Trip Start May 13, 2010
Trip End Jul 05, 2010

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Flag of Greece  , Peloponnese,
Sunday, May 30, 2010

10 May 30 - Sunday

           I woke up about 06:15 (earlier than normal) as I was feeling a bit "ill" (probably a slight hangover from the Ouzo), so I slept in a bit longer.  Eventually I felt better and got cleaned up and organized as the Bus would be leaving at 09:00.  Breakfast was the same selection as the previous day.  The young blond, Valisia was working again this morning and she was always a pleasure to talk to.

            Today was going to be a “Sunday tour” of various sites in the Mani Peninsula and our first stop was a very small town called Kastania up in the mountains that was famous for it's small Churches (*Note: there are apparently other towns in Greece with the same name - this town is located in the Mani area).  The Bus parked at the bottom of the hill and the group walked up to the town.  We passed one small Church on near the bottom of the hill, and went inside in two “shifts” as it was very small and didn’t have room for the entire group.  Unfortunately, I forgot to note the name of the village.

            We toured more Churches with the help of an older lady dressed in black.  One of the Churches had been damaged by earthquakes in the past, and the cracks in the structure were evident.  Part of the interior was supported by reinforcing beams, and the lady was quite concerned that the group didn’t dislodge the beams.  Unfortunately she only spoke Greek, but was able to carry on somewhat of a conversation with one of the ladies from our group, who had taken some Greek lessons prior to the trip so had a basic knowledge of the language.

        After the tours we stopped at a small Café in the town square where our Guide had arranged some cakes and Greek Coffee for the group.  It was a very pleasant and relaxing location, especially with large trees providing some relief from the hot sun.  Some of the local men were sitting under a large tree next to us, drinking the Greek equivalent of Grappa (this was probably a Sunday morning ritual in the village).  As with most places that we’ve been lately, there were numerous Cats.

            After our visit to the small village, we continued to our location for lunch, a small village beside the ocean called Limeni, where our Guide had arranged a seafood lunch for the group at a local restaurant.  Again, the Bus had to park at the entrance to the town and we walked to the restaurant (due to the narrow roads).  Walking into the village, the first thing I noticed was that there appeared to be a lot of construction in progress, with many of the stone and concrete homes either being renovated or new homes built.  One of the construction crews was hard at work with a small cement mixer.

            We sat at two long tables directly above the sea, and were served several courses including salads, greens, broccoli, bread, Kalamari and small deep fried fish (not sure what kind of fish they were – I only had one to try it).  The location and atmosphere were incredible, sitting under the awning on a hot day and enjoying a fine meal and a cool Beer.   After lunch we had a short time to look around the village and take photos and during my walk a very expensive car drove along the waterfront road and parked at one of the houses.  I suspect this village may be a popular summer home location for the rich and famous from large cities (there’s a larger community on the hill above town, with some very luxurious looking Hotels).  Some of the local children were swimming in the small bay near the restaurant, an activity that was very popular given the hot weather (I would have welcomed a short swim at that point).

    After lunch we carried on to our “coffee break” location of Gythios, another seaside harbor town.  As we entered the town, a few restaurant owners jumped in front of the Bus to try and entice us to stop (business must be slow if they’re risking getting “smoked” by a Bus!). There were Octopus hanging on drying racks right beside the harbor, and I believe that image is used on the website for this tour.   After taking a few pictures I went to try and find a coffee and perhaps some Gelato.  Most of the group was lined up at a small shop on the other side of the harbor, but the two girls running the place seemed to be a bit overwhelmed by the crowd.  I didn’t want to wait in line so tried another restaurant further up the street.  It was next to a nice Bakery so I bought a couple of chocolate biscuits before stopping for coffee (the woman at the Bakery didn’t speak any English, so ordering was a matter of pointing to the biscuits and holding up two fingers).  At the restaurant, I sat in the comfortable padded lounge chairs in the outdoor patio so that I could watch the interesting procession passing by on the street.  The attractive young lady working in the restaurant provided a fantastic cup of coffee.  While sitting there, I noticed lots of people riding motor bikes without helmets (same as everywhere else in Greece).

            Finally, we all re-boarded the Bus for the short ride to our final stop, Monemvasia.  The scenery in this part of the Mani peninsula consists of lots of sparse vegetation and very rocky hills.  The Maniots are reportedly a very tough group, which is understandable given the rugged land they have to live in.  We arrived in late afternoon at the Hotel Panorama, which is located uphill from the main part of the town and has a fantastic view of the harbor and the large “Rock of Gibraltar” island.  The Hotel was very new and modern with all the amenities including free Wi-Fi.  My room was located right on the main floor adjacent to the Lobby, which was very convenient as I didn’t have to haul my Backpack up any stairs!

            After a quick briefing from our Guide, I went back to the room and had a shower and got cleaned up for dinner.  I wandered down to the harbor area to look for a restaurant, and eventually found a bunch of our group at a sidewalk restaurant called Meltemi (the name is correct if I translated the Greek letters correctly).  I ordered the Chicken Souvlaki and some wine.  They first served Rose wine but it was dreadful and tasted like paint thinner.  After some complaints from myself and one of the ladies in our group, they brought some red wine instead but it wasn’t much better (but at least somewhat “drinkable”).  One thing I’ve learned so far in Greece, is that it’s often “safer” to drink Beer as the quality of the wine varies widely in different cities and sometimes even in different restaurants in the same city.  I was interested to learn that the owner of the restaurant had spent time in Montreal and also the New York city area, and of course he spoke excellent English.  He spent some time visiting with our group, and telling a few jokes.

            After dinner everyone started to drift back to the Hotel.  On the way back through town, I spotted a shoe store and went inside to see if they had any black shoe polish.  My shoes have taken quite a “beating” on this trip due to the clay and mud in Tuscany and the dusty trails in Greece.  I’d been looking for a shoe store for several days, and the store not only provided some polish but also a couple of paper cloths for polishing.  I was glad that I’d finally be able to get my shoes cleaned up!  On the way past a small grocery store,  I also bought a large bottle of water as our Guide had said earlier that the water here was “brackish”.

            Back at the Hotel, I did some laundry in the sink and hung it on the patio (there was a small clothes line conveniently located there), polished my shoes, charged Camera and Cell phone batteries and got my gear ready for tomorrow.  During my stay, I found that this was a great location for laundry as there was often a warm breeze blowing.  Any clothes put out to dry in the evening were usually dry by the next morning.

10 May 31 - Monday

            Monemvasia is located on the eastern side and towards the end of the Pelopponese peninsula.  The name refers more to the Gibraltar-style rock rather than the small town of Gefyra, which is located on the mainland and across the Causeway from Monemvasia.  The civilization on Monemvasia was at it’s peak during the decline of the Byzantine empire from 1262 to 1460, and it was considered an important trading centre.  The town changed hands several times between the Ottoman and Venetian empires, but by the 18th century it had declined in importance.  The fortress was considered the strongest in Byzantine Greece and was only captured by siege (cutting off the food and water supply) but never in battle.  It was re-discovered by tourists in the 1970’s and became a popular destination not only for wealthy Athenians but also international tourists.

            Breakfast at Hotel Panorama started at 07:30. They offered a nice selection of small sandwiches, Ham & Cheese Omelettes, cold meats & cheeses, French Bread, Toast, Juices, Corn Flakes, French Toast, Yogurt, etc.  It was a beautiful, sunny morning so some chose to take their breakfast outside to the immaculate Patio.

            After breakfast the group met in front of the Hotel at 09:30 for our walk down to the island fortress of Monemvasia.  Our Guide indicated that the hike to the top of the hill wasn’t too difficult, but I had visions of a hike resembling the “Bataan Death March”.  We only walked as far as the downtown Bus stop and took the Shuttle Bus across the causeway, which was about a 10-minute ride. At the “tunnel” entrance to the site, our Guide led the group down into the old part of the city.  At it’s peak there was apparently a population of about 30,000 in the lower part of the town and 40,000 at the top (which was a more defensible position on the hill).  I noticed a few derelict houses but many of the others appeared to have been recently renovated or were under renovation, and there were crews working with cement mixers and other hand tools.  As no vehicles can enter the town through the small tunnel, all supplies including Portland Cement have to be brought to the work locations by Mule or Horse.

            After a tour of the lower town and the area just above the water, we started to move upwards through narrow alleyways between the houses.  I noticed several people swimming off a small stone dock at the lower part of town (I believe they were from the U.K.).  We hiked up the hill and before long we came to the spectacular 12th century domed Byzantine Church of Agia Sophia, which was converted to a Mosque during the Ottoman rule.  There was one lady monitoring visitors (probably not a very exciting job) and she had a small table set up just inside the door with some reading material to keep her occupied, as well as a small transistor radio playing outside.  It was wonderfully cool inside the Church, albeit a bit “muggy” which was a break from the hot sun. Our Guide provided a brief talk on the history, but I was in the outer doorway sitting on the step so I couldn’t hear much (at that point I badly needed to rest my back and legs).  Most of the group were busy getting pictures both inside and outside the Church.

            We continued up the narrow rocky trail in the hot sun, and after about 20 minutes or so we arrived at a couple of ruined buildings and walls, which I assumed were the “mid-point station”.  In fact, this was the summit and it provided marvelous views of the town and the spectacular turquoise ocean far below.  Lots of photos were taken, including a group photo (without our Guide, as he was taking the photos).

            After a brief look around the summit, we started the long trek down which in some ways was harder on the knees than the hike up.  As we passed through some of the areas with houses, we came across a workman loading bags of cement onto a Horse and Mule.  We eventually got to the bottom and the small town near the Community Park (which has an ancient Cistern beneath it).  About six of us stopped for a cool Mythos (Beer) which was a great relief after that hike in the midday heat, and then walked down the street to a restaurant for lunch.

            At the restaurant, I ordered another Beer (an Atlas beer this time as they didn’t stock Mythos) and Dolmades (grape leaves stuffed with rice, meat and spices).  Some of the group ordered Greek salad and Kalamari and shared their meal.  I had a sample of the Greek salad, but just wanted the Dolmades at the time. Of course to finish any meal, I had coffee which in this case was strong Greek coffee.

            At that point I lost contact with the others, and went to wait for the Shuttle Bus.  There was a group of German tourists waiting in the tunnel as well.  Eventually their Bus came but the regular Shuttle was nowhere to be seen.  I was thinking about asking someone else for a ride back to town, but I’m not really a fan of “hitchhiking” so decided to wait.  At one point I had a chat with a very attractive Greek girl that had made some purchases in the village.  Her and her husband loaded them into a Car and departed.  I also had a chat with a German family that arrived in a huge Mercedes motor home, that looked like something out of the '60s (however it was very “heavy duty” and definitely more robust than a Volkswagen Van).  Their children were on a two week school holiday, so they had driven to Venice and taken the Ferry to Greece.  After about an hour, a Taxi pulled up with two women, and I asked the driver if he had a fare going back.  He said “no” so I didn’t hesitate to seize the opportunity for an air conditioned ride back to town (and at that point, I didn’t care what the cost was!).  It was a treat to have a ride to the front door of the Hotel, avoiding the tedious hike up the hill from town. The Guide later mentioned that he had just learned that the Shuttle closes down from 15:00-17:00 due to “government cutbacks”.

            I had a short rest, a shower, did some laundry and then went to the patio for a coffee and to check my E-mail.  There were a few people seated there, mostly just relaxing.  As the time for our olive oil tasting got closer, more of our group arrived.  I wasn’t too interested in the tasting session, so just sat and listened for the most part.  When the session ended, we had 10-minutes to get ready for the walk downtown, as we would be enjoying another group dinner tonight.  We walked down the hill to a small restaurant right on the waterfront, where they had set tables up right on the concrete jetty by the water.

            On this occasion we were served Greek salad, breads, etc with the group at each table sharing items as usual.  The main course tonight was Swordfish with Rice and Lemon which was certainly a departure from the ordinary!  It was my first time having Swordfish, and it was very good.  For dessert the restaurant provided  small apple slices with honey and cinnamon (which we also had the previous night).

            At about 21:00 I decided to walk back to the Hotel to get my Tripod for some night shots at the harbor.  At that point I was really sorry that I hadn’t brought it with me at dinner, but I made the trek back up the hill and then returned to the harbor.  I got several interesting shots and I was back the Hotel at about 23:00.  The owner was just packing up for the night, but kindly made me a cup of coffee.

            I had another quick shower, updated my Diary and Blog and got some of my gear ready for our journey to Nafplio tomorrow.  We’ve enjoyed spectacular weather so far on the tour, but as a result I’ve found that frequent showers and laundry are necessary.
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