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 skills.

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

Γειά σος!