A trip to Mystras

Trip Start Sep 13, 2010
Trip End Sep 30, 2010

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Where I stayed
Aktion Hotel

Flag of Greece  , Peloponnese,
Thursday, September 16, 2010

What a day. This morning after breakfast we went to the corner to pick up a box of almond biscotti from the gelateria ,  grabbed some fruit from the basket in the lobby, packed our things, and went down to the lobby to ask for directions to Tripoli which is on the way to our destination.  The receptionist kind of thought for a minute (as if hesitating) then asked if I wanted to take the highway, or drive along the sea and then go through the mountains.  Hmmm.  Which would you chose?  I asked her if it is much farther going by the mountains and she said it was shorter.  Of course I wanted to take the scenic route.  Why hesitate to ask?  Besides, the tolls on the highways which seem to pop up every 30 minutes or so (I am exaggerating now) do add up.  So I filled the tank at the first gas station I came across because I wasn't sure if there were any petrol stations in the mountains, and we were off.

As an aside, it cost me 26 Euros to fill half a tank.  OUCH.  Wow.  Imagine if the Canadian and U.S. governments did not subsidise the petrochemical industry in North America.  We would also be paying for the real price of gas and we would probably be lobbying harder for alternative fuel sources.  The government would also probably be funding more research in developing alternative fuel sources.  We would probably have a much better rail system (as they do in Europe) as well as more of an emphasis on public transit.  Instead, we have Harper defending the development of the oilsands project in Alberta which is an ecological nightmare and total blight on our international reputation. 

Ok.  Back to our trip.  We enjoyed a lovely drive along the coast and then headed straight into the mountains.  It was a drive we’ll never forget.  It was beautiful.  It was chock full of sharp hairpin turns which were fun.  Interestingly, there were speed signs erected for the turns ranging between 50 and 70 kilometres an hour.  No speed limits for the straight sections.  One time I approached a turn at about 60 km/hr and felt it was too fast and had to slow down.  The posted limit for that turn was 70 km/hr.

The roads were very good but I couldn’t help but notice all of the (cairns) by the side of the road… particularly at the turns.  These are little shrines that are erected by family members of people who have died.  There were literally hundreds of these things that we passed.  Sometimes 6 or 7 were erected in a single turn.  Sometimes there was a guardrail at the turn that was obviously destroyed down the middle where a car went through.  Many times there were no guardrails at all but gravel on the side of the road.  Even with these constant reminders to drive carefully and stay aware, there were still drivers passing on a double line (even a huge tour bus in one case which really upset Mom).  I suppose locals get so used to them that they don’t see them anymore.   

The first time I saw one of these things was on a previous trip to Greece about 25 years ago.  I think it is probably a cultural practice.  If we North American’s erected these as a normal practice on our own roads I wonder what our own roads would look like?

The mountains were just beautiful and the top ridges were often lined with huge wind turbines that were slowly rotating.  When we got very high up we saw 5 or 6 mountain goats on one hillside in the distance.  We also passed by an elderly man pulling a donkey that was laden about 6 feet high with some green crop I couldn’t identify.

We made it all the way to Mystras which was a sight to behold.  I was so mad at myself because I had forgotten last night to recharge my camera battery.  It was a very good thing that I happened to have a second camera but my second camera is small and isn’t nearly as versatile.  I don’t have the same control over exposure (given that today was another sunny hot day) and taking pictures that would do this place justice was impossible.  Suffice it to say that it is an entire ancient city (the most massive city in the Peloponessos at the time) on the top of a hill overlooking what is now Sparta.  There are 3 rings of stone wall inside which various strata of the population lived, the lower city, the upper city, and the fort at the very top.  As we left Sparta and approached Mystras it seemed like it would be impossible to get to the top.  It seems crazy that any civilization would go through the trouble of building such a thing.  It is incredibly beautiful.  When we reached the main gate we were given a map detailing about 6 areas of the ruins.  In these areas there were educational signs describing the organization of the city and various aspects of construction or Byzantine life.  There was a museum in which they had temperature controlled glass boxes containing clothing fragments, jewellery and hair samples along with samples of the finished products that researchers were able to glean from the artifacts dating back to the 13th century.  Mom had a lot of questions so I enquired with one of the guides located in one of the churches.  He said he spoke German and Greek, no English.  So I smiled and thanked him and apologised as I don’t speak either of those languages.  He must have somewhat understood my original question because he went on to painstakingly try to answer questions very slowly and awkwardly.  Mom kept asking more and more questions and the man was so sweet and kept trying to answer but he was clearly out his of league and I had to discretely signal to Mom that we can’t put him through any more of this.

Since we had a vehicle, we were able to drive up to the second entrance.  Mom really wanted to climb up to the top of that fort.  From the second entrance it was possible so I grabbed the fruit, biscotti and a couple of water bottles from the car and put them in my light backpack.  Slowly but surely we did make it to the top and enjoyed a snack at the top of Mystras overlooking the city and plains of Sparta.  Very satisfying.

We were then off to Gythio at the southern end of the Peleponessos where we are staying for the next 2 nights.  We were both so sleepy by now and I had trouble keeping my eyes open but somehow managed to make it to the hotel without killing myself or anyone else.  We are staying in the most highly recommended hotel for value, but it isn’t nearly as comfortable as our last one (very basic) and it only has internet accessibility from the lobby which is a bit of a hassle.  I have been spoiled up until now.  I had a feverish search for our documents which I had hidden in a different place after the safe didn’t work in our previous hotel, and we were exhausted.  We stumbled into our room, opened the curtains to French doors on the other side of the beds and were immediately blown away by our killer view of the sea as our road runs along the shoreline.  Ahhhh.  We collapsed onto the chairs on our balcony and just soaked it all in for a while before mustering up the energy to find some dinner. 

Upon enquiring about restaurants and wandering around town we are not overly impressed.  Every restaurant is a tourist trap, the city is dirty (one street is completely lined with garbage bags), the road is noisy and the food is mediocre.  This is a real fishing town as the wharf is lined with fishing boats which is nice to see (although not nearly as nice as our fishing villages in the Maritimes).  It is not my idea of a tourist destination but it is well situated and a good place to crash while taking day excursions to the surrounding areas.

That’s it for today.  Happy Birthday to you Uncle Steve!
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Matt on

Wonderful blog as always.
Hopefully it was garbage day the next day.
The price ofoil is the same world wide.The difference is due to taxes.
Love, Mattl

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