Thursday, July 28, 2011

Ioannina and Meteora

(Besides the few photos I uploaded, you can check out more photos corresponding to this blog at this link

Me, Flora, Nina and her ınjured foot
I was suprised when I realized that my last blog was from Sifnos, because its been a few weeks since then and I have had so many more adventures and gone to so many other places. After the islands I returned to Athens for just a few days where I was able to meet a lot of Greek people at a CouchSurfing picnic. One guy I met was driving the next day to Korinthos, his home town, and he offered to give me a free ride. So I went to Korinthos and saw the ancient city of Corinth that Paul was writing his letters to, and after that went to Nafplio and visited the ancient Greek theatre of Epidavros and then got a call from a CS host in Patras, the north of Pelopponese, to stay with him a few days and go free beach camping. His place was really nice and I was able to rest well and at the beach campsight I became really good friends with him and his friends. I was with Yannis for four nights and we were like best friends when I left. I took a bus to Ioannina where I met two Dutch sisters living in Amsterdam, we were at the same campsite. Nina and Flora were thier names and they were really nice and lauging all the time, even after Nina stepped on a sharp knife and I had to quickly get her to the hospital where she ended up getting one stich. There was so much blood running down her leg and my hands and feet I couldn't believe it was just one stich, but apparently it had gone in really deep. After just one night in Ioannina I woke up early and caught a bus to Meteora.

They say that thousands of years ago Meteora was a lake, which is supposed to explain why today there are many huge rocks towering over the valleys and small towns of Kalambaka and Kastraki. The rock formations are beautiful by themselves, but then there are monasteries on the very top along the cliffs hundreds of years old. Words can hardly explain the experience of being in Meteora, pictures even less because they mask over the beauty your imagination may have come up with.

I stayed at a campsight in Kastraki where there was an awsome view of the rocks from your tent. At the campsite I met a German couple traveling together on a motorcycle, and also a Frenchman who was riding alone on his bike. I was perfect, because without all of his gear on his bike there was an extra seat for me, and so the four of us on two bikes rode up and down all of the windy country rodes of Meteora. On the first day it was already too late to visit inside the monestaries, but we had a picnic at sunset at this spot we found with a paneramic view of Meteora.

The next day me and the Frenchman Julian visited two of the monasteries, spoke with some of the monks, got plenty of pictures, and exausted our share of the beautiful views that are everywhere in Meteora. I ended up asking the monk questions to better understand the practices and theology of the Greek Orthodox Church. We talked about the icons that are so important in the church, the prayer beads and gold and silver crosses and flashy pictures of Jesus, Mary, and the Saints, and the colorfully bright frescos on all four walls and ceiling of most orthodox churches throughout Greece. He said that the material icons are meant to act as  symbols that keep us aware of God throughout our day. The monk explained to us that there are levels of faith, and the higher or more spiritually atuned you become, eventually you will no longer need the icons to be aware of God. They believe that in the bible God did not complete his directions for the Christian way of living, but through the example of the saints we have a more complete picture of the Christian life. This is why the the saints are exaulted as much as scripture.
The levels of a spiritual life caught my attention and so he explained more. The first level is when a person comes to faith out of fear for hell or fear of interrupting the tradition within the family. The second is what he called the 'supermarket' faith. This is where you say, do, and give certain things to God in order to reap the benefit of earthly blessings and the eternal life to come. The third is when you realize that the life you have is all a gift from the creative hand of God and so you are free to live a life of gratitude and give it all back. This sounds so familiar to what I have thought about church-goers at home. While at home we have very little tradition left in the church, not like they do hear in the Greek Orthodox Church anyway, but we certainly have our own church routine and I wonder how many of the thousands that atttend a church service are really seeing past the routine. In Greece it is apparent that few people actually see past the icons and really have any personal relationship with God, but the precentage might look something similar to us at home as well. Few people see past the emotional experience that is so shallow and yet inevitable in all religions, and so the connection they thought they had with God ends when the feelings have past.

One of sıx functıonıng monesterıes ın Meteora
When julian and i were done at the monesteries we headed back to the campsite where I found the Dutch sisters wıth thier tent set up next to mine. They made it, despite Ninas injured foot and her crutches. Apparently, it was the crutches that saved them. They were able to milk a few rides out of them untill they eventually made it to the campsite in Kastraki. The four of us made a spagetti dinner and played cards all night untill we finally went to bed at 1 in the morning. I had to get up at 730, pack all my stuff, fold away my tent, and walk 2 kilometers to next town to catch a bus at 9. I hoped to get to the base of Mt. Olympos in time to start that same day. I figured once I got there I would find some kind of informatiıon about the two day hike that I had in front of me.

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