Andy & Kate’s Grecian Odyssey – Meteora Shower!
If you’ve ever watched The Shining, you’ll have some idea of what our hotel in Meteora was like. It was a giant, five-star place perched on a hill at the end of a dirt track that was crewed entirely by an Eastern European couple with their obsessive compulsive kid, who had his toys lined up in regimented rows in the enormous, vaulted central hall.
“What time do you serve dinner?” we asked, naively.
“We don’t do food.”
“You don’t do *what*?”
Turns out, after a bit of to-ing and fro-ing, that they did do food, but only when tour groups were staying and, as the one that was there that night were all going out to eat, it was a big of crisps or a drive to the nearest village. Hmmmm. We wondered around the place, it’s huge marble staircases, and echoing lonely corridors and wondered exactly how much money was being laundered through the place by Russian drug czars. Maybe there’s an exchange scheme going on, and somewhere on a Russian steppe Greek hoteliers are selling weed to bemused cossacks.
The view was good though. Once upon a time, around the 11th century, a monk went up a rock and became a hermit. Then some others went to join him, which kind of blew his hermit status, but did give them the werewithal to start building a small monastery. Some other wandering hermits in search of a nice, high place to perch saw this, and climbed up a nearby rock and repeated the process (which became rather a matter of survival when the Turks invaded). Do that a few more times and you have Meteora, a landscape of smooth sided rocky pillars with (nowadays) six active monasteries perched precariously on their precipices and undoubtedly one of the most stunning landscapes on Earth.
Once reached only by rope ladder and windlass, steps were finally built up to them in the early 20th century and the monks, knowing a good thing when they saw it, started opening their monasteries to the tourist trade. These places are fascinating, the biggest – Moni Megalou – in particular being a repository of some of the best religious art it’s ever been my pleasure to clap eyes on (as well as some entertainingly feisty stuff painted around the time of the German occupation . Dodging the inevitable puffing and panting tour groups and spending some time in the incredibly ornate churches on our own was an amazing experience, especially as the Orthodox frescoes are not exactly restrained when it comes to depicting the travails of the martyrs.
The pictures (and there are plenty more of them here) really don’t do it justice, so we suggest you grab any opportunity to head up there yourselves at some point and yank firmly with both hands. Just watch out for the Hotel Meteora and the bloke at the reception desk typing ‘All work and no play makes Vlad a dull boy’ time and time again...
 Greece has, at one time or another, been occupied by pretty much every invading force in history, with the result that you can point to pretty much any part of the Greek landscape and the history books will tell you that x number of people got massacred there a few centuries back. The value of x is often distressingly high.