Rise – Meteora

18th June 2006

I was woken up especially early this morning and we boarded the bus and set off for the Meteora Monasteries. After a short while we started up the treacherous rocks towards this spectacle. The roads were narrow, and I worried at times that the tour bus would slip over the edge, just one wheel and that’s all it would have taken. It was very green, and the giant rocks stood out of the sweeping plain, they almost looked to be drawn into a picture. We arrived at our first stop, the Nunnery of Saint Stephanos, I got off the bus and was shocked by how high up I was, as were many other people, including one lady who would not get off the bus. We were the first tour group to arrive at the nunnery and we all thought that it was quite comical seeing Antones waiting at the locked gate for the sisters to allow us in. That had been his way throughout the tour so far, to get us there first so we could have time at places without having to compete with others, often loud and brash tourists. While we waited, we all took pictures of the amazing scenery and the surrounding monasteries.

I stood on the edge of the Meteora I was standing on and just looked and wondered how these places had been built. I wondered how the rocks had gotten to this place in the middle of a plain and looked down at the unbelievably high drop if I fell, feeling my knees shake a bit as I did. I looked over at another rock to see people abseiling down it, I wonder if I could ever be that brave, I thought to myself.

Finally, we were allowed into the Nunnery, I had worn a longish white skirt as we had been told we would not be allowed in without our knees covered. Some women still insisted on wearing pants and were given skirts to put on over them by the sisters at the entrance. Apparently, this was one of the lesser visited sites of Meteora, something which I appreciated being shown very much. The Nunnery had many rooms, all covered with brightly coloured frescoes and icons of saints. There were many scenes of religious significance, never had I seen such bright colours in a holy place, this is the way religion should be portrayed as a celebration of faith, not a dirge. I giggled as I thought of the church I had been taken to as a child St. Marks in little old Oakhurst. That church was just like a big room and from the outside just looked like a house. You can go in there wearing thongs and a T-shirt, although I’m sure it brings religion down to the masses, the old ways of respect certainly appeal more to me. I felt nothing in the church at home, here I felt a passion for God from these women who had devoted themselves to a life of service.

The Nunnery of St Stephanos, Meteora
Outside the Nunnery of St Stephanos

We had a walk around the Nunnery and then of course, I went in the souvenir shop. I was rather taken aback by how inexpensive the icons were compared to the icon workshop we had visited the day before on the plain of Thessaly. Antones told us that the sisters make the icons as a way of spreading the word of God and not for profit like the workshop. I thought that was wonderful and bought myself a real gold leaf Icon of Jesus and the Tree of Life, I smiled as I paid for it electronically with my MasterCard. Nowhere is safe from technology I thought to myself.

We left the Nunnery and Antones left us to explore, with the warning of “Be very careful,” my mother’s last words to me before I left rang through my head “Don’t do anything stupid!” and I had a bit of a giggle to myself. We climbed up onto one of the rocks and the two photographers among us must have taken the most amazing pictures. The rock we were standing on was about 1 meter from another and then a sheer drop followed. A couple of people decided to see if they could jump over the 300-meter drop to the next giant Meteor.

As everyone was heading back to the tour bus, I wondered again if I could be that brave, I had always had a secret fear of heights, not the fear of standing on a cliff with a barrier or being on a rollercoaster, but that raw fear where there is no safety net, nothing to be strapped into and no fence to hold you back. I had gotten scared climbing onto a stool to hang Christmas decorations.

At that moment, I gave my camera to Bruce and said, “If I make it, take my picture, otherwise I won’t believe I did it later!” Some people stopped to watch me, I stood on the edge of the first rock, my knees shook almost uncontrollably. I looked down and then looked up, and straight ahead and took the leap of my life, I felt the wind in my hair and the whoosh as my long skirt blew behind me. In that one moment while I was in the air, I let go of everything, fear, worries, all my problems I had back home. I forgot about my ex-boyfriend, how much debt I was in and all the pathetic shit I had worried about over the last two and a half years and when I landed safely on the next rock, standing on the edge of forever, I was a different person. No that’s not quite right, now I was the person I had been many years ago, before having to deal with all the shit life had thrown at me. In the past couple of years, I had become a bundle of nerves, worrying about anything and everything, especially when it came to money. Now I worried about nothing, this was the twist, I can’t really describe how I felt about myself at that moment except to say that I felt I had arisen from the ashes a better and stronger person, more than I had ever been in my entire life. Freedom, real freedom was mine.

Me standing on the edge of forever, after the jump that changed my life

I looked out onto the vast plain before me and spread my arms out like I could fly and closed my eyes, tilted my head back and felt the wind blowing through my hair, I turned back to the group, just in time to hear Bruce say “Smile!” I learnt something today, I learnt that courage is not the absence of fear but being scared and doing it anyway, I thought to myself, well I think I’m definitely over the fear of heights thing.

Monastery of the Metamorphosis Meteora

We got back on the bus and drove to the Monastery of the Metamorphosis, the most famous of all the Meteora Monasteries. We reached it and I gasped at the sight and Antones told us that up until a few years ago, if you wanted to visit this place you had to be hauled up in a net! Pity I thought, as I looked at what Antones said were 380 stairs leading into the place, I would have liked that. A few more people stayed on the bus this time, convinced that they couldn’t make this climb. We started our descent down the rock we were on which wasn’t so bad, although again there was nothing to hold onto and no way of keeping your balance very well. Then we started going up the rock which the monastery is on, we actually had to go part of the way through a dark tunnel in the rock and then we began the steep climb. I got stuck behind a little old lady who had insisted on making the pilgrimage to this place despite her age and I admired her passion, as at 24 I was finding this a hard climb. As I climbed, I noticed that the scarf I had been wearing which I had tied to my bag was gone.

James Bond Monastery Meteora

Damn I thought, it must have blown off in the wind. I was very upset about it as this had been one of the scarves I had bought at Kom Ombo in Egypt and one that Ramez had admired when I wore it, so it was very special. I looked all over my person and in my bag, but alas it was gone.

We entered the monastery which was much more crowded than the nunnery we had just visited and walked around for a while. There were many cats in there, who get free room and board for keeping away the mice. There was a mother with her kittens which cheered me up no end, I love cats. I stood on one of the balconies and looked out at the other monasteries, I saw one that was actually used in one of the James Bond movies and had my picture taken with it in the background, Dad will appreciate that I thought. I went into the chapel there and lit a couple of candles for the people who I knew were having troubles at home and peered into the catacombs of skulls placed on the walls and the bones on the floor. I went into a small room in the museum and admired the oldest icon in the monastery, an icon depicting the Virgin Mary and Jesus, just at that moment I felt something dangling by my arm, it was my scarf! It was tied to the top of my backpack that I had searched thoroughly! It had re-appeared out of nowhere and at that moment seemed like a small miracle.

We then left Meteora, I found the climb back a little harder than the climb up, but I made it eventually. I actually got stuck behind the same little old lady as I had on the way up! We went and had lunch at a large hall like restaurant and I sat and chatted to a couple of my tour mates, Chris and Irene. Chris, Steve and Bruce had been my photographers for the tour so far and thanks to them, I was getting many pictures with me actually in them. I went outside and admired the Meteora for the last time and took photos of the gap that I had jumped from at a distance and couldn’t believe that a few hours ago I was up there, seemingly in the sky and the clouds. I went to the toilet after lunch and had to wait in a long queue. When I came out everyone was gone! I went outside just in time to see the tour bus pulling out of the driveway. I ran after it and yelled and banged on the side of the bus. The door opened and a very confused Antones looked at me and said, “I must have mis-counted, I’m so sorry”. All through the tour we had been clapping for the last person to get on the bus, it was my turn to get a hail of applause.

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