One of our last adventures during our summer visit to Greece was a beautiful journey around Meteora. The area is named for the monolithic landscape, which consists of boulders and hills gently wrapped around each other. There are many Greek Orthodox monasteries scattered around the scene, and while we only went inside one of them we really enjoyed the beautiful views of all the others.
There were busloads of tourists at every turn, and we were very glad to have our own rental car. We wound through the hills at our own pace, taking in the gorgeous and unique scenery. When we arrived at St. Stephen’s Monastery, we did a quick wardrobe check before heading inside. Having visited many religious sites around the world, I know the basic protocol. I put my cardigan on over my halter top, and then I wrapped my shawl around my waist so that my knees would be covered. When we arrived at the door, one of the nuns looked me up and down and gave me a hefty nod of approval. It was then that I noticed she was handing out coverings to almost all of the other women entering.
At many other holy places I have visited, for example, Saint Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City, long trousers were fine for women because they covered the legs, but here, women were told to wrap a covering around their waist no matter what- it seemed long skirts were the only proper attire. I saw a few men turned away because they had shorts on, and some people (men and women) had to wear coverings over their shoulders as well.
St. Stephen’s is perched, somewhat precarious looking, atop a striking stone boulder called the Rock of Agios Stephanos. It is accessed by crossing a picturesque bridge. We had to park way down the road as tour buses filled the small parking lot, and I was concerned that the buses and the major crowds they brought with them would detract from the experience, but luckily they did not. The long line of visitors shuffling across the bridge included young and old, families and backpackers, tour groups and individuals, and everyone was quiet and respectful for the most part.
The monastery is a beautiful place, both because of the beauty inside and the amazing views of the outside. Some of the chapels were protected from photographs, but we were able to capture a few pretty spots. It was founded around the year 1400, but the buildings suffered many moments of damage and desecration, mostly during World War II and Greek Civil War, and later by communist rebels. It wasn’t until the 1960s that a group of nuns took over the building and made it a holy and sacred place once again.
We really enjoyed looking around, even though it was very crowded. The nuns we encountered were very welcoming and polite, and seemed very excited to share their space with visitors. The small gift shop sold medals and figurines of all kinds, but we were drawn to the prayers. There was a variety of different prayers in about four different languages, written in striking script with colorful illustrations. We sifted through the English versions to find the prayer we liked best, choosing a beautiful verse about love, and then the kind nun working there helped us find the Greek version (which looked even more stunning than the English!).
After our visit at St. Stephen’s we drove around the rest of the hills, admiring the views from many angles. We stopped at one of the high points and got a snack from a food truck there, taking in the beautiful weather and atmosphere. Our lunch in the little town at the base of the hills was delightful (both for the food and for the view) and it was truly the perfect way to finish our time in Greece.