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Mt Athos, Greece on TravelSnapz

The ferry heads in to a monastery on Mt Athos

The ferry leaves from Ouranoupolis and travels down the Western coast of the peninsula, stopping at several monasteries and then at the main port of Daphne. Mt Athos mountain can be seen in the distance.

Mt Athos - The First Day

My journey to Mt Athos starts with an early rise to catch the 6am bus from Thessaloniki to Ouranoupolis. The bus was quite full, a mixture of monks returning to Mt Athos, passengers for other towns along the way and "pilgrims". I sit next to a young Greek boy who was interested in why I was going to The Holy Mountain.

I have had an interest in the area since I visited the monasteries in Meteora back in 1997. Maybe it is a fascination with the monastic way of life, maybe because Mt Athos is a rather unique area. Whatever the reason, I was about to realise a long held ambition.

A couple of days previously I had made my application for entry to the Pilgrim Bureau at Thessaloniki. I had expected perhaps a more thorough process, but all they wanted to know was my passport details, what my religion was and when did I want to go.

There are restrictions on the number of people admitted to Mt Athos - up to 120 Orthodox Christians and 14 people of other religions are admitted each day. Only men are allowed into the area!

We reach Ouranoupolis after a journey of about two and a half hours. Here I line up at the Mt Athos office to pay thirty euros and receive my official entry certificate. Then it is a wait on the dock for the 9.45am ferry to Daphne, the main port on the peninsula.

I look around at my fellow passengers as the ferry leaves. No women on board of course, but groups of men sharing the pilgrimage together, monks, fathers with their sons, and some solo pilgrims like myself.

I try to focus my thoughts but it is difficult with the hubbub of excited talk, mobile phones ringing and the noise of the boat. A monk approaches me with some trinkets for sale - I decline gracefully and he wanders on.

A bridge on the path to Panteleimon Monastery

A bridge on the track.

The boat travels down the coast. Soon the peak of Mt Athos comes into view as we call in to a few of the monasteries. Firstly the port for Zographou Monastery, then the monasteries of Docheiariou, Xenofontos and Panteleimon.

Panteleimon is one of the monasteries that I intend to visit but my plan is to go to the port of Daphne and then walk back up the coast.

We arrive soon enough, and I sit for a while. Daphne is a small place, a few buildings, a restaurant and some souvenir shops. A little way up the road a group of new arrivals are gathered around the bus that will take them onto the administrative centre of Karies, and then by taxi to their monastery of choice.

But my journey is to be a solitary one. The bus leaves, and I shoulder my pack and start off up the road. According to my map, a path to Panteleimon should branch off the road to the left. I find one track but it is not sign posted. I walk along it for a while but it goes no-where, so back to the road and I walk on.

Ah - here it is, sign posted (in Greek) and heading in the right direction.

Approaching Panteleimon Monastery

Panteleimon Monastery comes into view.

I take it slowly. It is a pleasant walk closely following the coast. Then there is an old stone bridge crossing a dry creek bed and I take a couple of photos.

It is early spring, and the wild flowers are starting to come out, dotting the sides of the path. It is peaceful.

The monastery is now in view ahead as a young monk passes me going the same way. We exchange 'hello' and he returns a pen I had dropped on the trail.

Cold Soup at Panteleimon Monastery

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