My Adventures Touring Europe in 1982 (14) Greece Meteora Monasteries
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Saturday, July 10
By sunrise, we were almost to Greece. I woke up early and came upstairs to do a little writing. The top deck looked uninteresting; it was deserted, and all I could see was the ocean and some land far off to the horizon. The air was comfortably warm. So this is what a Mediterranean cruise is like.
We had our continental breakfast on the boat. After it docked, we gathered our luggage, boarded the bus, and Lakis drove off. He seemed to be a little more spirited than usual, most likely because this was his home country. However, the others appeared to be in a nasty mood. I tried to ignore them, as I enjoyed the scenery which started off as vineyards scattered among dry brown grass, then turned into somewhat of a moonscape; enormous stone monoliths set among a semi-desert.
After a few hours, the bus pulled up to a resort by a lake. We all got out to buy lunch. I went to the bathroom, which was very filthy; it turned out you had to put the used toilet paper in a wastebasket, rather than flushing it! And there was no cover on the wastebasket!
After washing my hands very carefully, I went in the fly-laden dining room and joined the group at the counter. We all ordered what we could understand from the menu on the wall, then stood waiting for our meals. When the first few arrived, some of the group innocently reached for the plates. “No, no, no!” the waiter yelled at them. “Service! Service!” He roughly gestured for us to sit at tables across the room, and we drifted over, some giving him dirty looks. I saw him squish several gnats on the counter with his hands before he brought over the dishes, and instantly lost my appetite.
I wound up buying a snack at the gift shop, along with some post cards, after changing my money to Greek Drachmas. The people working the counter weren’t much nicer than the ones in the diner. Judging by the exchange rate, I believed they ripped me off, but I was so eager to get away from there, I said nothing. And to think Greece is one of Europe’s most popular destinations! Maybe I’m just in a bad part of it. Things have to improve!
We headed for the Meteora Monasteries. The brochure said in the old days, you had to be hauled up there in a net. I felt a little disappointed that this wasn’t going to happen; I wanted some adventure. My disappointment was replaced with nervousness as the bus began to climb a steep narrow bumpy road up into the monoliths. It was like the road (trail) leading to the castle ruin on the Danube, except it was a lot longer. I think being hauled up in a net is less unnerving! At least I was getting some sense of adventure after all.
Eventually, we reached a stone building with lots of arches, the bottom half whitewashed. We all got out, and stood in line at the entrance. The men were allowed to enter, but several women were turned away. I saw Cindy get back on the bus, then return wearing a skirt and blouse. “What’s going on here?” I asked her.
“Women can’t go in wearing pants,” she explained. “You have to wear a skirt. I’ll lend you this one after I’m done, if you want.”
“Thanks! That’s really nice of you!” I told her.
Cindy came out after about 15 minutes. I put on her skirt, removed my jeans, and went in. I saw a nun walking by, and aimed my camera at her, but she said, “No!” and ran off. I took that to mean nuns aren’t supposed to be photographed.
I saw a very pretty woman wearing an exotic pink dress, and asked her if I could take her picture. It turned out she could not speak English, but she spoke French, which is the one foreign language I can converse in. So I asked her in French, and she said yes. After I took her picture, she asked why I wanted to do so, and I said I thought she was a member of the monastery. It turned out she’s from Marseilles, and is a visiting tourist just like me. So we had a nice short conversation in French, comparing European countries where we’d been. She was actually enjoying her stay in Greece. So maybe that awful diner isn’t representative of the whole country – that’s good news!
She took my picture, of me wearing Cindy’s skirt with a shirt that didn’t match it. I thought that was funny. After that, it was time for us to leave for the second monastery.
Once back on the bus, Lakis began the treacherous descent down the “trail”. I returned Cindy’s skirt to her, thanking her again, and joking about how well-matched my outfit was. Mary, overhearing me, said, “You’re lucky that’s all you needed to get in. Some monasteries don’t let in females, period.”
“Even female goats?” Cindy asked sarcastically.
“Yes, even animals of any kind,” Mary answered calmly.
“Boy! That’s crazy!” exclaimed Cindy. “Talk about sexist!”
“Yes, some of them are very sexist.”
“Someone is missing,” Johannes called from the front of the bus. “Who is it?”
A murmur of voices rose, and it turned out Gayla was missing! “Wow – how are we going to turn around on this narrow road?” I asked.
“We can’t,” Johannes answered.
“I know – but isn’t there a turn-around somewhere?”
“No there isn’t. We’ll just have to go to the second monastery, then come back for her later.”
Lakis stopped the bus. “I can back up,” he told Johannes.
“No, too dangerous. We’ll just have to come back for her later. She should have stayed with the group anyway,” Johannes said shortly.
The bus went into an uproar. “We can’t just leave her here!” yelled Margo. “This place is way out in the middle of nowhere, and hardly anyone speaks English!”
“We have no choice. Besides, we’ll be coming back for her later,” Johannes replied firmly. Lakis started the bus moving again.
Bruce exploded in a guy’s face, “You’re her seatmate! You should have said something before we left! Next time, you fuckin’ say something, YOU HEAR???” The guy sputtered in response.
We were all silently fuming when we reached the second monastery, a brown stone building at the top of another mountain. We got out and explored it. There wasn’t much to see; just a sanctuary, a bunch of empty chambers, and a store that sold knickknacks. I bought two necklaces, two anklets, one bracelet, and three wooden bangles for slightly over $10.
Then we returned to the first monastery to pick up Gayla. She had already started walking down the narrow road. Once she got on the bus, Lakis had to drive all the way to the monastery to turn around. “Where were you?” Johannes asked.
“All I did was buy some things at the shop. When I came out, you were already gone!”
“We went to the second monastery before coming to get you,” Bruce explained to her. “We wanted him to turn right around, but he refused. That’s why it took us so long.”
“Well thanks a lot, Johannes!” Gayla snapped, as she took a seat.
The bus was silent over the next several hours. We reached Athens, where we would be staying, after sunset. Greeks traditionally eat dinner at 9pm, to escape the heat of the day. Since I hadn’t encountered anything near Riverside summer temperatures, I thought that was a bit excessive, but the others, coming from different parts of the country, may have had different opinions.
At room assignment time, the cliques quickly formed, and of course I wound up with Gayla. As soon as we were in our room, the storm let loose. “JOHANNES CAN FUCK OFF!” she screamed, slamming the door. She threw her suitcase on the bed, yanked it open, and flung her clothes all over the room. “I’M QUITTING THIS TOUR TOMORROW AND GETTING MY MONEY BACK!” she yelled, kicking the furniture.
I went into the bathroom, and discovered the toilet seat was half fastened on. There was no hot water, either. I freshened up, then went back into the room where Gayla was shrieking every swear word in the book and throwing and kicking things. While I didn’t blame her in the slightest, whoever would have thought this monotone prude had it in her?!
I tried to open the door, but it was locked. I noticed a skeleton key sitting on a night table next to the door, and tried it.
“OH, GREAT! NOW WE’RE TRAPPED IN HERE AS WELL!” yelled Gayla. She shoved me aside and roughly jimmied the key in the hole.
“Hey, cool it!” I exclaimed. “Let me do that. You’re too upset. Just go sit down and rest awhile, OK?”
“I’VE BEEN SITTING ALL DAY! I’M GOING TO OPEN THIS DOOR IF I HAVE TO BREAK IT DOWN!”
Someone knocked on the other side of the door. “What is the problem?” a man with a Greek accent asked.
“WE’RE TRAPPED IN THIS STUPID ROOM! GET US OUT OF HERE OR ELSE!”
There was a short fumbling sound, then the door opened. “Excuse me,” the man said, forcing a grimace. “This lock is broken. I will get it fixed.”
“Are you coming to dinner?” I asked Gayla quietly.
“NO I’M NOT! I NEVER WANT TO SEE THEIR SORRY ASSES AGAIN!”
“Well – for what it’s worth, the whole bus was very upset. Bruce told off your seatmate.”
She stormed into the bathroom. “The toilet seat is broken!” At least she had calmed down enough not to scream that one.
“I will get that fixed, too,” the man said.
I followed him downstairs to dinner. After that awful diner where we had lunch, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but the place was clean, and the servers were nice. The meal was pretty good too; a Greek salad served with beef and pita bread. They even had baklava for dessert.
When I went back to the room, Gayla was already in bed, but she was crying. Silently I prepared myself, without turning on the light, then lay there, listening to her sobs. “How can people be so cruel?” she moaned. She finally fell asleep sometime after midnight.
Welcome to Greece, Yoleen. What did you expect; to enter alabaster portals and be personally greeted by Athena, the Goddess of Wisdom? Maybe not, but after all those wonderful Greek myths I’d avidly read as a child, I certainly anticipated something far better than this!
This book describes the fascinating history of the Meteora Monasteries. A must-read for anyone who wants to visit!
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© 2013 Yoleen Lucas