The Slow Train to Kalambaka

Travel Diary #9

The train from Athens to Kalambaka was slow, thank goodness.

A five-hour journey was almost enough time to drink in the lush Greek landscape. There were deep valleys and tall jagged mountains, blanketed thickly in green. Herds of sheep flowed down the hillsides like milk poured from a jug. When the trees weren’t green, they were purple. When the grasses weren’t green, they glittered.

Images flashed past us, one after another. A valley. A mountain. A field. A farmer’s hut. A patchwork quilt of countryside. The stone tunnels dipped us into darkness, never for long, but long enough to frame each view like a shutter on an old-fashioned camera. We were low along the ground. We were up high, looking down as if we were in an airplane. I think Greece might be heaven, I remember thinking. Did I fall asleep and dream this place?

I snapped so many photos, but they seemed lifeless compared to what was in front of my eyes. I don’t want you to look at my photos! Instead I want you to take the slow train to Kalambaka, and see this place with your own eyes. How much beauty can one human heart bear? As soon as I thought those words, I was flush with gratitude.

Gratitude not only for this trip, but for everything.

For my entire life.

Three Months of Wonder

Three months of travel have brought us here, to the foot of the great stone cliffs, where ancient monasteries are perched impossibly high, over 600 meters in the air. They call the stones Meteora, which means the place between the Earth and the sky. And when you get your first glimpse, you might wonder if you’ve stepped into a fantasy novel.

Inside a church, inside a monastery, up on the cliffs, we saw prayer seats carved into the shape of dragons. Brass candelabras and incense burners hung above our heads, held aloft by four winged beasts with proud necks. Might dragons live in Meteora? We saw monks in their round black caps and long robes, which was exotic enough to my eyes. But I half-believe there are dragons, too. Where else would they want to live?

Over the last few days we’ve been walking the cliffs and feeling awe for the holy places, by which I mean not the churches but the landscape itself. Even if I were religious I’d have to ask: What could humans possibly create that could compete with this?

When we left home in January, I didn’t know where we’d end up. And I’m so glad that our path has lead us to Meteora, because it’s a place that fills your heart up to bursting. In fact, if I were a video game character, my life bars would be filled to the top.

Max life. Max energy. Max heart. Max gratitude.

Do you know what’s better than video games? And better than saving the princess? Saving yourself. Doing that thing you’ve always wanted to do. Making peace with ‘the scary’ and giving it a try even though you can’t guarantee it’s going to work out.

I’m not advocating that you act foolishly. But if there’s a dream you’ve had, that you’ve always had, I hope you’ll start preparing. Whatever your dream is, I wish you the joy of it.

The most important thing I’ve learned from travel is this: Following your bliss isn’t selfish. It’s self-care on steroids.

Returning Home

My father-in-law said this morning that it feels like we’ve been gone a whole year, and in some ways, I feel that too! It’s gone fast, no doubt, but we’ve been away long enough that my memories of home have gotten fuzzy around the edges. Not what home is like, necessarily, but how it feels to be there.

I expect our wandering feet will take us out into the world again, and soon. But for the moment, I’m ready to head home and reconnect with everyone I’ve been missing.

I miss my family and friends. There are books on my shelf that I want to finish reading. I’m tired of packing and unpacking, and it would be nice to have a bathrobe and slippers again. I miss my writers group, and Seattle coffee, and how the air smells like salt when the wind blows uphill from Elliott Bay.

How lucky I am, for these three months of wonder! And luckier still, to return home to the people and city I love.

Thank you, thank you, thank you! (my heart whispers)

Next Stop: Seattle