One of the joys of traveling is discovering new places. Nowhere exemplifies this more than Μετέωρα (Meteora). I didn’t even know this place existed until last week, and it’s one of the world’s hidden gems. So…story time!
I took the train from Αθήνα (Athens). The ride was pleasant until about 2/3 of the way there when the ticket-checker hopped off the train, and a few beggars jumped on. Two of them came by twice each asking for money. I would have thought turning them down the first time would have been enough, but I guess not. Some people have told me they were scared when they saw beggars, but they won’t hurt you; they’re just annoying.
About 5 hours after leaving Athens, I arrived in Καλαμπάκα (Kalabaka: one of two cities at the base of Meteora), and checked into the Meteora Central Hostel. I don’t think I’ll come back to this so I’ll mention here that this hostel is nice! Not only are the facilities pretty sweet, but the couple that run it are very friendly and helpful. If you’re going to Meteora and don’t mind sharing accommodation, I recommend this place.
That evening while eating my dinner in the common area, I ran into a couple girls from Quebec whom I’d seen at my hostel in Athens. We made good use of the games that were laying around. This demonstrates a reason I recommend hostels: you get to meet other travelers who are almost always willing to include you in whatever they’re doing.
While eating ‘breakfast’ in the common area, I ran into the Quebecois again. They’d also picked up a German girl who was staying in their room. They told me they were going to take a cab up a little later and asked if I would be interested in splitting the cost with them. Hell yes! Especially since it was snowing….
Wait, did I say snowing? This shocked the hell out of me…and the locals. Later on, I watched the news where they dedicated at least 1/2 hour to the crazy snow storm that shut down a bunch of schools, and flooded large sections of the country. Surprisingly, it didn’t stop traffic or any of the public transit from moving. Many of the larger cities even have salt trucks! I’ve seen large cities in the southern US that don’t have salt trucks, but in Greece they make shit work.
A few minutes later, I ran over to the ταβέρνα (tavern) next door that the hostel owners run. The Quebecois has gotten the owners to order a taxi and picked up another girl that spoke very little English. So 5 of us piled into a cab, and went up.
We managed to get ourselves dropped off at a monastery that wasn’t open; oops! No big deal, we wandered over to one that was. FYI, cobble stones covered in snow/slush are very slippery. There were walls to keep us from going over the edge, but we could have easily fallen and hurt something (probably our asses hitting the edge of a step).
After some treking, we arrived at the monastery of Varlaam. Entrance was 3 euro, and the girls that just wore leggings had to use the free skirts that were at the entrance. And for that low cost we got to not only see the spectacular views from the endless balconies, but also the museum, and a lot of the ‘common’ rooms. I even went through the wench room where they’d lower a basket down to pull up supplies. It was well worth it.
By this point, it was getting fairly ‘late’ (most of the monasteries that were open close at 1400) so we set off for another place. We didn’t make it. So we started to walk down, and eventually ran into a cab driver to take us down. We’d been walking around in snow without proper gear for about an hour so hitching a ride was awesome.
This was my last day, and the girls I’d met had left on day 2, so I was all alone. The weather was clear (thankfully) and the snow that had fallen the day before was melting. I checked out a little after 1000, grabbed my water bottle and GoPro, and set off for the mountains. I didn’t have much time so I decided to try the ‘foot path’ which runs 1.5 kilometers (a little under a mile) to the top. It took some searching (apparently, I suck at map reading), but I eventually found it.
This trail was nice. It wound around a bit, and was marked occasionally by red paint on rocks or trees. It was pretty steep in some spots though. After a while, I came to a spot that was more of a rock climb than a path. If I had rock climbing gear with me and I wasn’t alone, I would have continued. However, this was now at the point where I could possibly fall and hurt myself, and no one knew where I was so a rescue would be non-existent. I went back down having killed 40 minutes…ouch!
There was another path that looked easier. Maybe that was supposed to be the foot path. I followed that path for a while, and saw a lot of pretty landscape. But no way up the mountain. It seems I would have to take roads.
So I headed off taking every road that was close to the mountains hoping I would find one with a path that led to the top. There were plenty of side roads, but none that I could find lead to paths going up the mountains. More dead time….
Well, I hated to do it, but I knew the main road went up. And I had to get a sweet shot from the top while it was clear out. So off I went. The main road while being easily navigable is quite long. By the time I got to the Monastery of St. Nikolaos (which is nowhere near the top), it was quickly approaching noon. Moving on…
It took a while, but I managed to get back to the monastery of Varlaam. It looked completely different than the day before. There was melting snow everywhere, and the mist (clouds and snow) that was so pervasive the day before was nowhere to be seen. I snapped a quick photo with the sun in my eyes, and began the trip back down. Mission accomplished…barely.
It was almost 10 degrees out (50 Fahrenheit), I’d gotten a little hot, and drank all my water. I filled my bottle with some snow on a tree, and continued walking down while I waited for it to melt. At least now I was going down hill so the journey wasn’t as strenuous.
I made it back in time to get dinner, and chill for a bit before catching my train out. It had been a rough day, but still a good one.
So I feel like I need to give a few tips for people that are going to Meteora.
- Ensure you have clear weather. I think the best way to do this would be to schedule a couple nights at the hostel. However, if you plan it close enough to when you’ll visit, you could get away with checking the weather report.
- Do not take the ‘foot path’. It should be called a climbing path. I suppose it would be nice if you had climbing gear and a couple friends that could get help if needed. If you’re just planning on hiking though, I would stick to the main road.
- Take water with you. I went up in the winter, and completely used up my water bottle. It would only be worse in the summer. Staying hydrated is crucial.
- Be safe when walking on the road. Where I’m from (the US), I was always told to walk on the opposite side of the road as traffic so I could see the cars coming and avoid them. Unlike at home, the drivers here are used to pedestrians on the side of the road. The roads also have a lot of switch-backs (curves). So I would recommend walking on the same side of the road (the right) as traffic so the drivers can see you, and move their vehicles appropriately. There are also many places where there isn’t anywhere to go if you had to jump out of the way of a moving car. So definitely try to make it as easy as possible for them to see you.
If you’d like to see more pics, my Instagram name is porcupous. So linky, linky… And yes, I know I shouldn’t be allowed near a camera.