From Meteora, Greece … to Veliko Tărnovo, Bulgaria!

Our trip to Meteora was fabulous, although the weather was a bit disappointing. We caught a metro train to the Athens main rail station and then the train up to Meteora – five hour journey [+ the metro line ride and transfers]. Because the weather was inclement, we didn’t have the spectacular views which made the 5 hour trip just a little tedious.

When we arrived we were collected by the tour company [unless you have a car, it is the only way to get around the monasteries] and spent 3.5 hours with them, in and around Meteora. The area is just incredible and to look up and see these buildings perched high in the mountains clinging perilously to the top of a rock shrouded in mist was just a little bit surreal.

The monasteries have been up high for centuries, a great protection plan to keep out the riff-raff. As our guide took us around our first two monasteries, we were given the history of the area, the monasteries – the then and now. Five hundred years ago monks, were called hermits and lived in caves high in the mountains. Then one had this amazing idea to build a house on top of a rock, close to god! He shared it with other monks and so boulder by boulder, hauled up the face of [500-600 metre] pillars of rock, not once thinking that it was impossible, but rather with the divine belief that they would succeed. “That their faith and belief would bring them closer to God and that upon their ‘rocks’ that would seperate themselves from the world and stop at nothing to witness the ‘Divine Light’ and experience God in their hearts”!!

There used to be 24 monasteries, but today only 6 remain. They were lost to earthquakes, invasions and bombed during the war. Our guide was great with his history, although he wasn’t allowed in the monasteries with us. The first one we visited was called Holy Monastery of Saint Nikolas. We parked at the bottom!!!!!!! and walked up, needing a couple of rest stops along the way. Once you get to nearly the top, then you take the stairs that wind around the outside of the building!! It was an OMG moment for me! Not really any handrails and a very long way down, I hugged the wall and made it up the further three stories to the entrance. We only had access to a small area [as this is a ‘live’ monastery] and so saw the prayer room, a monks room, the gift shop!! and then through and another set of stairs to the outside!!!!!!!!!!! OMG!! It was just all a bit freaky – windy and misty, and yet a bit magical. Colin got far too close the edge for me, went out on the little balconies, that are clinging perilously to the building [which are clinging perilously to the rocks – I know I said that before, but I want to impress upon you that it is extraordinary!!].

Our next stop was the Holy Monastery of Saint Stephan. This one is the easiest one to visit as you just walk down a small path and then over a two bridges, with drops that are eye-watering! This one had a small museum with artefacts dating back hundreds of years. Some of the paintings in the chapel were at least 500 years old. No photography allowed, but I think Colin may have sneaked one in!!

Our tour guide dropped us to our hotel for the night and said that due to the weather it was unlikely that we could do the 4hr hike the next day. It was only 9km, but up high and on paths that would be narrow and slippery. So we opted to visited another few monasteries. We were dropped at a reasonable hotel which included breakfast and had gorgeous views of these buildings perched atop the pillars, shrouded in mist. After a walk about the small town [and dinner] we retreated for an early night, as we had a very long day ahead.

We were picked up after breakfast and were told that due to the weather and safety, that we would only be visiting one Monastery that was different from yesterday and that we would pick up two other passengers and revisit the two we had already been to! Bugger, but you can’t control the weather. So off we headed and choose to stay in the van for the first one as we had already been, and the weather was cold and wet, and because every other tour group was there [because the other three were closed!].

The next one we visited was called Rousanou and was nunnery monastery! I didn’t know that nuns lived in them! Anyway you could tell it was run by women … it just had the ‘homely’ feel to it, lovely gardens and attention to detail. I found it a bit funny that they all looked miserable! Perhaps the weather meant they couldn’t get their washing dry!! Actually I think that they were over the hundreds of tourists [and their umbrellas] and perhaps wish that their home wasn’t open to the public!!

Then we visited one from the previous day, and just walked up to stretch our legs and go to the loo! One of those ‘starting block’ types, which is the first one we have come across on this trip. Anyway I had a bit of a giggle that I had walked along way up the hill, only for it all to run back down again!! Too much information I know!! 😂

The monasteries themselves have had renovations undertaken over the years as they are now part of UNESCO. They guide told us that they have an average of 20,000 visitors per day in May-August. I am so glad we went here in March, it would have been unbearable on all the little stair cases and balconies when it was busy!!

So our tour finished at 1pm and the train wasn’t until 5.30pm. This is to give you time to have lunch, do some shopping visit the museum or church or the multi-media display. We had time to do everything!! Meteora is not very big and a lot of the shops were still closed, but as it was cold [and wet] we spent the last hour in the travel office so I could get the blog done – I almost get withdrawal if I don’t use up all my words!!

Anyway that done, it was down to the train station for the trip back to Athens … nearly 6 hours of pretty much blackness. Unfortunately we had a long delay as there was an incident somewhere [Louise, it reminded me of our delay home from Carlisle but without such great company x]. That meant getting back into Athens, past the last train to the airport. Such is life and these travel adventures. We walked to the Metro, caught the line back to the city and then caught the bus to the airport (which took about another hour). Then we camped out in the airport until our 6.30am checkin. Hardly anything was open, lots of people about doing a similar thing BUT there was construction happening and jack-hammers for most of the night!! After a very long day and a sleepless night we finally checked in for our flight to Sophia, which is the capital of Bulgaria.

The flight was pretty quick, only a couple of hours and after finally clearing customs with a humourless, unhappy man [we were told to think Cold War welcome, and it is a bit like any Cold War movie you have seen!] We quickly picked up a taxi to the bus station for our 3 hour trip to Veliko Tărnovo where we were to start our next Mr & Mrs Smith ‘assignment’. Lucky for some the bus had free WiFi, but unluckily for us our phones were pretty much flat after 30hrs of travel. Just enough ‘juice’ to send our home owner a messenger to say we were on our way, and to send message home to say we had arrived in Bulgaria.

The trip across to Veliko Tărnovo was pretty scenic – snow on the mountains, lovely green fields … spring busting forth everywhere. The bus was pretty full and we had seats in the back row [no snogging though as we had to share it with the locals!]. We were both exhausted and kept nodding off, but not really sleeping! Pretty much exactly 3 hours later we pulled into the bus station and met Alan who was our home owner (HO). We caught a cab to his place and our culture shock began!

From when we hopped out of the taxi (which takes ups 1/2 way up the hill to the left side – think a small amphitheater), to when we looked of the little balcony all we saw was road construction going on everywhere, no sort of logical order, just everywhere! The streets are being re-cobbled to keep its ancient medieval look. Houses were old, some old but renovated, ancient, some in ruins and people lived in them all. We walked probably 1/2 km (towards the middle of our amphitheater) pretty much carrying our bags through all the rock piles and construction – I am so glad that I have shed 3kg from my suitcase, because I felt sorry for Colin carrying it! His one only weighed 17 kg – he has been travelling light the whole way!! The place which is just off our balcony has that many tarpaulins on its roof, all held in place by rocks or roof tiles slap hazardly holding it all on and every night [it is down to 1 or 2 degrees overnight!!] the chimney puffs up a slow but steady stream of smoke. The power pole in front of us has the street light and power cables stretching up and along the street like some sort of mad hair do and some sort of power boxes. We are at nearly the top of the hill and mostly where cars don’t roam! It is a short walk to the bottom and a long way back to nearly the top. If nothing else our gluteus maximus’s are going to be very toned.

Now Alan and I have been liaising for a few months about this sit – he told me specifically “to keep and open mind”, so that is what we are doing. He is a UK expat living here, along with many others in what they all call Veliko, but more on that later. When we arrived at Alans apartment, we were really pleased to find that it was seemingly quite modern and no tarps of the roof – actually we are on the first floor of two.

We put all our luggage down and relished the thought of the cold beer being poured. Being a small apartment is wasn’t long before we met our three cats – Buster, Zsa Zsa and Thomas. I immediately felt that Buster wasn’t well, but Alan was sure it was stress for all his cleaning/packing over the previous few days. After a couple of hours chatting to him and keeping a watching brief on Buster, I asked him about ‘what if’? His cats are his joy and I needed to know if we were pulling out all stops if something happened. We discovered Buster was probably about 20 years. After a bit more of a chat we agreed that he would visit again in the morning and reassess. We kept a watching brief on him and became more worried as the night went on. He didn’t eat his dinner and again in the morning he didn’t have breakfast, he had in fact barely moved. I took a quick video and decided to send it to Laura in NZ and asked for help from afar, only trouble being that we then discovered we had no WiFi!!

OMG, if I had known that no WiFi was available here, then I probably wouldn’t have applied. So we have no landline, no mobile, no TV and no WiFi and are in a super foreign country with the closet transport probably 1 km down the hill (at least doing down is fast!). We are reliant on WiFi for keeping in touch with all our home owners, family and friends, for making all future travel plans and doing my blog! Horrors of all horrors! Anyway not much we can do about it now, we have made this commitment, invested our time and money into getting here, so it will be up and down the hill to connect to the world. So far it has been a bit hit and miss, some of the cafes/bars have poor connections, so trying to upload any photos takes an age. We had planned to use this three weeks to doing some serious planning as we come towards the end of our adventure!

Anyway, back to Buster! As we couldn’t communicate with Alan we had prearranged that he would visit us in the morning. As we waited for him, I became increasingly worried and when he arrived it was agreed we would go to the vet together. He and I trundled down the hill to catch a taxi and as we arrived at the vet Buster had a heart attack (most probably from the trip!!). So there we are, Alan and I, as Buster takes his last breathe. Alan is very upset, the vet is saying up condolences and I have my arm around Alan trying to utter something comforting while tears are slowly falling as I remember losing our Pepper – the symptoms were the same. The vet calls us a taxi and we head back to the apartment, with Buster, whom Alan wished to bury. After we hop out of the taxi, carried him [Buster] along through the construction to the apartment and let Colin know the happenings, we waited for Alan’s friend to arrive so we could all give Buster a wee funeral. We walked to the end of our little road (opposite side from the taxi drop-off) and up the hill and around the corner a bit to find a suitable place for a wee grave. Colin helped dig and then we laid Buster to rest 😢. R.I.P Buster 💖

So with the WiFi slowing me down, I will do a blog as I can! We have been here a week already, so have plenty to share, will share with you as we can!

“Life is a daring adventure or nothing at all”

3 thoughts on “From Meteora, Greece … to Veliko Tărnovo, Bulgaria!

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