Tag Archives: James Bond

James Bond and the Monks of Meteora

I grew up in the 80s when Roger Moore was the popular choice to play James Bond. In the 1981 Movie ‘For Your Eyes Only’, the climax of the film featured an amazing rock climbing stunt with the monasteries of Meteora as its backdrop.

Apparently the monks were not that impressed with their domain being invaded and tried to disrupt the filming by hanging out their laundry during takes. In fact, the interior and some of the exterior scenes were shot on a set in Pinewood Studios, England.


dscf3123I set out to visit Meteora from the village of Kastraki where I hope to catch the 9am bus up to the highest monastery. It turns out that I’m over two weeks too late for any bus but then a miracle occurs. George pulls up in his taxi and offers to take me for only €3. He already has two Spanish girls in the back so I’m really just a bonus for him. He points out ruined monasteries as we swerve up the road and gives information about the monks and nuns who live in the monasteries which remain in use.




We pull up at Megalou Meteorou just as two coaches are disgorging their loads, so I hang back and wait for the crowds to clear before descending and ascending the numerous steps. Megalou Meteorou is the highest and luckily the largest of the monasteries so it’s easy to avoid the other visitors. In fact, I’m surprised by how much there is to see. Various museums, a carpentry room, the smoke-blackened kitchen, a shop selling soap, honey and religious items, a creepy ossuary, as well as the main chapel, or Katholikon as it is known.


The main theme of the 16th century frescos are the martyred saints who were killed for not renouncing their Christian beliefs. Scenes of their hanging, beheading, dismemberment and crushing with stones adorn the walls while haloed icons gaze up from their frames and incense fills the air.


dscf3095A little further down the road is Varlaam, one of the earliest monasteries to be established in the region and with an impressive old ascent tower and modern electrical cable car which I get to see in action. Today it is only being used to transport building materials for restoration work taking place on the large exterior patio. These days visitors use the steps carved into the rock and bridges which span the chasms. However, when Patrick Leigh Fermor visited in the 1950s he ascended by the ancient windlass mechanism. When he asked the abbot how often the rope was replaced, he was simply told, ‘When it breaks’!

dscf3114Very few monks now actually reside at the monasteries but there are a flourishing community of nuns living at Ayiou Stefanou and Roussanou. The steps up to the small but precipitous monastery of Roussanou are steep and the two bridges narrow and worn, but the nuns seem quite content there, producing honey and worshiping Saint Barbara, whose relics are kept in the chapel there.





The Spanish girls declare that they are too tired to attempt the ascent to the last monastery on our route back to Kastraki so I climb up to Ayiou Nikolaou alone. For me, this monastery turns out to be the most authentic that I visit, with only one elderly monk in residence and a small katholikon that doesn’t actually have the gruesome scenes of martyrdom. Instead the walls are decorated with more positive scenes depicting monastic life and episodes from the Old Testament.


As I climb up to the patio and bell tower at the very top, I can hear the monk praying in a back room somewhere, and when I see the stunning view back down the valley I can understand why all those years ago they chose the arduous task of constructing their places of worship on the top of these monolithic rocks. So they can be as close to heaven as possible.



Siena: Before Sunset and After Sunrise

DSCF7574On a warm, sunny October afternoon I find Siena is busy with students and sightseers who are shopping or just soaking up the sun on the sloping pavement of the Campo, where the famous Palio horseraces take place in August and where a James Bond action sequence was shot for the film Quantum of Solace. I hadn’t realised just how hilly Siena is. Even the Campo is laid out on quite a serious slant dropping down towards the Palazzo Publico and the 87m high Mangia Tower that is attached to it and a focal point for anyone visiting the city. Due to the lateness of the day, I’m unable to climb to the top, so I don’t have to face the 400 to 505 steps which the guidebooks and websites fail to agree on.


DSCF7544Armed with a detailed map I am able to locate the Duomo. Siena’s cathedral is huge with a striking combination of black and white marble blocks forming its main structure and a bell tower whose number of window arches seem to increase with height. I purchase a €12 combined ticket and decide to start small and at the bottom by visiting the Baptistry. The detailed bronze reliefs on the baptismal font, including one by Donatella, are overshadowed by the amazing frescoes which adorn the walls and ceiling.


DSCF7572Another small but beautiful place is the crypt where 13th century frescoes were uncovered in 1999 during a restoration project which also revealed the interesting architectural features of the Duomo’s foundations.


DSCF7575It’s getting late and I want to see the view of the city from the imposing fortress walls, so I cut down through the narrow Via D Galluzza, with its aerial brick corridors high overhead connecting adjacent buildings. On my route up, I stop at the house of St Catherine, patron saint of the city. Not much remains of her house as the site has been swallowed by chapels, cloisters and a souvenir shop selling trinkets with her image. The saint herself now resides in the huge and imposing Church of San Domenico built on the hill above. Well, at least her head is kept in a glass and marble tabernacle in a small side chapel. The rest of her remains are probably scattered across the world in holy reliquaries, the souvenirs of medieval times.


As the sun sets over the red-tiled rooftops of the city and the tour groups return to their coaches, I decide on an early morning plan of action to conclude my sightseeing.


DSCF7613The next day I rise with the sun but in the end, it doesn’t feel like such an early start as daylight saving kicked in and the clocks went back by 1 hour. I arrive at the huge doors of the cathedral at 9.25 with only a handful of other people anxiously waiting the opportunity to see inside. When we are finally allowed to enter, we are welcomed with a glorious site of tall, black and white pillars, rows of pious popes looking down from above, intricate frescoes and 56 marble floor panels of biblical and mythological scenes.

DSCF7557The floor is often covered to protect these wonderful works of art, created by the best artists of the 14th to 16th centuries, but today we are lucky to see them in their full glory. I’m particularly drawn to the huge, marble pulpit of Nicola Pisano with its gentle curving staircase and elaborate reliefs depicting the life of Jesus. Equally alluring are the decorative books and colourful frescoes in the Piccolomini Library which recall the life of Aeneas who became Pope in 1458 and canonised Catherine Benincasa of Siena, the first female saint.



DSCF7551An hour later, I join the other eager beavers waiting to enter the Museo dell’Opera. As the doors open, we don’t pause to look at the works on display but immediately climb the wide marble stairs to the third floor and a small doorway in the far right corner. For it is here that we can access the Facciatone. In 1248, following a huge decrease in the population due to the Black Death, the funds for the building of the Duomo were stopped and the ambitious extension was halted.

DSCF7680What remains is a side aisle that now houses the Museo dell’Opera and a tall, narrow end wall. A constricted, stone stairway spirals to the top where, from the thin walkway, I’m rewarded with views over the city and across to the Duomo where I can see other people enjoying views from a balcony on the dome. Time is limited to 15 minutes but it’s enough to feel on top of the world and as I descend back down to the museum, I can’t stop grinning.


James Bond in Portugal

I love watching James Bond movies on a wet winter afternoon. The exotic locations always make me feel warmer while the exciting action and stupendous stunts keep me engaged. They are also so British, as are the actors who play Bond, all except the Australian, George Lazenby, who featured in just one film – On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. I’m surprised to learn that many of the scenes were shot in Portugal and I find myself on location with Bond.


Cascais was once a fishing village but is now a popular holiday resort due to its proximity with the capital city. I stop briefly to enjoy the sea vies and stumble upon an interesting 19th century house which is now open to the public and, even better, free entry. There are some interesting paintings and pieces of furniture, including a large red organ. The room which houses it was specially adapted so it would fit.

Just along the coast is the big brash resort of Estoril with a grand casino and several golf courses. In 1941 Ian Fleming, like many other intelligence officers (spies), was stationed here. The casino is said to have inspired his novel “Casino Royal” and the Palacio Hotel nearby featured in the 1969 film “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service”, as well as accommodating the cast and crew during filming.


The opening sequence of the film was shot on the road between Cabo da Roca and Guincho Beach and it’s at Guincho that Bond dives into the sea to rescue Tracy. It’s a beautiful windswept place with high dunes which can be surveyed in greater detail from a boardwalk path. The coast road is dotted with expensive seafood restaurants and immense car parks which remain empty at this time of year. Cabo da Roca would also be a rather desolate place if it were not for the coachloads of tourists who arrive to see the most westerly point in Europe. The staff of the tourist office tell me that the Asian visitors are often reduced to tears if they are unable to get the €11 certificate which proves they have been there.










Although Lisbon itself doesn’t feature in the film, the iconic red suspension bridge which spans the Tagus River does. Bond, having been captured and restrained by two thugs, is driven across the bridge.

DSCF7942A few days later, I find myself driving along the winding mountain road of the Serra de Arrabida which features in the final scene of “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service”. The scenery passes easily for a Mediterranean landscape with pine-clad slopes dropping off into the sea. I pass by the now-empty Franciscan Convent of Arrabida, and stop at a spot which offers views up to the green mountains, down to the sandy beaches and across to the Troia Peninsula. This is a rather unique landmark which clearly identifies the location where newlywed Tracy dies in the arms of Bond, having been shot by the villainous Blofeld. Although I don’t think the high rise hotels and apartments existed in 1969!