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Nafplio and beyond

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.

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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!

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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.

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Margaret spears a Greek olive, her version of salad.

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South to the Peloponnese

We were surprised how mountainous the landscape became as we headed south to the Corinth Canal (never knowing, of course, where we were going until we actually got there.  Shockingly deep and narrow, the canal connects the Gulf of Corinth with the Aegean Sea. It cuts through the narrow Isthmus of Corinth and separates the Peloponnese from the Greek mainland, thus effectively making the Peloponnese an island.

The rocky Peloponese

The rocky Peloponnese

The Corinth Canal

The Corinth Canal


After a surprise (of course) winery tour, we stopped for lunch, then headed for Mycenae and Agamemnon’s palace and the tomb of Clytemnestra (or maybe the Treasury of Atreus, they can’t decide), which is actually a very old beehive tomb that would have predated Atreus by many hundreds of years.  These are the oldest things any of us had seen.

After this long day we ended up in Nafplio, a reputedly romantic town where Greeks come on honeymoons.  It was very lovely, and so was our hotel.  No window screens in Greece – the windows are left open to the magpies, who had a nest in the courtyard right outside our window.

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The winery cellar, where the wine is made

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At the winery

We were never hungry - we ate in excellent restaurants all along the way.

We were never hungry – we ate in excellent restaurants all along the way.

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The Lion’s Gate, entering Agamemnon’s palace

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I stand where Agamemnon once stood!

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Our guide, Eva, demonstrates the acoustics at Epidaurus.

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Entering Clytemnestra’s tomb

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Sally and Joyce at Epidaurus

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Our lovely hotel in Nafplio

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As we leave the restaurant in Nafplio

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The edge of the Aegean in Nafplio

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Nafplio

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No rest for the weary: A full day in Athens awaits.

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.

 

Where we rest on the climb above Athens - poppies!

Where we rest on the climb above Athens – poppies!

At the Acropolis

The theater on the southern slope of the Acropolis

The theater on the southern slope of the Acropolis

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Athens from above

Athens from above

The real head of Zeus.

The real head of Zeus.

 

Athens from below, a typical residential street lined with orange trees.

Athens from below, a typical residential street lined with orange trees.

Lunch across from the museum with our new friend, Susan.

Lunch across from the museum with our new friend, Susan.

This has got to be one of the world's most beautiful museums.

This has got to be one of the world’s most beautiful museums.

Walking on Plexiglas, looking down at the excavation

Walking on Plexiglas, looking down at the excavation

The Acropolis Museum.  These are the real Six Sisters.  Those at the Acropolis are fakes.

The Acropolis Museum. These are the real Six Sisters. Those at the Acropolis are fakes.

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A view of the Acropolis from the Museum.

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A day of mystery travel . . .

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.

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Greece: The AAA Mystery Tour

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).

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Margaret “navigates.”

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The Muricce

Since we all liked our “home in Tuscany” – The Muricce – so much, I think it deserves its own post.

IMG_5642 The Muricce is located smack in the middle of some of the world’s most beautiful scenery – the gently folded fields and hills of the Tuscan countryside, just turning a bit golden during our October visit.  We all feel fortunate that we were able to enjoy it so lavishly.  Every day, every turn in the road drew oohs and ahhs from us.  It was almost impossible to take a bad picture – a real boon to camera buffs like me.

The stone house itself was built in the 1700s, and has of course been completely refurbished on the inside and well maintained outside and in.  The accommodations consist of the main house, a large structure now divided into at least two living areas – one for family members and one for guests; a converted barn, complete with living, sleeping and cooking areas, and covered patio; and a “guest cottage,” also attached to the main house but with a private entrance and courtyard.  The guest cottage, too, has living, sleeping and cooking areas.  Actually, if you like to climb stairs, the third floor bedroom of the guest cottage is beautiful and provides a wonderful view of the property and beyond.

FullSizeRenderIt’s hard to say what we liked best about this villa.  For me, I think it was the proprietors, Giada Manscholt and her mother, the owner (pictured at left), who were so kind and attentive to us, that made this place special.  For others it will be the location 5 miles north of Siena – a perfect spot from which to take day trips to locations in Tuscany and Chianti.  For some of us I know it will be the meals prepared by the cook, Piera, who shops for local organic food, then prepares and serves the tastiest and most sumptuous meals you can imagine.

There are a few of Piera’s dishes that stand out for me.  The chocolate cake with pears.  The pasta with white beans and black cabbage (kale). The cucumbers marinated in lemon and garlic.  The “fruit cake” (I put this in quotes because it is completely unlike our fruitcake) made with apples and fresh grapes.  The homemade tiramisu.  I don’t know if we’d ever be able to duplicate this food at home.  We might, with luck over time, duplicate the recipes, but the food would not be as fresh; the soil and sun and rain it’s grown on would not be Tuscan; the hands that prepare and serve it would not be Piera’s.

And the grounds?  The pictures below were all taken on the grounds of the Muricce.  A mowed lawn slopes down from the converted barn to the large swimming pool, and along the way are cypress trees, an olive grove, and benches for sitting and reading or enjoying the scenery.  The courtyards and patios are planted with flowers and vines that invited us to sit outside and enjoy the Tuscan air.  Our table inside was situated beside windows that looked out on one of the courtyards, so we could enjoy it even in the morning with our coffee and biscotti.

The property can also be seen on the Home Away website.

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Joyce continues on . . .

Venice is as beautiful as always, but the day time crowds are at a maddening level,so I find ways to avoid them [ lesser traveled neighborhoods, less known sights]. If I’m not too weedy [ the cold has slowed me down but not stopped me! the nasty little bugger] I take a walk at night, it’s when Venice turns magical, soft and quiet, all shadows and small sounds, soft light contrasts,great for a photographers eye. Love my hotel.

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Sorry you caught my cold, Joyce.  Glad you’re still able to enjoy Venice.

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And then there was Ramon

Margaret, Joyce and I left the Villa for Florence on Friday, where we spent the night before a morning flight home on Saturday.  The others will hopefully take the same flight on Sunday.  Finding Hertz was no picnic, but otherwise we had an easy drive.  Once we had the car returned and had taxied back to our hotel (an odd little place called “Golden Tulip Mirage” about 2 km from the airport, where all the newspapers are in Chinese and the bartender will be happy to give you lots of ice cubes in a plastic bag and even open a bottle of wine for no fee, but there is hardly anything you’d call a dining room), we were mightily hungry.  It was about 4 pm and we hadn’t had lunch.  Of course we had no car, so we set out on foot.

The first place we tried was closed, not to open again until 7:30.  Ah yes, the Italian siesta.  A few other places looked to be in that same situation.  But we spotted a gelateria and bar – why not?  The bar was also semi-closed, but Joyce asked nicely and the proprietor agreed to fix us some pasta – aglio olio for Margaret and me, and spaghetti with butter and cheese for Joyce.  Ramon turned out to be both beautiful and charming, a doctor from Catalan who volunteers for Doctors Without Borders when he is not in his bar (he owns it with a partner).  He speaks seven languages, including a very good American English, since he lived in the States for a while.

He decided we should have Catalan creme for dessert.  It came doused in pure grain alcohol which was set on fire and burned for a long time.  Ramon forbade us to eat it until the flames had gone out on their own, by which time it was warm and crispy on top.  Absolutely delicious!  But that was not enough; he also brought us over two shots of Anis (the Spanish version of anisette), one each for Joyce and me, and a shot of something else for Margaret (I can’t remember what at the moment).  The Anis was milder than Sambuca and very good.  (Ramon says you can’t get this anywhere but Spain, but I found it at Total Wine in Pinecrest – at least the sweeter version with the red label.  There is a dryer version with a green label which I did not find.)  We thought we should take a picture of the shot for Bonell, since he swears no one pours water into a shot glass (which they did in Florence) and this proves him at least half right.

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And here is Ramon’s bar in Florence, near the Golden Tulip Mirage hotel.  Thanks for the pix, Margaret.

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