I thought Greece would have had better bones. That’s three ports visited now, and all of them have been ugly agglomerations of concrete blocks of flats and industrial buildings scribbled with graffiti, with just a scattering of old stone – fort, church, castle – and some nice bits of green. Istanbul has a lot of that sort of thing too, but with lashings of history and character on top. Here, so far, there have been only small tasters of that – nothing like what I was expecting, what with the world flooded with photos of the Parthenon and Santorini and all.
It’s also been surprising, given how dominant ancient Greece is in my own language and culture, to get here and find that the Greeks see themselves as victims, invaded by Romans from the left and Turks (or Ottomans) from the right, downtrodden for centuries, their own culture destroyed. I really should do more research.
The weather didn’t help leaven the creeping disappointment so far: after driving for two hours inland from Volos to visit the monasteries of Meteora, which are precariously built right on the top of high, sheer cliffs and, the destination lecturer promised, dripping with Wow factor, we were met by fog and rain. We got glimpses of marvellously cave-riddled conglomerate peaks through the swirling clouds, but no more. It was really disappointing – always a gamble, of course, coming somewhere at the end of the season, but still a shame.
Indoors, the two monasteries we visited were certainly colourful enough to make up for the rubbed-out scenery outside, if that’s your thing. Byzantine artists don’t subscribe to the Less is more idea, and every square centimetre was covered in gaudy painted scenes from the Bible, including lovingly-detailed depictions of flayings, decapitations and people being skinned. I rather liked the serpent-fish creature with bright eyes and big teeth that awaited those souls being sent to hell, but wasn’t allowed to take photos in that chapel. There was an artist at work in the second, though, who said we could in that one.
Not a day to remember, then. Tomorrow, wind and weather permitting, it should get more postcardy, though: we arrive at Mykonos.