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Chapter 27 – Grecian tales of Battles, Fire, & Python fumes.

By Neil and Nikki

sunny 26 °C

Ah, its time come on a journey with me. A journey of amazing battles against insurmountable odds, of monasteries clinging to mountain tops, massive world changing explosions, an ancient religious centre or two and, of course, of Python fumes!

Are you sitting comfortably? Then let us begin…..

The Battle of Thermopylae

Come with me back to 480 BC. The Persians, led by this bloke:

Persian Leader – Xerxes I – born 518 BC, died 465 BC.

Wanted to smash the Greeks into lots of little pieces. He amassed 150,000 troops, and started to march from what is now Turkey towards Athens.

Map of Greece, showing Turkey and Athens. Thermopylae is 20 km’s from Lamia which is north-west of Athens.

And this Dude, leading the Greeks:

Leonidas – King of Sparta – born 540 BC, died 480 BC

Was working on stopping him. After all, he’d done it before…..

Flashback to 490 BC

In 490 BC the Persians, this time under the rule of Xerxes’ Dad, Darius I, had had a previous go. He amassed an army at Marathon and was getting ready to march on Athens. The Greeks were in a bit of strife.


The Persians had 26,000 troops and the Greeks had 10,000. But the Greeks were cunning blokes. And they won!

The Greeks at Marathon decided to send a messenger to Athens to let them know of the victory. They picked a bloke called Pheidippides to run the 26 miles (42 kilometres). It’s said that he ran the whole distance without stopping and burst into the assembly saying “We’ve won”, before promptly dropping dead!

Pheidippides saying “We’ve won!” before dropping dead. Not quite sure why he was starkers…..

Back to 480 BC

The Persians were doing well until they got to Thermopylae (meaning Hot Springs). But they hit a small problem. Literally.

The Battlefield of Thermopylae. The Persians were approaching from the West (top of this picture). The ancient coastline is where the road is now. The Greeks were defending in the foreground. (You can also see in the middle of the picture the building with the red roof. That is the Refugee Camp accommodation building, where we were volunteering)

As you can see, the old pass of Thermopylae (between the road and mountains) was very narrow and the mountains were seemingly impenetrable. Leonidas I only had 10,000 Greek troops to pit against the 150,000 Persians, but if the Persians approached the narrow pass they could be picked off with ease by the much smaller force.

Unfortunately, a Greek traitor, Ephialtes, showed the Persians a path through the hills enabling them to surround the Greek forces.

Leonidas knew he was going to lose, so withdrew 9,000 of his troops leaving only 300 Spartans, 700 Thespians (No, no, no! Not actors! People from Thespia! Although the term Thespian, meaning actor, came from Thespis, the first actor) and 400 Thebans to defend the pass.

They managed to fight off the Persians for 3 days before being wiped out.

Me at the Thermopylae Battle Field.

All of this history also happens to be set in a beautiful location. My previous trips to Greece had only been to the Islands and I hadn’t understood how beautiful the Greek mainland is. The hills around Thermopylae are really quite stunning.


Let’s move forward to about 1100 AD and I want you to put on the horse hair shirt and imagine you’re a monk. Or a Monkess.


Then the rascally Turks came around and they’re weren’t exactly embracing of the Christian Monkness, being that the Monks were sort of Christian and not Muslims…... In fact, they didn’t want to sit and have a nice cup of tea with the monks, they want to, er, kill them. In not very nice ways!

But the Monks weren’t as green as they were cabbage looking. They saw Meteora and thought “Hmmmm….”

View of Meteora, north west of Lamia. (it’s kind of close to Kardhista if you’re looking at the first map in this blog).

“If we stick a monastery on the top of one of them there hills, those rascally Turks would have a bit of a problem killing us” the monks thought. So up they climbed. There was no access to the monasteries, except by a ladder that they dropped down when times were good and pulled up when it all got a little tense



This is us at one of the monasteries with another one in the top left-hand part of the photo.


I reckon that every hotel should have a view like this:

Hotel room with a view. Looking out towards the sea and Peloponnesus, over the olive plantations.

Delphi is here:


Maybe you’ll have heard of the Delphi Oracle? Yes? Good. No? Well, let me take you back to the past, to tales of Pythons, Apollo, Zeus, Hallucinations, and Alexander the Great.

One tale from about 500 BC is that Zeus, the head honcho of the Greek Gods, wanted to know where the centre of the earth was and let loose two eagles from the extremities of the world and they crossed over at Delphi, marking the centre or ‘navel’ of the earth.


An earlier tale, from Greek mythology is that Apollo slayed a Python (or Dragon) there.


He threw the body into a cleft in the rocks from which fumes of the rotting Python (or dragon) continued to emit. The legend goes that, many centuries later, a goatherd noticed that his herd started playing with “great agility” when they got near the cleft in the rocks. So he put his head into the cleft and, on inhaling the fumes, went into a “strange trance”. Hmmm …. sounds like a little too many mountain mushrooms to me!

However, the trance inducing fumes became viewed as a portal which enabled commune with the gods and tradition of the Delphic Oracle (or Pythia, an “older woman of blameless life” always selected from the local village) became famed in the ancient world for her prophecies and was widely consulted on important decisions, including by Alexander the Great.

The site of Delphi is incredibly well preserved, including the amphitheatre, stadium and various temples. It really was amazingly beautiful.

Looking up at the Temple of Apollo

The running track for the Parthenon Games

View over the amphitheatre towards the temple


The Greek Islands – Paros, Santorini, and Mykonos:

Oh, to a lost youth! It’s 30 years since I first went to the Greek Islands and 27 years since my last visit. The last time I went the currency was the Drachma. I got there once by travelling from a country called West Germany, through some place called Yugoslavia, down to Piraeus (the port of Athens) and then to the Islands.

After our time volunteering with refugees in the Thermopylae refugee camp, we needed time to reflect, write, think. Oh, and Nikki had a mild case of the Plague (or was it bronchitis?) and needed time for the antibiotics, puffers, and mind lung expanding drugs to take effect.

It was time to return to the Greek Islands……


It was 30 years since I’d been to Paros and you know what? I’d changed. And so had Paros! It was posher!

Nikki had found a beautiful place up on the hillside overlooking the harbour:


Paros was just as beautiful.


And so we relaxed, wrote, thought, and Nikki took lots of drugs.


On a historical side, Paros has rocks. Let me be more precise, it has marble. And not just any old marble, special marble that is incredibly pure and translucent. In ancient times it was famed though out the Grecian world and shipped far and wide. And as you know, those Greeks loved a bit of marble….

A Statue carved from Parian marble

It helped make Paros an important mining hub from about 500 BC to about the 3rd century AD. After that, well, it went back to being a sleepy old tourist island.


Depending on whether you’re talking to my mate Gregor or me, you’ll get different answers as to why we slept on the concrete quay when we arrived by ferry in 1988 (ish. It’s all a bit hazy….).

According to me, the ferry arrived late and the last bus up to the village had gone.

According to Gregor, I insisted we had one more beer in the bar at the port and the last bus left.

Then again, I don’t remember the goat on the train either….

In any case, this time, life was much more civilised. Our friend Mel, who I’d met a decade before when me and my two sons, and Mel and her youngest daughter were travelling through a civil war in Kenya, was in Europe and we’d arranged to meet up.

Our arrival was just as spectacular, if a little crowded…

Our arrival on the ferry into Santorini. It’s a little popular.

We met up with Mel and her daughter.

“And the meaning of life is ……Gin, with a little tonic…!”

And ate, drank, and were merry.

However, whilst Paros has got a bit posher since the late 80’s, Santorini has just gone nuts. I mentioned in an earlier blog how Prague in the Czech Republic is drowning in tourists. What became clear when we got to Santorini is that there are certain destinations that are on the “if you have 10 days in Europe, you must go here list”. Santorini is one of these places. In addition, Santorini has also got onto the “top 10 honeymoon destinations” list. The results are that it’s very busy (even late in the season) and it’s gone very upmarket. The reason is clear. It is still iconically beautiful.

Room with a view of Nikki’s toes, and some other stuff…




To understand why it iconically beautiful, well, are you ready for your volcanology class?

Santorini went bang:

Prior to 1600 BC, there was this:


Then, after 1600 BC there was this:


Santorini went bang. No. Bang doesn’t describe it. The force of the explosion, pyrotechnics if you will, was like several hundred atomic bombs going off and was 4 to 5 times larger than Krakatoa’s 1883 eruption in Indonesia. The Minoan civilisation crumbled, including on Crete …… km’s away. It’s rumoured that the Santorini explosion may have caused the biblical plagues in Egypt and, perhaps more tenuously, that Moses didn’t cross the Red Sea but actually the Reed Sea which is a marshy area in northern Egypt that was drained and then flooded by the resulting tsunami *?Really?*.

“Hey Stavros! How’s your house on Santorini?”, “Well Alexis, the bloody island blew up! House got blown to smithereens!”

We went to Akritiri, a town that was covered in ash during the eruption. Unlike Pompei the inhabitants clearly had warning of the impending eruption and got out, but the town was amazingly well preserved under four stories of ash.

The square of the ancient town of Akritiri that had a bad end after the eruption. It was buried four stories deep in ash prior to this excavation to street level.

It was great to catch up with Mel and Olivia, to see Santorini again and to not sleep on the Quay!


Mykonos was my holiday destination for around 4 years from 1987 to 1991, and I had a jolly nice time. The most infamous year was probably the one with Gregor, Garvey, Scottish Andy, and some other reprobates whose names have disappeared from my damaged neurons. Oh, the high jinks that went on! Still, what happens in Mykonos, stays in Mykonos, but Good Lord!

Anyway, this time it was far more civilised. Nik had found a nice apartment 10 minutes walk from town and on the first night we had a nice salad with feta cheese, walnuts, beetroot, with a garnish of dill and dressed with balsamic vinegar, followed by mushroom and truffle ravioli. (Last time with Gregor, Garvey and co, we had beer with a tequila chaser….).

Mykonos also has got posher, but the basic island was the same.




For our excursions, last time we took a bus to Paradise Beach and got on a Booze Cruise to another beach and got toasted; inside and out! But this time it was much more “Kultchured”.

We took the boat to one of the “most important, mythological and archaeological sites in Greece”. Delos! How on earth did we miss this last time?

There was an Amphitheatre:


A House of Masks.


And a Dolphin Mosaic:


And a hill to climb that gave great views towards Mykonos.


It was all very civilised:


However, whilst I think that Greece is on our very exclusive “we want to go back there” list, I think it will be to the mainland, not the islands. (Says Neil, not Nikki….).


We then jumped on a plane to Israel, the West Bank and Jordan for one of the most interesting parts of the trip so far…..


Posted by capetocape2017 09:25 Archived in Greece Tagged mykonos santorini delphi paros meteora thermopylae Comments (1)

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