Tuesday, October 11, 2011

My Big Fat Greek Vacation! (Part One: Marathon, Thermopylae, Meteora)

We recently returned home from a big, fat Greek vacation with Dan's parents; sister, Hannah; and family friends, Kevin and Lori.  It was memorable to say the least--complete with Grecian ruins, a metric ton of feta cheese, the bright blue Mediterranean Sea, countless miles in an old rental van on its last leg, and enough crazy happenings to rival any Grizwald vacation.  Yes, traveling overseas is crazy enough, then add in a sleep deprived two year old, lots of family time, the open road, and uncharted territory and you've got yourself a recipe for an unforgettable vacation. 

We started our trip on a red-eye flight from Adana at 3:30 am.  We hopped over to Istanbul, did the passport drill, and then headed to Athens.  We landed in Athens at 9:30 am to claim our baggage, meet Dan's family, and "start" our day!  Our first stop: picking up the rental.  We loaded up into a cotton candy blue van with lots of character and lots of "experience" on the road.  The challenge of the trip was to open the window or door without a piece of the van falling off into your hand.  It was a perfect element for our unforgettable vacation. 

Our first day was spent in the van, stopping at Marathon and Thermopylae along the way, and then arriving in Meteora in time for dinner. 

At our stop in Marathon, we visited the site of the famous Battle of Marathon in 490 B.C. when the Persians tried to invade Greece. The Greeks held back the Persian onslaught and forced the Persians to reconsider invading for another 10 years!

This picture is the burial mound where the Greek soldiers were buried.

Legend has it that after the Greeks won the stunning victory over the Persians, a Greek messenger sprinted all the way to Athens from Marathon (approximately 26 miles). He was so exausted when he reached Athens that after he passed on the message of the Greek victory, he died. This is where we get the "Marathon" race!

After visiting Marathon, we drove to Thermopylae--the site of another famous battle between the Greeks and the Persians.

In 480 B.C. the Persians attempted to invade Greece again and once more met stiff resistance.   Led by a group of 300 Spartans, the Greeks held back thousands of Persians at the narrow pass of Thermopylae (the "Hot Gates") for three days until they were overrun. This battle was commemorated in the 2007 movie "300."

This picture is from the battlefield. The statue is a monument to the Greeks who fought here. The statue is of the Spartan king, Leonidas, who fought and died with his Spartans.

After an incredibly long and exhausting day of traveling, we reached Meteora.  The word Meteora means "suspended in the air" or "in the heavens above" in Greek.  Meteora lived up to its name.  It was absolutely stunning.  This little town is nestled in breathtakingly unique mountains and rock formations.  Our beautiful hotel was perched atop a mountain, giving us a marvelous view of the neighboring mountains. 

Built atop these mountains and rock pillars is one of the largest collections of Eastern Orthodox Monasteries in Greece.  Around the 9th century, hermit monks sought out the solitude and natural beauty of these mountains for prayer.  They lived in hollows of rocks and caves.  Sometime around the 11th or 12th century, the more than 20 monasteries were built upon these mountains, the initial one by Saint Athanasius.  Now, only 6 monasteries remain.

On the morning of Day 2, we set out to climb up to the mountain-top monasteries and explore these beautiful places of worship and solitude. The air was crisp, clean, and cool.  The view was inspiring.  Being surrounded by God's magnificent creation in these mountain-top monasteries felt refreshing and peaceful.  It is easy to see why this location was so ideal for monastic life.

Peter, Mommy, and Elmo at our beautiful hotel in Meteora

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