Sunday, October 5, 2014

Monasteries on Rocks

"It's a good trail."

I could tell from the young woman's hiking boots and glowing expression it would, indeed, be a good trail.

I gratefully accepted the walking stick (tree limb) her companion was ready to discard as they left the trail.

I clambered over rocks and headed away from the idling tour buses.

A few minutes later I paused, thinking the silence was total. I started to discern the occasional bird call, a distant cow bell, and an odd buzzing.

Maybe I had not completely escaped the world of machines. But then I noticed bees, hard at work among the wildflowers.

For the next few hours I got the solitude that was ironically missing from the monasteries I had just left behind.

The Monasteries of Meteora

Don't get me wrong: the monasteries of Greece's Meteora are well worth including in a journey. I walked up to all six operating monasteries and was dazzled by their drama.

I was grateful I could approach them on foot from the village below, rather than a tour bus from the road above.

I peeped in to small chapels crammed with visitors who were held hostage by guides going about their monotonous business under "quiet please" signs.

Two monasteries appeared to be left off tour itineraries. They would not be appreciated by men in patent leather shoes, or women in silver sandals, toenails carefully painted.

Agios Stefanos Monastery

Agios Stefanos is one such monastery. It's a few hundred yards too far and too high for most people.

I sit here, in the monastery, writing. Silence comes in waves, I sense peace. I'm glad I have chosen to revisit this place.

I've walked up, in the rain, from the village, past olive groves, then scrubby trees. Eventually, the trail gave way to bare earth and rock.

I am alone in the chapel, so I misbehave, ignoring the "no photography" sign. (I do not use flash.)

I wander around the garden, free from the cigarette smoke of more accessible monasteries.

The occasional hardy couple strolls by, braving the light rain, speaking in whispers.

Are We There Yet?

Gift shops, lunch-stops, and monasteries perched on rocks are just moments in time.

Too often, we place too much value on moments, and dismiss the journey.

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