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Nine Days in the Peloponnese and Athens: Trip Report and Lots of Photos by mr_go & ms_go

Nine Days in the Peloponnese and Athens: Trip Report and Lots of Photos by mr_go & ms_go

Old Mar 31st, 2008, 08:10 AM
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Nine Days in the Peloponnese and Athens: Trip Report and Lots of Photos by mr_go & ms_go

Happy Monday, all. We just returned last night from a fabulous spring break trip to the Peloponnese and Athens. We're trying to get the trip report and photos up early this week before work gets the better of us.

So, while I should be going through my work email, I'll get to posting--sometimes, you've just got to prioritize. We'll add to this as time permits.

Background

Every year, when we begin discussing options for our next family vacation, Greece always comes up. But, we�ve typically had to travel in the summer due to school schedules, and we�ve never been able to pull the trigger on a summer trip to Greece.

I visited Greece as the first stop on a month-long high school trip�gulp�almost 30 years ago. While the many sights certainly made an impression, so, too, did the heat�and I was from Arizona. I�ve always been a little hesitant to return in the middle of the summer.

With an extra day added to our spring break this year, we decided, why not Greece? We knew that it might not be the best time of year for the islands, but that it could be quite pleasant elsewhere�and culturally and historically rich. So, last September, we booked our flights and began looking at mainland/Peloponnese opportunities.

A bit of background for those who don�t know us: we are a mid-40s couple with 15 year-old daughter and typically middle-of-the-road travelers. Every year, we pick someplace new and different. After last summer�s fabulous trip Down Under, we were looking forward to a return to Europe. We tend to be pretty active, but given our respective recent workloads, we didn�t want the pace to be too exhausting. And while we try to eat well, we don�t plan our trips around food.
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Old Mar 31st, 2008, 08:17 AM
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Overview

After much reading here and in our guide books, we constructed a trip that included Athens and the Peloponnese:

* Nafplio, 3 nights; Pension Amfitriti
* Mani Peninsula, 2 nights; Limeni Village
* Monemvasia, 1 night; New Malvasia Hotel
* Athens, 3 nights; Electra Palace

With only nine nights, we had to make some tough choices. Some original points of interest that did not make the list included Olympia, Corinth, Delphi and Meteora. Well just have to go back, sometime!

We decided to put Athens at the end of the trip, primarily because wed have to be there then anyway due to a 6am (shudder) flight at the end of the trip.

Were pretty experienced with driving trips, so we didnt hesitate to rent a car out of Athens, even with our limited Greek skills (well, mr_go was in a fraternity and does remember most of the letters, and DD learns quickly).

Planning Resources

Aside from all the wonderful trip reports and tidbits here and on Trip Advisor, we also utilized the following:

* DK Guide: Greece, Athens & the Mainland
* Michelin Green Guide to Greece
* Road Editions map of the Peloponnese (essential!)
* Rick Steves online guide to Athens, which includes about 20 pages of information, including a suggested walking tour, in a useful format; I believe this will be a chapter in an upcoming book
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Old Mar 31st, 2008, 08:29 AM
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Highlights

In no particular order, these are the things we enjoyed most. Ironically, several happen to start with the letter M, so well start with those:

1. Mystrasthe partially ruined hillside complex of Franco-Byzantine monasteries and palaces.

2. Monemvasiasometimes called the Gibraltar of Greece, this former thriving city of 50,000 is now just ruins and a small community inside the lower-town (Kastro) gates. There are no vehicles inside the Kastro, and it was all the more enjoyable with very few people around.

3. The Mani Peninsulaa wind-swept (very literally, for the days we were there), mountainous and relatively unpopulated area on the southwestern part of the Peloponnese. It is noted for its independent people, dramatic scenery, hundreds of standing stone Maniot towers (some dating to the 17th century), and chapels dating from the 12th century.

4. Mycenaeinhabited for thousands of years and birthplace of the Mycenean culture.

5. Mythos beer, ouzo and local wines. We will be visiting our local Binnys or Sams stores soon in search of all the above.

6. Epidaurus. DD just finished studying Greek theater in freshman English, so she was thrilled to explain the parts of the stage to us, including the altar, the parados (chorus entrance), the skene (scenic and backstage) and orchestra.

7. People-watching from cafés in the Plakaor, actually, just about anywhere. This is one of our favorite parts of any trip to Europe.

8. The Acropolisalthough it is covered in scaffolding and construction equipment, how could it not be a highlight? Apparently, though, we missed the Olympic torch there on Saturday by mere hours. We even wondered aloud at the time what they were preparing for

9. Ancient Asine. What? Its a little-visited ruin on a hill near Tolo and Nafplio, with terrific views over the coastline. The acropolis of this ancient city is mentioned by Homer in The Illiad. The best part was having it all to ourselves.

10. The National Archaeological Museum in Athens. Its not a huge museum, but it is full of highlights. One of our favorites: the frescoes from Thera.

Well add honorable mention to the wildflowers that were everywhere on our trip, making the many sites and ruins even more enjoyable and beautiful.

Our only disappointment was that we were not able to visit the Diros Caves while in the Mani. It was closed both of the days we were there due to wind and rough seas.
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Old Mar 31st, 2008, 08:34 AM
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First up will be Nafplio, but we're still editing the jumble I attempted to write on the airplane yesterday on just a few hours of sleep (and with an annoying cold). Later today, hopefully...

In the meantime, here are links to a couple of early photo albums:

Mani Peninsula and Mystras:
http://travel.webshots.com/slideshow/562933013xopYLq

Monemvasia:
http://travel.webshots.com/slideshow/562925778iDqNrJ
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Old Mar 31st, 2008, 10:44 AM
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As always, a great start to a well formatted report. We will be waiting for more. Love the pics !
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Old Mar 31st, 2008, 11:07 AM
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Lovely pictures, they really bring back some memories. Mystras is one of my favoriate places - though I never did see the Peoloponnese with all of the wonderful wildflowers...I guess I'll have to go back!

I adore a great detailed trip report so please keep up the good work.

Naxos
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Old Mar 31st, 2008, 12:59 PM
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Great, I have been waiting for your report! Especially interested in your Athens and Nafplio experiences as we will be there in June with our boys, ages 14 and 17 (along with another family). In Athens, we are staying at the Electra Palace.

We will also be visiting Naxos and Santorini.

Welcome back!
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Old Mar 31st, 2008, 05:39 PM
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Great photos! I'm impressed that you've done so much so quickly. I look forward to reading more of your trip report. Can hardly wait for our next trip- 54 days to go!
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Old Mar 31st, 2008, 07:05 PM
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Looking forward to Nafplio.
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Old Apr 1st, 2008, 04:30 AM
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Thank you Bob, Naxos, fun4all4 and spinch.

Nafplio

This seaside resort town two hours from Athens seemed like a good first stopa little more restful than the city itself.

We poured over maps in advance and carefully planned our driving route into town and to the hoteleven rehearsing it verbally during the drive from the Athens airport. At our last major turn, we got totally turned around and ended up having to park at the waterfront, after all. No worrieswe found it was just a short walk from our accommodation.

Pension Amfitriti occupies two separate buildings near St. Spiridon church in the old part of town. We were in the older building (opened several years ago), in the first-floor Nereids room. The room was perhaps a bit small for the three of us (it had a double sleeper sofa that took most extra floor space when in use), but otherwise was comfortable, creatively decorated and nicely equippedfor example, the very modern shower with about a dozen jets and sprays. The proprietor, Evagelia, and her sister are helpful and welcoming. We particularly liked the location and the breakfasta spread of baked goods, cheeses, meats, fruit and fresh-squeezed OJ that could keep anyone going for hours. Breakfast is served in the new building (opened last September), and in good weather on one of several outdoor terraces.
120€ per night for a triple with breakfast included.
http://www.amfitriti-pension.gr/html/rooms_uk.html

Nafplio is a popular seaside resort get-awaynot just for tourists we learned, but for those from Athens and the surrounding area. We were there on a weekend, albeit a fairly nice one, in March, and the town was packed in the afternoons and evenings. Parking was a real challenge during the day; theres plenty of it, just a ways away. We twice had to park at the port and then move our car later in the evening.

The old town boasts many attractive shopstourist shops and original craft shopsas well as a variety of dining options. We soon discovered that on the weekends, the restaurants are hopping from early-afternoon through late at night. There didnt seem to be a set dinner hour, which actually worked out quite well for us, since breakfast usually carried us beyond lunch time.

We opted for more informal tavern-style restaurants; for example:
Ta Fanaria on Stoikopoulou. We happened in here by chance on our first night, jetlagged and hungry, and it turned out to be one of our best (and most reasonable) meals on the trip. DD took an immediate liking to dolmades and had them just about every day. The chef has been working here for more than 25 years. Its in many guidebooks.

Omorfo Tavernaki on Vassilísis Ólgas. A traditional Greek restaurant, with particularly good mezedes (small plates). Recommended by our hotel, this seemed very popular with locals.

Nafplio also boasts an array of bars and cafes, including some along the seafront and in Syntagmatos Square. The latter is like the towns communal living room. Local kids play soccer and ride bikes (we did see a few near-collisions with pedestrians), and proud parents push babies in strollers. In March, many of the bars/cafes/restaurants put out the space heaters, so patrons can sit on the comfy couch-type seats and enjoy the views. We, of course, did the sameat least once per day.

Finally, well make mention of the competing and very good gelaterie (one has been in business since 1870)always welcome during our trips.

One of the best things about Nafplio is its proximity to many sites. From here, we took two day trips:

-Mycenae (30 minutes) and Ancient Nemea (about 15 minutes beyond Mycenae), albeit for only a few minutes, as they decided to close early since it was a slow day

-Epidaurus (45 minutes), Ancient Asine and Tolo (15 minutes); Tolo was a little quiet this time of year

Of course, Nafplio has a few of its own highlights, such as the Akronafplia castle and the Venetian Palamidi Fortress, which sits about 900 steps above the town. We hiked up to the former, but were a bit lazy when it came to the latter; we drove up. We also enjoyed several evening walks on the seaside walkway that wraps around the entire peninsula. And, since we were staying right across the street, we ventured into St. Spiridon and found a tiny, dimly lit and somewhat spooky interior. On the outside is a bullet hole in the doorway where Greeces first president was gunned down.

All in all, we really enjoyed Nafplio. It was a great place to begin our trip and a relatively easy drive from the Athens airport (approximately 2.5 hours), even coming straight off 12 hours of flying with little sleep.
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Old Apr 1st, 2008, 04:38 AM
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Photos from Nafplio and our day trips in that area (still a bit of a work in progress):

http://community.webshots.com/slideshow/562955942Fksxdd
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Old Apr 1st, 2008, 07:18 AM
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Terrific shots at Nafplio !
I especially liked the opening shot and the shots from the fort looking down.
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Old Apr 1st, 2008, 08:23 AM
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bookmarking to read later!

thanks for posting!
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Old Apr 1st, 2008, 01:02 PM
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so, would you return to your B&B in Nafplio?
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Old Apr 1st, 2008, 02:43 PM
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I'll field that one, bob.

I'd say that despite our room being a tad snug for 3 people, the benefits far outweigh the drawbacks of Pension Amfitriti. The hospitality is warm, the breakfast is terrific, and the location in-town is just right. So yes, I'd have no problem going back there.

Although some of the other places we passed by looked intriguing as well...
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Old Apr 1st, 2008, 04:27 PM
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Love your trip report and your pictures. Brings tears to my eyes to see those wonderful sites that I love. Thank goodness I'll be going back to Greece this summer after a 10 year absence.
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Old Apr 2nd, 2008, 05:24 AM
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Thank you, veramarie. Enjoy your trip!

Bob, I agree; I'd stay there again (and hopefully will).

Mystras and the Mani Peninsula

The next part of the trip was a bit of a toss up: we could go west and visit Olympia, north and visit Delphi, or south and visit the Mani peninsula. They were all intriguing, but the latter particularly soa different flavor from all of the Greek and Roman ruins that we would see elsewhere. And yes, we do have a bit of wanderlust and like to get off the beaten track a bit. The Mani certainly fit the bill.

Heading in that direction also offered the chance to visit Mystras, the now nearly deserted community of monasteries and palaces clinging to the side of a hill just outside Sparti. This was really a unique experience; weve never seen anything quite like this before. Not as ruined as the ancient ruins (some of the churches are restored), it offers a closer glimpse at a different era of Greek historythe Byzantine and medieval eras, when the church dominated the culture. Overcast skies and occasional sprinkles added to the ambience. Originally there were dozens of churches and monasteries that were part of the community, along with an imposing fortress at the top of the town. We only had time to visit the lower town, but to really see this site, you need a full day. Good footwear and ability to climb and handle some rough pathways required. As an aside, the Xenia Café right outside the lower town gate serves decent pizza and Greek salad.

Our base for exploring the "Inner" Mani (the peninsula below Areopolis) was Limeni Village, a cluster of accommodations built to look like traditional Mani towers on a cliff outside Areopolis. This is not a luxury accommodation, but it is comfortable and convenient for the area. Our room offered plenty of space to spread out, a good-sized mini fridge and what appeared to be a just-remodeled bath (complete with another multi-jet shower). The best part was the patio with table and chairs for admiring the view, when the wind wasnt threatening to blow us over the edge (more on this in a moment). The main building includes several levels, with a bar and large sitting area and a restaurant (closed for the winter). The first night seemed fairly busyit was Greek Independence Day. The second nightwell, we may have been the only people staying there. The staff was helpful and accommodating, and it turns out that our various drinks in the bar were complimentary.
105€ per night for a triple including a very substantial breakfast buffet
http://www.limenivillage.gr/

We cant talk about this part of the trip without talking about the windat times what must have been blowing at a gale force. And this went on for virtually the entire time we were there. It sounded like a freight train at one point during the night. Just walking from our room to the main building sometimes required extreme concentration to remain standing. Were told this wasnt the norm. It appeared that it may have put a damper on the holiday celebration, as we pretty much found the guests sitting around the hotel rather than out enjoying the day. But a strong wind could never weaken our sense of adventure! And besides, we had enough sun to highlight the areas dramatic scenery.

We set out on our Mani driving excursion on our second day there with the intent of reaching the very end of the road at the tip of the peninsulathe southernmost point in continental Greece. And along the way, we found a variety of ruined Maniot towers, some goats in the road, a sleepy fishing village, and what must be the most remote place weve ever been in Europea small town called ΔΡΰ (Dru?) at the end of a dirt road. We took about three dozen photos of the quintessential Mani town of Vathia, now mostly a ghost town noted for its collection of standing towers. We were seeking the best possible light on this partly sunny, partly cloudy day. We think we got some pretty good photos! In fact, we hopped in and out of the car to take photos quite a lot. Somewhere toward the southern end of the road, we noticed that our trusted Road Editions map of the Peloponnese was missing. The only explanation: it blew out of the car during a photo stop. Darn! We still had several days of hard-core driving to do, and it would be hard to complete our trip to the end of the road without it. (note: the following day, not far from Monemvasia, DD found it wedged under one of the front seats )

We also paid a brief visit to the ruined Kelefa castle, a Turkish fort from the 1600s that occupies a large and commanding position and that we could actually see from our room. The wind, however, prevented us from doing too much exploring there.

As noted earlier, our only disappointment was not being able to visit the Diros Caves due to the wind and high seas. We tried both days; they were closed.

We should note that we saw evidence of last summers fires all over the Mani area (and other parts of the Peloponnese), in the form of burned trees and bushesincluding, in fact, just over the road from our hotel. In the fertile Mani area, though, the underbrush and wildflowers were still fairly lush and green. It will obviously take a while, though, for the area to rebound.

As noted, we were in this area for Greek Independence Day. Wed been curious about what to expect (crowds, closures, etc.). The answer was, not much. We saw a lot of flags displayed, but most shops and restaurants in Areopolis appeared to be open for usual hours. That evening, though, was particularly quiet. Most of the Greek tourists had gone home. After a few tense moments driving into Areopolis narrow centerand a brief Bourne Identity moment of seemingly driving down some stepswe managed to find parking and explore the town a bit on foot. More importantly, we managed to drive ourselves back out without further incident.

Dining highlights in the area included:
-Lunch at Epilekton in Gerolimenas, a tiny tavern on the seafront road with only six or seven tables. We decided to extend our adventurous streak by trying fried octopus balls (quite good!). DD enjoyed some more traditional fried meatballs, along with watching the two young male waiters.

-O Barba Petros, listed by Michelin as the best restaurant in Areopolis. Now this was a real Greek tavernone with no menu. We were invited into the kitchen to see what was cooking and to pick out our dinners. We chose stuffed tomatoes and peppers, lamb in artichoke sauce, and beef with tomato, along with some good tzatziki and an eggplant and potato appetizer. We were the restaurants only patrons, except for one local couple with whom we had a tri-lingual conversation in English, Greek and French. My favorite meal of the trip!

Aside from the freakish wind, this area lived up to our expectationsthe scenery was well worth the travel.
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Old Apr 2nd, 2008, 05:30 AM
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Photos from this area were in one of the links above, but I'll repeat it here just to keep things together:

http://travel.webshots.com/slideshow/562933013xopYLq

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Old Apr 2nd, 2008, 09:50 AM
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Monemvasia

Monemvasia really caught our eye in the guide books as yet another unique and different experience. During its heyday under Turkish and Venetian occupations, Monemvasia was an active trading port and home to some 50,000 peoplemost of them in the acropolis, or upper town. Situated on a rock cut off from the mainland by an earthquake in the 300s (AD), today it is mostly a holiday destination, with ruins scattered across the upper part of the rock and a carefully preserved lower town situated inside castle (Kastro) walls and accessible only on foot.

We knew it had the potential to be kind of touristy, and in peak season were sure it is. But we had the good fortune of being there in low season. Even in the afternoon, we were practically the only ones there. And, at night, it was downright eerie to be among the few people staying inside the Kastro.

We also had the good fortune of being there during a period of brilliant sunshine, as the clouds broke not long after we arrived. We took full advantage of that. We climbed to the upper townnot as strenuous as it looked, but still requiring good footwear and decent conditioning. We traversed footpaths through chest-high daisies and other wildflowers to see the ruins covering the top of the hill, as well as the preserved 11C Byzantine church, Agia Sofia. Its amazing to think that some 30,000 people lived up here during the citys peak in the 1600s. We also wandered among the old medieval streets of the lower town, taking enough photos to devote an entire album to this destination.

We parked on the island, right outside the castle walls, and spent the evening at the Malvasia Hotel. One of a few hotels in the Kastro, it features modern roomsours was on two levelswith Turkish-inspired interiors (e.g., floor pillows and rugs) and stone floors. Built right into the side of the mountain, some of the existing rock figures into the room design. Our small patio had views of the ocean and the Kastros east wall. The hotel also has some nice public spaces, including a breakfast room and an indoor/outdoor bar. It was incredibly relaxing. One note: it is the last building at the far end of the main streeta fair distance with luggage. Needless to say, rolling luggage doesnt, uh, roll particularly well on old cobblestone streets. We were happy we only had 22 bags.
110€ for a triple, including a nice breakfast of breads, meats, cheeses, yogurt, fruit, and fresh-squeezed OJ.
http://www.malvasia-hotel.gr/index-en.html

Monemvasia requires a bit of driving to get there and back (the road is currently under construction); maybe about 90 minutes to two hours to/from Sparti. We thought it was well worth it.

There are just a few restaurants in the Kastro. We tried two: To Kanoni and Matoula. The former has a nice upstairs patio with great views (and plenty of cats keeping an eye out for handouts).
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Old Apr 2nd, 2008, 09:54 AM
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Photos from Monemvasia (to keep them with the report):

http://travel.webshots.com/slideshow/562925778iDqNrJ
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