On the way back to Athens from Thessaloníki, we stopped at the famous Mount Olympus to do a bit of exploring. As we saw it in the distance, it's easy to understand why the ancient Greeks thought that it was the home of the Gods and the throne of Zeus. Not wishing to hire a guide and spend an entire day climbing, we instead drove up the mountain as far as the road would take us. Our trusty Hyundai sounded like it was going to kick it as we neared the end but she luckily held out for us as we ended at the Monastery of Agios Dionysios.
As we walked around the monastery, which was in the process of being restored, we were stopped by a Chicagoan lovely couple, Tom and Mary, who were on holiday in Greece visiting family. Tom has family in Litohoro and his brother is a priest who is living at the monastery this summer. Even though they were initially skeptical of our attire of flipflops and sundresses (we had sneakers, but they were left in the car), they invited us on a hike to the holy cave, about a half hour hike from the monastery.
We made it the the cave and admired the altar that had been built there, tucked away under a rock. We also got to drink some holy water, which was cool and refreshing and bubbling right out between the rocks in the cave. Shortly thereafter we saw a frog swimming in the same water, but since it was downstream we figured the blessing still held.
At the end of the trip, Tom and Mary offered us their nephew to take home with us, but we had to decline as our suitcases are already stuffed and we've got 10 days on the islands ahead of us!
Amazingly enough, we arrived back in Athens without a single scratch. We can't believe we put over 1600 kilometers on the car in six days and lived to tell the tale! Looking back on the whole experience we really know we made the right decision renting a car because it gave us the opportunity to see so much more than we would have been able to otherwise. It's interesting to watch the locals' reactions when we tell them how many places we were able to visit without being part of a tour group. It's definitely a mixture of disbelief tinged with jealously followed by them questioning our mental health.
In order to put our journey into perspective for you, we've photoshopped this map to highlight our drive. The thunderbolts indicate places that we've talked about in this blog. Click on the map to look at it at a more legible size: