This is part two of my four-part series about my trip to Greece. Check out the first installment, “Traveling to Greece (Part I): Getting to Greece.”
Let’s get back to the story of my visit to Greece, starting with my ferry ride.
I had no intention of renting a cabin on the ferry, so I ended up sleeping outside on the deck for eight hours. Thank goodness for great weather the entire trip.
When I finally arrived in Greece, I took a tour that included Philip II of Spain and Alexander the Great’s hometown, Pella, which is near the original kingdom area in Vergina. There were roughly ten important cities on this tour that were all worth seeing. These included locations from Alexander the Great’s life, such as where he was taught, the location of his burial chambers, and everything in between. Learning about the time period of these great rulers was astonishing. I even saw a number of different historical artifacts, such as their original crowns and armor. I was also able to tag along with a few Greek archaeological guards who were still in training after meeting them during the tour. One of them even worked alongside the archaeologists on the original dig at one of the tour sites. This was a fun tour!
From there, I ended up residing in the city of Pella at Pella Hotel, which is where I learned a little-known fact about one of the most important aspects of Greece: I discovered that the mountain range and most eastern peninsula in Greece is Mount Athos, which is, and has been for centuries, home to orthodox Christian monasteries. After sharing my desire to visit the monasteries in Metéora or Kalabaka with the hotel owner, he informed me of this little-known fact along with the details of how I could be granted permission to receive a “travel Visa” of sorts in order to make this happen.
These monasteries were secluded peaks of very small rock towers in some cases, but all of them were very beautiful.
Just be sure to double check the hours of operation beforehand as they aren’t all open on the same day. The dress code permits shorts and short-sleeved shirts for men and women are permitted to wear shorts and T-shirts as long as no cleavage is showing. Be prepared for two things: crossing several suspension bridges hanging hundreds of feet up in the air and an extremely long hike up an endless amount of stairs. There are also plenty of trails with sweeping views from the monasteries. If you’ve never visited a monastery, they should definitely be an addition to your travel list! The breathtaking views are a serious feat of engineering all built by hand. The nerves of steel those monks had!
Reminiscing on the Metéora monasteries in central Greece, I began the process of devising my plan to visit this amazing religious community in Mount Athos starting with the Visa office in Thessaloniki. From there, I needed to catch the ferry boat in the small town of Ouranoupoli before arriving at the monastery where I had to prearrange my visit in accordance with its availability. Each monastery is individually governed by the chief father and secretary who books the monastery for visiting pilgrims such as myself. To say the least, these monasteries are extremely beautiful and no, I’m not exaggerating. They’re all shapes and sizes with gardens full of grapevine-covered pathways, hidden nooks with fountains, and flowering plants galore. The towers of the old medieval apartments all flow together in serenity as they protrude over the cliffside.
Unlike the Metéora monasteries in central Greece, the monasteries in Mount Athos are for male pilgrims only, because they’re still very active with monks and hermits alike. Now you may be asking, what are hermits? Hermits are exemplary monks that are even more isolated from regular monks. I would highly recommend that any guy visit these monasteries no matter if you’re Christian or not. Learning about the history of Christianity was truly an impactful life-changing event.
This trip will definitely be a repeat on the books.
Read the next post in the Greece series:
Traveling to Greece (Part III): Delphi and Athens
Jonathan Dryer: The Unofficial Traveler.