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Mount Athos

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Holy Mountain to Holy cow! The summer of 2007 held an unforgettable trip for my father and me: We had traveled outside Thessaloniki Greece to visit Mount Athos also called the “Holy Mountain”. At 5:30am, I awoke to our pitch-black hotel room, pleasantly surprised to find that my dad and I were on schedule, which is unusual for Greeks, especially in Greece. This was the first sign that something was not right. Upon meeting our friend at the entrance of the hotel, I was still half-asleep. After having opened the car door, I realized I needed to put some of my clothes in the trunk. this was followed by the sound of the closing hatch prompting our friend and driver to believe I had closed my door prompting him to drive away, I ran after the car with the door still open belting out “wait for me!!” As I continued to run until he came to a screeching stop, I then hit the door and flipped over the obstacle. This was not too bad, since he had been driving slower than 10 miles per hour. This experience, however, did awaken me more.
After the nearly two-hour car ride to the “third finger” peninsula, we had to check in with our passports and verification of orthodox certificates to be permitted on the island. That is precisely when the true effect of Greek culture started to play into the situation, the ferry that had three departure times, 8:30am, 10:15am, and 11am, was not there at 8:30 when we intended to leave. After repeatedly asking when it would arrive, the people working tried to convince us it had already left yet we had been there for about an hour before it was supposed to leave. Moreover, you could see the island on the coast and no sign of a boat. At 10:45am, the boat showed up from the opposite angle and we had learned that the captain lives across the bay where he over slept.
After finally getting to the island at a little after 11am, we had to track down the monk who was supposed to give us a tour of the some of the holy monasteries. Once we met him, everything seemed to be improving. The island was truly heaven on earth in every sense; the lush gardens and small forest is covering the island as well as the awesome mountainside, it was as though God Himself was embracing the land. The air was the freshest and most pure I have ever breathed. There were all kinds of animals from the bird soaring from the bottom to the top of the mountain to the dogs and cats that served to provide a sense of friendship as obedient companions. This place was so perfect that no picture, video, or description could ever convey the grandeur of the entire landscape.
It was a sin for us to stay there only for the day, unfortunately, we were stuck with what we had arranged and immediately realized upon arrival this was a mistake. As the monk toured us around the mountain, I felt smaller and smaller as the mountain started to seem like it was not of this earth. We saw monastery after monastery wherein everyone seemed to be so at peace. We had started to become close friends with the monk because we discovered he had been to Chicago and knew some of the clergy from the area and who were friends with us as well. When four o’clock came, we had to head back to the dock to catch our boat; however, the monk insisted we be his guest for dinner and stated he could take us back on his boat later. We agreed and joined him for a meal. I will not forget to this day, although it was not prepared by some world-class chef nor was it anything particularly creative or new, the freshly harvested potatoes, green beans, and tomatoes made for the best green bean stew I have ever eaten. All the fruits and vegetable we consumed were picked less and an hour before eating. The cucumbers, tomatoes, and onions we brought together with oil and vinegar to create the freshest Greek salad a person could only dream of eating. The greens and vegetables of the salad were so fresh and rich with flavor it was as if they were still growing while in your mouth. This held true for the berries we had for dessert, another truly breath-taking experience.
After this enchanted meal, we headed for the docks where the monk met us with his boat. After waiting for about 40 minutes the three of us grew nervous. Finally, we saw the monk coming around the mountain cutting through the sunlight peering through the side of the rock. His boat was intended for three people, two passengers and a captain. We, on the other hand, were three passengers plus him, the captain and some luggage.
We managed to fit everyone on the boat and launched into the Mediterranean. The approximately 20 min boat ride we took in the morning turned into a two and a half hour crawl for our lives. The wind increased and within 30 minutes of launching, the monk had to turn the engines off to let them cool, as the currents were too strong. Thus, we floated towards the mainland, after a few minutes of cooling, he turned them back on and we got to the middle current between the mountain and the mainland this is where we started to become “baptized by the monk:. We took on 30-40ft waves and almost capsized on some of the waves. We had to take them at the best angle we could in order to not sink the boat. My dad who is a rather large man and our friend had to change places consistently to maintain stability with the boats weight. We finally arrived on the mainland just as the sun was setting. We had to park where they docked the big boats so the dock was about four feet above our heads. After this experience, the challenge was just being able to pull yourself up and off the boat to the dock. Once on the dock we kissed the ground.
Our drive was an even longer excursion because we were heading for a place called Petra right outside of Athens and my mom was to meet us there. Without a cell phone and the obscenely long day, she was worried. Also due to my position on the boat, my clothes were drenched, necessitating me to barrow a towel from our friend and run through the hotel lobby in nothing more than a small bath towel.
This trip to the holy mountain was an unforgettable and one that encompassed a spectrum of experiences from paradise to hell. Welcome to Greece!





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