Sunday 7 to Wednesday 10 January 2007, Pilos
The ferry arrived in Patras at 10:30. Patras itself is a typical port town and not very inviting so we headed south away from the snow on the mountains and chill wind. First stop was Olympia where the Olympic games started in 776 BC although the site was first settled in 2500 BC. It is quite a large site but only the foundations remain. It has always been a religious site with temples to various gods. The straight running track is still visible with start and end lines of stone 192.27m apart. The temple of Zeus must have been very imposing. There are the remains of the massive columns at its side and one has been rebuilt. There were large columns on the outside and another rectangle of smaller columns on the inside - vast.
We arrived at Pilos around dark and stayed in a campsite on the beach on the bay with a lovely view. The weather was warm and gentle. Monday evening around the campfire was memorable. The wine flowed, the music Greek, the dancing energetic and the company of Karl, Uta, Linda, Bill, Klara and Anton fantastic. Karl and Uta are from Germany and manage the campsite during the winter.
Thursday 11 January 2007, Kalamata
It took long time to get going this morning, but eventually we were on our way. When we arrived in Kalamata we saw a sign indicating that ferries went from here to Crete. Our enquiries revealed that the ferry only left on Saturdays during January and the return would take us to another part of the Peloponnesus. To console ourselves we bought the sweet, sticky Greek pastry full of walnuts.
Friday 12 January 2007, Pilos
We decided to wait until Saturday and go to Crete from Kalamata rather than Athens. To fill our time we went on a drive around the peninsula past small bays, small harbours. steep sided hills and Venetian ruins from 13th century. The night once again was spent at Pilos.
Saturday 13 January 2007, Kalamata
We took our time driving back to Kalamata as we only had to be at the ferry office by 18h00. We were told the ferry may not run due to the poor weather but come back by 20h30. This time we paid for the tickets as the ferry would leave at 6h30 in the morning - but please check again at midnight! Unfortunately the ferry had been cancelled so our fares were returned. Very frustrating, especially for Pieter as he did all the late night running around.
Sunday 14 January 2007, Sparta
After sleeping late we went back to our original plan of going on to Sparta. The road follows the path of a river through a very narrow majestic gorge. Instead of blasting away a lot of rock passages were hewn from the sides of the mountain - very dramatic. Of course of this had been Italy, they would have put a bridge through. Amazing to think that the helots lived mainly around Kalamata. The helots were the slave population ruled by the Spartans in their heyday and the reason Sparta had a good military. Sparta itself has little left in the way of ruins.
Mystras has enough to compensate. From the 13th to 15th century Mystras was the religious centre of Byzantium and the locus of Constantinople's rule over the Peloponnesus. We visited the site on our way from Kalamata to Sparta and were directed to quite a small gate. I assumed this was the main entrance so we headed up the hill to the castle - quite a climb. Then down again past the entrance. It was only when I reached the castle area (Pieter had returned to the car by then) that I realised we had entered almost at the top of the site - that is when I also gave up. There are 3 areas of the site, the castle at the very top, the palace area in the middle (halfway down the mountain) and the bottom area of the main urban centre. You can see the palaces far below in one of the photos, the urban area is too far away to distinguish it. Lesson - if you ever go to Mystras make sure you enter at the bottom gate!!
Monday 15 to Tuesday 16 January 2007, a cove
Packhorses still carry goods into Monemvasia, the streets are far to narrow for anything else. It is another Venetian fortified town built on an island with a castle way above on the top of the hill. The streets are very narrow, even the packhorses must have difficulty. Houses were built over the streets to make use of every available space, although now many of them are empty and dilapidated. The atmosphere also lacked something, in the end we decided it needed tourists to bring it alive - perhaps in summer it will be much more interesting.
Our map does not have many roads on it so Pieter did the normal thing and followed his nose. The views were lovely through scrub and rocks over mountains. At one point we could see most of the plain leading from the sea to Sparta and misty peaks beyond. The sea was golden in the afternoon sun.
Pieter's nose led us to an absolutely fantastic little cove where we spent 2 nights.
Wednesday 17 January 2007, near Leonidis
Water is obviously a problem as there are large containers to catch small trickles of water. The government is helping though and large blue water pipes snaked along the road - not all connected yet. In one village we were directed around the end of a pipe, first going up a side road to miss one side of the pipe, doing a u-turn and coming out on the other side of the pipe. The villages all have very narrow streets with houses right on the road and balconies above. We didn't hit anything though. Corners had convex mirrors so you could see what was coming. There was no-one around, the villages were as silent as the grave. In fact the 3 men guarding the water pipe constituted the majority of the people we saw today.
There are shrines everywhere along the roadside. Many are neglected but many are beautifully maintained. Some have photos of people, others pictures of Mary, some have flowers, some even have little flames with extra oil in a bottle. We have seen the shrines for sale in garden shops. You can even buy ones large enough to stand up in.
Thursday 18 January 2007, Nafplion
The next overnight stop was Nafplion, another Venetian city. I actually wanted to see Mycenae (the supreme city of Mycenae Greece from 1600BC to 1100 BC) but we arrived at 14h45 and the site closed at 15h00, next time we are in Greece perhaps. The reason I like to walk over these places is because of their extreme age. They had houses, water supplies and temples so long ago and some of their knowledge was lost for centuries.
Friday 19 January 2007, New Epidavros
At least we saw Epidavros. Luckily it is open to 17h00 or else we would have missed it as well. My fault, I directed Pieter the wrong way and we went through some lovely scenery but ended up backtracking along the main road to reach the site. Epidavros has the best ancient theatre acoustically in Greece. Apparently from the top seat you can here a match strike on the stage. Neither Pieter nor I were willing to climb to the top to check this out. It was built in the early 2nd century BC and is still used today in summer to perform ancient Greek plays.
The site itself has been occupied from the 2nd millennium BC although nothing much remains from that period. The ruins seen today are from 400 BC on. AT that stage it was dedicated to Askaplios, the god of healing. The patients washed, read sacred texts then slept. Sleep was seen as the death of the ill body and wakeing as the birth of the miraculously cured body. Sacred repasts were also held where the healing god visited. The site included a track so presumably exercise was also used to assist in strengthening the body.
Saturday 20 to Sunday 21 January 2007, Athens
Athens like Rome is a polyglot. The city contains ancient Greek, Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman historical sites plus modern buildings. On Sunday we visited the acropolis - for free. Apparently all historical sites are free on Sundays, at least in winter. Reconstruction is in full force. Some past reconstructions have been broken down and rebuilt adding newly found pieces. It does spoil the effect though. Although there are remains from the prehistoric era (somewhere) the most outstanding are from 447 BC to 406 BC and built in the golden age of Pericles. Pentelic marble from a area just north of modern Athens was used for the original construction. I like the legend of how Athens was named. There was rivalry between Poseidon and Athena for the guardianship of the city. Poseidon offered a horse while Athena struck the rock of the acropolis with her spear and an olive tree sprouted. The olive tree which symbolizes peace and prosperity was preferred by the Athenians
There was a large market near the Acropolis selling everything from junk such as galvanised pipe joints to expensive clothes. Marvelous to walk through. The Greeks like other Mediterranean people eat after 14h00, today we also had late lunch. I had lamb and spinach in a delicious sauce, Pieter had beef grilled eggplant and zucchini. We were seranaded throughout the meal by a guitarist singing mournful melodies. There were two different South American Indian music groups as well as other musicians
Monday 22 January 2007, On board
Today we bought our tickets to Crete - much more expensive than from Kalamata so we decided to go steerage. Unfortunately the ferry did not have a camping deck which meant sitting up all night. That is until we went on board and discovered people had reserved deck space to sleep on - much better to lie on the floor than sit up. Loading the ferry was a shambles. Because we are like a small truck we were told to wait on the dock and be prepared to move at any time. This gave us an ringside seat to watch the loading from. There really did not seem to be any order. Cars and motor bikes went straight on, people dropping passengers parked anywhere, trucks had to go on in between, other trucks reversed trailers on in the confusion. Even so , eventually all were loaded and the ferry could leave.
Tuesday 23 to Thursday 25 January 2007, Kissamos
The ferry docked at 6h00. We found a parking spot and slept for a few hours only to discover we were parked almost in the centre of Hania! Very busy and lots of traffic. We needed to find a quiet place to rest and somewhere to catch up on the washing. We drove west seeing the snow melt glistening in the sun, the low square houses in small villages nestled in the mountains and wearing short sleeves. Eventually we found a camping ground where the gates were opened and parked. There were lights and electric points in the toilet. Next morning Pieter discovered there was also warm water in the showers. Later that day we found out that this was because Alexandrou from Romania was turning the water heater on for his own shower. The camp site was officially closed. The owner did come around and said - enjoy. I managed to wash all the clothes and Pieter fed 9 cats who seemed to be starving. After a day of good food he had filled them up and although they accepted more food gracefully they did not charge at it and gobble it down.
Friday 26 January 2007, Kokinos Pirgos
In Crete as in the Peloponnese the mountainside dives into the water except where it leaves small sandy beaches. It seems more fertile though with olive groves and cultivated fields going up the hillsides
Saturday 27 January 2007, Knossos
Finally the reason for coming to Crete. Knossos was first settled in the Neolithic period (6700 BC) and had an extensive settlement by 3200 BC. The Minoans ruled from 2800 to 1150 BC. However the volcanic eruption of There (Santorini) in 1450 BC halted the Minoan civilization at its height, from then it was downward until they were invaded by the Dorians from the Peloponnese. The first palace was built by the Minoans around 1900 BC. This was destroyed and the second palace was built around 1700 BC. It was all gone by 1380 BC. The site itself was discovered in 1878 AD. In 1900 Sir Arthur Evans financed and supervised the excavations and restored large parts of the palace. He even had concrete painted to look like the large mahogany planks used originally. His restorations may not be 100% accurate but they do give the visitor a glimpse of what it must have been like. The frescos on site are now copies of the originals. Marvelous stuff.
We had an escort through part of the palace. A small ginger tom cat ran up to greet us and then stayed with us until we left his territory.
Sunday 28 to Monday 29 January 2007, Agia Pelargos
Of course we only went through Knossos today because it is a Sunday and it is nice to save money. We moved on from Knossos heading in the general direction back to Hania and the ferry. We found a lovely spot to stay overlooking a beach. There is only a pavement between the beach and the tavernas along it. The wind was up and the water came right up and over the pavement. In the morning we went along the beach and could all the sand piled up. The tavernas are closed and presumably the sand will stay there until Easter. Another idyllic place.
Tuesday 30 January 2007, on board
Another long night on the ferry. This time we found a seat to stretch out on.
Wednesday 31 January to Sunday 4 February 2007, Athens
Time to obtain a visa for Syria. Both Turkey and Jordan provide visas at the border. The Syrian Embassy required a letter from our respective embassies stating that we really were citizens of that country. The Australian Embassy was easy. They work until 16h00 and sorted the letter out immediately. The only delay was waiting for the Consul to arrive to sign it. The Nederland Embassy on the other hand is only open from 9h00 to 12h00, expects 30 Euro for the letter and it would take a day. Pieter convinced the assistant to have it ready by that afternoon. Being Friday we still had to wait until Monday to return to the Syrian Embassy.
The weekend was cold. Thank heavens for our gas heater.
Monday 5 February 2007, Thespiai
This morning driving in to the Syrian Embassy we discovered why, the mountains around Athens were covered in snow!!!!
They were wonderful at the Syrian Embassy. Because we had been before we were invited to wait in their small heated office while everyone else waited outside in the cold - What Bliss. We were also given same day service and a pack of brochures and maps about Syria. This meant we could finally leave Athens.
What a lovely drive through hills and mountains. Trees were covered in snow and there were views of snow covered valleys - a winter wonderland. Unfortunately the road was narrow and we could not stop to take photos. The best sight was a tree with no leaves with snow on the branches, it looked starkly spectacular. There were also trees with blossoms covered in snow.
We wanted to leave the snow area before stopping for the night but just didn't make it.
Tuesday 6 February 2007, Delphi
Today we passed a demonstration by farmers against against the EU. It consisted of 28 tractors and 4 bakkies (utilities or pick-ups) driving along the main road with one police escort. The tractors were going slowly and there was enough room for other traffic to pass. We didn't see any newspaper crews, presumably they were at a rally of farmers somewhere.
We also passed ski resorts with no snow in the vicinity. They will be having a very bad season.
Delphi has the usual temples, theatre, stadium and museum. The rock on which the Sybil sat is rather unremarkable and the gases coming from the underground stream are long gone. They have preserved some of the mosaics.
Wednesday 7 February 2007, Kalambaka
Another day driving through mountains and valleys. The snow on the mountains was far away. Cotton appears to be the main crop in this area. The side of the road was striped with small balls. We passed a gypsy encampment with houses made of plastic, cardboard and paper. Looks worse than townships in SA.
Thursday 8 February 2007, Katerini
The monasteries at Meteora are built on top of unusual shaped mountains. The old refectory of the Holy Monastery of the Great Meteoron (The transfiguration of Christ) was great. The simple but powerful lines of the brick work in the vaulted ceiling was impressive. There were several paintings on the walls, painted specifically for the refectory showing various aspects of monastic life. The one of a monk's cell showed a bare wooden bed with a sheet, plain cupboards and a dresser and for comfort a cat sitting on the door mat. The painting of the Ossuary showed skulls carefully cleaned of flesh and lined up on shelves. The refectory tables had raised sides, good on a ship but it must be awkward to eat from them as you cannot rest your arms on the table. That may be the intention of course. There were a few preserved mosaics in the museum. They were very bright and colourful with a lot of gold mosaic surrounding the figures. Women were expected to cover their shoulders and wear skirts, no-one was worried about the head.
We were told that the nunnery of Roscuary would show us a less commercial atmosphere and a much more tranquil experience. However we decided to skip it and head onwards.
We passed Mount Olympus, as expected it was covered by cloud.
Friday 9 February 2007, near Kavala
Our last full day in Greece and in the Euro zone. We have used Euros for over a year now. We have stayed at Lidl many nights. It will be sad to see the last of them.
The night was spent on the beach.
|Averages||Rand||Euro||Back to Italy|
|Cost per litre diesel||8.63||0.90||
covering Turkey, Syria and Jordan
|Camping per night||111.35||11.67|
|Days in country||35|