Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Greece with Kids: Meteora and the Battle of Thermopylae

Day 01 is here and here
Day 02 is here.
Day 03 is here and here.
Day 04 is here and here.

Y'all, this is the last day of our Greece adventure!

We spent the night in Kalambaka, the closest town to Meteora, so we had only a short drive in the morning before we were faced with this spectacular vista:

Meteora refers to these rock pillars, but this spot was also where hermits of the Greek Orthodox faith would travel to, and where monasteries were then built on top of these formations:

You can see three separate monasteries in the photograph below:

Naturally, I want a rare photo of the four of us in front of this magical location. Usually, I don't ask strangers to take our photo, because most people can't figure out my DSLR camera; our tour guide, however, is an absolute champion and can work all cameras.

It's not her fault, then, that her beautiful photograph came out looking like this:

Here's a better photo of Will, at least:

And another one of our little Riptide doing what she does best--leaning precariously over ledges and looking at abysses:

See her flip-flops? We had to buy her those way back in Nafplio, because her sandals were so tight they were giving her blisters already. Want to guess how many times I asked her before the trip to reconfirm that her sandals were still comfortable for a week of walking? Want to guess how many snippy answers, spoken sarcastically and followed by a sigh, she gave me that they were FINE, Mom, UGH!!! We don't even have those flip-flops anymore, because she wore them at Holiday World last week and someone stole them while we were in line for the Mammoth. UGH!!!
We stopped for a closer look at St. Stephen--

Yes, the kids and I ARE going to have to comply with that dress code...

--and Syd made some friends there:

Yes, she wrapped up more meat from this morning's breakfast. 

But the Great Meteoron Monastery, the largest of all the monasteries of Meteora, is the one that we toured:
It's hard to tell from the photos, especially because I didn't take one overall shot of the monastery as a whole, but it's many levels, with winding passages and little stairways and balconies set over the expanse. And fewer than 10 monks live here now.

People put prayer requests in little hidey holes around the shrines.

They put more prayer requests and cards, as well as money and jewelry, in the shrines themselves.
I even wore pants on this day, but to get into the monastery itself, the kids and I still had to don sarongs, on account of we're filthy females:

I thought that our tickets were so pretty!
I didn't take many photos at the monasteries, because photos weren't allowed in many places there, and certainly not in the sanctuaries, where I spent most of my time, gaping at the frescoes. Here's a little of what I was allowed to photograph:

Meteoron has museum displays of storage rooms illustrating how the monks used to live. 

The monks did their own hunting and farming. They harvested grapes, which were eaten fresh, with the excess dried into raisins or fermented into wine. Excess wine was made into vinegar.

We also visited Varlaan monastery, which has preserved the original windlass by which supplies--and monks who couldn't climb the rock faces and ladders--were taken to the monastery:

Matt and Syd were not fans of the long bridge that we now use to get to Varlaan, but I was!

Matt may have been crouched down, clutching the guardrail in fear when he got this shot. Meteora was not his favorite day.
Our legs nice and rubbery from the hundreds of steps, we stopped in a small town to scavenge some lunch (the four of us ended up in a small restaurant where not only did nobody speak English, but they giggled at me when I tried to speak Greek. I am treated like a precocious toddler wherever I travel), then drove through Thessaly on our way back to Athens.

Fun fact: the concept of the centaur was invented in Thessaly. They have these oddly short little horses, the Thessalians, there, and when riders were on them, the proportions sometimes looked like they had the body of a horse and the torso of a person.

The best thing that we saw, though, was the site of the Battle of Thermopylae! The kids and I studied this battle extensively as part of our larger study of the Greco-Persian War, and we even watched The 300 with Will one night when her sister was sleeping over at a friend's house.

Actually, I showed both children the opening scene from The 300, because its inciting incident is also mentioned in several other references. Also it's bad-ass:

The Spartans were for sure messed up, but I am a huge Leonidas fangirl.


The engraving above me reads "ΜΟΛΩΝ ΛΑΒΕ." It's translation is what Leonidas replied when Xerxes told him that he'd spare the lives of the Spartan soldiers, if they'd just lay down their weapons: "Come and take them." Ugh, I love him so much!
The entire afternoon on the bus, actually, Matt and I had been taking turns reading the Tom Holland translation of Herodotus' The Histories to each other and the children, and cracking ourselves up over it, on account of Xerxes was INSANE. He goes to war because of a series of prophetic dreams, and is super mean to his advisors who gently try to suggest that maybe you shouldn't, you know, follow your dreams so literally. This rich guy tries to give Xerxes all of his accumulated wealth, on account of his slaves can just earn him more, and Xerxes is so touched that instead of taking the donation, he actually gives the rich man MORE money and tells him that they're best friends. But when the rich guy asks Xerxes if, since they're such good buddies, he could maybe have just one of his sons back from the war, maybe just the youngest one, Xerxes is all, "Sure, Buddy!" and then calls that kid over and murders him in front of everyone.

So we were all thrilled to see the site of the battle--

Yes, that's the place. The valley where we stood looking at it was underwater, part of the bay at this time, and that narrow pass under that sheer cliff above was the only place the Persians could get their army through.

--and its memorial:

I even got...well, one of the kids to fangirl along with me:

By the time we got back to Athens, we had just a few hours, really, before we had to be at the airport for our flights home. Matt and I walked around the city for as long as we could before we simply had to go back and pack and get a couple of hours of sleep, and then began the sleep-deprived fog of misery that was our trip home. The lines. The family in front of us who had every single thing on the planet in their carry-ons, and also every single small child imaginable, and who took the longest time that it is possible to take fussing with all of their stuff to try to get it onto the security conveyor. And then forgetting stuff and bumping into me and the children to go back and get it. And then shoving back in front of us when they'd collected whatever it was. And every single person on Swiss Air who kept their seat backs reclined the ENTIRE TIME that they were on the plane. If you're a seatback recliner, stop it, because I don't know if it's how short I am or what, but every seat back reclines directly into my face. Like, directly. I promise you that I measured it, and there was six entire inches between my face, sitting straight up, and the reclined seat back in front of me. I watched five movies (Sing, which was good, The Space Between Us, which was bad, Rogue One, which I found many problems in that I hadn't seen the first time I watched it, Gifted, which was good, La La Land, which was so horrible that I couldn't finish, and Mohenjo Daro, also too horrible to finish, even though I LOOOVE Hrithik Roshan) and ate three meals with the seat in front of me six inches from my face. Then we had to stand in line forever at Customs, and then repack all of our luggage into our own unbearable plethora of carry-ons because checking luggage on US flights costs money. And then check in again, and then go through Security AGAIN. And a security person shouted at Matt, and shamed him in front of the entire long line of people behind us, because he didn't have all of our boarding tickets fanned out properly in his hand when he approached her, the monster. And this was also a Security where we had to have our tablets separated from our backpacks but not our books, which is what they wanted the last time. But the kids could keep their shoes on, which they couldn't the last time. And Matt got patted down for a change instead of me, but they naked scanned Syd for the first time. And everyone who ever walked in front of us walked slowly. And all the babies on all the planes were miserable. And I don't know how I wrote down the wrong shuttle stop for our long-term parking, but I did, but at least we passed another couple on our slog across the parking lot who'd also been on our shuttle and had also apparently written down the wrong stop.

But finally, FINALLY we were all back home, kicked back in our big bed, with the dog back from the dog sitter and a couple of pizzas liberated from our favorite restaurant, watching fireworks on TV. At least, that's what we were watching when I finally drifted off and didn't wake up, nor apparently so much as move a muscle, for the next 10 hours.

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