In my last post, I wrote about my upcoming trip to Europe with my best friend, where we’d be traveling from country to country as cheaply as possible by volunteering via the online platform Workaway. Well, we’re here! And we’ve just completed our first volunteer experience at the Let’s Be S.M.A.R.T shelter in Kouvaras, 40 minutes south of Athens. And let me tell you, it’s been an amazing experience!
We arrived at the shelter in the middle of April and spent two-and-a-half fabulous weeks helping Diana, the shelter manager, look after 37 of the cutest, snuggliest, and sweetest cats, all desperately in need of their forever homes.
Our days began with a few hours of chores that are imperative to the maintenance of the household and the wellbeing of the cats and humans that live there – vacuuming, mopping, steaming, emptying litter trays, giving fresh food and water – before we were free to play with and give lots of love and attention to the cats. Most are there after being rescued from the streets, some have been surrendered by their owners, and some come and go as they like, eating and spending time outside in the yard when they choose to, but otherwise free to roam the neighbourhood as they please.
Julie, the founder of the organisation, is often busy arranging the vaccinations, medical treatments and transport of adopted cats to their forever homes in Europe and the United States. If you are looking to adopt a new furry family member, please consider the cute and cuddly friends I made in Greece.
But my time in Greece wasn’t just about helping the cats in the Let’s Be S.M.A.R.T shelter. I was also able to explore the surrounding areas and enjoy all that the Attica Peninsula has to offer.
One of the most beautiful places I visited was the Temple of Poseidon in Sounion. The ancient and impressive marble temple was built in 440 BC and strikes an imposing sight atop a cliff 200 feet above the sea. There is an entry fee of 8 Euros, but in all honesty you can get a great view of the temple and panoramic views out over the Aegean towards nearby islands without paying anything. There is also a lovely restaurant (although fairly touristy) at the base of the temple which serves generous portions of traditional Greek food and thirst-quenching local beer and wine. A climb up and over the rocks to the left of the restaurant allows you to soak in the incredible views out to sea from atop the cliffs, always with the temple in sight. Be sure to visit the barely noticeable ruins of the Temple of Athina which is located behind the Temple of Poseidon. Although not much is left of the temple, it’s worth exploring and you can see down to the bay and resort area of Sounion. From here you can also walk down a rocky path to a small cove to go for a swim or simply get your toes wet. Getting to Sounion is as simple as catching the KTEL bus from Athens – the journey takes approximately two hours – or organise a tour guide to take you there and show you around.
Another incredible trip worth taking from Athens is to Meteora, where monks built great monasteries atop giant rock formations in the 14th-16th centuries. Getting to Kalampaka (the main township at the base of the Meteora monasteries) takes about five hours by either train or bus from Athens. The two townships of Kalampaka and Kastraki are lovely to stroll around and find a bite to eat (Kastraki is a little less touristy as it’s not the main arrival point from Athens). But, it’s the monasteries you’re here to see!
Monks began building the monasteries in the 14th century, a time when Greece was under increasing attack from the Turks. The monks used ladders and ropes to haul themselves, as well as food, water and building supplies, up the cliffs – an astonishing feat when you consider the average elevation of the Meteora rocks is 1027ft! Of the 24 monasteries that still exist, only six are functional, and you can visit each one for a small fee, however they each have their own opening hours and at least one is closed to the public each day. Be sure to wear appropriate clothing that covers your shoulders, and for women it is advised to wear a long skirt as opposed to pants or be prepared to tie a shawl around your waist for modesty.
For the month of May, my travel partner and I have gone our separate ways – I’m in Galliate, a small town in northern Italy, while she is in Istanbul, Turkey, both of us staying with local families and experiencing life as the locals do. When we reunite at the beginning of June we will again be in Greece, this time exploring Patras and Ioannina, before venturing on to Albania for our next Workaway position in a hostel in Saranda.