Central Europe - Greece - Peloponnese

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  • Twelve hours and two buses after our delayed departure from Tirana we finally arrived in Patra. At 3:15AM we were unceremoniously dumped under the bridge that links the mainland to the Peloponnese. Luckily we'd been past there before, and recognised where we were. Even more luckily, Geoff had a premonition that we weren't going to end up at a bus station in Patra, and he had spied a hotel sign back on the road before we turned off. We got out our trusty torch and made our way back through the wasteland, found the road, woke up the hotel-keeper, and gratefully fell into bed! A lot of the time had been spent at the border - both the Albanians and the Greeks had been atrociously slow, but the Greeks took out the trophy. Then we stopped for dinner at 11:30PM - just what we wanted. It was a very frustrating trip.

    In the morning we chatted to the hotel proprietor and his family, who were helping with the hotel. They were a lovely family; the two women were both trained teachers, but there was no work in schools, and they had come back to work in the family hotel. They advised us to visit the island of Elefonisos, right down south, so in due time we did.

    We caught local buses into Patra, about thirteen kilometres from the bridge, and spent the day sorting out a dental problem. Patra isn't all that exciting a city, but it has one of the most beautiful churches we have ever seen. It is also a great base to visit Vouraikos Gorge on the Diakofto - Kalvryta railway.

    From Patra we went to Olympia, home of the original Olympic games. We aren't avid followers of the games, but it really was amazing to walk out onto the athletics track and feel the history under foot. An added bonus in Olympia was the Archimedes Museum, with its replicas of many of the inventions attributed to Archimedes.

    This early into our journey in Greece it was becoming obvious that using buses to get around was going to be difficult. The various prefectures of the Peloponnese didn't co-ordinate bus timetables, and travel from one prefecture to another could involve staying overnight in some place we had no desire to visit. There were no Tourist Offices open (budget cutbacks had taken effect), so we could find out very little about our planned route; in addition, it was almost impossible to get to some of the sites I had researched. Philosophically we decided to just go to Kalamata to break up the journet, and on to Sparta from there.

    Kalamata is nothing to write about. We spent a day walking around the town, down to the harbour. The highlight was the railway museum; not much of a highlight! Going from Kalamata to Sparta (about 60 km) once again illustrated the provincial aspect of public transport. We bought a ticket to Sparta, but our bus only went to the prefecture border, where ae disembarked in a tiny village high in the mountains and waited. And waited. Eventually another bus arrived from Sparta. The two buses exchanged passengers and baggage, and we finally carried on to Sparta. The actual trip was through lovely country, with switch-back roads down the mountainside, but the logistics of getting there were ludicrous.

    Sparta itself was a pleasant modern town, set on a wide plain. There was a small archeological site on the edge of the town, but the real attraction for us was Mystras, a short bus ride aeway. Mystras is a Byzantine site located up on the slopes of Mt. Taygetos, with a fortress right up at the top. There is a palace, and numerous churches and monestaries, many with intact frescoes. It has been deserted since the 1980s except for Pandánassa conventa where a few nuns (and their pussy cats) still live, selling their handicrafts from the reception room.

    We had wanted to visit the Mani, but the lack of bus transport defeated us again, and we headed south to spend a few days on Elefonisos. It was a lovely little island, although the season was changing and the wind blew quite strongly every day. We were there as September changed to October, and Greece turned off the winter. It was as if someone had flicked a switch; one day places were open, the next day everything was shut. We walked around the island on the 1st October, and didn't find a single taverna or café open anywhere except back in the port town.

    Back on the mainland we called in and stayed in Monomvasia, with its walled city out on an isolated rocky hill, connected to the mainland by a narrow isthmus. We walked around the base of the rock, along a trail that turned into limestone-rock hopping, and the next day explored the old town.

    In order to break up the bus journey, we stayed in Tripoli overnight before going to Nafplion, probably the most beautiful of all the towns we visited in the Peloponnese. We stayed in a delightful tiny hotel accessed up a steep set of steps. We were in Nafplion in order to visit surrounding archeological sites, but the city offered a lot more than that. Locally there were two fortresses to climb up to and explore, and the waterfront and town itself were very inviting, with many cafés and tavernas offering great food.

    We went out to Epidauros for a day trip, and also to Tyirns. Epidauros was fantastic, with its enormous amphitheatre. While Tyirns was much much less impressive, it was also interesting because we were able to talk to the people excavating part of the wider site. Tyirns wasn't too far out of Nafplion, so we walked back into town along the old disused railway line.

    We had debated about going to Corinth, but by this time we had seen a lot of different archeological sites and were ready for some islnd-hopping, so we went straight to Piraeus and caught the ferry to Paros.

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