Travel: Tranquility of Olympus

Waking up th2013-06-11 22.58.17e next morning, we were greeted by clear skies bursting full of sunshine. I don’t believe I’ve breathed any fresher air than I did on the side of Mount Zeus. There was something so quintessentially pure about the moment, a second of peace with no clock, no city fumes, and the microscopic presence of man.

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Unfortunately, we did not awaken early enough to have time to reach the summit. After a quick breakfast, we had to turn back and begin our descent. My two friends had a plane to catch to Italy out of Thessaloniki, and I had a train to catch back to Athens, as my flight back to California departed the next morning.

We caught some gorgeous views of the region on our way down the side of Mount Olympus, passing a slowly melting mound of snow, and watching the sun crest over the nearby peaks.

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Once back at the base of the mountain, we climbed back into the car, and headed back to the hostel. The owner was kind enough to only charge us half the cost of a night, given how we became stranded on the mountainside.

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Not too soon after, I was dropped off at the local train station to catch my connection. I was missing the few euros I needed for my train reservation, but a european Samaritan in the station was feeling generous. It was my saving grace.

I arrived in Athens later that evening, treated myself to a Cappuccino and Frozen Greek Yogurt, and called it a night.

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Travel: A Night with the Gods

Our car arrived in Litochoro around midnight, where we were kindly greeted by the hostel owner. Exhausted, we grabbed showers and crawled into bed.

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When we woke early in the morning, the forecast was cloudy with a chance of rain – this is prone to happen in mountainous areas due to the extreme change in elevation between valleys and peaks (also known as microclimates).

 

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Thinking that we had little chance to ascend to the top of Mount Olympus that day, and being exhausted from the license debacle, we all rolled over and went back to sleep. Eventually, when we woke around 10 AM, we decided to go hiking despite the gloomy skies. We decided to first fill our stomaches with some goat stew before embarking on our quest.

Mount Olympus is one of the highest peaks in Europe. The highest peak,  Mytikas, meaning “nose,” has a total elevation of 9,570 ft above sea level. The first part of our hike was fairly wooded with dirt paths and wooded steps. You can see from my face how hot we all got from our hike despite the cool atmosphere. It was pretty breathtaking to watch the mist creep over the surrounding peaks and then wisp away to reveal snow along the terrain as we continued to scale the mountain side.

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Unfortunately, we were hoping for the weather to clear as we continued our hike; the exact opposite happened. The clouds got larger, the skies got darker, and an ominous shadow started to encroach on our light. Before we knew it, it had started to drizzle. This happened as we were crawling up some more challenging rock faces, the wooded area and trees having long diminished.

One of our friends, stubborn as she is, refused to turn back, and despite our frustration with her, there was little we could do but surge onward. Eventually, we reached one of the climbers rest-stops just as the rain began to pelt and the sun began to set. Fortunately, there was plenty of space for us to spend the night, and we bonded with the other climbers that had also taken shelter. A fireplace was available to dry out our wet clothes, and we enjoyed witty banter and card games.

I like to joke and say that we spent our night with the gods, which in a way is true. 😀

2013-06-11 14.09.04In classic Greek Mythology, this mountain was seen as the residence of the Twelve Olympian Gods. Mytikas was their forum, and Zeus  resided over all; from his palace above the clouds, he would preside over humanity, and unleash his godly wrath with his thunderbolts.

 

 

 

Travel: Omniscience of Meteora

The earliest ferry in this morning did not arrive until just before noon, so we slept in a little before hailing a taxi to bring us to the port.  After successfully rendezvousing with the crewman, and completing the license hand off, we headed to the airport to pick up our rental car. Unfortunately, the company mixed up our reservation, so it took us longer than anticipated to secure our transportation (2 hours). By the time we were on the road, it was around 2 pm.

2013-06-10 10.42.10We drove to Meteora as fast as we could (the average time is just around 5 hours), and arrived in the valley just before sunset.

The name, Meteora can be broken down into the greek word Μετέωρα, which translates to “suspended in the air” or “in the heavens above.”

It may be logical to then extrapolate that this is the same origin from which we derive “Meteorite.” As one of the most significant Eastern Orthodox complexes in Greece (second to Mount Athos), it is a breathtaking view as all of the monasteries are carved into natural sandstone rock pillars.

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While the exact establishment of these buildings is unknown. A rudimentary monastic state, the Skete of Stagoi, formed in the late 11th and
early 12th centuries. This centered around the existing Church of Theotokos – “Mother of God.”

Athanasios Koinoviti brought a group of followers to the region in 1344, and from 1356 to 1372, they constructed the Great Meteoran Monastery on Broad Rock. – The common legend is that Athanasios did not scale the rock, but was borne there by an eagle.

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This was an ideal location for the monks, as it perched them above the reaches of political influence and interests. Only those within the complex had control over whom entered and exited as the only means of admittance was by climbing a long ladder or being hoisted by large nets, which the residents could draw up when threatened.

As the Byzantine Empire‘s 800-year reign over northern Greece became increasingly threatened by Turkish raiders in the late 14th century, the hermit monks found the naturally defensive rock pillars to be an ideal refuge. More than 20 monasteries were built.

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In the wise words of UNESCO,

“The net in which intrepid pilgrims were hoisted up vertically alongside the 373 metres (1,224 ft) cliff where the Varlaam monastery dominates the valley, symbolizes the fragility of a traditional way of life that is threatened with extinction.”

Today, only six of them remain; four house men and two are occupied by women.

Due to our extremely tight schedule, we were not able to reach the attractions until after visiting hours. We grabbed dinner at the nearby Kalabaka before heading further north to the foot of Olympus and spending our night in Litochoro. We also had to trim Delphi from our schedule due to the license confusion.

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