Saturday, April 13Royal Holloway's offical student publication, est. 1986

Step by Step

By Charisse Hau

There seems to be a natural tendency to move upwards: the trees grow taller towards the sun; the mountains are formed by building up of sediments; humans grow taller – all upwards. 

Similarly, I ventured upwards into the unknown world of mountains and cliffs in Greece. It was a 2-hour drive from the city centre of Thessaloniki – through the motorway, countless tunnels, driving up winding slopes, then we made a stop at a café to replenish. We had some mountain tea to cure the motion sickness and continued our journey.

After another half an hour of driving, we finally got to our destination, Meteora. Well, not quite. To get to the monasteries on the cliff-tops, we had to tread hundreds of steps to get up there (more well-paved than I expected). The journey had only just started. As we approached the first monastery, Monastery of Rousanou, run by nuns, there was a bridge-like structure that connected the steps to the monastery itself. The views you got to see there were simply fascinating. The panoramic view of cliffs was painted with strata of colours – grey, beige, brown. The cliffs were underwater millions of years ago but after tectonic activities, multiple series of weathering and erosion by water and wind, nature had sculpted this spectacular piece. They had gone through a lot to get to this amazing state. After visiting and taking a bunch of photos outside, we had to go down the steps – definitely quicker than going up. 

Next stop, the second largest monastery in Meteora: Holy Monastery of Varlaam. Once again, we scale up the seemingly endless steps. It felt like a pilgrimage. Long and challenging. Past me would be moaning about the heat, the cramps of my feet, the time it took, and just complaining about everything. I would never have even dreamed about finishing this hike up the whole flight of stairs. But I endured and learnt to enjoy the process, and I knew going through that grind would take me to somewhere I never thought I would be. When I looked down from the top of the cliffs, I realised, I have come a long way to where I am right now. The views were breath-taking, and perhaps, it was all the hard work that paid off that made the view even better. We got to see more of a monk’s life in this monastery as it conserved things from the past, even had a small museum about its history. What’s most interesting to me was the Rapunzel-like way monks got up the cliffs at that time. How does that work? A super long rope and net was connected to the monastery, and the monk had to climb inside the net, leaving his donkey behind. Then the other monks on top would pull him up. I just simply cannot believe they did that without feeling acrophobia. But that just shows how much dedication they had to their faith, that they found a cliff-top to build their monasteries and spend their lives there. They embarked on a spiritual pilgrimage towards heaven – literally and figuratively. They moved their monasteries away from all the crowds and noises of the world to the otherworldly clifftops. To the monks, this was their progression: to be closer to God and heaven, even though it meant to forgo all other things of the world. Well, I mean, the views just made me speechless so perhaps the monks did choose well.

It was such a great accomplishment for me. Focusing on those steps and going through the grind was difficult; but in the end, it was worthwhile and fulfilling. The journey reminded me of the hard work of nature, of the monks, and of myself. We all took steps and progressed at our own speed and time.

Perhaps that is life. We take one step at a time. So often, we want to take a leap and skip a few steps, but sometimes, we cannot take sprints, life just doesn’t allow us to do that. But eventually, we will reach somewhere, the destination in our journey of life. As we look back, we would see all the pain, hard work, growth, and beauty. So, whatever life stage you are in right now, whatever new journey you are going to venture into, just take your time, and know that it takes a lot of small steps, but you will eventually get to see the break-taking views of your journey.