On board our day-cruise ship
Tuesday we woke to bright sun in Monemvasia and a strong wind – so strong it blew the breakfast off of some of our plates (those that were seated outside). The shops were open, and we shopped! We took pictures! We stood against the wind, as did the cats, the mules, and the other people.
When we were satiated, we got back on the bus for the long trek back to Athens. We stayed at the same hotel we had booked on the first night – but dinner was at a restaurant that still has a license to break plates. It was a fun show.
We leave Sparta with a special goodbye to the warrior king Leonidas, and head for parts unknown. We are told to separate out only what we can carry from our luggage: something to sleep in, a change of clothes, toothbrush and any medications, and to bring umbrellas or rain jackets. Oh my!
We decide to scrap another museum tour and instead we stop at Aeropolis, where Eva knows a good bakery. She tells us this part of Greece, and particularly this town, was inhabited by pirates, and the people here tend to be somewhat secretive and keep to themselves. However they seem friendly enough to us. And what a wonderful town! Completely undiscovered by tourists of any kind, and yes, the bakery was wonderful. We ate cheese pies while walking around, inspecting flowers, stone buildings, picturesque doorways, local gathering spots, and local produce. I bought an excellent orange, so big it lasted me well into the morning.
After the delightful Aeropolis stop, we climbed back in the bus and headed farther south, getting great views of the ocean on our way . . . where? We pull up to an unprepossessing entrance of some kind – to a CAVE? Which we are to explore in BOATS? Some of us were reluctant – we never would have done this on our own, for sure – but we all climbed in the waiting boats, ducked our heads, and made it through. What fun!
Can this be topped? Yes it can. For lunch, we arrive at Gythios, where we had the best meal of our entire trip – crusty bread drizzled with olive oil, fresh tomatoes and onions, taramasalata (divine!) fried fresh sardines, grilled smelt, deep fried baby squid and calamari – oh my! After lunch we watch a thunderstorm over the water.
Hard to believe, but the best is yet to come. Where are we spending the night, that we have to bring only what we can carry? That evening, our bus arrives at the ocean, then crosses a bridge onto an island, then stops. It can go no farther. We are at Monemvasia, an old, old town being restored, with a monastery, also being restored, a whole passel of Greek orthodox churches, and some inns. We must carry our bags, since the streets are way too narrow for vehicles of any kind. Even the donkeys which carry supplies up through the town must go single file. It is raining, which only adds to the atmosphere of mystery and strangeness. We climb up through the narrow streets to our inn and are assigned our rooms, which were lovely! Spacious (ours has two bedrooms and a large bath with windows that overlooks the ocean and a small patio). We love this town! As soon as we unpack and dry off a little, we head down for dinner.
The next morning, Sunday, it is drizzly and dreary, but we are up, well breakfasted, and ready to explore Nafplio in the daylight by 9:30. The shops don’t open until 10 at the earliest, so we wander, taking pictures of the odd shrine or balcony over the narrow streets. I am enchanted to hear Greek Orthodox chanting coming from somewhere directly behind a little shrine. When the shops finally open we do our best to assist the Greek economy, haggling over shirts, jewelry, and souvenirs.
After leaving Nafplio, we head southwest to Sparta (not knowing this of course), past orange groves in full bloom (oh the smell!) and pistachio groves, for which the region is famous. Some of us managed to get hold of maps and follow road signs, and then we tried to guess where we were going. Kalamata? Sparta? No, we just passed through Sparta . . . and headed uphill to have an alfresco lunch in a small hillside restaurant under an awning, overlooking Sparta. After lunch we climbed just a bit higher and disembarked the bus outside the hilltop fortress of Mistra, where there are several old Byzentine churches, one of them still operating every Sunday, tended by nuns and a visiting priest. We were sure we could hike up to the top, to the castle fortress, but we were wrong. Although it always seemed to be just around the next bend, it never actually got any CLOSER!
Our legs shaking, we got back in our bus and headed back to Sparta for dinner in an outdoor courtyard (where we gave a significant portion of dinner to the local feral cats) – and our hotel.
Right. No rest. Right from the plane to a bus, our luggage stowed in compartments beneath us, and then out of the bus to climb the hill to the Athens Acropolis and a wonderful view of the city. Then back down for a hasty lunch on our own across from the Acropolis Museum, then a tour of the museum (do not miss this if you’re in Athens – it’s exquisite!), and then, finally, to our lovely hotel.
So we’re at the airport, groggy and nervous, and Marge gives us our boarding passes for a 7:30 am flight to New York – but no more information than that! We could be going just about anywhere, and of course speculation was the order of the day. FINALLY we line up to board and we’re standing next to a pilot in uniform, probably commuting to New York to pilot a plane from there to somewhere. We joke, “Are you going to be our pilot today?” “Not unless you’re flying to Athens,” he says (smugly I think). Oh haha, we say to each other – no chance we’d be going that far away, but don’t we wish!
But of course we were so wrong. That was indeed our pilot from New York to Athens, which we found out a few hours later. Athens! Most of us were too excited to sleep in spite of Benedryl or Dramamine or whatever OTC drugs we brought with us. We arrived in Athens the next day, middle of the night our time but already well into the morning there.
We really didn’t know where we were going. We just knew we had to be at the Tampa airport at 5 am on Thursday, May 7, at 5 am for a flight somewhere, and we needed our passports. So we drove up Wednesday afternoon in Jim James’ red truck, with Margaret navigating (see Margaret below with her navigation finger at the ready).