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An Atheist In Athos — Part three: Greece’s Most Famous Monasteries On The Looney Front

If my dishonest in ‘following within the footsteps of intrepid Brit traveler Patrick Leigh Fermor’ was main-league massive-time from Stavronikita to Megisti Lavra, I’ve turned it into an extreme sport for the onward journey.

Leigh Fermor received a fishing boat to take him to the west coast the place he resumed his hoofing, however there’s no boat now. I had each intention of walking to somewhat pier at a spot referred to as Kafsokalivia, whence there stone island heat reactive jacket blue may be a ship crusing up the west coast.

Karyes, Athos’s ‘capital’
I did, sincere. But, the stroll takes two to three hours, involves lots of upping and downing, and the boat leaves at 9.30 A.M. It does not take lengthy for my psychological computer to crank itself into overdrive. With a reasonably heavy backpack, who knows how long it will take me And what of my predilection for getting lost And my predilection for falling down

And if I miss the boat it is not less than a 1,500-foot climb again up to the path after which a 5 ½- hour stroll on to Agiou Dionysiou, my cease for the evening.

Karyes’s ‘bus station’ during rain squall on first day
So right here I am comfortably at Megisti Lavra, ensconced on the 6.Forty five A.M. minivan in cool however good weather on my way back to Karyes, whence I will take a bus to west-coast Dafni, and thence a ship to aforesaid Dionysiou.

The deep orange sun is rising blindingly from Homer’s wine darkish sea (as the sea is dark blue is Homer telling as that in his day wine was darkish blue ).

Sunrise with Thasos in the distance
The many humps of Thasos Island are humping it out of the Aegean, the snow-capped peaks of the Rhodope Mountains are glistening on the mainland stone island heat reactive jacket blue beyond, and again on the peninsula the cloudless white summit of Mt. Athos is turning to burnished gold within the solar’s up-slanting rays.

Golden Mt. Athos
The clack-clack-clack of clicking worry beads from the back of the minivan provides pause to suppose that my fellow passengers are a gaggle of aspiring flamenco dancers mistaking their beads for castanets.

In Karyes’ important sq. adding a contact of native color, a really historic monk has just hobbled on from stage left with a protracted, wildly flowing grey beard and a peg leg – Athos’s Lengthy John Silver.

Ready for the minivan in Karyes’s fundamental sq.
Each weather and scenery are superb because the Agia Anna plies down the west coast from Dafni. The sea, though, is billowing with giant translucent white jelly fish ballooning this manner and that.

The Agia Anna
Mt. Athos on the journey south

The primary monastery we drop in at is Simonopetra. Leigh Fermor is completely right when he compares it to the Potala in Lhasa, Tibet. Perched some 820 feet up on a crag in a steep hollow ravine, its wood balconied upper floors jut out above an nearly windowless vertical stone wall a number of tales high.

It is a lot smaller than the precise Potala, but it actually seems to be as if it’s straight out of Bhutan or Tibet. I tried to reserve however they’re doing a little repairs.

Close up
I have to say Leigh Fermor was handled proper royally 80 years in the past – a single room at every cease, loads of meals at proper instances, not just a single every day chow-down of pottage at 3 P.M. I am wine-dark with envy.

The following monastery, Gregoriou, is a little sea-stage fortress with the inverted-V peak and massive snowy flanks of Mt. Athos blazing away as backdrop.

Now we come to another little fortress, this one on a precipitous crag 100 or more toes above the sea – Dionysiou, with a really steep path main up.

Waterfall close to Gregoriou
When Leigh Fermor arrived here in 1935, he wrote: ‘It is constructed fortress-like on an overhanging crag, and its huge windowless walls, jutting battlements and machicolated tower smack of the Dark Ages.’ But he found the iron-coated doors locked.

Dionysiou from afar
After he banged on them without end, there was ‘unbelievable clanking and shooting of bolts’ and he was finally allowed in as he was a foreigner, though he’d committed the sin of arriving after sunset.

Getting nearer
Right this moment the partitions, battlements and tower are the same, but the gates are vast open, since it’s only 1.30 P.M.

Even closer
This time I get a room with just one different person, a pleasant Greek pilgrim. However the only real meal continues to be the 3 P.M. pottage of greyish liquid with an odd carrot – fairly tasty, although – also some olives and bread as exhausting as teak.

From underneath the walls
One other pilgrim, a bearded historical Greek (historical in years, not a Plato contemporary) is puffing assiduously at a cigarette, his grey moustache jaundiced from a long time of smoking. He says with nice satisfaction in damaged English that he swam from Piraeus to Newcastle in forty days.

Swam, quoths I, with great amazement. Yes, quoths he, by boat. In his English swim means travel on water. Athos’s historical mariner.

To cap it all off, I’ve simply been informed I can’t visit the library or look on the 16th century frescoes, a flapping monk has instructed me off for taking a photograph of an outside courtyard as cameras are verboten here inside the partitions, not just throughout the buildings, and another has simply instructed me sternly the 4 P.M. service is starting ‘Now! I mentioned NOW!’

Effectively, I am not going, so there, Your Grace.
The ‘verboten’ katholikon inside

I do go and have a decko at 6, although. The church is extremely ornate, dripping in heavy gold and silver chandeliers. An enormous silver chaplet hangs over the middle and the walls and ceilings are bursting with brightly colored gold-haloed icons.

One other verboten photo
The abbot is standing beneath the chaplet and so they’re all lining up to kiss a row of richly embossed silver relics in entrance of him. To everybody’s great surprise I additionally skip the midnight to 5 A.M. service.

More icons

Sunset from Dionysiou
As an alternative of taking the Agia Anna straight again to Dafni I pick it up on its southward descent to see a few of the opposite monasteries.

Moving south from Dionysiou
Mt. Athos is blazing away in brilliant however chilly sunshine. The terrain is even wilder on the peninsula’s southern finish, an impenetrable, impassable, tortured land of massive crumpled crags. You can, of course, penetrate and go, doubtless with a lot torture and crumpling, on the track spherical to Megisti Lavra.

Agiou Pavlou
Hermitages and shelters for solitary monks perch atop not possible pinnacles with precipitous drops to the frothing sea a whole bunch of toes below. Some are said to haul themselves up with pulleys and ropes. Olive groves and vegetable gardens dot the gentler slopes.

The rugged south
Again in Dafni it’s a must to undergo customs before boarding the boat for Ouranoupolis – they’re checking that no icons or different artwork are being smuggled out.

Back previous Dionysiou
Back past Simonopetra

Back past Panteleimon
All in all, an enchanting time in magnificent scenery amid spectacular structure, even when the religion thing doesn’t really work for me. Not for me the ethos of Athos.

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