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

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

Leigh Fermor bought a fishing boat to take him to the west coast where he resumed his hoofing, but there’s no boat now. I had each intention of strolling to slightly pier at a spot referred to as Kafsokalivia, whence there is a boat sailing up the west coast.

Karyes, Athos’s ‘capital’
I did, trustworthy. However, the walk takes two to a few hours, includes a variety 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 reasonably heavy backpack, who is aware of how long 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 back up to the path after which a 5 ½- hour walk on to Agiou Dionysiou, my stop for the night.

Karyes’s ‘bus station’ throughout rain squall on first day
So right here I am comfortably at Megisti Lavra, ensconced on the 6.Forty five A.M. minivan in cool however perfect weather on my method 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 darkish sea (because the sea is darkish 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 in the solar’s up-slanting rays.

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

In Karyes’ important square including a contact of native color, 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.

Ready for the minivan in Karyes’s fundamental square
Both weather and surroundings 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 primary monastery we drop in at is Simonopetra. Leigh Fermor is totally 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 wooden balconied higher floors jut out above an virtually windowless vertical stone wall a number of stories excessive.

It’s a lot smaller than the precise Potala, nevertheless it definitely seems as if it is straight out of Bhutan or Tibet. I tried to reserve however they’re doing some repairs.

Shut up
I need to say Leigh Fermor was treated proper royally eighty years ago – a single room at each stop, loads of meals at proper times, not just a single every day chow-down of pottage at three P.M. I am wine-dark with envy.

The next monastery, Gregoriou, is a bit 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 extra feet above the sea – Dionysiou, with a really steep path main up.

Waterfall near Gregoriou
When Leigh Fermor arrived here in 1935, he wrote: ‘It is constructed fortress-like on an overhanging crag, and its big windowless partitions, jutting battlements and machicolated tower smack of the Darkish Ages.’ But he found the iron-coated doors locked.

Dionysiou from afar
After he banged on them ceaselessly, 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
As we speak the partitions, battlements and tower are the identical, but the gates are wide open, since it is solely 1.30 P.M.

Even closer
This time I get a room with only one different particular person, a nice Greek pilgrim. But the sole meal continues 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, stone island slim fit denim jeans by boat. In his English swim means travel on water. Athos’s historic mariner.

To cap all of it off, I’ve just been advised I can’t go to the library or look at the 16th century frescoes, a flapping monk has advised me off for taking a photograph of an outdoor courtyard as cameras are verboten here throughout the walls, not simply throughout the buildings, and another has simply instructed me sternly the 4 P.M. service is beginning ‘Now! I said NOW!’

Well, 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. 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 under the chaplet and they’re all lining as much as kiss a row of richly embossed silver relics in entrance of him. To everybody’s 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 a few of the other monasteries.

Transferring south from Dionysiou
Mt. Athos is blazing away in good however chilly sunshine. The terrain is even wilder on the peninsula’s southern end, an impenetrable, impassable, tortured land of huge crumpled crags. You can, of course, penetrate and go, doubtless with much torture and crumpling, on the monitor spherical to Megisti Lavra.

Agiou Pavlou
Hermitages and shelters for solitary monks perch atop unattainable pinnacles with precipitous drops to the frothing sea hundreds of feet below. Some are said 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 need to go through customs before boarding the boat for Ouranoupolis – they’re checking that no icons or other art are being smuggled out.

Back past Dionysiou
Back previous Simonopetra

Again past Panteleimon
All in stone island slim fit denim jeans all, a fascinating time in magnificent surroundings amid spectacular structure, even if the faith factor would not really work for me. Not for me the ethos of Athos.

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