What could be better than an adventure exploring Meteora in north-central Greece by myself? Arriving here I started walking up a dirt trail by myself – puddles here and there after earlier heavy rain. And then I looked up and caught and with an intake of breath saw the monastery far, far above on the granite face of the mountain hundreds of metres up, appearing in a parting of the green tree tops. I walked on up winding switch back cobbled paths through a fairy green forest, now and then another monastery would appear from another angle, through a glow of mist, and float high above the canopy. I couldn’t believe it – I was alone, just accompanied by bird song, and I realised I had come to one of the great places of this world, up there with Petra and Sigiriya. As I strode down the path I stopped to look at an ancient and thickly trunked plane tree dancing with wildly outstretched branches in a forest grove. Stillness and magic. I walked on, church bells assailed my ears from high above somewhere. This walk was the closest I have ever come to feeling like I was a hero in a quest story – a hero to whom significant and mystical events and places would unfold in sequence. Surely I was ascending towards some kind of meaningful culmination, a sacred place on top of the world.
The next morning I woke early and showered and breakfasted and walked out into the world of stone and stillness and birdsong and water and green leaves. I walked through the little village Kasakri and into a congregation of huge grey sandstone monoliths through which the frail path I was following wound. Many places in the world – most places in the world – are experienced by looking around one’s self horizontally, more or less. Here one had to look vertically, as high above were waterfalls, towering walls of stone, boulders tossed by Titans, hanging monasteries in the air. Water glittered on curving sandstone flanks in rivulets here and there. Sweet and gentle birdsong bounced off sheer faces in the breathless air. The path rose and swerved through bushes, under ledges, over creeks, down abruptly. I came upon a growing light as I walked through one tunnel of dim green undergrowth, more light up ahead. Then my head broached the end of the tunnel of green, and I found myself standing at the top of the path dropping down into a trickling crevice onto the earth a couple of metres below. I could see out into the distance. The forest was green and quiet in the a wide valley before me, and high up on the other side of the valley was a monastery, standing ethereally on a towering pillar of stone, seeming to float above the forest. Again I felt as if I was a hero in a medieval quest story. Strange meetings, portentous symbols in trees and stones, the onwards journey through a world soaked in meaning. As I walked I felt like I was doing exactly what I should be doing with my life. I was engaged and stimulated, by movement, by beauty, by mystery, by exploration. I walked up a ravine and marvelled at how green these leaves were, be they oak or beech or whichever other species I was seeing. I walked fast and realized that this ‘walk’ was sometimes a clamber – all the better. Again and again I broached clearings and saw towering monasteries. I saw not a soul on the path all morning.
Later that afternoon I and a friend went up into a monastery and found long queues of tourists, talking and laughing in German and French and Russian and Greek. A drone passing overhead. Cars and buses in the carpark. The magic evaporated. But it amazed me that all of this crowd (and there were lots of people) were not interested in the paths through the forests of Meteora. It seems most people in this world cluster to physical ease and spectacle without challenge. Thankfully that leaves the paths clear for those who prefer to walk there. So many of the sacred places of this world are suffering from overtourism, but the problem is easy to avoid in Meteroa in 2023.
So that morning was one of the best walks of my life. Spots in time to treasure in the memory.