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

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

Leigh Fermor acquired a fishing boat to take him to the west coast the place he resumed his hoofing, however there isn’t any boat now. I had each intention of strolling to a bit pier at a spot known as Kafsokalivia, whence there’s a ship crusing up the west coast.

Karyes, Athos’s ‘capital’
I did, trustworthy. But, the walk takes two to 3 hours, entails a whole lot of upping and downing, and the boat leaves at 9.30 A.M. It does not take lengthy for my mental computer to crank itself into overdrive. With a moderately heavy backpack, who is aware of how long it’ll take me And what of my predilection for getting misplaced And my predilection for falling down

And if I miss the boat it’s at least a 1,500-foot climb back as much as the path after which a 5 ½- hour stroll on to Agiou Dionysiou, my stop for the night time.

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

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

Sunrise with Thasos in the distance
The various humps of Thasos Island are humping it out of the Aegean, the snow-capped peaks of the Rhodope Mountains are glistening on the mainland beyond, and back on the peninsula the cloudless white summit of Mt. Athos is turning to burnished gold in the sun’s up-slanting rays.

Golden Mt. Athos
The clack-clack-clack of clicking fear beads from the back of the minivan gives pause to assume that my fellow passengers are a group of aspiring flamenco dancers mistaking their beads for castanets.

In Karyes’ foremost sq. including a contact of native colour, a really ancient monk has simply hobbled on from stage left with a protracted, wildly flowing grey beard and a peg leg – Athos’s Lengthy John Silver.

Waiting for the minivan in Karyes’s fundamental sq.
Both weather and surroundings are very good as the Agia Anna plies down the west coast from Dafni. The sea, although, is billowing with large translucent white jelly fish ballooning this fashion and that.

The Agia Anna
Mt. Athos on the journey south

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

It’s a lot smaller than the actual Potala, however it certainly appears as if it’s straight out of Bhutan or Tibet. I tried to reserve but they’re doing a little repairs.

Shut up
I must say Leigh Fermor was treated proper royally 80 years in the past – a single room at each cease, plenty of meals at proper occasions, not only a single every day chow-down of pottage at 3 P.M. I’m wine-darkish with envy.

The next monastery, Gregoriou, is 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 a different little fortress, this one on a precipitous crag 100 or extra ft above the sea – Dionysiou, with a very steep path leading up.

Waterfall near Gregoriou
When Leigh Fermor arrived right here in 1935, he wrote: ‘It is built fortress-like on an overhanging crag, and its large windowless walls, jutting battlements and machicolated tower smack of the Darkish Ages.’ However he found the iron-coated doorways locked.

Dionysiou from afar
After he banged on them perpetually, there was ‘unbelievable clanking and capturing of bolts’ and he was eventually allowed in as he was a foreigner, though he’d committed the sin of arriving after sunset.

Getting closer
Right now the partitions, battlements and tower are the same, however the gates are vast open, since it is only 1.30 P.M.

Even nearer
This time I get a room with only one other particular person, a nice Greek pilgrim. However the only real meal continues to be the three P.M. pottage of greyish liquid with an odd stone island jacket sale blue carrot – quite tasty, although – also some olives and bread as onerous as teak.

From beneath the partitions
Another pilgrim, a bearded ancient Greek (historical in years, not a Plato contemporary) is puffing assiduously at a cigarette, his grey moustache jaundiced from decades of smoking. He says with great delight in broken English that he swam from Piraeus to Newcastle in 40 days.

Swam, quoths I, with nice amazement. Sure, 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 go to the library or look on the 16th century frescoes, a flapping monk has instructed me off for taking a photo of an outside courtyard as cameras are verboten right here throughout the partitions, not simply within the buildings, and one other has simply instructed me sternly the 4 P.M. service is beginning ‘Now! I stated NOW!’

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

I do go and have a decko at 6, although. The church is incredibly ornate, dripping in heavy gold and silver chandeliers. A huge silver chaplet hangs over the center and the walls and ceilings are bursting with brightly coloured gold-haloed icons.

One other verboten photograph
The abbot is standing beneath the chaplet and so they’re all lining as much as kiss a row of richly embossed silver relics in front of him. To everyone’s nice surprise I also skip the midnight to 5 A.M. service.

Extra icons

Sunset from Dionysiou
As a substitute of taking the Agia Anna straight again to Dafni I choose it up on its southward descent to see some of the other monasteries.

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

Agiou Pavlou
Hermitages and shelters for solitary monks perch atop not possible pinnacles with precipitous drops to the frothing sea hundreds 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
Back in Dafni it’s important to undergo customs before boarding the boat for Ouranoupolis – they’re checking that no icons or different art are being smuggled out.

Again previous Dionysiou
Again past Simonopetra

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

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