On to Monemvasia

Good God! So far the Michelin map has been about 50/50 in Greece. Some roads they say are built. Some roads just plain don’t exist. Some lovely big red roads turn out to be unrailed, unmarked, potholed goat paths. And, sometimes, a white windy road that looks like hell has been upgraded.
Much to my great and utter happiness, this was the case. The road from Sparti to Momenvasia had two lanes, had enough room to pull over if a fast car wanted to pass or room for granny-me to burn out first gear passing a big-ass truck. The countryside was bleaker than the north had been, many trees still scorched and little green grass or lovely purple plants.
But when we pulled up to the causeway leading to Momenvasia (M: described as the Gibraltar of Greece since it was a big hunk of rock attached to the mainland by a causeway, with a fortress on top to defend the seas in times past), we couldn’t believe that it had taken us only 2 hours. We’d planned for 4. We drove across the causeway meant for one car, dodged the ten cars already on it and heading right for us, and made our way up a steep street lined with parked cars, hoping that, at the end, we would find Momenvasia.
And that we did. A walled town. Free of traffic. Protected by the UN (no blue helmeted troops with guns though). There was a place to turn around and, could it be, could it possibly be, a place to park that wasn’t ten miles down the frigging steep street?
Oh glorious luck, there was a parking space. About twenty from the wall. We snagged it before someone had realized their mistake and walked up into the town (M: totally invisible from the town. In fact, it looks like the only thing here was the fortress on top with a curtain wall running down into the sea. A whole different world opened up to us once we’d passed through the L-shaped gateway).
Small shops lined the narrow, cobble-stoned street. It reminded me a bit of Rhodes, only here, the shopkeepers didn’t hawk as we went by. They continued to play backgammon or sit in the shade and chat with their neighbours. Very civilized. Along the way we saw the usual postcard and trinket shops, one selling local wine, one pounding out disco music and offering all manner of icy fruit drinks. We found our hotel, but that turned out to be the hotel ‘office’. The nice lady led us farther along the ‘main’ street until we came to the proper hotel. A good 200 meters at least from the commercial zone.
We were given a choice of rooms but, in reality, there was no choice. At the top, watch your head please, low beam, there was a huge room with such a view over the town and the ocean and right next to the veranda. It had a fireplace, not useful, perhaps, but very pretty and a huge comfy bed. (M: It had the same feel as our Rhodes room – Byzantine/Turk exotic – but about 5 times the size). We took it and damn the price. 90 euros. Momenvasia looked to be one amazing place and we wanted to get the most out of it.
We unpacked, watched Jerry McGuire (I know, I know, how sad but there you have it), then sat outside on the veranda in the shade. Small fishing boats chugged almost silently in the mirror-smooth water below us. People strolled along the seawall. Birds chirped from their nests underneath the terracotta roofs. A giant and partially restored church dome sat at nearly eye level and, far behind us, the great frigging castle loomed. There was absolutely no sound of traffic or construction. It is paradise.
We read a bit, looked at the fishing boats puttering by, watched the sun go down (M: and I polished off half a bottle of wine) and thought, holy crap, this place is soooo nice. It had been one of those sites you look at in a guidebook and think, hmmm, it is really worth the drive? Well, let me tell you it sure as hell was. Probably the nicest place in Greece outside of the Santorini resort.
We had supper overlooking the sea and yet another church roof. This time we tried a local rose instead of white. M had meat balls or what are better described as meat tubes (I know how rude that sounds). Appetizer was Aubergine Imam, sauted eggplant and onion and olive oil and a bit of tomato. I had spaghetti. Again, good food, good portions.
Lots of cats slithered around us in search of food. Not many of them looked too well and we felt bad we couldn’t feed them for starting a frenzy. A german family gave them pieces of bread but only the toughest cats got them, the others got nothing. Still, the moon was out, nearly full, and sparkled on the water like ice crystals and we were very happy. What a great place.
Too bad we only had one day here. If anyone asks, spend two days here. At least. It is Greece without all the noise and confusion. It is paradise.

More Monemvasia

So there we were, in a stone vaulted room eating breakfast and discussing late 12th c medicine and, behind us, there was this conversation.
“So it was all like, y’know, seriously, uhhhn, and then, like it was like man and I was all like totally.”
Ok, so I really try to be respectful of other cultures. I do. Some times I’m an ass but by and large, I hope I don’t disparage other people’s way of doing things. But Hippilese, I just don’t get. It drives me batty to have whole conversations with little more than a grunt and ‘like, ‘yknow, totally, man”. I dunno why but it does.
The other funny thing this fellow did, indeed the very thing that attracted my attention, was that he went mmmmmm with every bite. An organsmic type of mmmm. It went on and on and on and on. I turned around, thinking, at first, poor retarded fellow but it was just a long-hair man in his early 30’s in a tie-dye T-shirt and frayed sandals. When I turned back to M, it was all I could do not to laugh out loud when he ate bite, mmmmm after bite, mmmmmm, after bite, mmmmmm.
Funny as hell.
To be frank, we didn’t want to leave so we came up with a plan. Barricade the door with the bed and stones from the fireplace. The police wouldn’t be able to get in and they wouldn’t use tear gas in a UN protected zone and wouldn’t lob shells at us for the same reason. If we stocked up, we could hold them off for days, maybe weeks.
Not a bad idea but then we’d miss Freya while we spent the next ten years in jail. So, we did the next best thing. We finished breakfast, left the hippy guy to his mmmmms and sat on the veranda. In the morning sun, this side of the town caught the light just right. Stone walls seemed brighter, terracotta roofs seemed redder and we watched shadows crawl across the church dome like a sun clock. 10 o’clock became 11:00. 11:00 became 12:00 and then, like it or not, we had to head out.
Reluctantly we packed up, hauled our bags across the cobblestones and walked through the gatehouse. Looking back, the sky blue, the sun shining so brightly that the stones looked chalk-white, the sound of traffic once again assaulting our ears, we really didn’t want to leave. But, one day, we vowed, we’d be back.

To Nafplion

Long drive but relatively easy. No crashes, a few close calls (hell, this is Greece, you can’t walk out the door without a few close calls) but we made it all the way to the peninsula town of Nafplion. Nothing much to report so let me share a few lists I’ve made.

Things that have surprised me in Greece
1) this is still a smoking society. Non-smoking is outside a few blocks down, thank you very much.
2) Not many sewers can deal with toilet paper so we’re still depositing it in garbage cans. Never knew TP would be so tough.
3) All the menus list frozen food and what oil was used. Unfortunately, much of the seafood was listed as frozen or else I would have gone seafood nuts.
4) Pollution. With so many cars, motorbikes, scooters and 2 stroke engines puttering around, the taste of the air is often pretty grim. Being green has not even remotely hit many parts of Greece traffic-wise.
5) English is creeping into signage and common usage. Mini-mart. Transfer. Business (and my favourite, a misspelling, signage spelled singage). The Greeks survived the Arabs and Venetians and Turks but may well fall to the power of English.
6) That so many roads have been started, so many building renovations begun, but so few finished. It’s almost like they get paid to start but then have to move on to get paid to start something new.
7) Graffiti is everywhere. I’m surprised the car hasn’t been sprayed but graffiti sure does take away from the beauty of quaint alleys or thousand- year-old buildings. The Greeks need to get a handle on this.
8) With the exception of the police and both the car repair guys, many people here speak enough English for us to get along. Knowing how little Greek we speak, hell how little French we speak, it’s to their credit that they know so many languages. I hang my head in shame.
9) The Michelin map was, at best, a best guess at roads. Michelin! Map! I think M will be writing a letter.

Six things I will not Bring next time
1) Writing. No time for it. It’s all I can do to keep a blog going.
2) Beige socks. Who wears beige socks? (either that, or I’ll have to bring beige pants)
3) Ipod. Only time I went to use it, it had run out of power.
4) Bath-gel. Every place has soap. What was I thinking?
5) 8 pens. I kept putting a pen in a suitcase forgetting I’d put one there already. What a doof.
6) Shoe polish. Not used much on sandals.

Seven Things I Will Have To Remember to Bring
1) small book to write notes in. Hard to make notes on your laptop while talking to the police.
2) Half socks that allow me to wear shoes and shorts. For some of the tough walks, sandals just don’t cut it/
3) Books that both M and I are interested in. As it stands, today, M has run out of books to read and doesn’t want to read the ones I brought
4) A picture of home or something to show to people who express interest. Could be something to use the Ipod for, so maybe delete #3 above
5) A freaking hat. A baseball cap. Something.
6) Better shoes. I have good walking shoes for Victoria walking but on rough or wet surfaces, they weren’t much better than sandals. Could be that I need to be in better shape too but I like the blame the shoes, yes, the shoes, it was their fault.
7) A cell phone (and figure out how to use it) Pay phones blow.

Things I Miss About Home
1) Freya. Fortunately we have the most incredible, amazing young woman looking after our little girlie but still, we miss her.
2) News. Oh, I know, it sure didn’t really do me any harm not to hear about the typhoons or earthquakes or latest atrocities of man on man but what about Obama and Clinton, what about the Champion’s cup, what about Britney, is she still bald and insane?!? These are things I need to know
3) Flushing toilet paper town the toilet.
4) Drivers that obey signs, drivers that obey traffic laws, drivers that don’t honk, honk, honk all the time, drivers that park in designated parking stalls, drivers that don’t pass me on the left while I make a left hand turn. I told M, for 3 months, anytime I made a peep about local traffic, all she had to do to shut me up was say, “Greece.”
5) Internet connection. Instant. Internet. Poor M has been driven to using some very salty language by hit and miss connections. Could be something with our computer but I’d rather blame the Greeks.
6) Friends. I know, kinda cheesy but we miss them and want to know how they are doing. Has Sean come out of the closet at last? Have Sheila’s kids all decided to go to Egypt with her? Is Gord back at work? Where the hell in Greece is Paul from? Are we driving Helga and Paula mad with our vague foodie descriptions? Is Mark Lindenberg really plotting to kill me? Is anyone still reading the blog or should I have put in more sex?
7) Our comfy bed. Not that the beds here have been that bad but we are getting old now, oh yes, and one night on a bad bed is like a week on the rack. Sadly, we are creaky and fussy and I doubt this will get better any time soon.
8) Freya

Back to regular programming


Due to the great roads, we arrive here way ahead of schedule. The town is dominated by three forts, one on a huge mountain overlooking the town, another on a small island protecting the harbour and the last one, a series of walls and towers and mini-forts that protect the town.
Apart from some horrific intersections, (one has 5 entrances and two stop signs, another requires a left through six lanes of on coming traffic sort of akin to island hopping from one safe place to the next while slowly making a left turn), this is beautiful town. Gorgeous red-purple bougainvilleas sprawl from balconies and climb up walls. Small shops line the three commercial streets, one also a museum to Kombolio (small prayer-like beads). Tables spill into the street but sit empty at the moment, menus unread as it is too early for most people to eat. All in all, despite being the first capital of Greece, it has a very Italian feel to it. Iron-wrought balconies. Bright colored plastered walls. Pillars. Marbled Squares.
M did amazing navigational slight-of-hand by getting us to just above our hotel. We found parking and debagged the car. Then we marched down to find our place to stay. After a moment, M got a feeling though that we’d marched too far and like any good mule train, stopped so the mules could rest while she scouted up one street and down another. As luck would have it, she encountered a nice couple who directed her to the hotel, back up a few stairs, right underneath the wall.
Sure enough, we’d passed it while avoiding a German couple and their playful kids. But find it we did and book ourselves in we did and what did we get?
Read on.

A Cave!!!!

Yes, dear friends and readers, we got ourselves a cave to sleep in. This hotel, being next to the walls and high above the town had a lot of rooms to offer, some with great views, some up high, some down several flights to a nice, cool courtyard. But when I saw that one had a bed in a stone archway that may have once been a wine cellar or the like, I hopped up and down and said this one, this one, this one. The bed was just big enough to fit inside the alcove and there were little arched shelves for books or drink or whatever. It was glorious.
I hope there is a picture.

Food & Talk

5pm: We could have marched up the mountain, 1000 steps said our hotelier. We could have gone down the steps and seen the harbour and its nifty little fortress. We could have explored the quaint, flower-filled streets and alleys but, instead, we put our feet up and relaxed in our quiet, orange treed courtyard. I read, (no really, I did) and M read and, while the rest of the world hustled and bustled, we let little oranges drop on our heads from the trees and watched the shadows grow longer and longer at our feet.
We could have stayed there all night but eventually we needed food. So, off we went down into the town. We walked a bit here and there but mostly we looked for a recommended place to eat. Eventually we found it tucked away off a minor alley. A wonder we found it at all with the signs being in Greek but M, being the smartie that she is, has figured out a good number of greek letters (and often amuses herself on long drives by translating signs).
The proprietor was very welcoming, the pat on the back type of welcoming and his English was pretty damn good. He told us what was fresh and good that night and we went with his choices. M had greek salad then veal with lemon sauce, while I tried, forgive me, wabbit. I hate to say it but wabbit is pretty tasty. Then, like all good restaurants here, they gave us something ‘from us’. Strawberries coated with sugar. Freshest of the fresh strawberries. Oh yum.
Then, a wee walk around the streets and back up a hundred stairs to our room. (Actually, it’s 1 flight of ten steps, uphill a bit, up five steps, more street, up 64 steps, then into an alley behind our hotel, then up 28 steps to our room. Huff and puff, my friends, huff and puff.
We grabbed a drink on the way up and sat outside, me pounding away on my keyboard in the dark, M reading by the light over our window. We were joined by the same people who had directed M here. A very nice british woman and her lovely little girl and her German husband. We chatted with them for a long while, more her than him and had a great time. I forget how nice it is to speak the language and share adventures. Poor woman had hurt her knee though and, in the stair-crazy town like this, that was a real problem.
We went to bed and read for a long while in the cave. I slept very well. (M: I slept well until I got up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom. I found out the hard way that there were 3 stone steps leading down from our cave-bed, not 2. Ouch! Stone is very unyielding and unforgiving – now I had a mild sprain to deal with, hope it’s not too bad in the morning.)