Honors Grecian and Turkish Odyssey - Day 7 - Kalambaka, Meteora & Athens

Group picture in Meteora
At the base of the Monastery of Varlaam
Porch at the Monastery of Varlaam
Jeni with the net once used to lift people
As we arrived in Kalambaka the night before, we had the opportunity to begin our exploration of Meteora.  Kalambaka is a medieval town located at the base of Meteora.  Meteora means "suspended in the air" and is currently the site of 6 Greek Orthodox monasteries built on rock pillars with one additional monastery's ruins that are visible.  We first encountered the ruins of the Agios Georgios Monastery, a cave monastery on the side of a mountain.  This monastery was decorated with colorful handkerchiefs and Cristiana informed us that young men demonstrate their desire to marry each year by climbing to this monastery to tie scarves to the rope at the monastery entrance.  The highest of the 6 remaining monasteries is approximately 1800 feet above the plain.  The first monks appeared in Meteora in the 8th century AD, though the present monasteries were built between the 14th and 16th centuries.  We traveled to the top of a small rock structure in the middle of all of the monasteries, giving us a wonderful opportunity to take photographs of the 6 monasteries as well as to take a jump photo.  We then visited the Monastery of Varlaam, built in 1561 and the 2nd largest of the 6 monasteries.  Although the original monks gained entrance to this monastery by entering a large net that was then lifted to the monastery, we took the modern-day stairs and path as we entered.  Cristiana showed us the bells that the monks used to signify meal times, and played the song that monks used on the wooden bell.  We entered the narthex of the monastery and were required to put away our cameras.  While we were in the nave, a group of nuns and priests from Romania entered, kissed the images of Mary and Jesus and sung a hymn.  The priest then placed the sign of the cross in oil on each of our foreheads and blessed us.  With our tour of the monastery complete, it was time to head back to Athens, but not before making another surprise stop in Thermopylae, site of the famous battle in 480 BC between Greek city-states led by King Leonidas of Sparta and the Persian Empire of Xerxes I.  A monument to Leonidas was erected in 1955, giving Jeni the opportunity to conjure her inner Leonidas and yell "This is Sparta!"  As we arrived back in Athens at the Candia Hotel, we said farewell to Kostas and Cristiana, shedding a few tears, but pleased that we were back early enough to travel to a local beach and swim in the Aegean Sea.  We returned to the hotel for dinner and then made one final night walk to the Acropolis to reminisce about our travels in Greece.  Many fond memories were made in Greece, but we were excited about our pending travel to Istanbul the next day.

King Leonidas - "This is Sparta!"
Group saying goodbye to our driver Kostas
Group saying goodbye to Cristiana


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