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

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Flag of Greece  , Peloponnese,
Tuesday, June 1, 2010

10 June 1 - Tuesday

     Breakfast at the Panorama Hotel was much the same as the previous day with an assortment of breads, meats and cheeses (except for the French toast).  After breakfast I paid for the coffee I had the previous night, as I didn't want to forget.  In addition to our group at breakfast, there was also a party of six from France.

    We departed at 08:30 for Mystra where a local Guide had been arranged to provide a tour of the site.  Mystra is high on a mountain overlooking Sparta, another legendary and historic site.  Our driver, George, took us up to the entrance of the site and we started our tour on the walk back down which lasted about two hours or so.  Although the weather had clouded over somewhat, it was still quite warm and muggy especially inside the buildings and I was  enjoying even the slightest breeze.  We toured an old Church and were given a good overview of the history of the site by Dimitra.   There was also a Convent along the route, and the Group stopped for a few minutes to buy Needlework from the Nuns.  By the time we got to the bottom it was about 13:00, and we re-boarded the Bus for the trip to Sparta, where our Guide had arranged lunch at a restaurant featuring local specialities.

    Due to the layout of the city and volume of traffic, we were dropped a few blocks away from the restaurant and had to walk a short distance.  Our group was seated in a number of tables along the left hand side of the room, and I noticed that we seemed to somewhat a "subject of interest" with some of the other diners.  After the appetizers of bread and dips, the owner took our order for the main course.  There were three choices and I chose the chicken with caramelized onions and Feta cheese (it was great!).  After lunch we were given 40 minutes or so to explore a small part of Sparta, and we met George at the Bus about three blocks up from the restaurant.

    The next stop on our tour is two nights in Nafplio, and we arrived in the late afternoon.  Our Guide provided us with some information on the Hotel, Pension Marianna, which is apparently a bit unconventional and operated “by committee” by three brothers.  Due to the location of the Hotel on a hillside above the city, the Bus wasn’t able to get right to the door so after unloading our bags we had a short walk (fortunately downhill).  This was another occasion that I was happy to be using a Backpack rather than wheeled luggage.  At the entrance to the Pension, we were met by the brothers for the “key presentation ceremony” and each person or couple from our group was shown to their room by one of the brothers.

    My room was down about two flights of stairs and was quite distinctive.  It was constructed of stone and brick with stone floors (somewhat like a cave) and was very nicely appointed (including Wi-Fi).  The bathroom had ceramic tiles on the floor and the shower was one of the largest I’ve had so far.  I took the opportunity for a short rest, a shower and got my laundry ready to send out.  I’ve found that with the hot weather in Greece, I need to take care of laundry every few days, either by using a “service wash” or just washing clothes in the sink.  So far I haven’t managed to find too many self-serve laundries.  I stopped up at reception to have a look and was given a glass of fresh home-made organic lemonade.

    We re-grouped for an orientation gathering in Syntagma Square at 18:40  (Syntagma means “constitution”, so this square has the same name as the one in Athens).   We then went to a nearby wine store for a tasting session with a Sommelier, where we were served several different types of local red and white wines along with a sampling of meats, cheeses and other foods. The Sommelier was following the usual method of spitting the wine into a canister rather than actually drinking it.  Several different Liqueurs and Ouzo were also served but I wasn’t in the mood for any more Ouzo after my experience several nights previously.   After the tasting, everyone was on their own for dinner.

     I decided to try The Old Mansion for dinner which is on a small alley off one of the main streets.  The owner spoke excellent English and I ordered the Chicken Souvlaki and some red wine.  The dinner took a while to arrive, but it was good and the portion size wasn’t too large which I was pleased to see.  A group of six (from Germany) was sitting on one side.  Directly across the small alley was a “biker” type clothing shop, which offered a variety of products including earrings and leather clothing.  During my dinner, a group of six from the Vilnius (Lithuania) Harley Owner’s Club went in to browse and bought a few things.

     As I was finishing my Greek coffee after dinner, I heard a loud commotion coming from the main street.  I paid my bill quickly and arrived at the street just in time to see a demonstration pass by. It consisted of one car and one person at the front with a megaphone.  There were a few banners and signs written in Greek, but I wasn’t quite sure what they were protesting.  I asked one of the girls at the end of the procession what the demonstration was about (one sign had “Goldman Sachs” written on it), and she indicated they were protesting the current financial situation, and the Israeli takeover of a ship heading for Gaza which occurred a few days ago.  One of the locals told me that the protestors were from the communist party.

     I explored the downtown area for awhile, as many of the shops were still open.  When I decided to return to the Hotel, I had a bit of trouble reading the map and finding my way back, but I finally stumbled on it.  I spent some time updating my records and getting organized for tomorrow, when we’ll be visiting Mycenae.

10 June 2 - Wednesday

    Nafplio is a seaport city on the north end of the Argolic Gulf in the Pelopponese region, and consists of an “old town” and “new town”.  Following the Greek War of Independence, it was the first capital of Greece from 1829 to 1834.  The city has an interesting history and was occupied both by Venetians and Ottomans in the past.   The large fortress of Palamidi was constructed on a large hill above the old town by the Venetians in the 17th century.  Although Nafplio is a busy port for both fishing and commercial boats, tourism is the main source of revenue.  Due to it’s close proximity to Athens, it’s a popular weekend destination for Athenians but also a popular spot for tourists from Germany and the Scandinavian countries.   Unlike many small towns in Greece at the present time, the city seems quite prosperous.  Wandering through some of the small streets, there seemed to be an abundance of classy jewelry stores and other “high end” shops.

    Breakfast this morning started at 08:00, and there was a good selection of meats, cheeses, bread, hard boiled Eggs, and of course fresh home-made organic lemonade at the buffet.  The view of the city and ocean from the breakfast room was incredible on a beautiful sunny morning.  The brothers were keeping busy replenishing the food and visiting with guests.

    We were supposed to depart at 09:00 for our tour of Mycenae, but the original Guide that was to conduct the local tour of the site was in Hospital as her Mother wasn’t well.   Our capable Lead Guide arranged a substitute local Guide on short notice (he makes it look so easy!) and she’ll meet us at a location close to the site.  The group met at 10:00 in front of the usual statue in Syntagma Square for the short 30 minute drive to Mycenae.  We met Constantina (Dina) at a small roadside Cafe a short distance from the site (she reportedly had to travel two hours by Bus to get here – that’s dedication!).

    This site was the capital of the Mycenaeans who won the Trojan War, a civilization that dominated the Greek world about 1000 years before the Golden Age in Athens.   We first toured the large dome shaped Tholos Tomb (Tomb of Agamemnon) that was located under a hill.  Entrance to the structure was via a large portal with a “V” shaped structure on top, which is designed to distribute the weight equally and provide strength.   It was quite remarkable that such an early civilization was able to build the large entrance with stones weighing 120 tons using only simple tools.  Lots of other tour groups were also there including some school groups from the U.S. that we’ve encountered at other locations (I’m not sure if they’re following us, or vice versa).

    From there we moved up the hill to the main Museum, and after a washroom break, we began our tour there. The tour was a bit longer than I expected, as our Guide was very thorough (the extent of her knowledge was amazing).  It turned out that she was born in Montreal and has been thinking of returning there at some point in the future.  After another bathroom break the group moved up the hill to the main part of the site.  The Archeologist in our group said  this was the site that he was most looking forward to seeing.  After another brief lecture on the history we were encouraged to wander and explore on our own for an hour or so.  There were some incredible views from the top over the surrounding countryside!  During my walk around the site, I chatted with a young couple from Munich and also a girl from Columbia.

    After the tour ended, we were back on the Bus for the trip back to Nafplio, where we had the afternoon free.   I went back to the Hotel first to get cleaned up and have a shower (touring ancient historical sites is hard work in the hot sun!).  After freshening up, I went out to get some lunch at a small cafe just down the hill from the Hotel called Prego that I had passed by earlier.  I ordered a Turkey Club and Coffee, and I was pleased to see that the sandwich was made to order, rather than just being unwrapped out of the display case.

    After lunch I went looking for an ATM and also a Barber if possible.  One of the brothers from Hotel had given me directions to a Barber, but I must have taken a wrong turn as I couldn’t find the shop that he described.  He said they would probably be closed from 15:00 to 17:30, so I’d probably be out of luck anyway.  It was late afternoon by now so I went back to the Hotel to cool off.

    Before going back to my room, I took a short detour to the top of the hill above the Hotel as I wanted to have a closer look and get some photos of the deserted Hotel complex there.  The Hotel was reportedly built during the time Greece was ruled by the military junta, probably in the '60s as the design was typical of that period.  The location was absolutely one of the best in Nafplio, as both sides of the Hotel had a fantastic view of the ocean.  The building had been badly vandalized over the years, with many of the windows broken and the floors covered by debris.  Most of the shuttered doors to the rooms were open, so there was no protection from the elements.  Although the building was surrounded by a large metal fence, I found one corner where that had been “pried” open to allow easy access.   For some reason, that building was an endless source of fascination for me, and I tried to imagine what it must have been like when it was in it’s “prime” – guests sitting around the bar, enjoying the pool, porters hauling luggage to or from the rooms, front desk staff in suits or uniforms and perhaps even a Concierge at work.  I thought about sneaking under the fence and having a look inside and getting some photos, but managed to resist the temptation (I’m sure our Guide wouldn’t have been too impressed if I was arrested for trespassing).

    In the early evening, I got cleaned up and changed, as we’d be having another group dinner tonight.  We had to meet at the usual statue at 19:40 for the walk to the local restaurant.  Along the way we picked up local dog who followed us all the way to the restaurant (the group named him "Homer").  He was very friendly and in somewhat of a playful mood, as he’d pick up discarded plastic milk containers and shake them from side-to-side as if he wanted to play.  The group named him “Homer”.  I was a bit upset to think that such a friendly Dog didn’t have a good home or anyone to look after him.  The state of the animals in Greece is something that I’ve had to somewhat “put out of my mind” during this trip, as there seems to be a lot of homeless and unwanted animals here, some in very poor condition.   He stayed with us for a while at the restaurant, and chased the restaurant cats (as well as eating some of their food).

    For dinner tonight, Colin (our Guide) had arranged for some Greek musicians and dancers to entertain our group.  The restaurant was located up a small side street, and the tables were arranged in the street in two locations.  The couple that owned the restaurant was very nice and had everything prepared and ready to go for dinner.   As usual in Greece, the meal was presented in waves and all items were shared by the group at each table.  Numerous items were served, but there was no “main course”.  At one point we were invited into the kitchen to talk with the Chef and observe the food being prepared.

    After a short time, two men appeared with a Bouzouki and a Guitar and we enjoyed authentic Greek music during dinner.  A little while later, two couples arrived wearing traditional Greek clothing for a folk dancing demonstration.  During their performance they changed costumes at least once and increasingly involved our group in the dancing.   I didn’t take part as I wanted to focus on taking pictures (excuse the pun).  One or two others also declined to join the dancing as they were either photographing or video taping the performance, however the rest of the group seemed to enjoy the dancing.

    After dessert which included more entertainment, there was a demonstration by one of the performers which involved picking up a full shot glass while doing “pushups” and then drinking it without spilling any.  One of our group tried it, but wasn’t having much luck so Colin (our capable Guide) showed us how it’s done!  The group started to break up at about 23:00 and we returned individually or in small groups to the Hotel.  The band was offering a CD of their music, so I bought one as I thought it would be a nice souvenir of the trip and might be useful in presenting slide shows of the trip.

    We will be meeting Constantina again tomorrow morning for a tour of the ancient site at Epidavros.
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