#3 Italy/Greece, Sept. 26, 2010

Dear Everybody,

“Friends, Romans, Countrymen—-” I addressed my audience in the 4th century BC theatre at Delphi (my audience = 0) from the stage which was no doubt graced by famous Greek actors 24 centuries ago. Yes, I’m in the wrong era, but ‘it’s close enough for government work’ as Mike used to say when I worked at Kaiser in CA. Along with the theatre at ancient Delphi, I visited the stadium and lots of treasuries as I strode up the Sacred Way to the Temple of Apollo to see what the Oracle of Delphi had to say. Well, she didn’t say anything, but I didn’t feel bad because Alexander the Great had trouble getting the answer that he wanted from her, too.

The day before I had taken a city bus near my hostel in Athens to get to Terminal B, the bus station where I would get a bus to Delphi. Unfortunately when I was getting on the bus I couldn’t buy a ticket as the kiosk was still closed, but the bus driver took me anyway and refused my payment. How nice!

The bus to Delphi took three hours and the ride was fairly uninteresting. I see that I enjoy bus rides more in exotic Asian or African countries, but never mind, the vast treasures from so long ago in Greece more than make up for boring bus rides.

The Delphi Museum was another superlative experience. Pilgrims, including kings, from many other tribal-states offered rich gifts as tribute to the Oracle. These were housed in ‘treasuries’ (kind of like Embassy Row) and many of the wonderful statues, jewelry and bronzes are now displayed in the Delphi museum. And yes, Val, the Bronze Charioteer was dazzling. This is an over-life-sized bronze man perfectly preserved from 478 BC, which commemorated a victory in the Pythian Games. He would have corroded away as most of his horses and chariot did, except for the earthquake in 373 BC which totally buried him for nearly 24 centuries, thus preserving him!

Next was quite an interesting bus ride (actually 4 buses) to go to Meteora, an area of Greece with astoundingly high rock pillars atop of which are quite a few monasteries.

I stayed in the town of Kalambaka and used the first day to study a map of the monasteries, to visit the bustling Friday morning market, and to visit the 7th century Church of the Assumption of the Virgin.The market offered produce, the likes of which I’ve rarely seen—huge, beautiful apples, enormous pomegranates, red tomatoes (which I had

 

 

 

 

 

in a salad at 2:00 PM, the flavor dripping with sunshine), a dozen varieties of olives and lots of older Greek women shoppers, many dressed in black.

 

 

 

 

 

Clearly the weekly market is a social event for the locals, who use it to meet and greet as well as to buy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then the sidewalk cafes began to fill with older men including a few robed and hatted Catholic Orthodox priests.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Church of the Assumption of the Virgin required more huffing and puffing but the site provided beautiful views. The church had been built in the 7th century over an older Temple of Apollo and two of the columns had been recycled. The whole church was totally covered inside with very old Byzantine frescos, which the lady caretaker pointed out with pride. A bit of 4th century floor mosaic from the Temple to Apollo was still visible.

As I left the church I bade ‘goodbye’ to the lady caretaker who was sitting on a chair outside, about to start her handwork, which she preceded by crossing herself.

 

 

 

 

Then a funeral hearse pulled up and a coffin was unloaded and taken inside the church. Obviously this church is still used regularly.

The next day my plan was to visit the monasteries, but unfortunately it was rainy, misty, and foggy, not a good thing for viewing them on top of towering mountains. I hung out—eating too much, listening to my books, and making plans to go to Thessaloniki the next day, thinking this rain would probably hang around a while, and I could come back after visiting Thessaloniki. Well, lo and behold, the next morning there was sunshine! So, I took the public bus up, up to the highest monastery, Moni Megalou Meteorou, which is perched on a rock pillar that is 613 meters above sea level. There were beautiful Byzantine frescos in the church; in fact, every inch was covered with the frescos. It was quite a climb to get up there—not all 613 meters as there is kind of a plateau behind the sheer rocks that present near the town, but still it taxed my energy.

The second monastery, Moni Varlaam, was similarly situated.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I see both of these monasteries have cable cars that they use to get their provisions in, and also for the monks, at least some of the time.

 

 

 

 

 

There were still nets with windlasses on display, which they used until the 1920s to get the monks up and down—no steps at all in those days. Supposedly when the monks were asked in former times, when they decided to replace the ropes, they supposedly answered, “When the Lord sees fit to have them break.”

In one of the frescos, Alexander the Great was pictured as a skeleton —point well taken!

 

 

The third monastery was Moni Agias Varvaras Rousanou, which was inhabited by 15 nuns. Again, the church was covered in Byzantine frescos. In the meantime, of course, I took lots of pictures walking between the monasteries, and within them, as well. This really was a fantastic experience.

I decided to eschew walking back up and then down to see two more monasteries, and so called it quits after number three. I had about a five km walk back to town and so I decided to hitch-hike. I got a ride with three Argentine couples driving a big van (with an empty back seat) who were gracious enough to bring me down the mountain with them and drop me back in Kalambaka. How nice! Again (this keeps happening) one of the Argentine men had been in Minneapolis several times on business. That’s the third time I’ve heard that on this trip, always from non-Americans.

Now, tomorrow morning I shall take the bus to Thessaloniki, not much of a tourist place, but still it sounds interesting. The bus should go past Mount Olympus—I’ll watch for it.

Carol

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