99.8% of the time I am overly content with being a woman. But, while traveling through Halkidiki, Greece I encountered that .2%. Due to my genetic femininity I would only be able to witness the breathtaking Mount Athos Byzantine monasteries from a minimum of 500 meters away. That’s a whopping 1640 feet to us Americans, 140 meters longer than the largest cruise ship in the world or the length of 4 1/2 football fields. You get the idea?
Mount Athos is an UNESCO World Heritage site located on the Easternmost “finger” of the Halkidiki peninsula and there are 20 monasteries that call it home. Men have to have special permission to visit this holy land, while women must keep their distance. No exceptions.
For just one day, I wish I were a man.
Even though I could not step foot on this spiritual place, I still felt fortunate to be able to see it first hand, even if it required a boat and a pair of binoculars.
We drove to the tiny village of Ouranoupolis, the gateway to Mount Athos and heavily influenced by the holy mountains. Instead of shot glass souvenirs, it is filled with spiritual iconic wall hangings, fragrant incense and colorful crosses. This is where we would be catching the boat that was a necessity in order for the women to see this range surrounded by the Aegan sea.
Due to the tip of an insider, I chose to sit on the left hand side of the boat, bottom floor. This was the spot for the best photos and no sunburn. Double bonus.
As the boat parted the dock, the commentary over the loud speaker began and continued throughout the ride. It would be 45 minutes before we reached the first monastery, but the preparation for what we were about to see came early.
Mt. Athos is 363 square miles and there are 2,300 monks who live in this place dedicated to prayer and the worship of God.
After the 45 minutes and passing several small structures that I mistakenly thought were monasteries, we came upon the first one. When we saw it, all doubt was removed.
There was no missing it’s grandness and spiritual cross adornment.
After the first, there came about a dozen more and for the next hour we rode along the shoreline of the peninsula, monastary hopping. You would think that it would get monotonous and dull, but it didn’t.
Each monastery was unique: some were built into the hills, others were colorful and one housed what is said to be the largest bell in Greece.
All were a stunning spectacle.
Even though I will never be able to enter the confines of this sacred place, a sense of gratitude will always exist for being able to witness its beauty from afar.
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