Thursday, 14 May 2009
First of all, if you are a woman you can't go to the monasteries of Mount Athos. Second, if you are a man, and you don't have the proper papers they won't let you on the holy mountain either. Provided you are a man and have secured the necessary papers you are in for the experience of a lifetime. Mount Athos is simply one of the most beautiful places on earth, more like a fantasy than what we know of as reality. Enormous monasteries, like castles or fortresses dot the coast and appear on the mountain slopes with every bend in the road. There are caves that still house hermits as they have for thousands of years and many simple houses or kelions that have several monks in each and a small church. There are churches with more gold than some countries have in their vaults and icons that perform miracles. There are virgin forests and animals that are found nowhere but the Holy Mountain. There are monks from every country in the Orthodox world and even some from non-orthodox countries. The seashore is perhaps the most beautiful in the Aegean, pristine and rarely used for swimming since monks don't generally go to the beach. There are incredible gardens cared for with a love of nature and of God. For spiritual seekers Athos has the appearance of heaven on earth. Of course being a monk is not all honey and roses. It's a hard life. But it's a fantastic place to visit if you are the right type: male, spiritual in nature, respectful of tradition and adventurous.
From the town of Ouranoupoli at the edge of the frontier between the Holy Mountain and the rest of the world there is a small boat that takes you to the port of Daphne, the official entry point for pilgrims to Mount Athos. There is one bus that goes from the port of Daphne to the town of Karyes in the center of the peninsula. There are a couple shops, one owned by my Dimitri, a friend of my family. The monks are friendly for the most part and love talking, especially hearing about life outside of the holy mountain. Be prepared to be offered a nice glass of tsipuro and then to tell your life story, as many of the monks are quite educated and speak English. The Skete of Profitti Elias was at one time known as 'the American monastery' because of the number of westerners living there.
If you are a woman, left behind in Ouranoupoli, take comfort in the fact that there are worse places to be stuck. The town has some nice restaurants and a pretty good beach and has the feel of a decadent outpost on the edge of civilization. You can also take a cruise around the Holy mountain and wave to the monks and maybe your husband or boyfriend. And if by chance he decides never to come back, don't worry. You can still write to him and be sure it will be delivered.
Do you want to visit Thessaloniki and the monasteries of Mount Athos? Go to www.medestino.com and book your hotel.