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

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

Leigh Fermor acquired a fishing boat to take him to the west coast the place he resumed his hoofing, but there is not any boat now. I had each intention of strolling to just a little pier at a spot known as Kafsokalivia, whence there is a ship sailing up the west coast.

Karyes, Athos’s ‘capital’
I did, sincere. However, the walk takes two to 3 hours, entails a number of upping and downing, and the boat leaves at 9.30 A.M. It would not take lengthy for my mental 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 misplaced And my predilection for falling down

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

Karyes’s ‘bus station’ during rain squall on first day
So right here I am comfortably at Megisti Lavra, ensconced on the 6.45 A.M. minivan in cool but good weather on my means back 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 dark blue is Homer telling as that in his day wine was darkish 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 past, and back on the peninsula the cloudless white summit of Mt. Athos is turning to burnished gold within the sun’s up-slanting rays.

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

In Karyes’ fundamental sq. including a touch of native colour, a really historical monk has simply hobbled on from stage left with an extended, wildly flowing gray beard and a peg leg – Athos’s Long John Silver.

Ready for the minivan in Karyes’s predominant square
Each weather and scenery are excellent as the Agia Anna plies down the west coast from Dafni. The sea, though, is billowing with giant 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 completely proper when he compares it to the Potala in Lhasa, Tibet. Perched some 820 feet up on a crag in a steep hollow ravine, its wooden balconied higher floors jut out above an nearly windowless vertical stone wall several tales high.

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

Close up
I must say Leigh Fermor was treated proper royally 80 years ago – a single room at each cease, plenty of meals at correct times, not just a single daily chow-down of pottage at 3 P.M. I’m wine-dark with envy.

The next 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 a different little fortress, this one on a precipitous crag a hundred or extra feet above the sea – Dionysiou, with a very steep path leading up.

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

Dionysiou from afar
After he banged on them forever, 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 nearer
Today the walls, battlements and tower are the same, but the gates are wide open, since it is solely 1.30 P.M.

Even closer
This time I get a room with just one different individual, a pleasant Greek pilgrim. However the sole meal is still the 3 P.M. pottage of greyish liquid with an odd carrot – quite tasty, though – also some olives and bread as laborious as teak.

From underneath the walls
Another pilgrim, a bearded historical stone island manifesto 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 satisfaction in broken English that he swam from Piraeus to Newcastle in forty days.

Swam, quoths I, with nice amazement. Yes, quoths he, by boat. In his English swim means journey on water. Athos’s historical mariner.

To cap it all off, I’ve just been informed I am unable to go to the library or look at the 16th century frescoes, a flapping monk has advised me off for taking a photo of an out of doors courtyard as cameras are verboten here inside the walls, not just throughout the buildings, and another has just told me sternly the four P.M. service is starting ‘Now! I said NOW!’

Properly, I am 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 colored gold-haloed icons.

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

More icons

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

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

Agiou Pavlou
Hermitages stone island manifesto and shelters for solitary monks perch atop impossible 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 you must go through customs earlier than boarding the boat for Ouranoupolis – they’re checking that no icons or other art are being smuggled out.

Again previous Dionysiou
Again previous Simonopetra

Again previous Panteleimon
All in all, a captivating time in magnificent surroundings amid spectacular structure, even if the faith thing would not actually work for me. Not for me the ethos of Athos.