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An Atheist In Athos — Part three: Greece’s Most Famous Monasteries On The Looney Front

If my dishonest in ‘following within 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 extreme sport for the onward journey.

Leigh Fermor obtained a fishing boat to take him to the west coast the place he resumed his hoofing, however there is no boat now. I had every intention of walking to a bit of pier at a spot known as Kafsokalivia, whence there may be a boat sailing up the west coast.

Karyes, Athos’s ‘capital’
I did, honest. But, the stroll takes two to 3 hours, entails a whole lot of upping and downing, and the boat leaves at 9.30 A.M. It doesn’t take lengthy for my psychological laptop 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 lost And my predilection for falling down

And if I miss the boat it’s at least a 1,500-foot climb again up to the path after which a 5 ½- hour walk on to Agiou Dionysiou, my stop for the evening.

Karyes’s ‘bus station’ throughout rain squall on first day
So right here I’m comfortably at Megisti Lavra, ensconced on the 6.Forty five A.M. minivan in cool but perfect weather on my means again to Karyes, whence I will take a bus to west-coast Dafni, and thence a ship to aforesaid Dionysiou.

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

Sunrise with Thasos in the gap
The numerous 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 in the sun’s up-slanting rays.

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

In Karyes’ foremost sq. adding a touch of local colour, a really ancient monk has just hobbled on from stage left with a long, wildly flowing grey beard and a peg leg – Athos’s Long John Silver.

Waiting for the minivan in Karyes’s fundamental sq.
Each weather and surroundings are excellent as the Agia Anna plies down the west coast from Dafni. The sea, although, is billowing with large translucent white jelly fish ballooning this manner 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 ft up on a crag in a steep hollow ravine, its wooden balconied upper floors jut out above an almost windowless vertical stone wall a number of tales high.

It’s much smaller than the actual Potala, however it certainly seems to be as if it’s straight out of Bhutan or Tibet. stone island jumper boys I tried to reserve but they’re doing some repairs.

Shut up
I must say Leigh Fermor was handled proper royally 80 years in the past – a single room at each stop, plenty of meals at correct times, not just a single every day chow-down of pottage at 3 P.M. I am wine-dark with envy.

The next monastery, Gregoriou, is a bit of sea-stage fortress with the inverted-V peak and big 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 more toes above the sea – Dionysiou, with a really 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 big windowless walls, jutting battlements and machicolated tower smack of the Darkish Ages.’ But he discovered the iron-coated doorways locked.

Dionysiou from afar
After he banged on them perpetually, there was ‘unbelievable clanking and taking pictures 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
Today the walls, battlements and tower are the same, however the gates are broad open, since it is solely 1.30 P.M.

Even nearer
This time I get a room with just one other particular person, a pleasing Greek pilgrim. However the sole meal remains to be 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 beneath the partitions
Another pilgrim, a bearded ancient Greek (ancient in years, not a Plato contemporary) is puffing assiduously at a cigarette, his gray moustache jaundiced from a long time of smoking. He says with great pride in broken 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 journey on water. Athos’s ancient mariner.

To cap all of it off, I’ve just been informed I can not 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 inside the walls, not just within the buildings, and one other has simply advised me sternly the four P.M. service is beginning ‘Now! I mentioned NOW!’

Nicely, 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 extremely ornate, dripping in heavy gold and silver chandeliers. A huge silver chaplet hangs over the center and the partitions and ceilings are bursting with brightly colored gold-haloed icons.

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

Extra icons

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

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

Agiou Pavlou
Hermitages and shelters for solitary monks perch atop impossible pinnacles with precipitous stone island jumper boys drops to the frothing sea lots of of toes beneath. 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 you must undergo customs earlier than boarding the boat for Ouranoupolis – they’re checking that no icons or other artwork are being smuggled out.

Again past Dionysiou
Again previous Simonopetra

Again previous Panteleimon
All in all, a fascinating time in magnificent surroundings amid spectacular architecture, even when the religion factor does not actually work for me. Not for me the ethos of Athos.

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