I had always wanted to come to the Monastic State of the Eastern Orthodox Church of Mount Athos, I think since seeing a photo or two of elderly monks in a copy of National Geographic, or some such magazine. It is not an easy place to reach, and for women impossible, barred at the request, supposedly, by the Virgin Mary who appeared over the Athos peninsula in 885 and declared it her garden. All visitors lucky enough to receive permission (and I was in 2019) need to travel to the small village of Ouranoupoli to collect a special entry passport called a diamonitirion (διαμονητήριο) to then buy a ferry ticket, the ferry for most being the only way to step on Athos. Only 100 Orthodox and 10 non-Orthodox are allowed in per day. The peninsula has 20 monasteries, one small administrative village, Karyes (with the only espresso machine), and some 3,000 monks, who live in those monasteries or in smaller sketes, chapels and humble homes. I was allowed in for four days, three nights, and pilgrims need to move from each of the monasteries they sleep in after one night. I stayed in Simonos Petra, Iviron and Xenofondos and hiked to them all through pristine countryside.

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