Awaking late this morning, it occured to me before I even got up that I really didn’t feel very well. I feel heavy and stiff on my camping mat and my head feels dense and foggy. We begin making plans for visiting the UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Meteora Monestaries, but in earnest I kind of just want to lie down. In hindsight, I should have sent Ben along to sightsee without me and put the sights off until tomorrow, but my inner “go” can rarely be quieted. If there is action, I want to be in on it and I was determined to get out and see the monastaries today.
Our options were to pedal up the bus route to the pinnacles of the steep cliffs or to hike the nature trails that lead to the top Just anxious for a change in activity, I wish to hike, but in my morning fog I’m overwhelmed by the need to look at the map and make a plan, so I punt to Ben, who hates walking and decided that we would bike there instead.
And so it is, that we set off, once again perched on my bike, headed to the tippy tops of the steep cliff faces that surround us. Where before I felt unwell, I’m soon feeling downright angry. The way turned up steeply and though the weather was cool and the grade perfectly manageable, the road all but vacant, the joy of cycling was completely lost on me. I’m seething, my annoyance burning a hole in me. I don’t want to be on a bike when I’m already chafed and sore from yesterday and I don’t want to ride up this terrible awful mountain. Why am I hauling a 30 pound bicycle up to the top of these cliffs when I could be walking instead?
I pull over to catch a breather, and all of this comes tumbling out of my mouth, aimed straight at Ben who isn’t sure why I’m so upset (I’d never actually told him that I didn’t want to ride). Both fortunately and unfortunately, putting my negativity on the table was exactly what I needed to snap me out of my own misery. Poor Ben let me freak out and then offered to turn back so we could hike- anything to remedy the situation, but by that point we were halfway there and I was committed to riding. Once I’d simply acknowledged how badly I was feeling, I was fine. The views were great, the chafing situation was mostly liveable, my morning cobwebs were long shaken off, and we were heading to a really incredible place. As we neared the top, I was actually glad to be riding. By then, shame for the poor treatment of my partner in crime had set in with force, meanwhile Ben made a heroic decision to let my insanity roll off his back. By the time we were walking through the Grand Meteoron, we’d committed to enjoying the day before us.
The tradition of monestaries here began when it was believed that the first monk was flown to the top of the pinnacles on an eagle’s back. (If you’ve got the choice, an eagle sounds easier than a bike!) The Grand Meteoron is the biggest and first monestary which built in 1344 and was our first stop. A dress code is in force here, and men must wear long pants, and women must wear skirts that go below the knee. Since I only have one dress and it only reaches my kneecap and it isn’t suitable for wearing while bicycling, I wore my only pair of pants which seemed plenty modest to me. I wasn’t the only one in pants, and plenty of visiting women lined up to don the odd wrap around skirts available for use at the entrance. Thinking of the unncessary and bizarrely huge stir it caused when women wore pants to church in our own orthodox community at home, I laughed, sighed, and feeling silly, put the skirt over my pants with everyone else. This is 2013, right?
From there, we toured the monestary kitchen, the infirmary, and viewed old exhibits about the battles fought here. We saw scrolls from the 11th century and witnessed a lovely ceremony which I believe might have been an administering of Holy Unction, or holy oil for healing of body and spirit. Mostly though, we were compelled by the views of skyscraper cliffs boldly standing all around, admiring this wild place for its stunning beauty and the human feats of engineering that brought churches to the tops of the rocks.
An easy coast down a short stretch of road brought us to Varlaam, the second and final monestary we visited today. Much the same as the first, we toured the former living quarters of the monks and attempted to capture beautiful old artwork and sixteenth century frescos in the places of worship.
The art in these places is to die for.
We spent most of our time at the overlook, soaking up the views across the valley. Even a short bit of sitting quietly between the buses of tourist groups made it incredibly apparent why monestaries were built here on these precarious cliffs- the views are positively stunning.
By then, we’d had enough visiting for the day (some people try to visit all six!) and hopped back on the bikes for an exhilerating trip down across the switchbacks, valley views lining our way. An impressive number of cyclists had joined us on the road, and most chirped “Ciao!” as we passed. Time for ice cream!
Late, once we’d had some time to eat and work, Ben decided he’d like to ride clear back up to the top to see the place in the dwindling light. (Did I mention he has legs of steel and a bottomless reservoir of energy?) I stayed behind and made dinner while he climbed the whole thing again, capturing the cliffs at sunset. His results were lovely as he is tough.