Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Greece 2010 - July 23rd - Home, Sweet Home!

After an outstanding breakfast in the Plaka, we hopped on the subway to the airport.  A relatively short but wobbly flight to Paris later, we hurried across terminals at Charles-de-Gaulle to catch our connecting flight, arriving just as boarding began.

Our flight back across the ocean, the movies we watched were punctuated by the screams and kicks of the young'un beside me.  Though there was a relatively long line at customs in Montreal (about an hour), the guard pretty much waved us on with almost no questions, in stark contrast to the occasion of our return from the Dominican Republic.

Oh, the sweet feeling of crashing into your own bed after weeks away.

A very special, smooshy thanks to Laurence for many of the great pictures and fact-checking!  Any errors are mine, and any things that make you go "wow" can be attributed to her.


Greece 2010 - July 22nd - Back to Athens

After Mount Olympus, our trip wound down as we took a bus out from Litohoro to Katerini, and from there took a train back to Athens.

I had a stupendous shower in our Athens Backpackers suite, and apparently exhausted the country's hot water supply.  There was none left for Laurence afterwards.  :-(

We had one last supper in view of the Acropolis, on Makri street.

Greece 2010 - July 21st - What Goes Up, Must Come Down!

We had a surprisingly good night's sleep at the refuge - over ten and a half hours.

Accomodations in the refuge.

Main hall in Refuge SEO.

Can you spot the face of Zeus here?

We walked out to one of the nearby peaks, Toumba, to scope out the other side of the mountain.

Northwestern view.

View of the peaks from the Western side.

We set out clambering down shortly thereafter.  We decided to take a different path down, about 13.5km.  This took us about 4.5 hours.

Plateau of the Muses seen from the North.

The three human-made rock formations we had seen from afar the previous day.

Shepherd dogs admiring the view.

Mules!  These must have set out really early, because it's a long way down from here and it's only mid-morning.

Crooked trees!  (Actually, the trees grow straight up - the camera was tilted with the slope to take the picture.)

Back in Litohoro, all filthied up and war-torn from the two-day hike, we took baths.  And then we promptly returned to the famous Gastrodromio for more outstanding food.  Older men played a card game tournament of sorts nearby.  (Our waiter identified the game as "Kseri".)

Greece 2010 - July 20th - Climbing Mount Olympus

By this point all the easy stuff was done, and we had kept the best, but hardest, challenge for last: a hike up Mount Olympus.

Getting dropped off by our "personal" taxi driver Ioannis in Prionia, at the base of the valley, we set out to climb up to Refuge A.

Our target.  This was one of the very brief and rare moments where we could see the peak from the base or vice versa.

A short while into the hike, we were already nearing the cloud cover. 

Clouds just barely a few meters above our position.

It's going to be above 30 degrees Celcius that at the base that day, past the middle of July, and here we are trekking across snow.  And we're not even close to being half-way up yet!

Lots and lots of snow, but it's "ski de printemps".

A look back down, to the path we just recently walked.

Getting close to the clouds.

Refuge A!  Time for some veal spaghetti and, as always, Greek salad.

Mules bringing up supplies to the refuge.

Having started at about 9:30am at the bottom, we got to refuge A just past noon.  We rested, ate, and gathered information about the rest of our planned route.  We still had a bit more than half to go.

Leaving around 2pm, we kept walking through the clouds.

An ethereal setting, with the sun getting close and the clouds letting up.

We are now occasionally above the clouds, on the E4 international hiking path for the moment.

Rest.

When we are not above the clouds, we can barely see feet ahead.

Across the mountain to another stone arm flanking the valley.


You can just barely make out three human-made stone piles at the top left there, at the edge of the Plateau of the Muses.

You don't want to fall down here.

We are so high up by now that the views are similar to those from a landing plane.

Idem.


Brief rest before going on.

Barren lands from now on.

One of the peaks with the sun behind it.

This picture cannot impart the sheer steepness of the slope below.  You can see Refuge A through the clouds.

One of our first peeks at a summit refuge.  Still quite a ways to go!

The path leading across to the Plateau of the Muses, where the refuges are.

Reasonably sheer drop.

Brief moment in a dark cloud, where you pretty much can't see anything.

The valley below, with Refuge A.


Where we came from.  Clouds are fewer and further apart here.

Our first glimpse of Refuge SEO (on the left, where we slept) and smaller Refuge C, on the right.  The green area beyond is the Plateau of the Muses.

Refuge SEO about to be swallowed by a cloud.

We reached Refuge SEO around 5:30pm.  All in all it took us about 6 hours for the ~9km hike from our starting point, which we gather is about the norm.  At the Plateau des Muses, it was 12 degrees Celcius inside the refuge, before they turned on the heat, so that's quite a temperature gradient along the mountain - a difference of about 20 degrees Celcius with the base.

Setting sun.

Peak by moonlight.

Before hitting the sack, we had some goat soup with Greek salad, which was exactly what the doctor had ordered.  In the mountain, I was expecting astronaut food; the actual quality of the food in the refuges left me astounded and surprised.  It's not merely good, it's great, and it's not even more expensive than elsewhere in the country.

I was fast-tracked through about ten years of Scout training in order to use the facilities for my ablutions, however.  And you really want to make sure that you take care of business before going to bed, because the prospect of hitting up a floodlit, draughty, unheated, Turk-style can in the middle of the night because you had one too many sips of tea is enough to make you hold it in until morning.  (The reason for this state of affairs is that the washroom can be independently accessed from the outside with boots on, and as such, is not part of the enclave of warmth and slipper-bound comfort.)

Greece 2010 - July 19th - Creeping Up to Mount Olympus

The 19th was pretty uneventful - we simply travelled from Kalambaka to the town at the base of Mount Olympus, Litohoro.  We had a great, hearty meal at Gastrodromio to prepare for the next day.

In my mind, "Gastrodromio" conjures a picture of the Thunderdome from Mad Max III crossed with some kind of gigantic, disorganized kitchen.  However, the food is exquisite, and I must thus surmise that the first part of the name refers to "gastronomy."  I sure hope it's planned that way, because in Qu├ębec, a restaurant whose name begins with "gastro" probably wouldn't fare long.

Greece 2010 - July 18th - Meteora

With a long day ahead of us, we set out early and began the hike.  We planned on walking to all monasteries.  We got to visit five of the six, and only missed out on the last one because our opening hour information was not valid.

This is the day where we snapped the most pictures of the entire trip - by far - so I'm going to take the liberty of exploding your bandwidth limit here.

We started out on the Kalambaka side, with Aghia Trias.  We reached it by hiking North through the woods from the tip of the village.

Aghia Trias.

Approaching the monastery.

The little tree that could.

Their winch and net, used to haul up cargo and monks back in the day.

Front of the main building.

Secondary building.

The little cable car the residents use nowadays.

We then reached nearby Aghios Stefanos using the road.

Aghios Stefanos.

Inner courtyard.

Same courtyard, different angle.

So many candles burn here that they have a (holy) fume hood!

Outside the katholikon.

Garden.

Garden with the actual chapel of Saint Stefanos, if I recall correctly.

Afterwards, we took to the woods (more like the thorny, pant-intruding bushes) and made for Roussanou.

Entrance to Roussanou.

Inner courtyard, with part of the garden.

Overhanging structure, kind of like a covered balcony.

Hidden elevator, with older ladder.

Time-sharing of a furry implement.

Solicitation.

At that point, both Varlaam and Megalo Meteoro are pretty close.  We reached Varlaam first - it is the most modern-looking of the monasteries we visited.

Varlaam and its access path.

Gosh darn, time to get rid of those pantaloons!

Making your way up, you can see their winch platform, which is still in use.

Plaza of sorts.  You can see the modern treatment of the stone.

Inner hallway.

Feeling adventurous, we took a path through the woods to Megalo Meteoro.  This turned out to be quite arduous - the path is narrow and steep, not very well-maintained, and thorny plants abound.

Megalo Meteoro from afar.

Main entryway.  This place is pretty big, mega indeed.

The old wood workshop.

Stairwell leading up from the main alleyway.

Another angle into the ossuary.

Pot in the old kitchen.

Old table set.


Part of the sprawling structure of the monastery; it really is quite large.

Private courtyard.

Public courtyard with gardens and a water source.

Path to more museums.

Lastly, on our way back down to Kastraki (through the bushes again), we were able to photograph Aghios Nikolaos Anapafsas from afar.

Aghios Nikolaos Anapafsas.

Aghios Nikolaos Anapafsas.

Panorama taken that morning.