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July 18th 2009
Published: July 19th 2009
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DAY 96

Waking up in Sparta. The town of about 60,000 people had been built pretty much on the old ruins. So the town appears to be realitively new. There are a few ruins exposed but not really that much to spend time searching out according to our guide.

So we take a day trip to the ancient city of Mystras, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Mystras is the only surviving expamle of a Byzantine palace complex in all of Greece. The complex was the seat of the despot of Moreas.

There are several monasteries and many churches in the palace complex. Many started in the 1300's with the fortress being built in the mid 1200's and sits at the top of the mountain. The last Byzantine Emperor, Constantine XI, was despot at Mystras before he came to the throne.

Francine and Angie along with Yvonne, Regan and Rebekah and Frangie decide to take the early bus at 8.45am to Mystras. Yannick (our tour leader) has told us that the bus will take us to the castle that is about 2/3 of the way up the mountain and then we can walk to the Fortress

Tripoli - Hurry up & wait
(about another 25 mins) up hill, at the top. NO, the bus only dropped us off at the bottom of the hill and we had to walk all the way up.

Yannick was going to meet us at the castle at 10am. We didn't reach the castle till 10am and we hesitated to walk up to the fortress fearing we would miss our leader. So we waited for 50 min. Yannick, our leader then showed up, puffing and panting as he had raced up the hill from the bus stop. He told us that the later bus also refused to come up the mountain and the rest of our group was at the bottom and they did not want to climb like we did. They were going to take taxis up the hill. So we decided to finish the climb to the Fortress. It was well worth the climb and the views were spectacular. We descended to the castle level again and still had to wait for a while for the rest of the group to come. Now running two hours late, they arrive with the local guide we were able to begin the decent down the mountain with

It's a long way to the top
the guide leading and explaining the things that we were seeing.

The reason we wanted to leave on the early bus was so that we would miss the heat of the day. But our tour did not start until after 12:00, so there we are after walking to the top of the mountain, finally starting our tour when would should have been finishing our tour.
And to top it all off Francine let out a girly scream as she was stung by a wasp and had this large welt on her back. Luckily the ticket taker had some cream to put on bee stings, so that did help somewhat.
Evangelistic Church was the oldest church here in the santuary and it was relatively small compared to the others but the paintings were still very vivid and beautiful.

The double eagle carved stone in the floor of the church was the offical sign that the emperor had declared this the most holy of places in all of Greece at that time.

The Pantagia Pantanassa Monastery was founded in 1428. The buildings are now used as a convent. We visit the church with remains of mosaic paintings. We

CITADEL "CASTLE" founded mid 13th century
enter the small shop run by the nuns and where they sell embroidered napkins and table cloths by the nuns. We bought small icons of The Virgin Mary and baby Jesus & Angie buys icons with St. Michael on hers.

The day was extremely hot and our water was limited at least we could fill up the bottles from the couple of water spicots on the grounds.

We walked down to the village below for a late lunch. The highlight of the walk was finding a water spring with a spicot along the road. Several of us practically bathed in it, it was so refreshing after a really hot (about 38c or 106f) long trek up and down the mountain and into the small village. Francine and Angie split a meal of the Castro (castle) Pizza (everything pizza) and the best olives in all of Greece. We also had Claras (shandy), which are beer and lemonade mixed. Very good and filling. Francine is now addicted to dipping her crusty bread into a mix of olive oil and vinegar before her meals arrive. So now orders a smaller meal to compensate for the extra bread. Look out at home

Yvonne, Rebekah, Francine, Angie, Reagan
this is going to be on the menu.

A 15 min cab ride back to town. Even though we were tired and hot we went to visit the Olive Museum here in Sparta. Just when you think an olive is an olive is an olive. It just isn't so. There are over 40 types of olives and everything from the tree is used for food, fuel, rituals, wood products, personal hygeine products and various other things. Not the highlight of our day but someone else may have found it interesting. When in Greece....

Angie had a headache and went straight to bed when getting back to the hotel around 5:00 and slept till 7:30.

Francine and Angie went out for dinner in the town square deciding to have ice cream and Angie added a donut to hers. There was a large orchestra playing in the square with children playing soccer and volleyball and riding bikes. People sitting and enjoying the music. A lovely evening.

DAY 97

9am and we are on our way to Olympia. First stop Kalamata at a pastry and confectionary store for morning tea.The Athanasiou Bakery is very famous in Greece and

We made it to the fortress at the top of the mountain
there is too much to choose from. This store has another store in New York and we are told that all the products are made and shipped from Kalamata to New York.

We arrive in Olympia and avoid the midday heat and stay in our rooms. We are on a tour of Ancient Olympia at 4pm with our local guide Christina. The information is great and Christina is so enthusiastic that you can picture how it was long ago. We wander around in our own time and take the complusory tourist photos. Angie and Francine have photos taken at the original marble start/finish line in the track field. The ancient athletics did not run in a circle track but back and forth on a straight field.

The ancient Olympians had to be Greek to participate and they trained in the area for a year and had classrooms on the grounds where physical and mental training prepared them for the games that were held every 4 years. Sometimes the competition was to the death if the athlete refused to admit defeat.

Dinner this evening is at a local taverne recommended by the hotel. Well the meat was nice, and very tasty although cold and the the chips seemed to be cooked at least twice and sat around for hours and also cold. Francine had a Greek salad so was fairly safe with her choice. Not bad averages good to bad meals when considering the length of time we have been travelling. Bad meals could be counted on only one hand.

Anyway, we then wander to the cafe under the huge cool trees and have refreshments. Frangie is released by the nice Policeman and is comforted by Yannick. An action packed day.

Olympia, a sanctuary of ancient Greece is known for having been the site of the Olympic Games in classical times. The games were held every every four years, the games dating back possibly further than 776 BC. In 394 AD ( after exactly 1170 years ) emperor Theodosius I abolished them as they were then considered a pagan ritual.

The sanctuary, known as the Altis, consists of an unordered arrangement of various buildings. Enclosed within the temenos (sacred enclosure) are the Temple of Hera and Temple of Zeus, the Pelopian and the area of the altar, where the sacrifices were made. The hippodrome and later stadium were also to the east. To the north of the sanctuary can be found the an array of treasuries representing the various city states. The workshop of Pheidias the Gymnasion (training area for athletes) and the Leonidaion are among the many buildings.

Olympia is also known for the gigantic ivory and gold statue of Zeus that used to stand there, sculpted by Pheidias, which was named one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.

The first stadium was constructed around 560 BC, it consisted of just a simple track. The stadium was remodelled around 500 BC with sloping sides for spectators and shifted slightly to the east. Over the course of the 6th century BC a range of sports was added to the games.

The late 4th century BC saw the erection of the Philippeion. Around 300 BC the largest building on the site, the Leonidaion was constructed to house important visitors. Due to the increasing importance of the games, further athletic buildings were constructed including the Palaestra (3rd century BC), Gymnasion (2nd century BC) and bath houses (c.300 BC). Finally, in 200 BC, a vaulted archway was erected linking the entrance to the stadium to the sanctuary.

During the Roman period the games were opened up to all citizens of the Roman Empire. A programme of extensive repairs - including to the Temple of Zeus - and new building took place. In 150 AD the Nympheum (or Exedra) was built. New baths replaced the older Greek examples in 100 AD and an aqueduct constructed in 160 AD.

Earthquakes caused heavy damage to the site in the 3rd century. Invading tribes in 267 AD led to the centre of site being fortified with robbed material from the site's monuments. Despite the destruction the Olympic festival continued to be held at the site until the last Olympiad in 393 AD, after which a decree from the Christian emperor, Theodosius I implemented a ban. The workshop of Pheidias was turned into a Basilica and the site was inhabited by a Christian community until the late 6th century.

After this point the site was buried under the alluvial deposits of two rivers until its discovery by archaeologists in the 19th century.

The exact site was re-discovered in 1766. The first excavation of the sanctuary at Olympia was not carried out until 1829. Since the 1870s, the excavation and preservation of Ancient Olympia has been the responsibility of the German Archaeological Institute at Athens. The first major excavation of Olympia began in 1875.

The Olympic flame of the modern-day Olympic Games is lit by reflection of sunlight in a parabolic mirror at the restored Olympia stadium and then transported by a torch to the place where the games are held. When the modern Olympics came to Athens in 2004, the men's and women's shot put competition was held at the restored stadium.

DAY 98

Lazy day. We sleep in, we relax, we have breakfast, we shop. More beautiful jewellery shops. The town if very pretty and clean. It is not busy and the tour buses all head directly to the ruins and museums. We seem to have the town to ourselves. Francine, Angie and Yvonne wander around and all the shopkeepers are will to reduce prices before we even have a good look at their wares. Surprise, we buy some more jewellery, Greek style with meaning. The women at the Apollo Shop was the most gracious and give everyone who comes in a postcard with her brother George's photo when he ran with the torch in l964 in Alanta Georgia.

That's it we've had enough and we are off to the pool at the Best Western Hotel at the top of the hill. A few hours to cool off in the pool a drink under the trees and back to the hotel. Yvonne has been nursing a sore hip, and upon our return had a short nap before dinner. We knocked on the door and she gathered her bag and put on her shoes. Well, Yvonne is now in that illustrious group of funny holiday moments. Check out the photo and at this stage Evie is sitting in the lobby and hadn't noitced. Thank you for a great laugh at your expense instead of our own for a change. PS. she did make a change before heading out to dinner.

Additional photos below
Photos: 39, Displayed: 30



Symbol of unity of the Byzantine empire

Francine cooling off in the local public water fountain

Angie cools off

Straight under the water

Oil crushing wheel at the museum

More than just olives - cookies & chocolate

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