Little did we anticipate the beauty of Greece in the Spring. The wildflowers, lush green vegetation, snow-covered peaks, and cool evenings were a pleasant surprise. The olive trees were in bloom with clusters of tiny white flowers that had a subtle sweet fragrance. Hillsides were covered with yellow, blue, and purple blossoms. Red and yellow poppies were abundant in all the fields. The air had a wonderful aroma. This was not the summer-time Greece that we usually see in the islands. What a beautiful time to be here.
Our journey began on the island of Corfu, followed by a road trip through northern Greece and the Pelopponese, and ended back in Corfu. The beach resort of Paleokastritsa was as lovely as ever, but with cooler temperatures and very few travelers. It was our homebase while in Corfu.
The one week road trip was both fun and challenging. Gas was $10 a gallon. The locals like to change 2 lane roads into 4 lane highways by driving on the shoulder. Most road signs were in Greek and English. However, the "taggers" have spray painted over many of the signs. As Frommer stated in his guide book, "there are many incorrectly
signposted roads". Also, the roads often didn't have route numbers. All of this made for interesting driving. Thankfully we did very well and had just a few unplanned excursions.
Along our route we visited Meteora. We were last here in 2003 and walked through most of it. Our guide books state that Meteora means, "suspended rocks" or "midair" or "in suspense". All of these translations are accurate descriptions. This is an area with very high rock formations that were formed millions of years ago by a receding inland sea. Atop these rock pillars are monasteries dating back to the 1200s. Originally, there were 23 "monis". Today only 6 remain. Stairways have been carved into the rock pillars to allow access. Rope ladders and large baskets attached to ropes were the only access when they were first built. It's a very holy site and truly a magical destination.
The "center of the earth" according to the ancient Greeks was Delphi. Perched on the side of a mountain with snow capped Mt. Parnassus behind it, Delphi is a most picturesque spot. Below Delphi are endless vistas of the olive tree filled valley and the Gulf of Corinth. The ruins of
Delphi are spread out among several levels on the mountainside. Since this was the home of Apollo, his Sanctuary was the main highlight of the site.
We broke up the drive to Monemvasia by spending a night in one of our favorite Greek cities, Nafplio. It was charming and the gelato at Antica Gelateria di Roma is still the best in all of Greece.
Monemvasia is a large rocky island connected by a causeway to the Pelopponese. It was once a major fortress with an upper and lower village. Today, the upper village is in ruins and the lower village is a cute tourist center. Climbing to the top, exploring the ruins, walking the ramparts, and enjoying the view from a cliffside cafe are the charms of Monemvasia.
We spent a night in Olympia. Since it was a late arrival and we had visited the ruins in the past, we just did the town. On our first stroll through town, we met the same man we talked to 8 years ago. He had recommended Monemvasia to us then and it was nice to tell him that we had just completed our second visit there. Soon, the discussion
turned to the politics of Greece and it's present economic situation. His quote, "I don't know if Greece has a future" was both sad and very revealing about the extent of their problems.
Messini, underrated and infrequently visited ruins, in the central Pelopponese, was both impressive and large. Originally, there were 6 miles of stone walls, built in 370 BC, to protect the Messinians from the Spartans and the Athenians. The ruins cover a huge area and include temples, stadiums, theaters, homes, hospitals, and portions of the wall. There is an unusual round gate in this ancient wall that the current road bisects on it's way to the next village.
Continuing north along the west coast we arrived on the island of Lefkada. The water and the white sandy beaches were beautiful. Our hotel, The Santa Marina, was on a quiet hill overlooking the sea. I've spent the day sitting on our balcony watching the sea change colors, listening to the birds, and smelling the olive blossoms while reading and writing this blog. It's been lovely.
Our stay in Greece will end with 6 days in Paleolkastritsa doing some more exploring. One scheduled visit will take us
to Mon Repos, the mansion where Prince Phillip was born. Then we'll be spending time at the beach, taking a trip in the Yellow Submarine, enjoying the sea views from the balcony, and appreciating why Greece keeps calling us back.
Next stop the Canary Islands. We fly tomorrow.
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