#7 Italy/Greece, Oct. 24, 2010

Dear Everybody,

From Kalamata to Sparta (actually they say Spart’-tee) over the Langada Pass was one of the most thrilling rides I’ve ever had. It was raining and foggy and the narrow road had a myriad of switchbacks and hairpin turns—ruggedino! The rain had loosened and washed down some small rocks onto the road—no big ones, thank goodness. Along the way, here in times past, is where they abandoned unhealthy babies to die that wouldn’t qualify as good soldiers.

Midway at Artesimia, we had to change buses (standing in the rain), which I gather was some kind of jurisdictional issue.

The town of Sparta is built over the ancient city so there isn’t a great deal of the old one to see. And in any case it rained all afternoon with an overcast of thick, gummy clouds, so other than eating a nice lunch, I mostly hung out in my hotel room. There have been no hostels since I left Athens two weeks ago, so I have been kind of isolated. I miss the company of other backpackers, although, actually there aren’t many tourists this late in the season.



The next day I visited Mystras, just seven km away by public bus. What I saw were mostly 14th-16th century Byzantine churches and monasteries with frescos still intact. Only one church is used now as a convent, whose nuns are the only inhabitants of this ruined town. This was quite a Byzantine intellectual center in the 14th and 15th centuries after the empire went into decline elsewhere.

When I got back from Mystras I did take a wander to see ‘ancient Sparta.’ Yes, I could see the huge theatre in ruins, but the Acropolis took quite a bit of imagination.

The next morning I visited the Archeological Museum of Sparta.  There was their hero, King Leonidas.  They also had a bust of Julius Caesar made during his lifetime which, I think, did look like Charlton Heston!

Next was the Museum of the Olive and Greek Olive Oil. It seems Greece has run on olive oil for 50 centuries or more. I see in their salads, for example, they use much more than we do—and it tastes good!

On Wednesday I grabbed a bus to Monemvasia, Greece’s version of Mt. Ste. Michel. On the way I was never out of sight of olive trees for 2 3/4 hours although sometimes the olive trees shared the land with orange trees. In the really rural mountains, this intercity bus waited for and picked up a whole bunch of high school students—apparently no need for school buses here. And on the way over the mountains I observed a series of modern windmills way at the top.





Monemvasia is in the back of beyond. A big chunk of rock broke off from the mainland in an earthquake in 375 AD. They have built a causeway over to it which I could view from my hotel room ‘on the other side’ in the village of Gefyra. Monemvasia made a natural defensive place so it was the scene of many invasions and sieges over the centuries.

The next morning I got a shuttle bus across the causeway and explored Monemvasia. You really can’t see any of the old town from Gefrya as it’s all on the other side. There were many charming churches, taverns, shops and houses to climb about and among. I started to climb up, up, up to the fortress on top but it was really HIGH and after about 2/3 of the way, I turned back. What an enormous rockpile! I contented myself with plenty of challenging climbing on the lower level.



The weather was perfect so finishing with a Greek coffee overlooking the sea was exquisite.




Walking back to Gefyra along the sea was also lovely. On the modern bridge was a photograph from the 1890’s of the old stone bridge, which had 14 arches and a wooden platform in the middle that could be pulled up for defensive purposes.

The next morning I had the hotel breakfast during a downpour and since the breakfast room was a semi-covered patio, there were lots of leaks and drips to avoid. Hotel breakfasts always include yoghurt (made dryer than ours) and honey, which is so darn good (!) which makes up for the watery coffee.
Some observations:

*Some Greek men carry ‘worry beads’ which are fat wooden or glass beads loosely strung.

*This is motorcycle country. The bigger, the better, and the louder, the better.

*Many women wear black; the older ones look sedate and dignified, the younger ones look glamorous.

I got the bus to Tripoli, which involved changing buses twice on the way. When I arrived in Tripoli where I would get a bus for Nafplio, I was let off at a little auxiliary bus station, which was closed. A man approached me and told me it would be open tomorrow but was closed today, but I should take his friend’s taxi two km to the big bus station. How much? Four euro and 40 cents. (about $7) I said I’d walk, which I did. I see what you mean, Val, Greek taxi drivers are tough! On the other hand, gasoline here is exactly double what we pay in the USA. Well, I needed the exercise anyway.

Nafplio is a charming town. Of course, not everything is charming.  I saw Roma dumpster diving in this beautiful setting.

The Old Town where I stayed is built on a steep hill which involved lots of steep climbing. I had a gorgeous view from my balcony overlooking the sea.

Saturday morning from my balcony, I could see a four-masted huge sailing ship down at the harbor.






When I went to look, I discovered it was a cruise ship with about 150 passengers that came from Athens. Several buses were lined up, ready to haul the passengers around.

I visited yet another Archeological Museum and yet again, I was bowled over. There were beautiful, big, elaborately decorated ceramic urns, gold jewelry, a full bronze suit of armor with a boars-tusk helmet, baby-feeding pitchers, lovely female figurines and much more, all grave-goods from this area from 1500 BC! I had such a nice conversation with a young woman museum employee, who added much enjoyment.

I visited two more museums, the Peloponnese Folkloric (mainly clothing from the last couple of centuries) and an Auxiliary extension of the National Art Gallery of Athens.

I chatted by phone with my friend, Sally, with whom I’ll be staying in her holiday house in Lefkakia, a village 10 km from here. She, her four guests and I are going to Mycene tomorrow afternoon. Then I had a great lunch as usual, and went to an internet café to send this off after having all my clothes washed (again!) at a laundry. In my hotel room I used very hot water and Tide to wash out my pack and daypack, drying them on my balcony, so I’m sure that I’m not carrying any bed bugs!

Best wishes,


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