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

If my cheating in ‘following in 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 excessive sport for the onward journey.

Leigh Fermor got 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 a bit pier at a place called Kafsokalivia, whence there may be a boat crusing up the west coast.

Karyes, Athos’s ‘capital’
I did, honest. But, the stroll takes two to three hours, involves loads of upping and downing, and the boat leaves at 9.30 A.M. It does not take long for my psychological laptop to crank itself into overdrive. With a moderately heavy backpack, who knows how lengthy 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 no less than a 1,500-foot climb again as much as the trail and then a 5 ½- hour walk on to Agiou Dionysiou, my cease 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 however excellent weather on my way again 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 dark blue is Homer telling as that in his day wine was dark 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 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 offers pause to think that my fellow passengers are a bunch of aspiring flamenco dancers mistaking their beads for castanets.

In Karyes’ major square adding a contact of local color, a very historic monk has just hobbled on from stage left with a protracted, wildly flowing gray beard and a peg leg – Athos’s Long John Silver.

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

The Agia Anna
Mt. Athos on the journey south

The first monastery we drop in at is Simonopetra. Leigh Fermor is absolutely 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 almost windowless vertical stone wall several stories high.

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

Close up
I must say Leigh Fermor was handled right royally 80 years ago – a single room at each cease, loads of meals at correct occasions, not only a single daily chow-down of pottage at 3 P.M. I’m wine-dark with envy.

The following monastery, Gregoriou, is just a little sea-level fortress with the inverted-V peak and big 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 more 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 constructed fortress-like on an overhanging crag, and its large windowless partitions, jutting battlements and machicolated tower smack of the Darkish Ages.’ However he found the iron-coated doors locked.

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

Getting nearer
At this time the partitions, battlements and tower are the identical, but the gates are broad open, since it is solely 1.30 P.M.

Even closer
This time I get a room with only one other particular person, a pleasing Greek pilgrim. But the only meal remains to be the 3 P.M. pottage of greyish liquid with an odd carrot – fairly tasty, although – additionally some olives and bread as laborious as teak.

From beneath 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 many years of smoking. He says with great satisfaction in damaged English that he swam from Piraeus to Newcastle in forty days.

Swam, quoths I, with nice amazement. Sure, quoths he, by boat. In his English swim means travel on water. Athos’s ancient mariner.

To cap all of it off, I’ve just been told I am unable to go to the library or look at the 16th century frescoes, a flapping monk has told me off for taking a photograph of an outdoor courtyard as cameras are verboten right here throughout the walls, not simply throughout the buildings, and another has simply advised me sternly the 4 P.M. service is beginning ‘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 incredibly 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 picture
The abbot is standing below the chaplet and they’re all lining up to kiss a row of richly embossed silver relics in front of him. To all people’s stone island soft shell jacket mens great surprise I additionally skip the midnight to 5 A.M. service.

Extra icons

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

Shifting south from Dionysiou
Mt. Athos is blazing away in sensible however chilly sunshine. The terrain is even wilder on the peninsula’s southern end, an impenetrable, impassable, tortured land of huge crumpled crags. You possibly can, of course, penetrate and move, doubtless with much torture and crumpling, on the monitor round 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 ft beneath. Some are mentioned to haul themselves up with pulleys and ropes. Olive groves and vegetable gardens dot the gentler slopes.

The rugged south
Another view

Back in Dafni it’s important to go through customs earlier than boarding the boat for Ouranoupolis – they’re checking that no icons or different art are being smuggled out.

Again previous Dionysiou
Again past Simonopetra

Again previous Panteleimon
All in all, an interesting time in magnificent scenery amid spectacular structure, even when the religion factor would not actually work for me. Not for me the ethos of Athos.

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