I arrived in Kastraki, a sleepy little town in Northern Greece, on a perfect spring afternoon as the sun was setting over what is still probably the most incredible sight I have ever seen.
For those who aren’t already aware, Kastraki sits at the base of an area known as Meteora – “The Suspended Rocks”, a valley made up of massive sandstone Rock formations which explode out of the ground and tower over the surrounding landscape. Some of these formations are crowned by the six still-functioning monasteries found throughout the valley.
What I found to be almost more incredible than the sight of this place, is the fact that before I had arrived in Greece, I hadn’t ever heard of it before. As I explained in my last post, I hadn’t originally planned on going to Greece, so I had clearly shown up last minute without my homework done…
Curiosity killed the Backpacker
I started to get a little curious about Meteora after seeing some basic photo’s and info of it at my hostel in Athens, but that curiosity turned to obsession when I started to notice that all the pages about it were ripped-out and missing from any of the Greece guide-books I came across on the book shelves of all the places I had already stayed at. It was no longer a matter of “should I see this place?”, but a “How do I get there!?”
Out came the trusty notebook and the game plan started to be drawn up…
Trains were booked out as Greek locals commuted to various parts of the country to spend the forth coming Easter holidays with their families. This led to me having to opt for the bus to Kastraki – double the time and double the price of the train – ouch!
HOT TIP: Don’t travel to Greece during Greek Orthodox Easter and expect to get around the country with any form of ease.
The Makings of an Entourage
In my last post on Greece, I mentioned that one of my best memories of Greece was the people I had met there. Two of these were American students Sam and Luke. They were on a quick holiday to Greece from their studies in Cairo, Egypt. We had met in Athens and quickly agreed it would be a good idea to venture up to see Meteora together.
Despite its length, the coach from Athens crosses some stellar landscapes on its way to Kalambaka, the stop that gets you to the sights of Meteora.
Kalambaka is the main town in the area (it has the closest train station) but the smaller Kastraki is just outside and is literally at the feet of Meteora, so we wandered up there to see if there would be anywhere we could crash for the night.
What’s another Stitch Up?
Again, Orthodox Easter became a stumbling block as all the hotels and guesthouses appeared to be full. We eventually rocked up to a camping ground where the following conversation took place:
Sam, Luke and Ash (SLA): “Hi! Do you have anywhere we can sleep?”
Manager: “Do you have any camping equipment?”
Manager: “Do you have any sleeping gear?”
SLA: “He does!” *Sam and Luke point at me referencing my sleeping bag LINER* (I think it’s important to note here that these lads were travelling with literally the clothes on their backs, Sam had a backpack but it was full of books!)
Manager: “Well, we have an undercover area for BBQ’s you can sleep under, and if you wait a little while I might be able to find you some blankets.”
SLA: “DONE!” *hi-fives all round*
We quickly found a little store up the road and were back cooking tomato omelets using utensils’ generously provided to us by the other people using the BBQ area.
As Evening came we decided to go up into Kastraki and watch the locals partake in the Orthodox Good Friday processions which circled through the town.
The beautiful spring day brought a FREEZING night that had me waking the next morning looking like Sanka from Cool Runnings as I was wearing the entire contents of my back pack and would be lying if I said I didn’t consider wearing that as well! That was nothing though, to how hard I laughed when I looked over to see Sam and Luke spooning each other as a clear result of not being able to wear Sam’s books!
Time to Limber Up!
Keen to get the blood warm again, we grabbed our hand drawn map, made for us by the campsite manager, and ventured into Meteora. We followed the less popular trails that weave through the rock formations and link the 6 Monasteries together. As you can imagine, the nature of the landscape leads to most people opting for the bus…
A Turkish rock-climber staying at the campsite explained to me the night before that Meteora was so unique because “it’s the only place in the world where you can drive your car to the base of such rock features and just start climbing”. He continued that “anywhere else with climbing as good as this usually involves nothing less than a three-day trek to get to.”
The trails through Meteora let you see Nature at her best. If I was able to speak a passionate language such as Spanish, the sights in the Monasteries and the views found EVERYWHERE, would have had me saying some beautifully constructed sentences, describing all the emotion that was flowing from being amongst such amazing scenery. But seeing as I can only speak boring old English I was left with saying something along the lines of “Holy shitballs this place is incredible!”…
A full day of walking and climbing had nothing less than smashed us, so an early night followed especially since I had to get to the station in Kalambaka at sparrow fart (“early in the morning” for those that don’t speak Australian) the next morning to get my train to Thessaloniki where the overnight trains leave to Istanbul, which was my next stop.
I was disappointed to leave my new friends but was equally excited for what was laying ahead.
The experience of Meteora leaves you in so much awe of the way nature and man can combine to create such un-explainable beauty. As I hopped on the train to leave, I wondered if this type of inspiration would every happen to me again? OF COURSE IT WILL! LET’S GO FIND ANOTHER!
Meteora – thanks for setting the standard!
Have you been to Meteora or had similar experiences elsewhere?