the extraordinary volcanic plugs and to be quite a delightful place to stay. We managed some photos the first night which was a good thing as the clouds rolled in over and among the mountains and the main sightseeing day was grey and sometimes rainy.

Doupiani House
The road to the hotel was neatly edged around the lava flow
View from our window
Flags and clothes in a cave in the rock. No idea how people get there.
The monastery we visited was Agios Stephanos. No photos were allowed in the chapel or museum so images of the beautiful paintings in the chapel are not possible. Even so, an idiot tourist took photos and was roundly criticised by a nun. Later I asked her if she spoke English, and when she responded it was obvious that she was an English woman and quite young, come to be a nun in these isolated surroundings. She told me the church was being progressively painted by a famous artist from Corinth and that the oldest paintings were about 25 years. At the moment they had insufficient funds for the completion. The paintings were really quite magnificent and we were reminded of Giotto’s work in Assisi and Padua as well as the long tradition of Greek painting of churches and icons.
An entry painting and one on the terrace give some idea of the brilliance.

Icon in the entry passage
View of Kalambaka from the terrace
St George on the terrace

Gardens cling to tiny areas

We took the car to drive among the monasteries. Most involve quite a climbing of stairs which we declined to do, over 400 stairs being a bit much in our opinion, but we were able to photograph them from vantage points.

Agios Nikolaos. Despite the name, we were not going up those steps!
Agios Nikolaos on the morning we left, shrouded in cloud
The way up to the Monastery of the Transfiguration begins with a path down, then through the door at the top of the stairs bottom rightmonastery3
Look at the stairs up here. Not for us!!

In Kalambaka we visited a tiny Byzantine Church, variously dated 9th – 11th century, with most of the internal paintings rather newer but still incredibly ancient. The lady showing us was so proud of the paintings and church artefacts and it was a delight to visit. No internal photos allowed and I am not surprised as the paintings are very delicate and in parts already fading and disintegrating. We bought a small booklet and some postcards instead.
Off to Delphi the next morning, still dogged by low cloud and mist and some rain. The trip was mainly along broad plains between mountains, often well cultivated farming country. At the end, a swift rise up what I believe is Mt Parnassus. The main street of Delphi is necessarily one way and parking is scarce. We watched with fascination as a tour bus disgorged about 30 Canadian teens and their teachers while stopping on the street. The cars and buses behind waited patiently. All the hotels cluster for the view down over the valley and plain to the Gulf of Corinth.

View to Gulf of Corinth
Our hotel was a little odd, the lobby area filled with coloured flashing lights and many knick-knacks. The instructions are to pay cash on arrival and in the room was a long list of charges that will be made should you happen to abscond with the bed or bath, and they assure the guests they will check. Despite that, the flamboyant host was most agreeable and most careful in pointing out opening times and the best restaurants in town and ensured we had a parting gift of ouzo and a CD of Delphi photographs.

Hotel door and lobby

Our room was up under the eaves with a dizzying view of the valley below, filled with olive trees, goats and a small stream. Very steep and quite lovely.

We enjoyed a meal at a local restaurant serving traditional food with the fifth generation of family as hosts (a rather dishy looking Greek who would have been well accepted on a Rugby League team at home in Oz). I had lamb knuckle cooked in lemony gravy and it was most welcome on a drizzly, cool night. We watched the clouds settle on the nearby mountains and the white lights of several wind turbines glitter through the cloud. Quite magical!
Delphi sites are within walking distance of town so we set off first thing to try to beat the tour buses, of which there are many. First the archaeological museum which was well curated and had a number of special pieces ranging from giant to tiny. Most had been very damaged by time and it was hard not to compare items such as the statues displayed in Istanbul which were so well preserved, with the damaged fragments on display. Still, they have their treasures. The wonderful Charioteer for example, or the winged Sphinx (much restored) from the temple site. They have set their artefacts against backgrounds in various shades of orange and apricot and it works well as a background for the often grey or white displays.

Head of a bull
Griffin head, probably a handle

The Sphinx, which stood on a tall column in the precinct

Charioteer’s head (he even has eyelashes)

The Charioteer’s hand holds the reins
A piece of guttering with lion head spout

On to the archaeological site which winds its way through wildflowers up the hill, past treasure houses and fallen columns and intricately fitted walls, to the Temple of Apollo and then to the Theatre. They still use the Theatre on occasions, though I would recommend bringing a cushion. Those black stone seats look very hard and very cold. All of this is backed by rose coloured cliffs and the still hanging swirls of mist, the valley in the long distance. The walk is quite arduous and we saw one gentleman slip and fall. Many steps and slopes and uneven surfaces make it a little treacherous, especially when wet.

Brick and rock walls with wildflowers
Fitted rocks and blue flowers
The Temple of Apollo
Athenian treasury and poppies
Theatre backed with mountain and clouds

The next morning we drove to the Temple of Athena where some sunshine finally filtered through. Literal fields of wild flowers among the fallen rocks made it all very beautiful. We had the site virtually to ourselves at that time, whereas later in the day when the bus tours descend this low, the place would be over-run.

Temple of Athena
Fields of flowers
Temple with view back to the main Delphi site
Nick says Lego is not a new invention!!

And so on our way to Olympia.

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