My original plan (such as it was) did not include a visit to Macedonia, but since my goal was to get to Croatia, going through Macedonia seemed like as a good an idea as any. The train from Thessaloniki to Skopje (continuing to Belgrade) is an old, rickety train, and it makes every local stop as it wends its way through the countryside.
It was not very crowded, and for most of the trip I had a compartment to myself.
I noticed there were mirrors behind each set of seats, and I could not resist taking an "endless hall of mirrors" photograph.
I got to Skopje, the capital of Macedonia, around 2030, and my first priorities were to find food and a place to stay. The guidebooks and websites I looked at suggested that cheaper accomodations could be found in the Muslim quarter across the Vardar river, so I decided to head there. That was easier said than done, since I had no idea where I was. I got someone to point me to downtown, and once I found the river, everything became much more straightforward.
Here are a few snapshots of Skopje in twilight:
I am not sure what this ship-like thing is, but I really like the picture:
There are a lot of fancy buildings lining the Vardar. Most of them are municipal buildings or fancy hotels catering to business travelers. There are a lot of buildings under construction as well.
This is the Stone Bridge, the old pedestrian bridge which crosses the Vardar.
There are two new pedestrian bridges right near the Stone Bridge. They are lined with elegant lampposts and statues of famous Macedonians.
Across the river from Macedonia Square are several large fountains with colossal statuary. I learned on Wikipedia that much of the new construction is part of the Skopje 2014 project. The city was devastated by an earthquake in 1963 and was subsequently rebuilt in a more severe, Eastern bloc style. The project is an attempt to restore the former glory of the city.
After crossing the river, I meandered through the serpentine streets of the Muslim Quarter. At this point I was starving, so I unfortunately did not take any pictures. I managed to find a place to stay which was not too expensive (Hotel Santos), after which I went in search of food. A few places were still open, and I got some sausages in bread (typical Macedonian fare) for a song.
By Ross in Travel on Sun 29 June 2014. Tags: Greece
Luckily I did not have to get up too early to leave Meteora, and I got to the Kalambaka train station in plenty of time to catch the 0819 train to Thessaloniki:
It was a direct train to Thessaloniki, and in order for this to work, the train reversed directions in Paleofarsalos. This required removing the engine from the front of the train and attaching a new engine to the other end of the train. The cars of the train were also misnumbered (the numbering was not even in reverse order, which would be understandable given the direction change; there were two cars labeled #2), so my ticket for car #4 landed me in the first class car. This was great until the six-seat compartment filled with people who reeked of cigarette smoke.
When I got to Thessaloniki, I bought a ticket for Skopje, Macedonia, which the station attendant wrote out by hand:
I had about a four hour layover, so I decided to explore as much of the city as I could in the allotted time.
My first stop was the Rotunda of Galerius, commissioned by the Roman emperor Galerius at the beginning of the fourth century.
Like every other ancient building I have seen on this trip, it is undergoing extensive renovation:
Here are some pictures of the dome of the Rotunda:
And here are some closeups of its mosaics:
Nearby the Rotunda is the Arch of Galerius:
Next, I walked down to the water, where I saw the White Tower, which was constructed by the Ottomans to guard the port of Thessaloniki (it replaced an earlier Byzantine tower).
I like this small boat with a little tent on top of it.
As I walked back towards the train station, here are some photos I took of the city.
Thessaloniki is building a metro system. From the map I saw, they are starting with a single line. Here are some photos of metro-related construction:
After leaving Agia Trias, I set out to hike around the area and explore some other monasteries.
Here is the monastery of Agios Stefanos (St. Stephen). A seemingly endless line of tour buses was pulling up to the monastery, so I elected to enjoy it from a distance:
Next, I stopped at Rousanu, which is a nunnery. I overheard from one of the tour guides that it has the most residents of any of the Meteora monasteries.
It has a beautiful garden.
It also has a barnacle porch. Note the ladder on the wall below the porch.
This is a nice spot to relax and enjoy the view.
Here is one fresco from the chapel depicting the martyrdom of various saints, complete with detached heads and everything.
Finally, a photo of Rousanu in the distance, with the rock cliffs of Meteora as a backdrop.
The next stop on the monastery tour was Varlaam.
Here I am outside the monastery (the one in the background is the monastery of Grand Meteoron).
In the monastery, there is a really huge barrel.
You can see the traditional and modern goods delivery systems side by side. Here is the traditional winch and net:
And here is the modern version. The net has been replaced by a metal box, which you can see on the valley floor. The metal cart is also on wheels, and can move back and forth on a short set of rails.
On my way out, I met two canine caretakers:
And one feline.
Finally, I visited the largest of the monasteries, the monastery of Great Meteoron.
The path up the the monastery involves many sets of stairs, and on one occasion passes through a narrow tunnel. I got a nice view of Varlaam through the tunnel.
It has for the most part been turned into a museum, and there are exhibits on Greek history and folklife, liturgical objects, and manuscripts. More interesting than these were the rooms which were set up the way they would have been in the nineteenth century.
This is the storeroom:
With closeups of wine casks, barrels, and presses:
Here is the ossuary.
And the kitchen. You can see the food preparation area and the cookpot:
Here is the balcony outside the kitchen:
I like these photos taken through the balcony railing and supports.
After leaving Great Meteora, I still had several hours of daylight left, so I decided to take quick hike down one of the numerous trails in the area. I stumbled across this mysterious staue (the Greek inscription was mostly eroded).
I also found an abandoned monastery.
I walked up the stairs leading up to it, but the door was barred.
I set out this morning to explore the monasteries of Meteora on foot. This is not the most popular option (there are tour buses galore, as well as public buses which shuttle people from one monastery to the next) but it was the one recommended to me and it sounded like the most fun, plus it let me see the monasteries on my own schedule. I headed up random roads to the top of Kalambaka, then set out on a well-marked, paved trail which wound its way up the mountainside.
I met this cat on the trail.
When I was near the top, I got some great views of the surrounding area.
My first stop was the Monastery of Agia Trias (Holy Trinity). It is one of the smaller monasteries, and reaching it requires an ascent of over 100 stairs, so fewer tour buses stop there. For that reason, I found it to be the most intimate of the four monasteries I visited. I am also glad I went there first thing in the morning, since I pretty much had the place to myself. When I neared the end of the trail, the first thing I saw was not the monastery but this cable-and-box contraption which shuttles goods (and people) between the road and the monastery. It was moving when I first saw it. (The monastery is hidden behind the rock on the right).
I then climbed many sets of stairs:
And finally reached the entrance to the monastery, where I paid my 3 euro entrance fee (they all charge the same amount). The cable-box drops you off at the same place.
I really like this cute little porch which attaches to the monastery like a barnacle. The hook can be lowered to the valley floor to resupply the monastery.
Once through the door, I climbed up the main steps:
And I reached the inside of the porch. The winch is used to raise and lower the hook, but as the cable is secured in place, I do not think it is in regular use any more. (My guess is they use the cable-box instead.)
Here is a closeup of the winch. Supplies are placed in the net, which is then attached to the hook.
I like this picture of the roof beams of the porch.
I then passed through this room:
And arrived at the entrance to the chapel.
These ornately carved doors are opposite the chapel entrance.
Once again, I took some illicit, flash-free photos of the chapel.
Here is a photo of the dome frescoes.
And the stalls.
And finally a closeup of one of the frescoes.
After leaving the chapel, I walked out onto the top of the rock monastery.
Where I got spectacular views of the valley and some of the other monasteries:
There is a nice, small garden on top of the monastery.
I spent a peaceful hour in the monastery before heading down to see the rest of the area. As I walked on to the next monastery, here are some photos I took looking back on Agia Trias:
By Ross in Travel on Fri 27 June 2014. Tags: Greece
It was blistering hot when I got to Kalambaka around 1400. After having dropping off my bag, I decided to take a walk around town in spite of the heat (probably not the smartest move.) I headed uphill to visit the Byzantine church of the Assumption.
I managed to snap a few illicit flash-free photos of its frescoes (I seem do do this quite often). If you look carefully, you can see Constantine on the left of the second photo.
Although I only walked for about an hour, it was time for a siesta, which in my case involved taking a shower and catching up on my journal entries. I left the place I was staying around 1900 to grab a bite to eat. When I got outside, I saw magnificent puffy clouds in the sky and immedately abandoned any plans for food in favor of finding a place to watch the sunset.
I walked west towards Kastraki, the next town over.
I took a side road which led me to this hill. I saw a few people up there, so I decided to scramble up (they had left by the time I got up).
The hill was covered in moss, and you can see the dominant gametophyte stage of its lifecycle:
I got a nice view of the surrounding area from the top of the hill, and as the sun started to set, the light took on an almost magical quality.
The moss on the hill and the stone cliffs behind the hill looked golden in the sunset.
I took an absurd number of photos of the sunset itself. Here are some of the highlights.
Finally, here is a panorama of the sunset over Kastraki.
As I walked back towards Kalambaka, I ran into the two couples I had met in Delphi. They had told me they were going to Meteora next, but the area is large enough that I did not expect to see them again. I joined them for some fruit at a local restaurant, and they generously bought me some souvlaki for dinner since I had not yet eaten.