Planet View: N39°42.653’ E21°37.791’
Street View: N39°42.653’ E21°37.791’
Definitely one of the best places we’ve visited so far, Kalambaka is a small mountain town nestled amongst surrounding granite monoliths. The surrounding peaks are home to a collection of orthodox monasteries, the way they are perched atop the rocks is an amazing sight. One of the monasteries, Moni Agios Triados, was the venue for the James Bond film For Your Eyes Only.
We arrived in Kalambaka on a late train from Thessaloniki and trudged up into the mountains through town laden with our packs. Koka Roka Taverna, our home for the two nights we were in Kalambaka, is owned by Katerina and Nick who run the place along with their son Arthur. Nick was born in Kalambaka and Katerina a town nearby, they both moved to Melbourne many years ago and returned to Kalambaka with Arthur when we was 12 to start Koka Roka. Koka Roka was fantastic, we enjoyed our dinner so much the first night that we ate there on our second evening as well. All the meat is cooked over an open flame, we’d sit there enjoying our tzatziki while our dinners cooked, at the same time knocking back a few Amstels and some homemade wine. Nick is quite happy to sit on his table out the front of the taverna all day and evening (he’s pictured doing so above), consuming either coffee or beer along with his Marlboros. Katerina and Arthur seem to handle the main operation of Koka Roka and do a fantastic job, the rooms were some of the cleanest we’d had throughout Turkey and Greece (although it was a bit of a challenge to battle Sally for the hot water whilst we both happened to have our showers at the same time!). ET and I sampled Nick’s homemade Ouzo after hiking through the monasteries, I don’t think I’ve ever seen ET wince as a result of alcohol quite as much as he did when he knocked his back, it was sure hot on the way down. After we’d drunk the ouzo Nick enjoyed showing us how well it holds a flame by dipping a cotton bud in it and setting it alight!
Our day in Meteora was devoted to exploring the monasteries of the area. The seven monasteries of Meteora are all perched precariously atop giant granite monoliths, it boggles the mind to think how they were constructed centuries ago. Up until about 10 years ago the road connecting the monasteries was a dirt track, and most of the monasteries have only had paths leading up to them for 30-40 years. Prior to that the only means of connecting each monastery to the outside world was via a winch and cradle (pictured here a couple of times) that transported people, goods and food the hundreds of feet to the valley floors. Koka Roka is situated at the very top of the town of Kalambaka at the beginning of the hiking trail connecting town to the first of the monasteries we visited, Moni Agios Triados (the one from For Your Eyes Only) (N39°42.799’ E21°38.196’). It was misting rain during our hike up, but it’d stopped by the time we reached the monastery. Agios Triados, as with all the other monasteries in Meteora, incorporates a winch and cradle, various prayer rooms, and a small two-roomed chapel. Iconography completely covers the walls from floor to domed ceiling of each of the chapels, the intricacy and realism of the images was amazing. We ran into a couple of Aussie Greek Orthodox lads from Melbourne on a pilgrimage through Israel and the monasteries of Meteora who filled us in on the history and meaning behind some of the iconographs, it was great to get some inside knowledge from people who had studied the Meteora sites from a very young age. Evidently, at the time when many of the Greek monasteries were constructed illiteracy was extremely high so iconographs were used in place of script to convey the gospel. The Aussie brothers also clued us in on the caves we saw in a number of the monoliths: the caves are actually hermitages used by monks (to this day) who are studying to be conveyed the full priesthood, monks can be sent to the hermitages for lengths of time ranging from one week to 50 years until the elders decide they are on the correct spiritual path!
From Moni Agios Triados we followed the road to Moni Varlaam (N39°43.556’ E21°37.851’) and Moni Megalou Meteorou (N39°43.595’ E21°37.646’). Unfortunately Megalou Meteorou was closed for the day when we visited (each monastery is closed for one day per week), Megalou Meteorou is the largest of all the monasteries due to the fact that a Serbian emperor once donated his entire wealth to the monastery and became a monk! We were still able to see the structure from the outside, however, and what a sight to behold. After Varlaam and Megalou Meteorou we started to make our way down to Moni Agias Varvaras Rousanou (N39°43.299’ E21°37.925’), which is inhabited by nuns instead of monks and the four of us agreed was probably the prettiest of the monasteries we visited. The grounds were covered with potted flowers and beautiful ferns, Sally and Lisa were sure we noted the feminine touch. Last on the trip was Moni Agiou Nikolaou Anapafsa (N39°43.418’ E21°37.489’) which is almost in the village of Kastraki. A few kilometers around the granite monoliths behind Kalambaka took us back to town, where we enjoyed a fantastic afternoon snack of tzatziki and melitzanosalata as well as enough fried zucchini to sink a ship (we ordered three servings and could have done with one!).
Kalambaka and Meteora are probably the highlight of our trip so far, there aren’t many places in the world I’ve visited that make me stand back and stare at the landscape in awe. The fact that we drank our fill of €1.50 500mL beers and ate scrumptious Greek food cooked over an open flame was icing on the cake!
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