Day 242 Kato Gatzea, Pelion Peninsula to Meteora, Greece.

Today we set off early from our campsite, and headed back to the mountain village of Makrinista, which we had attempted, but failed, to visit yesterday. Unbeknown to us, the car rally event was still running today, but fortunately we left in good enough time, and the road blocks were not yet operational. Nevertheless, we only just managed to bag a parking space, exacerbated by a large christening party also trying to access the small parking area below the church.

It was well worth our perseverance. It is a truly beautiful little village, build on the steep hillside, with winding cobbled footpaths leading up to the various levels. The village was first populated in the 13th century. It seemed quite extraordinary to us, how these houses had been constructed, clinging limpet-like to the rocks. We walked along the pedestrian lanes to the main square. As yesterday, the square was dominated by large plane trees, forming a large umbrella-like shade across the entire square. We sat on the terrace, looking out on the spectacular view back to Velos, and had our morning coffee. In the corner of the square was a large water fountain, one of over fifty in the village, providing fresh mountain water.

After coffee, we went off to explore the village further, walking up the steep cobbled paths to the church. Today, because there was to be a christening, the door was decked to in balloons, and very well dressed family members were arriving, and all crooning over the babe in it’s christening gown. Many of the small shops were selling honey, apples, preserves and bags of a herbal mixture, used to make a tea-like infusion. 

By the time we left, many Greek visitors were starting to stream into the village. It is clearly a popular weekend excursion, and apparently attracts visitors year-round. We came across the same whistle blowing policeman as we had seen yesterday. I must say, that the Greek police have been a particularly jolly bunch, happily waving us past, perhaps wondering why on earth we were there two days in a row.

We left the Pelion mountains with a very different view of Greece, from the stunning Aegean coastline that we had so far experienced. Stunning little hillside villages, in a very verdant fertile part of the countryside – just wonderful.

We headed back to the motorway, and drove first northwards, then westwards, into the interior of the country. We have come to another amazing place – Meteora. It is known for it’s utterly stunning rock formations, with monasteries perched on top.

The rocky pinnacles were once sediments of an inland sea, and are formed from sedimentary rocks. Over ten million years ago, tectonic movements pushed the rocks upwards, the erosion and weathering caused fissures and cracks to develop. They really are the most extraordinary sight, and one which you can see from many miles away on the approach into Meteora. As we drew closer, it was hard not to gasp at their bizarre and dominating form – smooth towering pinnacles reaching to the sky. We then started to spot the monasteries, perched precariously aloft.

Having pin-pointed our campsite, we drove up the winding road to take a close look. The area was first inhabited in the 11th century by monks, living as hermits in the many caves and fissures. By the 14th century, as the Byzantine empire was waning, and the Turks were having frequent incursions into the area, monks took to this area for refuge, and started to build the monasteries. The inaccessibility of Meteora made it the perfect retreat. Initially, the monasteries were accessed by a series of ropes, removable ladders and pulleys. Today a road leads you upwards into this magical world, and most of the monasteries can be accessed by steep steps or foot bridges. In the intense afternoon heat today, we opted just to survey from afar. Tomorrow, we plan to take a closer look.

Just as well that we weren’t late arriving on our campsite. Within minutes of our arrival, about fifteen ‘Big Whites’ from Slovenia all trooped in together – all friends, and I guess retired empty-nesters on their yearly jaunt. As a result, there is precious room left on the campsite now, and as the evening has gone on, we have tents all around us.

No matter – it is a pleasant enough site, and the in-house taverna serves excellent Greek food. The only slight problem, is that they also play ‘Zorba the Greek’ music while you eat. I don’t really need to say anymore – you can guess what one Dr. Marriage is up to tonight?!!!

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