Athens had ended exceedingly badly with a robbery and minor car accident. To be honest we were both on edge. We were stressed about Jerome’s health, the security of the car and now we felt vulnerable on the roads!
It was coming into winter so we decided to shun the coast of Greece and the many Islands that would now perhaps be rather bleak and cold. Instead we drove North West to Metoria. One of the most scenic inland drives in Greece starts at Metoria, passes through Metsovo and ends at Ioannina. Along this asphalted, windy drive you get the chance to see many feats of architecture and examples of natural beauty.
Before we even hit Metoria we were distracted by these gigantic rocks located about 5-10km shy of our start point. There were two huge formations, one of them being Theopetra Rock. From our Pocket Earth iphone app we could see a bunch of tracks leading up and around them. (There was also the Theopetra Cave which wasn’t open or indeed accessible). We decided that it would be pretty cool to suss out the tracks and maybe camp up on the top of a rock and watch the sun set.
The next day we were all set for Metoria. The large rock formations (sandstone actually) of Metoria are home to many churches and 23 Monasteries, 6 of which are still functional. The amazing thing about these monasteries are that they have been built up on the very top of these crazy rocky outcrops, hundreds of metres up into the air. These monasteries date back as far as the 14th Century. The name Metoria means ‘suspended rocks.’
The monasteries were built after a hermit who came to the valleys and scaled these rocks to live in a cave around the the 900’s. It is believed that when a monk arrived there in the 14th century he founded the first Monastery. The workers managed to hammer pegs into the rock to get up. They also may have flown kites with string over the rocks, which in turn had a heavier rope attached to them by ways of making rope ladders. I guess that they chose to build in such places for the isolation and peace required to worship so reverently.
As we drove around the beautiful roads the monasteries started to come into view. We were expecting them to be more like ruins, but all of the ones that could be sighted from the road looked extremely well maintained. We were able to drive right up to one of the Monasteries; St Stephens (Or Agios Stefanos).
It was partially destroyed in World War 2 and was abandoned until it became as nunnery in the sixties. To our surprise the grounds were largely wheelchair accessible with a ramp lift even taking Jerome up to the small gardens with a stunning view of the plain and the town of Kalambaka below.
There are less than 30 nuns living there. We took a look inside the small church and it was incredibly ornate with wood carvings and gold from floor to ceiling. You could not take pictures inside, so we took some time to look at the detailed paintings on the walls depicting peoples souls either being taken up the ladder to heaven, or being dragged down and into hell. The church was quiet and you could smell the hot wax from the candles as you entered through the heavy doors. Jerome and I are both atheists but I felt kind of special at that moment perched high up in the clouds on a rock, seemingly defying gravity.
We continued our journey, stopping for lunch at one of the many viewpoints available on the sides of the road. Building so many monasteries at such a height was a true feat.
We hit the minor road to Metsovo. Just as it hit ‘time to look for a camp’ we passed a sign for Aoos Spring Lake. Perfect. From the map we could see that you could drive around the lake on a tiny road. Well, we started to do just that but we got distracted by the……MUD! I was driving and if we wanted to camp right on the lake we would have to do a little off roading. The whole grassy area surrounding the lake was grazed by cows and as a result very churned up. The soil was saturated and from the moment we left the road it was game on. We spent almost an hour smashing through muddy ditches and up the sides of hills. Amazingly and against all odds we didn’t get bogged and just as sunset hit we found a relatively dry, flat patch of greenery overlooking the lake. The lake itself wasn’t anything special until either sunrise or sunset. We had the pleasure of watching both.
In the morning we woke up to a very frozen world. In fact, even the inside of the Troopy had frozen and we spent a few fun minutes scraping at the ice with our nails until we realized we were also taking the tint off the windows!
The world was frozen and we made porridge overlooking the icy bushes and onto the Lake. Washing up was hard work. The water on the dishes froze before we could get them dry, and then the tea towel froze stiff in our numb fingers; so I’m guessing it was pretty bloody cold that morning!
Anyhow, it was Jerome’s turn to drive through the mud and out onto the road. We were in for a treat as the huge bog holes and muddy puddles had frozen over! We hooked up the go pro to a pole and hung it out of the window whilst furiously smashing through the ice puddles. Oh my god what fun! Again, luck was on our side and we didn’t end up digging ourselves out of a ditch.
We finished up our drive and headed into Ioannina for lunch and a stock up. Next stop: Albania, and yet another crazy little ‘adventure’ into the hills that I’ll let Jerome narrate!