DAY 19 MONDAY 15TH OCTOBER.
Bus to the Holy Monastery of Great Meteoron and a return via the town of Kastraki to Kalambaka.
Yesterday and today were days that will remain in our memory forever. The bus took us to a point close to the holy monastery of Great Meteoron that overlooks Kastraki. Early in the day it rained and the mountain tops were shrouded in cloud. We could see little but as the rain eased the atmosphere became like high Swiss Alps or Tasmanian Wilderness.
The climb today was not just straight up. From where this photograph was taken we went down to the bottom of the ravine then up to the steps near the bottom right corner of the photograph. The steps led into the tunnel and we emerged at the small hole in the cliff face from where we climbed the stairs into the monastery proper.
Near the monasteries tunnels like the one shown in photograph below have been hacked out of the base rock. To do this sort of tunnelling even in the 1920s the monks would have definitely needed God on their side.
Part of the monastery houses a museum relating not only to monastery history but to Greek history generally.
Readers of this blog will note that Sara is constantly communicating with us in the comments section. Sara is our daughter-in-law and lives on Thursday Island in the far north of Queensland. One of her talents is creating mosaics. Sara will appreciate the work involved here.
Wood and steel were the only two mediums used by the monks for tools and vessels. Note the wooden water bottles hanging on the wall.
When looking at the wine press I wondered if there were any bottles of wine still about that may have come from this press. There was little written information relating to the museum objects and attendants within the monastery were a glum lot and not forthcoming when a question was asked of them. So the answer to the question will remain a mystery.
However what I can tell you is that the oldest bottle of wine in the world is 1650 years old. The 1650-year-old bottle, sealed with wax, has been on display at the Pfalz Historical Museum Germany (near Mannheim) for more than a century. The wine, believed to have been produced locally, was buried with a Roman noble near the German city of Speyer in 350AD. It was discovered in 1867.
Historians in Germany are debating whether or not to open what is believed to be the world’s oldest bottle of wine.
There is one thing I know a lot about and that’s pedal-powered lathes. My father had a lathe identical to this (cast steel not wood) and as a kid I used to pedal it and make things. Not items of much value but I just loved putting wood in the lathe and mucking about. By the time I was twelve I started making metal objects and because the lathe had a set of screwcutting spur gears I was able to cut screw threads. The first thread I cut was a half inch diameter Whitworth stud. Sir Joseph Whitworth was an Englishman who proposed a particular thread form in 1841. The thread form is now redundant and has been replaced by a finer thread profile known as British Standard Fine (BSF).
My first job after leaving school (at fifteen) was to be apprenticed to toolmaking and I’m sure that all the mucking about on my father’s lathe is what made me decide to manipulate metal.
My old pedal lathe is still operational and I sometimes make plaster bowl moulds on the beast.
These were hand-forged steel plates with a very melodic sound even when knocked with knuckles.
The fireplace shown in this image is not all that interesting, it was the chimney above that grabbed me.
You might remember back in the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul I raved on about Groin arches. Well, here we have the ultimate. Of course it has had all the smoke stain removed and I’m glad it did as it enables one to get a look at the most incredible brickwork. Mind boggling!
The chapel in the monastery (no cameras allowed) was amazing. It was dark and cavernous. There was not one square centimetre not decorated with religious images and symbols. The room reeked of antiquity and I admit I didn’t feel all that comfortable in there. I felt suppressed as the atmosphere was excessively pious. A monk in there would have not been able to think about anything but total submission to God. The chapel had a claustrophobic womb-like feel to it.
After the monastery visit we decided to walk back to Kalambaka, about fifteen kilometres away. At the start of the walk it rained but later the clouds lifted and then we realised just how magnificent the rock pillars around us really were.
Near the end of the walk we left the road and followed a goat track.
The track at the start was easy enough but nearer the end it turned into a steep wet track running along the edge of a creek. We kept going and to our surprise found another Tolkien-like forest.
When standing in the hollow tree here I thought of Matt Pepperspray because this hollowed plane tree was just the place where he would like to sleep. If you have been following this blog you will know all about Matthias. If you haven’t, go to Alexandropouli Leg 6.
In the creek bed we witnessed a rare event, the emergence of the fire salamander lizard.
These lizards are so named because they live in hollow logs and when a log was put on the fire the heat and smoke drove them out so it appeared as if they were coming out of the fire.
The lizard sighting was a rare event because they only come out of hiding after heavy rain. They looked poisonous to me as usually bright colours in nature most often mean danger. The colour is a warning telling predators to keep away. I asked a local if they were poisonous and he confirmed they were, not from their bite but their outer skin is covered with a poisonous secretion. Good one, Joe? Joe is a friend and a reptile expert.
On the edge of Kastraki is a rock where twenty metres up there was what looked like washing hanging in a cave. I thought it rather odd and on investigation found out that it was a church dedicated to Saint Georgio.
At the base now there is a more modern church and as part of a yearly ritual people climb up and place colourful pieces of cloth in the cave to keep its image alive.
I thought I might have been able to go up as there was a rill to the top but without proper climbing gear it would have been a bit dodgy. Where are you, Tobe, with all the gear?
Like yesterday we found some treasures on the way back to the hotel.
The reason for the flower inclusion is because my mother used to grow these two flowers in her front garden in Sydney. In fact, she grew many plants that I have seen in Greece. In other parts of Greece I have seen Bathurst, Noogoora and Galvanised burrs, horehound, farmers’ friends (every time we go past one we pull it out), cathead, khaki weed and even the dreaded American spiny burr grass. I’m thinking all of the pest weeds in Australia may have come from the Mediterranean countries.
It was another long trek today but an amazing experience. Highly recommended to all intending visitors to Greece.
Tomorrow we head for Albania. We looked at options for getting to Albania and our best plan is to catch a bus to Ioaninna in the west. We can’t find any definite information as to connections for Albania at Ioaninna so it is going to be a case of playing it by ear.
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