|Chapter Thirty-One October 25 – December 16, 2006
We have now been in Mykonos for three months! It continues to amaze us, the
generosity of Costas and his family. Mykonos is beginning to “come alive” for us
in many ways. We have begun to get into a bit of a “daily routine,” although
each day brings some new experience to excite us. Today, for instance, Sharon
was driving out to go on her morning run, and a man she waves to daily stopped
her. The man speaks no English, but this morning he had a friend with him. In
English, the friend asked Sharon where in the United States she was from. When
she replied “Connecticut,” he whooped with joy. He lived in Connecticut for
thirty five years. He invited us to join him for coffee on Sunday, and perhaps
we’ll make another new friend. And so our “routine” outings of Greengrocer,
Baker, and maybe the Post Office becomes anything but routine. What a life!
In early November we had guests here for a week. Geoff and Ann-Marie have left
their boat in Kalamata for the winter. We gave them the island tour and then the
four of us set off to do some adventuring on the mainland. Our first stop was
the near-by island of Tinos. Tinos is the Greek Orthodox version of Lourdes.
Thousands upon thousands of pilgrims come each year. They come seeking healing,
and make their way from the harbor up the hill to the church housing the holy
icon on their knees; there is a rubberized strip alongside the street and up the
stairs to aid them on their way.
We came not only to see the icon, but to visit the many villages dotting the
hills. Although Tinos is quite small, there are 50-60 of these tiny villages on
the island, and they are a tourist destination of their own, many having but
50-100 inhabitants. In one, we were invited by an old woman to come inside her
little store and warm ourselves at her wood-burning stove. The store hasn’t
changed much in the past 75 years or so. Take a look:
We have to mention that Sharon was absolutely intrigued with the town
Laundromat. Well, wouldn’t you be!?
We also had the opportunity to visit our first working monastery, this one for
women. Very interesting was the little chapel by the cemetery, complete with
ossuary underneath. Here are the bones of sisters who have lived here through
the years, all neatly lined up along the shelves. The boxes contain the bones of
those who have died more recently; they have names and dates inscribed on them.
On this trip we decided not to make hotel reservations ahead of time. We know
that all the ferries are greeted by people with rooms to rent, and we thought we
could take advantage of the season and secure appropriate accommodations more
easily and cheaply this way. And we did. But no one told us that the rooms would
be made entirely of stone (as in Tinos), or that it would take more than a day
to warm the room sufficiently to sleep comfortably. We almost froze to death
that first night. But what do you expect for $25/night? Heat, too?
From Tinos we made our way to the mainland and our ultimate destination: The
Peloponnese. The Peloponnese is the southern part of Greece, and it was here
that the Mycenaean civilization gave rise to Classical Greece, and Western
Civilization. The Mycenaeans flourished 3,500 years ago, and we wanted to see
many of the sites that have been found and explored. This is the land of Homer,
and the place-names are familiar, as are the legends about the people who lived
here then. What we began in Ithaka in August was continuing. (Next year Troy
will complete the circuit.)
We began in the southeast, in Nafplio, and traveled along the coasts in a
counter-clockwise direction. Most of the ancient sites are within easy reach of
the sea, and the interior of the Peloponnese is quite mountainous. Nafplio was
an unexpected treat. This little city was for a short time the capital of
Greece, and the 18th century buildings reflect its proud history. It is now a
very stylish seaside resort within easy reach of Athens. (Our rooms here were
much nicer – and warmer – than on Tinos, and we stayed an extra day to take
advantage of them.) The view from the 18th century Venetian castle high atop the
hill overlooking the harbor and town is spectacular. We drove up the hill rather
than climb the 999 steps from the town.
There is more to see in Epidavros; it was the “Mayo Clinic” of the 4th century
B.C., and we spent the day there. But we were more interested in Mycenae. This
hilltop city gave its name to an entire civilNafplio made a good base for exploring that eastern part of the Peloponnese.
Here are the ancient sites of Epidavros and Mycenae. Epidavros is best known for
its spectacular amphitheater. Although out-of-doors and seating 14,000, the
acoustics are phenomenal; we sat in the last row and listened as a tour guide
rubbed the palms of his hands together. We didn’t see, we HEARD! (Try rubbing
your palms together and imagine what it is like to hear that from 30 yards
away.) We were then treated as an Italian tourist gave an impromptu concert,
singing “O Solo Mio” to the members of his tour group. How fun is that?!ization, and was an important
center by the 15th century B.C. Here lived the Homeric characters of Agamemnon
and Clytemnestra. The museum does a wonderful job of showing what life was like
in ancient Mycenae and the surrounding area. The famous Lion Gate still welcomes
visitors to the city after 3,500 years.
As we traveled northward, we stopped to take a little train ride. The railway
from Diakofto to Kalavryta is only 14 miles long, but the mountain gorge it
travels is so steep that the train is on a cog system to prevent it slipping
down the tracks. It is a beautiful ride. About half-way along, the train stops
momentarily in a little village that is home to the enticing-sounding “Hotel
Romantzo.” Who could resist such a name? Fortunately we had not booked in
advance; Hotel Romantzo brought to mind a 1950’s youth hostel shoved inside a
walk-in deepfreeze. We just did manage to escape another freezing night.
At Olympia, we expected to be overwhelmed with the history of the Olympic Games.
But we were pleasantly surprised to find little about the Games (founded here in
776 B.C.), and more about the religious and civic life of the city. Again, the
museum is terrific, and the artifacts are displayed in creative and interesting
ways. We were especially taken by the quality of the artwork; most of the
surviving examples are sculptures. It is not hard to see where the Italian
Renaissance sculptors looked for inspiration.
As we continued round the Peloponnese, we made our base on our friend’s boat in
Kalamata. From here we could make day trips to see Nestor’s Palace (Homer,
again), the Mani peninsula, and the interesting city of Mystras which overlooks
the plain of ancient Sparta (not much remains). Nestor’s Palace is a fairly
recent archaeological find, and it is an active dig. The artifacts uncovered so
far, almost all 40,000 of them, are housed in a nearby museum built specially
for the task. The day we were there, we were the only visitors. The museum is
overwhelming in its detail, but an old man took pity on us and gave us a
personal tour of the most important pieces. Unfortunately, he spoke not a word
of English! But his enthusiasm more than made up for our lack of language
The Mani is interesting. This is a wild and untamed area stretching down to the
southernmost point in mainland Greece. The inhabitants have a history of fierce
family feuds, and built their houses into defensive towers. These “Tower Houses”
are a recognized feature of the area.
In all, it was a fabulous tour. We have been surprised and delighted by Greece
at every turn. This wonderful country has succeeded in exceeding our
expectations day after day. Now we are preparing for Christmas. Costas and his
family have generously invited us to come to Thessaloniki and spend Christmas
with them. We are very excited, as we have never before experienced an Orthodox
Christmas and to be able to do so with Costas’ family is a rare treat, indeed.
Costas is hoping for snow.
Merry Christmas, and