24 hours & 5 UNESCO World Heritage Sights!

Trip Start Feb 01, 2005
Trip End Dec 31, 2020

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Where I stayed
Hotel Cecil Sparta
Read my review - 3/5 stars

Flag of Greece  , Peloponnese,
Tuesday, May 17, 2011

After pouring over maps of Greece, both mainland and islands, reviewing the list of World Heritage sights and working out our days left here before we commence our Eastern European tour, we decided to bite the bullet and brave the Greek roads for a week of sightseeing on the mainland.

Yes, we have hired a car! 

There have been transport strikes (and riots) since we have been here in Greece over the new austerity measures imposed, so driving ourselves makes sense. It has however, been an education in the ways of the Greeks, their driving habits and their roads. Firstly, everyone speeds. We can be doing 130kms ourselves on a freeway and a car flies past in a blur and is out of sight in no time. Secondly, this is a broke country and so there are frequent and expensive road tolls. On the first day we had spent almost 9 Euro and it hardly seemed like we had been very long on freeways.Thirdly, roads that pass through villages are going to test our skills of spacial awareness to the max over the coming week. Houses and shops built in the days before cars, allow only a small gap to squeeze through and if someone is coming the other way, one driver is often going to have to back up.

So our hire car is small by choice, automatic by choice, and has our best friend "Athina" on board. Athina is the name we have called our English speaking sat-nav. and we love her! In fact without her we would still be stuck in Athens traffic somewhere. She has one little drawback - we have to type the name of the place in Greek on her keyboard and sometimes we can't find the right Greek spelling and on checking with any nearby Greeks, it would seem they do not know the spelling either. I have never been so pleased though to have someone else do the navigating and Athina is worth her weight in gold!

Thanks to Athina and Avan's excellent (right hand side) driving skills, we have, as the title to this story suggests, been to visit 5 UNESCO World Heritage sites in the space of 24 hours, widely spread apart and all quite different.

After getting out of the Athens traffic snarls we arrived at our first stop, the ancient citadel of Mycenae. This archaeological sight has excavations and ruins dating from 1500 BC that includes tombs, water cisterns and an impressive entry gate with lions still visible on the front.

A simple greek lunch at a Taverna (a pork chop testing its use by date for Avan) closest to the site and then on the road again to Epidaurus, to see the sanctuary of Asklepios. This took an annoying two hours to find, as signage was just about non-existent. We ended up in a different spot due to our putting the wrong place into "Athina" then had to stop and ask, then back track until finally, we found it. Unfortunately all the tour bus drivers know where it is! We turned the corner and at last finding the place, to discover the car park was full of day trippers from Athens on bus tours. In its heyday, around 4th century BC, it was a healing centre.The highlight was a massive theatre to rival any in the world, seating 14,000 and still used today for performances. The acoustic design is so perfect that a normal voice can be heard, up at the last of the 55 tiers.  

On the road again we set Athina to take us to the nearest town, Sparta, to the sight of Mystras. On the way by pure chance we passed another UNESCO sight,Tiryns, and although closed for the day we were able to view quite well from the road.

We arrived in Sparta just on dark and booked ourselves into the Cecil Hotel and set the alarm for an early start for the second part of our 24 hours of whirlwind sightseeing.

Mystras had an amazing vibe. Arriving early before anyone else, we had the whole upper fortress to ourselves, with the wildflowers, bees and birds. In contrast to the sights we had seen the day before, this was a city of the 12th to14th centuries AD. The site has a massive hilltop fortress, many churches, monasteries and a palace. There are also excellent ruins of everyday houses too. The monasteries and Churches had amazing fresco's in good order.

Off in the car again and we set a course with Athina's help to take us to see the temple of Apollo, our 5th UNESCO sight in 24 hours. The roads were very narrow with hairpin bends and little or no signage as we crawled through tiny villages. Eventually we found it. Not the ancient temple sitting in a field we expected, but a massive circus tent! The tent was given to Greece by China (as a gift after the Athens Olympics) to protect the temple whilst it undergoes restoration. We could however still go inside the tent to see the temple and it is a magnificent sight.

So with five sights down already in our first 24 hours we set Athina to take us to Olympia, the ancient city where the Olympic Games began and the subject of our next story.   

Footnote: Archaeological Sites of Mycenae and Tiryns, the Sanctuary of Asklepios at Epidaurus, the Archaeological Site of Mystras, and the Temple of Apollo Epicurius at Bassae are UNESCO World Heritage listed.
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