Monthly Archives: May 2014

Meteora Rocks My World

Earlier this semester some of my peers visit the breathtaking site of the Monasteries in Meteora. When they returned, every single one of them said that would have loved it for three reasons:

1. Stunning landscapes

2. Religious affiliation

3. The monasteries closely resembled the Northern Air Temples of Avatar: The Last Airbender

These obviously all being convincing arguments, I packed my bags for the weekend and headed to see these wonders myself.

Meteora (Μετέωρα) means “middle of the sky” or “suspended rocks” because on top of  these land formations rest Eastern Orthodox monasteries. In the 9th century, some ascetic monks moved up to these nearly inaccessible cliffs — a pretty good choice when you don’t want people bothering you. Originally there were more monasteries, but now only six remain; two of which are inhabited by nuns.

I had taken the train straight to Kalambaka (the city where the monasteries are) instead of Trikala, where I was staying for the night because I had planned on going to one of the monasteries that afternoon. Almost immediately upon arrival two things occurred simultaneously: I realized I had no idea haw to get to the monasteries and it began raining . . . a fare amount. Being stubborn, I adjusted my scarf from around my neck to around my head and wandered around trying to find my way to the top until I decided that you actually need a flying bison to carry you to the top of these cliffs. I retreated to a cafe and tried to warm up while waiting for a train to take me back to the town in which I was staying. My hostel room and a pretty little byzantine icon of Mary and Jesus, I knew I was in a safe place.

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Meteora path

Meteora path

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To walk from monastery to monastery takes about two and a half hours, I would say, and is stunning the entire way. The morning was quite brisk and although I am 90% sure I got on the wrong bus from Trikala, I made it to the start of the path to the monasteries. It turned out to be a beautiful day and had some prayerful and meditative time while I bounced from one place to another. I visited each monastery, with the exception of the last because it was closed for the span of time I was there. Some have more to offer than others, but the Great Meteora (as you could guess from the name) has some awesome museums. All had beautiful chapels and amazing views.
Ribbet collage

 

To really hammer home the pun of the title, here is a selfie commemorating me "rocking" among the rocks.

To really hammer home the pun of the title, here is a selfie commemorating me “rocking” among the rocks.

 

It was absolutely gorgeous and well worth the five hour train ride. Getting out of the city is always refreshing and this was an ideal place to get that breath of fresh air. I rounded out the trip with another cafe visit, although this one was dry and sunny then headed back to my dear home of Athens.

 

“Travel makes one modest. You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world.”
― Gustave Flaubert

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Walking with Saint Paul: Thessaloniki

This pilgrimage to a Saint Paul destination was quite different in a variety of ways:

1. I was accompanied by two friends.

2. It was a weekend trip to the lively, second largest city in Greece as opposed to the much quieter one day journey to Corinth.

3. It was also the weekend of my birthday.

4. I didn’t get hopelessly lost in the rain.

I have explained in a previous post my devotion to Saint Paul and inspiration behind “walking in his footsteps” so to save from redundancy, I will not reiterate the saga here. Instead, this is an attempt at a brief account of the weekend in Thessaloniki.

Milica, Ben, and I began our trip by hopping on our midnight train (literally, we left at midnight) with the hopes of sleeping through the trip before arriving at our destination seven hours later. How silly the thought of sleep was. Although we were in a cabin, we shared it with a strangely controlling, stiletto-heeled, aged Jennifer Aniston look alike who was a fan of conversation. And even though we were initially ecstatic when we discovered that the seats reclined the instance of joy immediately faded along with the leg space.

Little Big House patio

Little Big House patio

 

Not much sleep was had, but we eventually arrived at the Thessaloniki at about 6:00am. Unfortunately our hostel didn’t open until 8:00am so we took advantage of the time to help our tired bodies out with a little caffeine. Here comes a plug for our hostel. We stayed at Little Big House, a brother/sister-run business, and it was the BEST. It was tucked away in the twisted streets but seemed to be a little oasis. The hosts were extremely helpful with everything we asked and provided such a beautiful, homey atmosphere. Just look at this patio!

 

 

The well in the Crypt.

The well in the Crypt.

Saint Demetrius

Saint Demetrius

Anyway, after drinking some more caffeinated beverages at the hostel, we set out to explore the city.

 

First stop, the byzantine style Church and Crypts of Saint Demetrius (Άγιος Δημήτριος). The Church was originally built on the ruins of a Roman bath in the late 4th century AD but fires lead to the reconstruction of the building that now stands in 7th century AD. The Roman baths hold the site where Saint Demetrius was imprisoned and executed in early 4th century AD. Unfortunately, our weekend seemed to be plagued by youths so a clear photo of the beauty of a church was near impossible.

The Roman Forum

The Roman Forum

They are just sleeping, I promise.

They are just sleeping, I promise.

 

Next was my main attraction: the Roman Forum. Unlike the forum in Corinth, this one was smack dab in the middle of the modern city. I didn’t have to take a separate bus to find it and I definitely didn’t need to wander around in the rain trying to struggle through a Greek conversation. We found it easily and were apparently the only ones interested in it because we had the place to ourselves. While the Roman Forum existed during Paul’s time, he never preached in it. He did so in the synagogues which led to some angry Thessalonians who forced Paul and his companions out of the city.  It is because of this and the fact that the Modern city of Thessaloniki is built directly on top of the Ancient site that “walking with Saint Paul” is very difficult. Nonetheless, the experience was moving. After exploring the museum, we went to rest in the Odeion (a theater structure) where I read and Milica and Ben closed their eyes for a bit. It was quite peaceful to sit there and be engrossed in Saint Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians while the hustle and bustle of the city continued around us.

Spoiling the mood slightly, was an employee who was not too thrilled about people napping in an archaeological site. The whole situation got awkward (and entertaining due to Milica’s snarky comments such as “Am I not allowed to meditate?”) pretty quickly so we set off for a new destination, kissing the forum goodbye.

 

White Tower

White Tower

 

The White Tower was our next destination. This was constructed by the Ottomans sometime after 1430 and was used as a fort, garrison, and prison. It was nicknamed the “Tower of Blood” and “The Red Tower” because of the dark uses but when Thessaloniki was separated from the Ottoman Empire in 1912, the tower was white-washed to symbolize the purification. And so the name “White Tower” came to be. There is a museum inside as you walk up to the top. Everything was in Greek so the three of us got fancy listening devices to listen to the descriptions in English. As you can imagine, we fit in really well.

With our lack of patience demonstrated in the White Tower museum as an indicator of our hunger, we found a taverna for lunch. Tasty and enjoyable as usual. With full stomachs we head back to the hostel for nap/quiet time. Later that night we met up with our three other friends/peers (Annie, Christina, and Greg) who were in the city for a field study. After being separated for almost two days, we were all quite happy to be reunited for an evening of wandering the city.

 

Arch of Galerius

Arch of Galerius

 

The following day I separated from Milica and Ben in order to visit the Archaeological Museum and the Museum of Byzantine Culture. Both museums were fabulous, however not for the weak of heart for there is a LOT of material to look at. So if you aren’t a big fan of museums, I would not suggest them back to back.

On my way through to find my comrades, I passed the Arch of Galerius. Galerius was an emperor in the late 3rd, early 4th century AD and commissioned this triumphal arch for himself in 299AD. It originally had three arches and depicted both victories and ritual processions.

ginormous meal half eaten.

ginormous meal half eaten.

After a walk up to the old walls of the city, we headed back into town for dinner. We had a classic encounter with the “eyes are bigger than your stomach” issue when we ordered far more food than we could ever consume. We had a beautiful loooooong Greek dinner filled with much laughter and capped off with a waiter singing the Greek birthday song to me. All in all, awesome.

 

Church of the Immaculate Conception

Church of the Immaculate Conception

And so Sunday came. Not only are Sundays wonderful to begin with, but it is quite the blessing when your birthday falls on a Sunday during the Lenten season. Two years ago mine fell on Good Friday; a very different kind of birthday but both great gifts. Even cooler is knowing that I share a birthday with the inspirational Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati. Milica and I headed to Mass in the morning and found our Church in the middle of the clubbing district. A shocking and beautiful contradiction.

Rotunda

Rotunda

 

We stopped by the Rotunda for a look around. This was also constructed by Galerius but had many uses throughout the ages before it came to be the empty building it is today. From temple, to Christian basilica, to a Mosque, and then back to a Christian Church.

 

Before beginning our journey home, we stopped to pick up some of Thessaloniki’s famous trigona (τρίγωνα) and some chocolate covered tsoureki (τσουρέκι). It was smooth sailing for two of us, but due to a lost ticket, Ben and I stared through the window (like in a movie) at Milica as our train moved out of the station. Don’t you worry though, she made it home just fine by bus. Thank goodness! However we did not get of scot-free as the vandals that were everywhere we went in Thessaloniki were on our train. Apparently they were on a school field trip. Somehow I made it through the hours and hours without slapping one of them.

 

Like I said, clearly a very different adventure from my last pilgrimage following Saint Paul’s voyage. The city itself was lively and Modern, but if you let yourself be guided, you are brought to the simple beauties of reading in an archaeological site, laughing with friends, and discovering the loving embrace of  Mary waiting for you in a graffiti-ed ally.

 

“To live without faith, without a patrimony to defend, without a steady struggle for truth, that is not living, but existing.” — Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati

 “But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet. For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him. Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.” — Thessalonians 5:8-11

 

 

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A Smattering of Sites in Attica

Field Study for class with Stavros, the most intense speaker you will ever hope to have the pleasure of meeting. Stavros is our professor for our course that travels to various places in Athens to have our class on site. Needless to say, it is my favorite class. This field study was separate two day trips to different locations in Attica, the region in which Athens resides. Basically we had class on a beach, climbed around some ancient fortresses, and listened to philosophy on the site of Plato’s Academy. Pretty solid, I’d say.

Eastern Attica:

Gulf of Marathon

Gulf of Marathon

In 490BC the Persian War began with the Battle of Marathon in efforts to stop the Grecian sea monopoly. 2500 years later my peers and I sat on the beach of the Gulf of Marathon as Stavros animatedly explained to us the Athenian strategy that lead the mere 10,000 soldiers to victory over the 55,000 Persians. To sum up how much the Athenians rock: they had trained warriors while the Persian army consisted of untrained slaves, they freaked the Persians out by screaming and running at them, they lead the remaining Persians into a hidden marsh and slaughtered them. Pretty insane. Then comes the part we are familiar with. A man is sent to Athens to deliver the message of victory and word of warning to the city of Athens. Instead of taking the long, flat way around, he ran through the mountains for 26.2 miles taking few breaks until he reached the city center delivering the message “We are victorious!” before dying (how/why this has turned into a good idea to people still baffles me).

Thorikos

Thorikos

Silver Mine with symbols of hope.

Silver Mine with symbols of hope.

 

 

Next stop, Thorikos. This was a wealthy town occupied beginning in the 6th century BC. There is a small, early theater here but there is also the ugly truth that is revealed on this sugar-coated site. The vast wealth was a result of the rich lead and silver that was mined by child slavery. Sadly, this continued even into the 3rd century AD. Contrary to popular belief, the Classical world was not just democracy, philosophy, and togas. It had a dark side just like any other era. However menacing this may sound, we can always be reminded of the hope that perpetuates this terror. The hope that there is always something greater at work. As we looked at this mine that once held sick dying children, we saw two doves; the presence of hope manifested in the symbolic bird.

 

 

Western Attica:

Phyle

Phyle

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Eleftheres

Eleftheres

This rainy day began with two fortresses, Phyle and Eleftheres. To be honest, I don’t know very much about these two because my hands were too chilly to take notes and I mostly just wanted to climb on stuff. But they were both 4th and 5th century BC constructions and were in invade by and from the Spartans. Eleftheres was also said to be one of the mythical birthplaces of Orpheus and Dionysus Eleftheres (the identity that means “bringer of freedom”). These two locations sort of functioned as giant playgrounds for us (the more we travel as a group, the more childlike we become). We all felt pretty cool climbing trees, rocks, grassy hills, and scaling walls.

 

Eleusis

Eleusis

Eleusis. This is the religious center of the Ancient Greek world. When Demeter’s, the goddess of harvest, daughter, Persephone, was kidnapped by Hades, she wandered around the world mourning her loss.  Demeter eventually came to Eleusis and became a nanny for a mortal boy. She taught him the ins and outs of agriculture and boom, the Eleusian mysteries were born. Well, not exactly, but it’s a mystery so stories are all we have to go off of. No one knows what happened during the initiation into these religious mysteries, but they had a heavy focus on dying to the material world and dying to yourself symbolically in order to truly understand and live life. That, at the very least I can get behind. Even though the Ancient world is filled with ridiculous, mythical stories, they still hold whispers of truth. Even when you are in search of a lie you are confronted with undeniable truth.

Plato's Academy

Plato’s Academy

Our last location for our two day adventure across Attica was the site of Plato’s Academy. The few foundations left don’t look like much, but it is pretty incredible to have class where the first ever university once stood. Founded by Plato in 387 BC, it brought thinkers from around the known world such as Aristotle in order to collaborate on ideas and have access to research. It is ground that has been dedicated to growth, creation, and cultivation of the human mind. So yes, this plot of land is kind of special.

“The Study of philosophy is not that we may know what men have thought, but what the truth of things is. ”
― Thomas Aquinas

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