Sarah Coles


We want to get to Meteora, so, trundle along our wheelies and get bus from Verria to Larisa where we are dumped at vast grand bus depot miles out of town. Set upon by taxi driver who wants vast sum to take us to another bus depot – his acolytes who are supposed to sell bus tickets swerve glances away, just nod their heads. Then B sees a local bus, and the driver says yes, he will take us to town centre where we can get bus to Trikala, then Meteora. So B waves and missing my coffee I join him, and we are driven to the town centre. This kind and brilliant bus driver says, don’t go by bus, go by train. So we do this, and the ticket girl at the station says yes fine, but change first stop for Kalambaka train, which is the village beneath Meteora.

Wait ages for late train, with a group of migrants sitting on the grass nearby. It is encouraging to have other people waiting for a train, we feel it will arrive. So, eventually it comes, on we all climb (these platforms are at ground level), and get off at the next station, where they have delayed the Kalambaka train for us.

>All this sounds a hassle, but somehow it’s an adventure, and for the waiting we have our ipads with the Times today, and Jonathan Bate on Ted Hughes IMG_0425and Crow. Along we go, through this plain packed with fields of fluffy cotton. Nearby is a priest, spiritual and haunted, from an El Greco painting. Take photo – this is the brilliant thing about ipads, you can take a photo without being noticed. I stare at him, enchanted – at my age I can stare at men unnoticed.

images (3)Kalambaka – and there, on the top of a tapering cylindrical column, we peer up at trees and church and monastery. It is thrilling, & like those Renaissance paintings of hermits on high inaccessible rocks. Clamber over railway track and find Monastiri Hotel, where we are welcomed by lovely Dita Spiros, and given a room dark as in an alpine lodge. Lunch at vast place opposite, now empty except us, giving a glimpse of hoards in summer.

Alas says Dita when we return, I find I am booked and can only do you one night, but there is the Mythos b & b where you can stay at for same price. So B has his siesta and I check out this b & b – it is fine, more in the centre of town, just takes me ages to find it because the map and my map reading are so bad.


8FA3A221-93DE-4DCF-B6AA-20CDB16EB509A local bus takes us to the mountains by these monasteries, six or seven of them, and we visit St Stephen. I have to borrow a wrap around skirt, all women have to, over trousers to look modest. The views, the falls down cliffs straight as knives, the tiny courtyard gardens, up and down, the shop where they sell honey and holy bric a brac, the paintings in the church over every square inch, of devils and ladders (snakes & ladders on a cosmic scale), of climbing to heaven but being thrust off by black scrawny devils with pitchforks and falling into the mouth of the monster below, of martyrs being decapitated, put in a pot to boil, having limbs torn off, burnt at the stake, baked, being pulled on the rack – in fact every form of torturing death that a sadistic child might devise. In a wartime picture along a passage the devils are Nazis.

78F904E6-7902-465C-8F9F-706D1B927982It’s a nunnery. What a sweet smile, I feel enveloped by love, could I spend a week here, in a cell, just emerging for silent meals and washing up? Gazing at mountains and God and crows and that pillar way down there where trees grow and look images (2)like bonsai. Looking down on the river Pineios flowing over the Thessalian plain, and across to the jagged outline of the Pindus mountains. Just by writing this, I am back there!

There are two paths down to Kalambaka, via steep steps, which I should like to take but my balance is so poor I do not dare. B takes the bus. I walk back via quieter back road. The song of silence! And the occasional goat bell, over there are flocks of them.


Today on local bus to Grand Meteora monstery, gazing at cells in rock. Climb slowly 140 plus steps down to the gorge and about 200 up, and then, a passage about 15 yards long hewn from the rock into monastery. 3 euros each, and choose from a pile of navy sprigged wrap around skirts to wear – B says it suits me.

imagesIn the old days they hauled people up in a sack of rope netting. Today there are steel wires to haul heavy goods over. In Patrick Leigh Fermor’s Roumeli the monasteries were poor, depleted, sometimes with only 2 monks. Today with World Heritage status, and charging 3 euros per visit, they flourish – they are in good nick, but have kept their soul. They came here to flee the Turks.

I look at plaited friendship bracelets in shop with icons, honey, wine etc, but those won’t fit me, but the sweet man says one size fits all and rolls it over my knuckles which hurts, and here is, on my wrist this moment – from the Grand Meteora monastery of the Transfiguration. I have been transfigured.

Music, but also a dreadful German guide spouting stuff to the faithful in church, and spoiling the paintings above us. How Christianity adores pain and torture! Outside are metal ‘horseshoes’, three, which are bells which you ring with a wooden stave.

On the stone platform, looking down, with quaint flimsy wooden railings – if we leant against them we might fall down these steep cliffs to a certain death.


Rain pours down our window, down the streets in scalloped cascades. So, although we could do with another day here, by bus to Lamia. Very rainy and IMG_0531IMG_0529we’ve had enough travelling and get taxi to Athina Hotel, emerging for a cup of tea when it stops. Ah, we wish England had a café culture, but I suppose it’s too cold. Luke warm meal at restaurant later.

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