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An Atheist In Athos — Part 3: Greece’s Most Well-known Monasteries On The Looney Front

If my dishonest in ‘following within the footsteps of intrepid Brit traveler Patrick Leigh Fermor’ was major-league big-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 where he resumed his hoofing, but there is not any boat now. I had every intention of walking to somewhat pier at a place known as Kafsokalivia, whence there is a boat sailing up the west coast.

Karyes, Athos’s ‘capital’
I did, sincere. But, the walk takes two to 3 hours, includes lots of upping and downing, and the boat leaves at 9.30 A.M. It would not take long for my mental pc to crank itself into overdrive. With a reasonably heavy backpack, who knows how long it’s going to take me And what of my predilection for getting misplaced And my predilection for falling down

And if I miss the boat it is at the very least a 1,500-foot climb back as much as the trail and then a 5 ½- hour walk on to Agiou Dionysiou, my stop for the evening.

Karyes’s ‘bus station’ during rain squall on first day
So here I’m comfortably at Megisti Lavra, ensconced on the 6.45 A.M. minivan in cool but good weather on my way back to Karyes, whence I’ll take a bus to west-coast Dafni, and thence a boat to aforesaid Dionysiou.

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

Sunrise with Thasos in the space
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 past, and again on the peninsula the cloudless white summit of Mt. Athos is turning to burnished gold in the solar’s up-slanting rays.

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

In Karyes’ predominant square including a contact of native color, a very historic monk has just hobbled on from stage left with an extended, wildly flowing gray beard and a peg leg – Athos’s Lengthy John Silver.

Ready for the minivan in Karyes’s major sq.
Both weather and scenery are superb as the Agia Anna plies down the west coast from Dafni. The sea, though, is billowing with massive translucent white jelly fish ballooning this way and that.

The Agia Anna
Mt. Athos on the journey south

The primary monastery we drop in at is Simonopetra. Leigh Fermor is totally proper when he compares it to the Potala in Lhasa, Tibet. Perched some 820 toes up on a crag in a steep hollow ravine, its picket balconied higher floors jut out above an almost windowless vertical stone wall a number of stories excessive.

It is much smaller than the precise Potala, but it certainly looks as if it is straight out of Bhutan or Tibet. I tried to reserve however they’re doing a little repairs.

Close up
I need to say Leigh Fermor was handled right royally eighty years ago – a single room at each cease, loads of meals at proper instances, not just a single daily chow-down of pottage at three P.M. I’m wine-darkish with envy.

The next monastery, Gregoriou, is just a little sea-level fortress with the inverted-V peak and large snowy flanks of Mt. Athos blazing away as backdrop.

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

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

Dionysiou from afar
After he banged on them ceaselessly, there was ‘unbelievable clanking and shooting of bolts’ and he was ultimately allowed in as he was a foreigner, although he’d dedicated the sin of arriving after sunset.

Getting nearer
At this time the partitions, battlements and tower are the same, however the gates are vast open, since it’s solely 1.30 P.M.

Even closer
This time I get a room with only one other particular person, a pleasing Greek pilgrim. However the only meal is still the three P.M. pottage of greyish liquid with an odd carrot – fairly tasty, though – additionally some olives and bread as laborious as teak.

From underneath the partitions
Another pilgrim, a bearded historic Greek (ancient in years, not a Plato contemporary) is puffing assiduously at a cigarette, his gray moustache jaundiced from decades of smoking. He says with nice pleasure in broken English that he swam from Piraeus to Newcastle in forty days.

Swam, quoths I, with nice amazement. Yes, quoths he, by boat. In his English swim means journey on water. Athos’s historic mariner.

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

Properly, I’m not going, so there, Your Grace.
The ‘verboten’ katholikon within

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

One other verboten photograph
The abbot is standing underneath the chaplet and so they’re all lining up to kiss a row of richly embossed silver relics in entrance of him. To all people’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 sensible however chilly sunshine. The terrain is even wilder at the peninsula’s southern finish, an impenetrable, impassable, tortured land of massive crumpled crags. You can, after all, penetrate and cross, doubtless with much torture and crumpling, on the track round to Megisti Lavra.

Agiou Pavlou
Hermitages and shelters for solitary monks perch atop unattainable pinnacles with precipitous drops to the frothing sea a whole bunch of toes below. Some are mentioned 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 past Dionysiou
Back past Simonopetra

Back past Panteleimon
All in all, a captivating time in magnificent scenery amid spectacular architecture, even when the religion factor doesn’t really work for me. Not for me the ethos of Athos.

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