View Over Nafplio
Stunning view of the town from the Palamidi Fortress
When I was growing up, my sister owned a world atlas that displayed places of interest around the world. I'd always had a predilection for maps and seeing all these famous names on this one was a source of dreamy inspiration, triggering a wanderlust that remains to this day. Growing up in New Zealand, everything seemed so far away, so the thought of visiting all of these places one day aroused a sense of wonderment when I was a young teenager.
Well, you could definitely say that that atlas was one of the inspirations behind by travels and it would in fact, go on to inform most of the travel plans that I eventually made. On the map of Greece, I was drawn to the Peleponnese, a massive chunk of a peninsula that makes up the entirety of Greece’s southwest. Famous old names such as Marathon, Sparta and Olympia were marked on the map. Then just before my first visit to Greece
, two of my best pals Gkee and Sags did a road trip of the Peleponnese and thoroughly enjoyed it. Well, although it’s taken a bit of time to eventually do 'the Pel’, the time has finally arrived.
Since my sister inspired this
In keeping with ancient Greek tradition, the theatre is dramatically set.
trip - or least her property did - it seemed fitting that she would accompany me on this little journey. It would be the first time I would be seeing her in over a year and the first time I have travelled with her since 2010. Probably the one thing I miss the most about living over in Europe is not spending more time with Fern, with whom I share - I guess you can say - a rather unique bond. Therefore I was really looking forward to the trip and to seeing her again.
However, I was still potentially in a spot of bother back in Tunisia. My too-adventurous-for-my-own-good dining choice of a super spicy salad and a plate of seafood that might possibly add more poison to the food poisoning I already had
, had led to self-inflicted agony and I had a terrible night’s sleep with frequent trips to the loo. At the start of what was always going to be a long day, I had maybe slept about four hours max; while Imodium seemed to have taken care of my toilet trips, I was now the total opposite of well-rested in addition to trying to shake off a cold I had been carrying all trip and without wanting to provide too much detail, itches and pains in some er, uncomfortable places. That
Streets Of Nafplio #1
The old town has been gentrified somewhat but is still a lovely place to walk around.
morning was a real FML moment. And little did I know that a long day was about to get a whole lot longer.
After waiting an age for the hotel receptionist to collect my room keys, I just took off and left them on the counter - I was running a little late. The drive from Hammamet to Tunis Carthage International Airport should take about an hour, so I should still arrive in plenty of time for my 10:20am flight. Well, it takes about an hour if there is no rush hour traffic, that is. So as I got stuck in said, inevitable, rush hour traffic, I got a little nervous but it worked out fine in the end, as I returned the car on-time at 9am. The car rental guy was waiting for me and after a brief inspection, charged me 20 dinars to wash the car, which was covered in the red dust of Tataouine
. However, I had used up all my cash so had to draw some more money. Grrrr. I then thought there might be a formal process to refund me my £500 rental deposit but the man says it would be “automatique”
. I had
Sunset Over Nafplio
Taking the sunset over the water from the marina.
to take his word for it as it was now just an hour before take off and I wasn’t checked in yet.
Looking up at the departures board, I notice that my flight isn’t on it but that there is a flight going to Rome (from where I was catching a connecting flight to Athens) at 11am instead, which matched my flight number. So the departure time on the board is 11am, the one on my e-ticket is 10.20am, and the one on my booking confirmation is 10.05am - which one is it? It turns out to be 11am but what unnecessary stress. Worse was to come however; my flight had now been delayed to 12.30pm...meaning that I would now miss my 3.25pm connection in Rome.
So TunisAir had f*cked up my programme - and their ticket desk now tell me that it's Alitalia’s problem now, to sort out a new connecting flight. At Alitalia’s ticket office, nobody is at the desk for twenty minutes. It was time for me to go through security now so I would have to sort this out in Rome.
Once in Rome, I thought there might be a chance to blag my
View From The Fortress
The Venetians build the Palamidi Fortress to keep watch over Nafplio like so.
way onto my connecting flight if it was still grounded but again, I couldn’t find it anywhere on the departures board. WTF? After some more panicked running around, I discovered I was in the wrong terminal, then when I got to the right one, realised my flight still
wasn’t on the board. I enquire at the Alitalia desk as to what the hell was going on and it turned out the flight was indeed scheduled - but that it was now long gone. It looked like I was about to have to fork out a painful £200 for another flight through no fault of my own.
However, I thought I remembered reading something about a booking guarantee on my e-ticket and sure enough, it says to call the booking agent in case of any “rescheduling, delays or cancellations.” I give them a Skype call with the airport WiFi but my Skype credit had expired. FFS. I quickly reactivate it. I wasn’t expecting much from the call or the booking agent, whom I have always seen as useless middlemen between Skyscanner and the airlines. The woman who answers the call didn’t speak great English and was difficult to hear, but she
Philellion Square, Nafplio
Square on the water with the Palamidi Fortress high on the cliff in the background.
says that she would pass on my query to the “guarantee team” who would give me a range of alternative flight options in two to four hours (!), that might not even be free of charge. With a tight travel schedule starting the next morning and wanting to spend as much time as possible with my sister, two to four hours clearly wasn’t going to be good enough - but it seemed to be my fate.
As I talked to the man at the Alitalia ticket desk for a new flight, my phone then rings. A lady from the kiwi.com “guarantee team” called Jamaica (“like the country”) was speaking. Well, it seemed they could get me on a flight that night after all - and they could do it free of charge! I don’t remember buying this “booking guarantee” as an extra but it apparently comes with every booking with kiwi.com. Jamaica even gave me a 10€ refund for having to spend a few more hours in Rome’s Leonardo Da Vinci airport! Well I never. I never thought that any of these booking agencies were of any use at all but they have come up trumps for me today!
We didn't eat at these restaurants right on the water as they looked a little pretentious...
While I had some good fortune in managing to get to Athens just a few hours later than planned, I didn't seem to be having very good luck when it came to catching football matches. Fern is also a United fan and we were meant to catch the United vs City game just after I arrived; as it turned out, I was in the air for most of it. Never mind. United lost anyway.
I didn't spend long in Athens - just enough to experience how ridiculously priced everything was at Athens Airport, as if the pricing was set for foreigners as part of some revenge plot for EU-enforced austerity.
I had driven all over Tunisia and we were now to do the same all over the Peloponnese - picking up and dropping off a rental car back at Athens International Airport would be the most cost-effective way of getting around the Pel.
And maybe it's the backpacker in me, but I tend to just rent the cheapest car I can and so that was what I did when my sister put me in charge of booking one. Unbeknownst to me, my sister takes, quite the opposite approach to
Lion Gate, Mycenae
The once-grand entrance to the ancient city of Mycenae.
car rentals by renting something nice, something that would be enjoyable to drive.
Well, the red Skoda Citigo I hired would be anything but a joy to drive. For a start there was no ‘drive’ to push the car forward when you put the automatic gear into "drive", resulting in the car rolling backwards as if in neutral, when put into gear. There was no Bluetooth connectivity to the stereo so luckily my sister had an auxiliary cable. There were no USB charging points for phones, so luckily we had two phones to keep the music and Google Maps going. The automatic gear shifts were made as if a learner driver was making them; there wasn’t even an upholstered interior, just the naked metal of the chassis. So yeah, perhaps we could’ve spent a bit extra on the car...
From the airport, our first stop was a two-hour drive away in the ancient ruins of Mycenae.
Mycenae (pronounced "mee-ken-nes") was powerful city state of Ancient Greece and such was the city's dominance, that the last 500 years of the Bronze Age (1600-1100 BC) is known as the Mycenaean Period. This once great society flourished around 1,000 years before the
Tomb Dome, Mycenae
Although not much now, this dome which has stood for thousands of years without any internal support is an incredible feat of engineering.
rise of Athens and the people of Mycenae were written into legend by Homer in both the Iliad and the Odyssey.
Positioned 900m above sea level on a hill that has some decent views all the way to the sea, there isn't much left of the once-mighty citadel. The Lion's Gate is pretty awesome as is the large, nearby funeral dome that has stood for over 3,000 years despite not having any internal supports; otherwise I found it difficult to be inspired by ruins of Mycenae - there just weren't enough left intact to reflect its significance and its storied past. The information boards didn't help in this respect, as they were pretty dry, just describing how the various structures were built, what happened to them over the years and what they might have been used for. Could they have been jazzed up a bit? Most such signs are like that, though - I guess that is why you might hire a guide. Or some VR glasses for that matter
Otherwise it felt like the rocks I was looking at in the ground could've been from any old structure.
Our stop for the first two nights of our trip was the pretty little
Streets Of Nafplio #2
They've done a good job sprucing up the old town.
town of Nafplio. Right on the sea and against the backdrop of a huge cliff, the town's location is rather stunning. In addition, the pedestrianised streets of its old town are elegant and charming, lined with pastel-coloured buildings and teeming with boutique shops, chic cafes and al-fresco restaurants. Nafplio is lauded as the pearl of the Peleponnese and it is easy to see why. It was the perfect place to base ourselves for a couple of days.
The next day we were back in the car for a day-trip out to another ancient site, this time the old sanctuary of Epidavros.
The site dates back to around the 6th century BC and was the reputed birthplace of the god Apollo's son Ascelpius, who was a god of healing. The cult of Ascelpius then went on to establish Epidavros as a centre for healing, where the sick would come to cure their ills. There was a big guest house but also a great sleeping hall called the enkoimeteria
, in which the ill would sleep and where Ascelpius himself would advise the debilitated what they needed to do to regain their health. There were also mineral springs nearby, which may
Fortress Bell, Nafplio
I'm guessing the bell had a religious function? In any case, it makes for a good photo.
have been used for healing.
The site was a bit better than Mycenae, although it helped having one of the most famous and well-preserved amphitheatres in Greece. With 34 rows of limestone seats and a capacity of 14,000 spectators, the acoustics are rather amazing, with a person speaking on the tiny dais in the middle of the stage being able to be heard clearly from all parts of the theatre. The theatre also had a stunningly scenic background to boot.
It only took half a day to visit Epidavros, so we spent the afternoon back in Nafplio where we climbed up to the Palamidi Fortress atop the cliff that overlooks the town. Built in the early 18th century by the Venetians, the fortress itself is surprisingly big but I've been to quite a few fortresses in my time and didn't find it overly impressive; the views it commanded however, were sensational.
It was busy in town that night due to Orthodox Easter festivities, which takes place about a week after Easter for everybody else.
It seemed that everyone who live in the vicinity of Naflplio had come into town that night and there was a huge crowd in
The Philippeion, Olympia
Circular temple that commemorated one of Philip II of Macedon's military victories.
the main square. On our way back from dinner to our rented apartment, we managed to run into a procession which reminded me a lot of what I saw during semana santa in Malaga
Speaking of dinner, we'd been enjoying great food in Greece so far. We went to same restaurant for dinner and then breakfast the next morning where I had an amazing shrimp, octopus and quinoa starter. Since we were right by the sea, it made sense to give the seafood a go and on our last night there I splashed out for a lobster.
After our last night in Nafplio, we took off for the perhaps the most famous and illustrious ancient site on the Peleponnese; Olympia, the birth place of the Olympic Games.
There is a decent museum to peruse before getting onto the site itself, where you can learn more about how the ancient Olympic Games were held in honour of Zeus, the king of the gods. Athletes form all of the city states that made up Ancient Greece would travel to Olympia every four years for the games, which consisted of running, combat and equestrian events. And yes, the athletes competed naked. The ideals of
The Original Olympic Stadium
This is where all the action took place all those years ago in Olympia.
peace and unity that are tied with the modern Olympics were also tied to the the ancient games; during the games, an Olympic truce was called to allow athletes to travel safely to and from the games and for the host city to not be attacked.
The site itself is real pleasure to walk around with lots of trees and well-maintained paths and gardens. The ruins were also the most intact that we had visited, bar the amphitheatre at Epidavros. The Temple Of Zeus in particular would have been absolutely colossal back in the day.
The highlight of the site however, would be the old stadium and as a sports fan, I have to admit to being a little bit excited upon entering it. To be honest, it is nothing more these days that a large gravel field surrounded by steeped banks of grass but you could really feel the history, it was almost tangible. You could almost imagine the cheering crowds dressed in togas on the banks.
We decided to walk the length of the field and back, to trace the steps of the ancient athletes; others rather cornily decide to run it. We did however, indulge in some
Me & Fern
My sister and I at Epidavros.
silly photos of us running and taking our marks at the starting line.
And so in terms of significant ancient sites, we had finished revisiting history; the history of Ancient Greece, the history of of our childhoods and the history of my travel plans - but there was still a couple of days left to go as we set out to explore the Peleponnese's Mani Peninsula.
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