Sunday 26 October
We left Sofia around 10.00. It was snowing the all weekend. Difficult to pack knowing we should have 15 degree and most probably rain. Light packages 2 days clothes from 15 degrees rain to minus 1 at the top of Athos. So good to pack 3-4 tops, one pant, rain cover, gloves, warm socks and of course good walking shoes.
We also should pack some food like power bars, dried soups, dry bread, cheese, lutenitsa, chocolates, as we do not know what is the tradition with the monks as well as a heater to cook tea or soups. Important are walking sticks and headlight.
We arrived in Ouranoupolis after 5.30 hours drive through Greece northern part. The road was motivated by the good Greek food for dinner and not much traffic.
We made a pit stop at the Amphipolis lion in the middle of nowhere. This magnificent Lion was originally located on the top of the Great Tomb at Amphipolis and at some time in the past was moved to its current location, several km. away from the Tomb site. Historically the image of a Lion is usually found at the site of a battle, such as Chaeronea or is associated with some great General. Archeologists suggest, since there was no major battle at the time the tomb was built, that a Great General could be the person buried inside.
After rich dinner with tarama, Greek salad and octopus and ouzo on the top, we went to bed for early wake up at 5.00 to catch the early boat at 06.30. We even could buy a map from Athos at 1/50.000 which will help as well as a thermos!
Monday 27 October
The lady from the pension Filoxenia woke us up and brought us to the harbour.
A car in front of the ferry was waiting and the driver was distributing the permits in exchange of 25 euros. Ouf! our names were on the list. Strange atmosphere, a guy in a car dealing with permits and money.
Before embarking on the boat all visitors must have been issued a diamonētērion, this form of Byzantine visa that is written in Greek, dated using the Julian calendar, and signed by four of the secretaries of leading monasteries
To get those permits, it requires a small organisation.
You have to call the pilgrim office in Thessaloniki and confirm per mail. A good side with rich information to organize the trip: http://www.athosfriends.org
The permits are valid for 4 days but you can renew them for an other period. The permit will be waiting for you at the pilgrim office in Ourianapolis from 07.30.
If you take the early boat you have to inform the pilgrim office in Thessaloniki and confirm per mail and the permit will with the driver near to the boat.
The number of daily visitors to Mount Athos is restricted, and all are required to obtain a special entrance permit valid for a limited period. Only males are permitted to visit the territory, which is called "Garden of Virgin Mary" by the monks, with Orthodox Christians taking precedence in permit issuance procedures. Residents on the peninsula must be males aged 18 and over who are members of the Eastern Orthodox Church, and must be either monks or workers
The atmosphere on the boat was sleepy. You can get some tea or coffee with some strange toasted sandwich.
Regarding the strategy of our trip : We considered first the geography: The peninsula, the easternmost "leg" of the larger Chalkidiki peninsula, protrudes 50 kilometres into the Aegean Sea at a width of between 7 and 12 kilometres and covers an area of 335.6 square kilometres The actual Mount Athos has steep, densely forested slopes reaching up to 2,033 metres.
After long discussion we decided not to go for the pick the first day but to step out in Grigoriou and then to walk along the coastal path till Ag Anna to sleep there. We had booked before. It is not necessary but strongly recommended.
This enable us to get into the atmosphere of Athos in visiting different monasteries.
Of the 20 monasteries located on the Holy Mountain, the brethren of 17 are predominantly ethnically Greek. Of the other 3, brethren are drawn from monks of primarily other origins, who become Greek subjects. These are the Helandariou Monastery (Serbian), the Zografou Monastery (Bulgarian) and the Agiou Panteleimonos Monastery (Russian). We would visit four today and tomorrow we can concentrate on the climb of Athos.
On the way there we walk on the coastal path starting from the monastery of Grigoriou and the magnificent garden where it was difficult to find the path. Good as it was rainy and windy that we could start to walk getting protected by the bush.
After one hour walk, we reached astonishing waterfall gravanisti. It was quite wet but the view on the sea was bluffing. On the way we met nobody. We remembered what the monk giving us the direction and working in the garden of Grigoriou: Oh it is far and with weather so no wonder….1 more hour walk under rain we reached Dionysius. Arriving at the monastery we were quite wet. Seeing us the monks showed the direction to a kind of guesthouse inside the monastery.
There was a room where other pilgrims were waiting. We had no clue what was going on. A monk came with guimauve, ouzo and water. Seems to be welcome traditions.
Feeling still wet, was hiding to find a place to change. After we joined a group to visit a crypt. We saw some relinquish like a form of a hand or something similar. Strange…
After this short break we moved on direction Pavlou. After 1.30 hour we arrived on a nice beach that was the call for lunch as the sun was back again. Nice view from the beach on Sitonia. Before Nea Skiti we decided to visit Agh Pavlou. We walked on the road that was under construction far from the romantic of the coastal path. The way up to the monastery was short. Arrived there same ritual. some visits were possible but did not get it. Most of the discussion are in Greek or in russian. just difficult to catch. After a while waiting we decided to move to Ag. Anna were we have booked for the night. Our basecamp to the Mount Athos. Ag Anna is the oldest and largest Skiti in Mount Athos ( Agion Oros ). It was founded in the 16th century and today consists of 50 cells (kellia) and huts (kalives), occupied by 85 monks. Agia Anna’s Kiriako (main temple) is named in honor of St. Anne and was built by Patriarch Dionysius Vardalis in 1666. The library contains 200 manuscripts, 3 codes made of parchment, 700 prints and many icons
For us this will be a taste of life of the monastic life in it by following its daily schedule: praying (services in church or in private), common dining, working (according to the duties of each monk) and rest. During religious celebrations usually long vigils are held and the entire daily program is radically reshaped. The gate of the monastery closes by sunset and opens again by sunrise
After check of id and permit, the senior monk showed us the rooms. We would be 6 per room for this first night. Good for the intimacy, hope no snorers within. Dinner was served at 17.00 after the prier. Quite simple a lentil soup, dry bread, olives (really testy) and apple. Simple but enough for the night.
After the prier session was on, we were reading texts in different languages like greek, russion, Bulgarian. Even if the text were existing in English, French and German. None of those languages was speaking. After this strange experience, we went to bed at 19.00.
Tuesday 28 October
Next morning, wake up was at 05.00 with a bell. Most of the guys went for morning prier.
We were a bit more lazy knowing that the pic climbing would not be an easy game with more than 2000 meters from sea level.
With the first day light at 06.30 we went up. We prepared a tea with a killing view on the sea. We negotiated with the senior monk to stay an other night after the climb and to leave some of our staff here.
At 07.30 lucky with the weather, we started the ascension with never ending stairs and continued in the forest. We reached a first cross road after 1 hour walk and 500 meters of elevation. The path are well marked so no problem to find the way.
After 1.30 the endless gully finishes at a kind of saddle between the south slope of Athos, to the left , and a small rocky hill to the right. Just there, where the terrain levels, rises the chapel of the Panayia ( Holy Virgin Mary, in greek). This building at 1500 mtrs high offers the last shelter before the top.
We were quite dead reaching the chapel. After 30 minutes rest, we decided to move on even if the weather was really foogy and snow was present.
After change of clothes, we moved on to the summit, making a break every 100 meters to take a breath and drink.
The last 500 meters to the top is the most demanding part of this walk up: firstly, the path rises up in zig-zag to the left hand of the wide south steep slope of the mountain, passing here and there the last pine trees. Then, middle way up the rocky face the path traverses to the right. Here could be deep and steep snow patches in winter and early in the season which would ask more attention to the climber. The traverse passes under some very steep rock plates directly under the top which I advice to avoid unless you really want to do sport climbing.
The top, with the chapel of "Metamorfosi Sotiros" ('Transfiguration' in greek) and a big iron cross from 1897.
After 4 hours and 15 minutes (total ascension can be managed between 3.35 and 6 hours) we managed to reach the top. It was cold and ice everywhere in a foggy atmosphere. A place even if the effort to reach it was huge, you do not want to stay.
We went back to the hut, where some Russians joined in the meanwhile dressed with medals and uniforms, really strange but we shared a wine with them.
After lunch we descent. After 3 hours we reached Ag.Anna. The senior monk was surprised to see us so soon. We told it was rainy and we wanted to catch the 17.00 oclock dinner.
He kindly provided a so called deluxe as recompense of our efforts.
We could then rest from our efforts.
Wednesday 29 October
Same wake up, with hurting legs and knees. After packing we thanked the monks for their hospitality
We had reserved the speed boat to get back. After the descent to the harbour. We waited eating the rest as breakfast.
Speed boat arrived. First heading to Dafni as custom check to verify the export import activities.
Then move out and back to Sofia