’14 Jun: the Peloponnese
Nafplio, Mystras/Sparta, and Ancient Olympia, home of so many amazing archeological sites including Mycenae and Epidaurus.
I flew from Rhodes to Athens, spent the night at an Athens hotel by the bus station, and arrived in Nafplio by bus without a place to stay. Yay, it didn’t start raining until after I was settled in at the Hotel Leto. Phewww.
As Lonely Planet begins their section “For better or worse the secret is out about Nafplio”. I could tell just from the time I spent looking for a place that this is one adorable town.
This restaurant is right down the hill from my hotel.
I’ve not been repeating my meals although I did get dolmas twice, once was cold and vegetarian and once was hot with rice and meat. I also had kabab twice, once with meat chunks grilled and another time with ground meat formed around a spit. And delicious Greek Salad more than once too, and it’s always pretty much the same with the oh so delicious slab of feta on top. The tomatoes have been the most surprisingly good part of every salad.
Tonight I had a fish soup with lemon and egg yolk that was so yummy I might have it again!
It’s very good inside, with clean, professional displays and good information in Greek and English. They have very old things including some items found in caves dating to around 30,000 BC.
Craftsmen created these lovely ladies using a potter’s wheel in the 13th century BC. I really like the fish too.
It’s a lovely town and I’ll try to get some more representative looks tomorrow. This is the outside of one of the many (surprise!) churches.
I think now that all the Greek Orthodox churches here have a similarly fevered interior, all full of things that gleam and glow. It’s pretty amazing to see so many of them one after the other full of tons of hammered silver, iconography on every surface, huge crystal chandeliers, gold leaf everywhere, candles all lit, carved wood, mosaics, more more more.
That’s the castle of Bourtzi completed by the Venetians in 1473. The Greeks regained it from the Turks in 1822, from where they assisted in the siege of Nafplio. Then it served a number of other oddball purposes.
These days it’s a tourist attraction and you can ride out there on a little boat that hangs around the harbor.
My dinner host (stuffed eggplant with moussaka flavoring and lovely baked chicken, both very good) who told me about all his cousins in California one of whom owns the restaurant at the Cliff House in San Francisco. You would not believe how many people have cousins in San Francisco. I asked if I could take his picture so the next time I go to the Cliff House I can bring greetings to his cousin. “Oh yes, efkharisto.”
There are many well-known and well-developed archeological sites around Nafplio but I couldn’t find a day tour from here. You can get a day tour from Athens but not from here. Maybe when the season hits in July that will change.
So I could rent a car for 40 euro or pay the guy in the white shirt 80 euro to drive me around. I took the easy way.
The guy in the blue shirt manages the hotel (and fixes and serves the breakfast, and tidies up the lobby, and runs the front desk…his wife and daughter also help out). He’s making the arrangements with White Shirt guy because he absolutely does not speak English At All. And off we went.
The Mycenae acropolis, a UNESCO World Heritage site. The history here is the origin of all the Agamemnon lore.
Lion Gate is the main entrance to the citadel and has not been lost or destroyed since it was finished around 1350 BC. Since 1350 BC Lion Gate has been visible to all the surrounding area.
Although the mighty lions did lose their heads, I don’t know when.
From the brochure: “Within the impregnable Cyclopean walls of the citadel, unfolded the life and terrible sufferings of the family of Agamemnon; the names of its members (Clytaemnestra, Ighigeneia, Electra, Orestes, together with Agamemnon’s rival Aegisthus) furnished material for the Homeric poems, the ancient Greek tragic poets, and post-Renaissance classical European and international literature.”
Various types of citrus and plenty of olive groves cover the landscape.
We next stopped by at the Karakala Monastery of Dominican nuns.
On the right is the outside wall and the flag of the Greek/Eastern Orthodox Church. A bus driver (I couldn’t possibly have had such a conversation with White Shirt guy) told me it was also the flag of a local football team. Yes, we agreed, God would be on the side of that team.
On the left is the church inside the monastery, and below are all the buildings from the back.
A lovely sweet nun answered our bell and let us come inside. She gave us water to drink and sweet treats to eat.
I pointed to this image and pointed to my camera. There’s tons more silver btw surrounding the two heads. She nodded with surprising enthusiasm.
Then I took the picture and showed it to her. Tears filled her eyes, she made several long sighs and signs of the cross, gazing at the back of my camera and then she kissed me on both my cheeks. She then took my arm to lead me around for the rest of our visit. Wow. Too bad I couldn’t get a picture of her!
From the brochure: “In the hinterland of Epidaurus., on a site enjoying a mild climate and plentiful water from healing springs, the Epidavrians founded the sanctuary of Asklepios, the most brilliant center of healing in the ancient world.”
They worshiped the gods of healing here, back to the prehistoric period.
…the view from my very nice balcony. There was some stair climbing involved in staying here which was good considering that at the bottom of those stairs was Food Aplenty.
Every meal comes automatically with a lot of bread that they all charge for, 1 euro. The bread here in Nafplio is not as splendidly to my taste as the bread in Naxos was but nevertheless if I don’t ask them to please take away the bread, I eat it All.
Tomorrow morning I’m up at nay the crack of dawn for a 4-hour 3-bus journey to Mystras, another fortress town and UNESCO World Heritage site.
I had dinner here (roast pork, ok, and a mélange of vegetables which was nice).
This man was running the place I think and we chatted about this and that. He helped me arrange how to get up to the fortress tomorrow and then as I was leaving he ran back to the kitchen and brought out this orange as a parting gift.
I’m going to be enjoying oranges for awhile!
Good Morning, out my window.
The host in my guest house is a lovely young woman, Elena, from Russia.
A real character in the life of the guest house is her 4’10” tall 80 year old mother-in-law who burst into my room a few times (I left the door open!), asking me “GREEK COFFEE?????” or speaking long enthusiastic paragraphs that end in “YES?????”.
She was so much fun! My worst regret of this whole trip so far is that I don’t have her picture.
As I was leaving we did the cheek-kissing thing, twice like they do in Greece. Elena then said “In Russia we do three” and I got another one. The she said “How many in America?” I told her “One, if you’re lucky.”
I’m standing right outside the guest house and the tree is the landmark of New Mystras used for all directions. I have an ‘aerial’ photo from the top of the castle so you can get some perspective on Mystras and Sparta.
This complex is called the Ruins of Mystras. LP: “This is where the Byzantine Empire’s richly artistic and intellectual culture made its last stand before an invading Ottoman army, almost 1,000 years after its founding (in 1249).”
The fortress is at the top, the palace near the middle right, and in the lower-ish left is one of the largest churches and the buildings used for ecclesiastical administration.
The arrow points to the tree in Mystras and if you follow the center road up toward the top of the picture you’ll see Sparta.
I didn’t visit any of the sites in Sparta, being an Archeological Museum, the Tomb of Leonidas, some churches, an Acropolis and some ruins that I’ve read are basically a sign.
In one of the sites where there was a shell of a church there was also a refreshed barracks – it was the former monastery – with an actual room and in that room was a nun and some comfortable chairs and since I was so ready to SIT, I went in.
The nun offered a sweet, the very exact same type of sweet as the last nun. Now I have to figure out what they are. Maybe the nuns make them?
From the Metropolis-Saint Demetrios church, the last main building before the Main Gate. This is the book stand I heard from the guard there. He didn’t know what the image was or why they chose it.
Some people start at the Main Gate and walk up past the Upper Gate where I started, all the way to the fortress. And back down. I think doing that would be a much bigger project than up and down to the fortress at Nafplio. I asked google but she didn’t know.
Just in time! It started to rain so I turned into the restaurant from yesterday to thank the owner there for his help. He got me fixed up for my transfer to Olympia too.
Interesting: his restaurant, a family business, is part of the nicest hotel in town. He said they are busy all the time for the summer tourist season and then from October only open on the weekends. When it is not tourist season they harvest from their 30,000 or so (could that possible be right? Maybe it was 3,000?) olive trees. They have 200 orange trees for the restaurant and for the family.
After my late lunch (nice easy omelet with perfectly softened feta cheese) he gave me a shot of this beverage, rakomelo, that he told me how to make and that my Monday Night Potluck Ladies are go to l.o.v.e.
It’s a big holiday today and the bus schedule was greatly reduced so in order to get anywhere I first had to take a taxi from Mystras to Sparta which is 8 euros away.
From Sparta I got a bus to Tripoli and from Tripoli I was lucky to have a direct bus to Olympia.
What you see here is the route from Tripoli to Olympia. The road was one lane at many points and several cars had to back-up for the bus to pass, and the road was very steep and full of hairpin switchbacks.
The town is basically this street with similar blocks behind me and on the one block side street to the left and right. The hotels are scatted throughout.
On the walk to the archeological site I get to Name That Flag and it was especially fun because they’ve got some countries represented, such as Cameroon and Gabon, that I don’t see around much.
When I arrived around 9:30 there were 4-5 big buses in the lot and I thought oh well, I can’t expect to have the place to myself.
I went to the onsite museum around noon and left around 1:30 at which time there were 23 buses that I could count, and more roaming around the streets.
I told the guy at my hotel about this and he said “Only 23, sometimes we have 50, sometimes 100 (hyperbole perhaps?), they come from the cruise ships and never stay.” It was very quiet at this perfectly nice, well priced, family hotel (Hotel Kronio). I do think they might be overbuilt for accommodation here since everywhere there was plenty of space available.
There are two other sites related to the Olympic Games, a training area for track and field and a training area for wrestling and boxing.
This is where the track and field competitions took place. In the middle-right you can see the judging stand. There never were seats. It seems so modest.
You can see that group in the middle-left. They are a local guide and a clutch of American kids.
First one, then three, then eventually he had gotten all of them to do a run. That was impressive tour guiding. “I’m hot, I’m tired, I don’t have the right shoes, I don’t wan’na.”
By the time the last one had finished they were bursting with enthusiasm. They were Olympians! They had run on the field in Olympia!