South to Pylos, and the importance of wifi

20 September

Another quick decision about where to go. This morning I decided to make my way south to Pylos, despite the Mycenaean palace of Nestor being closed till 2015. I hadn’t been there before, there’s plenty to see, including two medieval castles in Pylos itself, and another in Methone, about 20 minutes drives from Pylos, and it has an interesting history. Decision made, I went on-line and booked three nights in Pylos in a waterfront hotel. The internet has made travel so easy now. I tend to use Booking.com because I’ve almost always found a great place with all the features I’ve wanted. There are other sites though that are just as good. I have a friend who uses Air BnB, and has travelled all over France and Italy using it. She’s also used it to find places for us to stay in New Zealand when we go to compete in archery tournaments there. The internet has put the power into our hands, and I love that.

So after having a chat with Alkis at Hotel Pelopsabout Olympia, the Olympic Games and other things, and thanking Mr Spiliopoulis again for his help with the car, I set off southwards to Pylos. There were no further mishaps with the car, and apart from taking the scenic route once or twice when the main road wasn’t obvious, everything went pretty smoothly. As I drove through the town of Kyparissia, I noticed the ruins of a fortress on the hill-top. As I was making pretty good time, I decided to try to turn off and have a look at it. As always when you climb a hill towards an old acropolis, the streets got narrower as I got higher, and at one point I had to reverse down-hill out of a dead-end. There’d been one sign pointing up-hill from the main road but no others and, probably somewhat chastened by my recent car mishaps, I gave up after 20 minutes or so. I managed to get a couple of photos from about half-way up. Apparently the ruins are of a Frankish fortress, but I don’t know any more than that.

20131002-005444.jpgIt seemed to take ages to get to Pylos from Kyparissa, much longer than the time advised by Google maps. I don’t think Google knows how narrow and windy some of the Greek roads are! Eventually though, I came over a hill and caught sight of beautiful Navarino Bay. I wasn’t prepared for how lovely it is, and despite being very keen by this time to get to my hotel, I stopped at a handy lookout spot and took some photos while drinking in the fabulous view.

20131003-032350.jpgThis beautiful peaceful bay was the setting in 1827 for the event that precipitated the end of the 400 year Turkish occupation of Greece, the destruction of the Ottoman fleet by the combined forces of the French, Russian and English commands. Many of the wrecks lie still where they sank. They say they can be seen if you take a boat tour on a clear day.

While gazing, I chatted to a gentleman who told me that he had to take a lot of photos because his wife couldn’t walk so she had to stay in the car. What do you say to something like that? It made me realise how lucky I am, and how grateful I am. I got back into the car and continued down the hill toward the town of Pylos. I’d taken a screen shot of the satellite map before leaving this morning, so as I drove into town, I was able to head straight along the waterfront and find the hotel immediately. My room was really cute with a balcony

20131003-032659.jpgoverlooking the tiny handkerchief of beach, and the harbour.

20131003-033336.jpgIt’s a great feeling to come into a pleasant room after a long wearying drive. I settled in, feeling very relaxed, and looked for a power point to recharge my phone, camera and iPad. Suddenly not so relaxed! I found one on either side of the bed, for the bed lamps, and one for the TV. The problem was that the plates of all three had been lifted and were hanging off the wall with the wiring exposed, and each of them had a couple of appliances, lamp and phone, lamp and fridge, TV and air-con, jerry rigged directly into the wiring behind the plate. It’s possible if I’d plugged my chargers into them that the power points would have worked, but frankly, I wasn’t about to touch them! One of the things I love about Greece is that the people have a real can-do attitude and make pretty much anything work. In this particular case though, I would have preferred the usual method of using power points. I continued my search. No luck in the bathroom. I finally found one that looked safe to use, possibly because it never had been, on the wall at the side of the wardrobe. The adapter and chargers wouldn’t fit between the wall and the wardrobe, so I put my back into it and shifted the wardrobe a few inches sideways. Success! Appliances plugged in and charging!

I went to ask the receptionist for the wifi password and found that wifi was only available in the public areas, which included the breakfast room, open all hours, food only at breakfast time, and the bar, open all hours, no food. I went out to dinner at a waterfront taverna where I ordered before finding out that they didn’t have wifi. I think it was the only taverna or cafe in Pylos without it, because I found later that it was pretty much ubiquitous. I read my book instead, “A dance with dragons” by George R. R. Martin. (Love the Game of Thrones series!) To begin, I ordered grilled mushrooms. They neither looked nor tasted as I expected, and while tasting interesting, and not unpleasant, they weren’t a favourite.

20131003-033040.jpgA coach load of 50 German teenage boys arrived that evening, and totally monopolised the available bandwidth, so neither I nor the receptionist could use the wifi. The internet empowers us in all sorts of ways, but we can become extremely dependent on it. And I don’t half get the irrits when I don’t have it!

Why do I love Olympia…….?

19 September continued

After leaving the Museum of the Ancient Olympics I walked back a few minutes into the village and had baked feta with tomatoes and peppers (capsicum) for lunch at a taverna, and did a little writing via the free wifi. So many tavernas and kafenions have free wifi, as do most of the hotels. The waiter passed by and said, “Eat it with the bread – it’s nothing without bread.” I have to agree. In fact, even with the bread, I didn’t find it nearly as delicious as I find most Greek food. There are many more tasty dishes. It was filling though, and so fortified, I set off again.

It was still very hot so I opted for the air-conditioned museum first. I’ve been in there twice before, so I didn’t take many photos this time, however I looked more carefully at the bronze armour and weapons. I had read a really good series of historical novels set in the 5th BC a while back by Christian Cameron, about a Plataean warrior who was also a master bronze smith, and the descriptions of smithing had heightened my interest. I took particular notice of this Illyrian helmet from about 530BC, which is unusual in the beaten silver decorations attached. The cheek pieces show horses, and the decoration across the brow is of lions attacking a boar. I think it’s beautiful, although much of what I’ve read recommended against fancy armour, as glancing blows could catch in the decoration instead of sliding off without causing injury. Perhaps this piece was dress armour, or made particularly as a dedication to the sanctuary.

20131001-092001.jpgI sat for some time contemplating the reliefs from the Temple of Zeus, especially the ones of of Theseus and Perithos fighting the Centaurs, who’d become drunk at Perithos’ wedding to Deidameia, and tried to carry off the Lapith women. The faces of the humans are depicted as calm and noble, while the faces of the Centaurs are brutish. It was a reference to the recent victory of the Greeks over the “barbarian” hordes of Asia, the Persians. I couldn’t help thinking though, as I contemplated Deidamia’s serene face, that while she was being the modest and dutiful bride, she was thinking, “Bloody Centaurs! Every time you invite them to a wedding … ” as she modestly and serenely elbows him in the head.

20131001-093725.jpgI ventured out into the late afternoon and made my way around the ancient site. I don’t know why, but I feel something special at Olympia, I’m especially drawn to this of all the sites I’ve visited. Ironic really, as if I’d been alive at the time, I wouldn’t have been allowed in, on pain of death! Nevertheless, I feel something special, something calm and peaceful here, particularly in the area of the palaestra, which was the wrestling, boxing and general practice area. Now that’s especially odd, because I bet at Games times, it was anything but peaceful and quiet! I can’t explain it. Nevertheless.

One of the things I love is that each time I return to an ancient site, there’s evidence of more excavation and study going on since my previous visit. I was delighted to see that at Olympia.

20131001-095149.jpgIt always makes me excited about returning in the future and seeing new things. Well, old things really. New old things.

All too soon the site attendants burst my bubble with those shrill whistles they use to warn wandering tourists of impending closing time. It has to be done I know. The sites are too big for them to run around telling everyone individually the way we usually do at work that the place is about to close. Still, I could wish for a less intrusive method. As everyone neared the gate, I turned for a last look at beautiful, peaceful Olympia. Till next time.

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Where to now?

18 September

I was feeling a little lost this morning because I was checking out of Hotel Saron in Isthmia but hadn’t yet decided where I was going.

I’d been planning to go to Pylos, to visit the site known as Nestor’s Palace, which is reputedly the best preserved of all the Mycenaean sites. However, I’d seen a review on TripAdvisor when looking at hotels, that said Nestor’s Palace was closed indefinitely. I rang the Museum in Pylos, and they confirmed it, so after some deliberation, I decided on Olympia again, and booked two nights in Hotel Pelops, Olympia, a great little hotel, where I’ve stayed on both previous trips. I felt better. I had a direction.

The first part of the trip was on highway E65 which goes past Tripoli to Kalamata, and was uneventful, as highway driving tends to be. I stopped along the way to take photos of the Acrocorinth. The conical hill rises dramatically from the plain, and seen from below, the fortifications dating from ancient, Roman, Byzantine, Frankish, Venetian and Turkish times are amazing.

20130926-002048.jpgI’ve loved the time on the coast, but it was great to be heading toward the mountains. The road goes through some impressive tunnels straight through the hills.

20130926-002344.jpgIt was definitely cooler and there was intermittent light rain.

After I turned off onto E55 toward Ancient Olympia via Vutina, the trip became more interesting. I saw a sign to Ancient Mantinea, only three kilometres away, and decided to see if there were remains. The site’s double gates were open so I drove in, and along a 200 metre gravel driveway. The kiosk wasn’t manned, but there were a few workmen around in bright vests and hard hats. They didn’t stop me so I began to wander over the site. There was a small but beautiful theatre, a baths, a boulefterion (council meeting house) and what looked to me like a long stoa. I was contemplating that when a young man came over and said, “Sorry, you are not allowed to take photographs.” I was surprised, as they’d allowed me to come in and wander. I asked why, but very politely, and  from real curiosity. He said it was because the site was “under construction”, and “it is the law.” I asked, “What about the ones I’ve already taken?” He giggled and said, “I don’t know.” He was very sweet, and I agreed not to take more, but I’ll keep the half-dozen I took. I won’t publish them, but will hug them to myself as a secret treasure. I’ll be interested to know when they open the site.

He confirmed that what I was looking was a stoa, and would have surrounded “the agora (market-place), it must have been the agora!” I think he was an archaeologist, or a student, and he was more excited than I was. We talked for a while, and he directed me to a few points of interest to look at before I left.

When I left, I parked across the road to look at a church, Agia Foteini, built in a sort of Byzantine style, but as I walked around the outside I began to feel that it looked rather more like a copy of a Byzantine church, weirdly mixed with an Addams Family type castle.

20130926-003649.jpgSmall buildings in the grounds were perhaps memorials, but looked like neo-classical follies at an 18th century English manor.

20130926-003831.jpg I found a garden where a hedge had been grown in the shape of the church name, followed by the number 1934. There was also a memorial stone with the same date. As I looked at all the bits and pieces that had been used in the buildings and even the surrounding pavements, I thought, with some rancour, “I bet they filched the building materials from the ancient site to build this.”

As I was leaving, a local guy who was there with some friends confirmed that it had been built in 1934. Then he said, gesturing towards the ancient site of Mantinea, “They took all the stones from over there.”

Damn them! I bloody knew it!

Lost pencils and ravening lions

17 September

Lost my pen in the garden yesterday. Well it’s a pencil really, because I prefer pencils, but it looks like a pen and that’s what everyone calls it who sees it. Everyone who works with me knows how attached I am to my orange pencils. I’ll have a look for it when I get back this afternoon from the sanctuary of the Nemean Games at Ancient Nemea.

The games were Panhellenic and were held every two years. While mainly athletic, they also included musical and theatrical contests. There was no town here in ancient times; only the sanctuary existed, containing priests’ houses, a guest house for visiting dignitaries and athletes, a bath complex, practice areas, the stadium and a temple to Zeus. Earlier 6th century buildings were destroyed and the existing temple of Zeus was built around 330BC. When philhellenes began to take notice of it in the 1800s, including English poet Edward Lear, it had only three columns standing, but American archaeologists and students have reconstructed six more since the 1970s.

20130923-174538.jpgIt looks beautiful. There are loads more column drums lying grouped, and they along with other huge stones have numbered metal tags on them, against the time more reconstruction might be done.

The stadium is about 500m away. The athletes prepared themselves in a special room, and then entered the stadium through a 36m long vaulted tunnel. It must have been quite similar to seeing the footballers enter from under the grandstand as they do today.

20130923-174747.jpgThere are quite a few bits of the tunnel where the athletes scratched their names in the stone.

20130923-174913.jpgNemea is famous in myth as the area that Herakles saved from the Nemean lion, a creature not of normal progeniture, that was ravaging, killing herd animals and people. Herakles had to kill the lion as the first of his twelve labours. First he tried shooting it, but the arrows couldn’t pierce its skin, then he tried beating it with a cudgel, but the lion escaped. Herakles tracked it down in a cave, and strangled it to death.

Driving back from Nemea, I saw a rusty old sign pointing to a Temple of Herakles, so I turned down the dusty little track and found it.

20130923-175129.jpgI love lucky finds like that, off the beaten track and not part of the normal tourist trail.

Back at the hotel, I had a swim in the sea, and then went to see if my pencil might still be where I’d been sitting. An elderly lady sitting there saw me looking and said, “Stylo?” (See? Pen.) “Oui” I replied, (pronouncing it “way”, because I’ve seen French Kiss with Kevin Kline and Meg Ryan). “Voila!” Says she, producing it from her bag, to which I of course replied “Merci, merci beaucoup.” School French came in handy at last! It only took 40 years.

Walking ancient streets in Rhamnous

12 September Today I walked the streets of the C5th BC town of  Rhamnous perched high above the sea on the north-east coast of Attica. It seems quite remote, although not very far from the village of Marathon. On the way I passed through a lot of countryside that had been burnt, some of it right up to the fences of houses, where it had shrivelled the shrubs and trees overhanging from the gardens. It must have been frightening for the people. Today however, nothing more unusual happened than having to stop to allow a tortoise to cross the road. (“There’s good eating on one of those.” Small Gods by Terry Pratchett) It was good to see him make it safely across. 20130916-215115.jpg It must have been quite a well to do place, with two ports, one just north and one just south of where the town reached down the cliff to the sea. The family burial chambers along the entrance road are still impressive, with smoothly dressed stone and marble walls twice my height. I stood at the terrace by the temple to the goddess Nemesis, looking at the beautiful view to the ocean and thought of Pausanias’ story that the statue of the goddess had been carved from the very piece of marble that the Persians had brought to set up as their trophy for their expected victory at Marathon. The goddess punished them for their hubris – big-time! I was very respectful when walking around the ruins of that temple! I continued down the steep stony path, brushing against dry prickly bushes, thinking about how long it would take me to get back up the hill, and wondering if one bottle of water was enough. I came into a small clearing in the bushes and saw the ruins of the town within reach now, across a gully and up the next hillside. The Greeks certainly knew how to choose a site. 20130916-221641.jpg I walked down the gully and up the hillside entering through the remains of the fortress which had housed an Athenian garrison permanently stationed there to guard the sea route between Attika and Euboea. 20130916-223234.jpg The view was wonderful from the town. I wondered how the residents carried trade goods up and down from the ports. Perhaps there’s more of the town as yet uncovered. 20130916-225742.jpg I could feel my pulse throbbing in my head on the way back up. When I reached the temples I rested in the shade finishing my water and recovering from the climb. I got chatting with the young guy in the entrance kiosk. He was very congenial, but frustrated and angry about the government, saying they care little for the antiquities, and less about the people. He loves Greece but wishes for a better future, for himself and the country. It seems there’s so much of this sort of feeling. It’s sad. I called in to one of the cafes at Marathon Beach for a coffee and to use their free wifi. The Golden Beach resort charges 5€ for two hours, which is scandalous. At the beach though, I can use it for as long as I like, and enjoy the view, for the price of a coffee. Bargain! 20130916-231516.jpg

Check before parking on the roadside to visit old tombs!

11 September

Today I ventured further afield to discover more about the history of Marathon. First stop was the Early Helladic Cemetery at Tsepi. It’s right next to the road from Nea Makri through Tsepi to Vranas, in one of the new eco-buildings that they’re putting up over some digs to protect the workings and I guess, the workers. Connal and I saw a really big one at Akrotiri on Santorini (or Fira) last year.

It’s interesting that the cemetery is right next to a road. It makes me think that the modern road follows much the same route that people have used in this area for the last five thousand years. Early Helladic is about 3200BC to about 2100BC in this area.

I saw a handy olive tree opposite the Cemetery and pulled in, pleased to have found a bit of shade on this very hot day. I was inching in to make sure my back end was off the road when I suddenly felt the car slip and fall forwards, and heard a crunch as the bottom of the car hit something. It turned out to be the lip of a shallow ditch, which my front wheels were now firmly in and the back wheels on the level of the road. “Damn, I didn’t see that,” I thought. (Captain Obvious!) I tried packing some flat rocks under the back of the front wheels to give some traction, but that didn’t work, so I decided to look in the Cemetery while I decided what to do.

There was no charge to get in because some archaeologists were working the site. They allowed me to come in and walk around part of the walkway above the dig.

20130916-125336.jpg I stayed a while, looking around and taking photos. It was a very organised cemetery, with the graves arranged in rows, and lined with dry-stone walls or sometimes slabs, and covered with slabs and earth.

20130916-130245.jpg Having calmed down, I came back to the car and hunted through the glovebox for the phone number of the driver assistance. The person who answered couldn’t work out where I was so she found someone else, who likewise couldn’t work it out from my description. I had told them it was the road from Nea Makri to Vranas, and spelt the name of the town for them, but they still couldn’t recognise it. Nor did they know where the Early Helladic Cemetery is, which surprised me – but then, that’s me 😉 . Later I realised that instead of saying “v” for Vranas, I possibly should have been saying “beta”, as that’s how it’s spelt in Greek, and what looks like our b is usually transliterated and pronounced as v. They said they’d call me back to let me know when they could send a car – and presumably have another go at locating me.

I began to wonder if I should do the girl thing and flag down someone for help. A middle aged gentleman, right on cue, pulled out of the opposite driveway in a type of ute. I waved at him and looked pathetic. He put his hands together and made a diving motion with them while lifting his eyebrows in unspoken question. I nodded assent. He rolled his eyes at the silly tourist, or woman driver, and got a tow-strap out of the back of his truck and attached it. Then he checked my hand-brake and gear-stick, leaving the brake on and the gears in Park. I thought that was a bit odd, but assumed he knew what he was doing. When his tyres started to smoke, I waved my key, mutely offering to get in my car and help. He nodded, and I let the brake off, put it into reverse and I was out in two seconds. I was so relieved that when he’d detached the strap, I grabbed his shoulders and gave him two big kisses on the cheek. He laughed and waved as he drove off. Driver Assistance now rang back, and seemed as relieved as I was.

Ok, now to visit the Archaeological Museum of Marathon.

It’s a beautiful little museum, featuring finds from both the Early and the Middle Helladic Cemeteries, and beautiful grave goods from the tumulus of the Athenians and the tumulus thought to be that of the Plataeans.

20130916-133045.jpg I’m always surprised to see things that are that old, that look so similar to things we would use, every day utensils like cups, pots, even frying pans. It’s strange to think of people so long ago living lives not so very different in essence to ours.

The museum also houses the pieces found of the original trophy, a marble column, erected at the site of the battle, in honour of and thanks for the victory.

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Yesterday when I had walked south along the beach at Golden Beach resort I had discovered that the beachfront bit of the resort is right next to the Sanctuary of the Egyptian Gods. I was disappointed to find it closed, not just for the afternoon, but for the last four years, with no planned opening date, at least not one that the hotel staff knew, because of more work that needs to be done on the site. I guess that’s a real issue for Greece. There are so many sites that need more work in order to attract more tourism, but only so many archaeologists to work them, so they stay closed till they get high enough on the list. A vicious circle. I was delighted to find that some lovely statues from the Sanctuary are in the museum.

20130916-134000.jpg I asked the attendant where the Middle Helladic Cemetery was and she told me it was in the building next door, another eco-shelter, which was currently closed but she’d take me in. Wasn’t that lovely?

The Middle Helladic Cemetery dates from 2100 BC to 1600BC. This cemetery was used through to the Late Helladic, about 1200 BC and is organised differently, with the graves having been covered by seven tumuli about 1.5m high. The foundations of the circumferences are startlingly precisely circular.

20130916-141202.jpg After that I walked along a little to the tumulus thought to be that of the Plataeans. It contained grave goods from the right period, so it seems plausible. It isn’t as high or well kept as the Athenians’ but just as important in my mind. A good historical novel about the Plataean involvement is Christian Cameron’s Marathon.

I then went to see the modern monument to the battle. I think it was erected around 2008, but I couldn’t find anything to check that. It’s a smooth marble column, 10 metres high, with an Ionic capital, close to the site of the victory. The original was also topped with a marble statue of Nike, Victory. The guy at the resort said not to bother to see it, but I wanted to, even though it wasn’t original, because it marks the spot I guess. And that’s important.

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Ancient Isthmia and the Corinth Canal

15 September

I wonder how the residents around here sleep. I’m sitting in a taverna at the southern end of the Corinth Canal, drinking a very strong coffee and hoping to see the submersible bridge operating and a ship pass through. Each time I’ve travelled in Greece I’ve used Matt Barrett’s Greece Travel websites and he mentions it (along with most things I do in Greece).
It’s very pleasant here in the shade with a gentle breeze waving the branches of the two eucalyptus trees. Yes, my Australian family and friends – eucalyptus. I thought they may have been introduced to Greece to help dry up swampy areas, or otherwise, to help bring the water table up in highly saline soil. The waiter told me that they’re native to Greece though, so that’s both those theories up the spout!

But back to the noise. The submersible bridge rumbles every time something crosses it. By contrast, the mechanism that raises and lowers it is remarkably quiet, as I just found out when it opened. I filmed it, but I’ve forgotten how to stop and start properly, so you’ll have to wait till I can edit films before I can upload it.

Earlier today I visited the Isthmia museum. It made me realise just how busy and important a place the Isthmus was in Greek history, a veritable commercial, political and nautical crossroads, even before the canal was built. I’d read years ago in one of my favourite novels, “The last of the wine” by Mary Renault, about ships being brought by land across the Isthmus from the Gulf of Corinth to the Saronic Gulf, and guess what? It’s true! They even built a special road for the purpose, called the Diolkos, with tracks in it for the rollers the ships were rolled along on.

I stayed so long in the museum that I didn’t make it outside into the site itself. I was going to come back tomorrow but the attendants kindly informed that tomorrow is Monday, which I’d forgotten, and I’ve told you in previous posts about Mondays. Good thing that this morning I extended my stay by two more nights. I really like it around here and there’s more to see than the guidebooks tell you, so it might be more yet. Not to mention of course that the hotel is really nice.

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But back to the museum. It’s mostly photos and story boards, with some artefacts which are displayed really well in glass cases, except for a couple of very large but incomplete pieces that give an idea of the importance of Isthmia, the sanctuary of Poseidon and the Isthmian Games.

20130921-092628.jpgIt’s going to take me a long time to read through everything from my photos, because of course I photographed all the information, and absorb it.

After the museum and site closed at 3pm, I went for a drive around to get my bearings and came across the ancient port of Kenchreae. As all around this area, there’s evidence of settlement from prehistoric right through to modern times. While there’s not a lot left to see here, especially as quite a bit of what was here is now underwater, it was a beautiful afternoon and the water was so clear that I could clearly see parts of foundations in the shallows.

20130921-092923.jpgThe port was quite big, with a temple of Isis, warehouses, fish cages in the sea and a large sanctuary of Aphrodite. Isis and Aphrodite were protectors of seafaring and seafarers – I didn’t know that.

After that I made my way around to the Isthmus and found the submersible bridge with a couple of tavernas alongside, so after taking some photos up the canal from the middle of the bridge, I spent a hour or so writing and watching, and botching up videos of the bridge in action.

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When I look around, I can’t actually see many houses, so there aren’t actually many residents around the bridge, just a church, the tavernas and further out, the port, so I guess the traffic crossing the bridge isn’t going to worry anyone after all. I’m starting to really enjoy the gentle rumbling.