Monemvasia, Between a Rock and A Hard Place
Trip Start Oct 11, 2012
23Trip End Oct 31, 2012
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We awoke to see the ancient city of Monemvasia off our side, the starboard side, of Silver Spirit. We have slowly sailed over night to Monemvasia, a unique ruined medieval city. The entire castle-city is built on a rock that appears barren from the mainland but, upon later inspection, offers impressive walls and remains after entering what they call the castle which is, in actuality, a small city.
Silver Spirit anchors in a natural harbor and, after we meet in the Show Lounge with fellow travelers who have booked the excursion to explore the castle, we are "tendered" (shuttled aboard a lifeboat) to the landing point ashore. It is the first time I have had this experience. In the past, my ships have always tied up to sturdy piers. It is fun this way. On a large ship, it would be less so but with only a small number of passengers on our voyage there is no line or crowding here.
Monemvasia, we are later told by our Guide Nina, means "single entry." Beyond whatever you might have imagined upon what such a name might be based, let me tell you that it means you can enter the city through but a single entry point. There would be no nother way in other than by helicopter.
Monemvasia is unique due to a triple layer of fortification. At the highest point, quite a climb if I may say so at 985 feet from sea level, lies the citadel. Lower are two lines of defensive walls each, once more, each with but a single entry point. To get from one entry point to the next requires lots of turning and doubling back through very narrow cobblestone paths. It would be tough to get through should someone on the top not want you to succeed. The highest walls contain battlements and eyelets for weapons; first bows and arrows and later cannon and then rifles. At intervals, there are ruins of towers and sentry posts and bastions. Today, no weapons are deployed so we are unthreatened as we invade.
Construction here was commenced in the fourth century AD in Byzantine times. Alterations and additions were made during the periods of Venetian occupation and later, again, during Turkish rule.
Below all of this, across the man-made causeway, we can see Lower Town Monemvasia where we landed. We are told that sixteen people live full time in the Upper (old) Town and about four thousand live in lower town.
All along the walk, we see ruined houses and Byzantine churches that are also in ruins, with the fortunate exception of the Church of Christ Elkomenos. Today, it serves as the cathedral and dates back to the 13th century A.D., again with alterations made during a period of Venetian
occupation. Four surviving ancient Byzantine icons are on display here. A long row of chairs line the wall and make for a comfortable place to rest up for the steep climb to come. Gloria opts to bid me farewell at this juncture so I am on my own to scale the cliff along a steep and winding path.
Upon reaching (as close as possible) the top of the hill, located on the steepest side of the cliff, rises the Church of Saint Sophia, or 'Aghia Sophia'. It is, they say, a rare example of the domed
octagonal style of churches but the interior is closed for renovations. While here, I am reminded of an insightful comment once made to me by Rob and Kathy: “When you've seen one duomo, you've seen them all.” There are many churches to be seen in the next several days so one that is closed probably won’t tarnish the overall experience much.
The view of the Lower City from here is straight down. Andy wouldn’t like it.
As I make my way back down the hillside I find that the going is easier on the lungs but much more difficult on the lower body. The rocks are slippery and footing is tenuous. I cannot imagine this trek after a rain. I am asked by quite a few of those on their way up if it is worth it. I frame my answer based upon the look in their eye, the color of their cheek and how many breaths it takes to get the question out. For about half of those who inquire, the answer is, “No.” Thethank me profusely. My good deed for the day is done.
Making it back down to the streets of Upper Town (now foolishly named), I find Gloria has been shopping a wee bit. An evening bag is available for half price and she wants my opinion. Gloria is now the proud owner of a fine, glistening Monemvasia clutch purse. It is almost as lovely as she.
Just before exiting Upper Town, we spot a couple on an iPad using free Wi-Fi. Whipping out her iPhone, Gloria is able to handle a detail or two from Big Slick (the Children’s Mercy Hospital fund raiser she co-chairs, arranging a visit with a television personality for some donors who are traveling to New York City this weekend. You’ve gotta love technology; it is, literally, everywhere.
Hiking back to Lower Town we have a fine view of our ship and two others who have found their way to this tiny place. All three are small ships so the crowd of people is in no way too large for our hosts to handle.
We tender back to the ship but on the return our tender crew seems to be made up more of trainees than veterans. Upon reaching our ship they tie a small line to a handrail rather that to a more substantial cleat and a patch of chop results in a handrail summarily ripped
from the side of our launch. Oops. Elderly Japanese tourists are unfazed and they surge ahead to negotiate the bobbing step between our small boat and the rock solid ship’s platform which leads inside the Silver Spirit’s hull. We eschew the elevator and take the stairs up four decks to drop our backpack in our cabin. Lunch is lovely on the observation deck at the stern of Silver
Spirit and, as she swings at anchor, we are alternately in shade, then sun, then shade once more. We both are eating sensibly and avoid too many carbs and eschew dessert. That is difficult. People watching here is equaled by the scenery which is sublime.
We decide that this would be a good day for laundry and we use the Silver Spirit’s complementary launderette filling the time needed for washing and then drying cycles on the treadmills in the fitness center or on the walking deck.
There is a trivia tournament at 4:45 and Gloria says that from her experience it will be a great place to meet people. She is right as we are fortunately teamed with Bob and Joe, a couple from New Jersey. Bob is a retired HMO developer and Joe an English professor. We don’t win the tournament but we do win new friends. Who said, “Honey, I forgot to duck,” after being shot? What was The Rolling Stones first top twenty hit?
Tonight is Formal Night. We don our finest black; a tuxedo and vest for me and a slinky gown for G. Frankly, we look great. We plan to have a picture taken but forget.
At The Restaurant, the maître D asks if we would prefer to start a large table or dine at a table for two. We opt for a group table and are soon joined by a retired power plant design and construction engineer and his wife, daughter and son-in-law. They hail from Atlanta. Sharing stories over Beef Wellington we avoid religion and politics and concentrate instead on children, careers and grandchildren before making our way to the Show Lounge for a Motown Tribute, “Signed, Sealed, Delivered.” Presented by an energetic quintet of young entertainers singing to recorded music, the show is fun. Most of the audience is soon singing along while only a few of the more senior set doze. Immediately in front of us a distinguished looking gentleman of a certain age happily entertained a young woman (perhaps his niece?) who chatted amiably into his ear throughout the performance while alternately flashing her jewelry and checking texts on her smartphone. They were almost as much fun to watch as were the performers.
After the show as we strolled through the lounge and along the deck en route to our cabin we agree that it was a day well spent with company well chosen. We won’t stay up until the wee hours. For the Presidential Debate which, we think, will air here at 3:00am, the candidates will have to do without us. We sit on our balcony as Silver Spirit cruises southward and listen to the lullaby offered up to us by the sea below. Whatever the tribulations of the world today, we have escaped them.
Gloria here…well don’t I sound like a shallow, shopping, wussie traveler? Not climbing up the rock face, and shopping instead? Wow. May I say that before the rock climbing I walked up and down the uneven and narrow winding streets, hilly, not flat and for over an hour I might add. I didn’t sit with the other people of the silver haired set. I am proud of that, and I am owning it. I came back and jumped on the treadmill for three miles at a fast clip, I feel redeemed.
The purse is magic. Julie can attest on our several trips here and there, where dressy clothes are the dictate of the day, I have been searching for a while. Who would have thought that in a Byzantine rock fortress, governed by the Greeks, would be the perfect one…not me.
We are having fun meeting new folks, finding out their stories and getting acquainted. Some we are looking forward to seeing more of, others not so much. The rowdy group of eight from Philadelphia we met on the first night out of Athens is still rowdy, probably still drunk, but they are having a blast. I think they don’t realize there are many others on the ship besides themselves. It is fun to run into them, then move on. Joe and Bob on the other hand, we have a date with to play trivia in the Panorama lounge at 4.45pm tomorrow. They are smart and worldly, New Yorkers, and very frequent travelers. It was great conversation and I must say that when Bob mentioned that he had 185 pairs of leather pants, it was worth watching Paul’s face since he believes in a minimalist wardrobe. Then we went back to PHD’s, other cities lived in, other ships cruised on and a love of fine jewelry. (Paul not so much).
I am off to shower, book a massage, slather on some girlie smelling lotions and potions, and be grateful that there is no rock climbing wall on this vessel where the challenge to prove myself agile and gutsy displays itself at every turn.