Monday, November 2, 2009

Moved to Tears, Almost

I woke up this morning at 5 (not 6 like I had requested) because the hotel's wake-up call system had not adjusted for daylight savings time. I went back to bed and when my alarm went off at 6 I felt like I had just fallen back asleep. Let's just say that I didn't get out of bed until 7:15 and was considering skipping my trek up to the monasteries all together. My bed was warm and comfy and I did not want to get up.

I am glad that I did though. I got to talk to Eddie and my parents for a bit before I set off on my adventure for the day. After checking out of my hotel I found my way to a grocery store to buy some cheese for lunch as I already had bread and fruit and thought I would be out of town until this afternoon. I then went to the bus station and bought my ticket to Thessaloniki for 3:15. Lastly I found my way to the taxi stand and paid the 6 euro to have one drive me to the monastery. Looking back I definitely could have walked, but the guy at the reception desk had me thinking it would take 3-4 hours to walk there. All lies I tell you.

The taxi driver left me at the entrance to Roussanou, the monastery I planned to visit, around 9:45, and walked up the stone stairs to the entrance. I was greeted by a friendly nun who happily took my 2 euro and directed me to a basket of skirts near the entrance. I picked the black and white patterned one on top, tied it around my waist and ventured into the monastery. Obviously, the entire area is not open to visitors, but what was was so cute and tiny. The doorways were all short and everything just looked so well kept. There was a small church inside the monastery that we were allowed to visit.

The first room of the church was full of images of people being martyred. Lots of people burning and being beheaded. It was kind of creepy to see such violent actions being depicted on the walls of a a church - and they were everywhere. On the ceiling, the walls, arches. It was quite intense. It was pretty cool to see the work though. It was obviously hundreds of years old and several of the images had gold foil embedded into them. Some of the faces and pieces of the images had been rubbed away and you could see the rock wall behind the designs.

The second room was where the scriptures would be kept and read and ceremonies and services would be held. It was a small little chapel and not much room for more than 10 people in the whole space. It was very cool to see and the intricacies of the chapel were incredible! So much detail and so beautifully done.

After I left the monastery I decided to walk back to town the opposite way that the taxi driver had taken me. I ended up walking through two different paths through the woods/mountain side and on part of the main road. It was quite the adventure, but fun. I had a good walk and got to take some incredible pictures from different angles. I didn't end up visiting any more monasteries because some were closed and the one I walked past had a large number of steep stairs leading up to it that I did not feel like climbing (or paying 2 euro to see another church). So I went back to Kalampaka.

When I got back to town I came across the Byzantine church of the Assumption of Virgin Mary. This church was built in the 7th century on top of a 4th/5th century temple of Apollo. I paid my 1.50 euro to go inside and was the only person there. The lady at the front had to turn the lights on just for me. The church was incredible. I can't even begin to describe how I felt. I do know that for the first time on my trip I had a very surreal moment and had to fight back tears. Just being in a place, essentially alone, looking at the frescoes and paintings and mosaics and the intricate markings in the marble moved me. In one part of the floor they had a glass pane inserted into the marble floor to showcase some of the mosaic work from the original temple.

I couldn't help but think about the number of people who had worshiped in this space and history of all that must have happened there. It was probably the most authentic feeling old church I have been in - as far as experiencing what it might have been like to be in a church hundreds of years ago. Even though there was electricity, it was very very very dim and felt like candlelight. It was well worth the 1.50 euro. I could have sat there all day, but I think the lady at the entrance thought I was a bit strange for being in the church as long as I was to begin with.

After I left the church I wandered through town some more and stopped at the bakery to buy some bread and the fruit stand to buy some oranges. I am now back at my hotel waiting for it to be 3 to catch my bus to Thessaloniki. I am supposed to text or call my couch surfing host when I arrive and we will arrange to meet up from there. Let's hope it all goes well and according to plan. I have the name of a hostel just in case, but it sounds like it is a bit sketch, so I'm really hoping the couch surfing works out! I'll keep you all posted.

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