There Is Too Much: Let Me Sum Up
We loved every one of our 25 days in Greece. We stayed much longer than we originally intended, and we will have to cut other countries short because of the extension, but it was totally worth it. We would go back in a heartbeat… and we may choose to do so!
That’s one great thing about traveling the world on our own time and our own dime: We can do what we want when we want! 😊
Santorini — Perissa Beach
After we said a sad farewell to Amanda at the Santorini Airport (see Greece Part 1 for details of our adventures while she was with us), Scott and I decided to stay an extra day so that I could lounge on the beautifully empty Perissa Beach and Scott could do some work. My day was very relaxing, quiet, and peaceful (but I missed Amanda!), and the beach-side food and drink service was a nice little treat — all very cheap, too. And Scott got lots of work done. This last day in Santorini was a much-needed opportunity to recharge before we left for Greece Part 2: Peloponnese Peninsula and Mount Olympus.
The next day, we took a boat back to Athens and then picked up a rental car so that we could make our way easily around the Peloponnese peninsula, the southern part of mainland Greece, at our own pace, and without having to rely on the sparse Greece public intercity transportation.
Our first stop was in Corinth, where we visited Ancient Corinth. The ruins included a church where Saint Paul spent many years and, after he left, where he wrote his letters to the Corinthians, all of which are documented in the Bible.
That same day we went to Acrocorinth, the acropolis of Ancient Corinth; unfortunately, it closed at 3 pm and we arrived around 2 pm, so we weren’t able to see the entire site, which is quite large. Still, what we saw was impressive.
The next day we stopped to see the Corinth Canal and then spent the afternoon in Mycenae where saw even more wonderful old ruins. In the second millennium BC, Mycenae was one of the major centers of Greek civilization, a military stronghold that dominated much of southern Greece and parts of southwest Anatolia. For two days we saw lots and lots of ruins, and Scott was in heaven.
We hopped back in our rental and made our way down the coast (with several stops along the way to take pictures of the increasingly amazing views!) to a little fishing village called Tyros, where we stayed for two nights. This is not a typical tourist destination because there’s not much to do there except go to the rocky little beach, but that didn’t stop us from having a good time. It was beautiful and very quiet, and we loved sitting on our little balcony watching fishing boats come and go.
After two easy days, we drove on until we hit Monemvasia, a very small but high, rocky island off the southeast tip of the Peloponnesus. It isn’t accessible by car, and atop it sits the remains of a medieval fortress, partially restored. People still live on the island, which has had a resurgence in popularity in recent years — making property there very, very expensive (i.e., in the millions of euros on average).
After trekking up to the top, which required quite a hike up some very steep, slippery old cobblestone paths, we spent a couple hours hiking around the ruins. After that, we had a late, light lunch at a charming little bistro, and then we followed handwritten signs to a tiny, adorable little wine tasting bar. We spent a few hours there over a few glasses of wine with the owners, a very charming and interesting couple of British expats who had lived abroad in France, Africa, and ultimately Greece throughout their lives. (He spoke 5 or 6 languages fluently, and she spoke 3 or 4.) Recharged, having had a bit of social interaction that we realized we’d been missing, as well as some lovely Greek wines, we bought three bottles on the way out of town and headed off toward our next destination, Sparta.
In Sparta, we stayed at an Airbnb with a lovely, very friendly and accommodating host, Evie, who is now a friend on Facebook. (Hi, Evie!) She gave us lots of suggestions on what to see, do, and eat. We started with walks around the city center and a bit of shopping on my (Connie’s) part; I didn’t bring enough warm-weather clothes so I had to get a few new shirts while Scott worked. The next day, we went to Ancient Sparta, but unfortunately these ruins haven’t been very well taken care of over the years, and a lot of the old stones had been taken by locals to build new structures in the nearby town. Such a shame.
Not to be deterred, we made our way to nearby Mystras, another fortified town, which was far better. In fact, it was definitely one of the better ancient sites we’ve visited so far. Currently, it’s being preserved and rebuilt in a few places, so it was cool to see how the buildings would have originally looked. After yet another very long hike to the top (and no, I’m still not skinny yet, damn it, even with all this walking and hiking!), we climbed back down the mountain and found a local restaurant where we had a great dinner. The owner/cook was also our server and recommended delicious items from her limited menu. Everything was fabulous, including the roast rabbit and the local white wine.
The next day, on Evie’s recommendation, we went to the Diros Caves, about mid-way down the middle peninsula at the south of the Peloponnese. This was one of the coolest, most awe-inspiring places we’ve seen. We were taken about 1.2 km by a little boat through water-logged caves of stalagmites and stalactites. Then we walked through the caves for about another 20 minutes at the far end before exiting under the brilliant Grecian sun. I think we took pictures of almost every inch. It was amazing!! I definitely want to see more caves!!
After the caves, we got back in the car for more breathtaking views of The Mani, one of Lonely Planets’ recommended drives in Greece. We stumbled upon the beautiful, picturesque seaside village of Kardamyli. There we found a cheap little restaurant where the owners/cooks/servers, Georgio and Guiliana, greeted us. Georgio had no set menu, but instead he and his wife/partner handmake everything, which he then proceeded to explain, in detail — all five of their items. Each was made from only local products grown on local farms, all very authentically Greek. Georgio, who learned to cook from his grandmother, teased that the items on the menu would most likely make us sick: not the best way to showcase your food, perhaps, but his wonderfully self-deprecating sense of humor put us at ease, and in fact (as I suspect Georgio knew we would), we loved everything the charming couple brought us.
That night, we stayed on the outskirts of Kalamata. The following morning, we went to an awesome museum that featured an impressive collection of traditional Peloponnese wedding and ceremonial costumes from the late 18th through to the early 20th century. Everything was so well-preserved/-restored and beautiful! I thought about my sister, Catherine, the whole time because she got a Master’s degree in costume history, and I think she would have loved it.
After the museum, upon returning to our parked car, we found we had gotten a parking ticket — one of the only negative things we experienced in Greece. Originally only 10 euros, it ended up costing us 25 euros in total because we didn’t pay it in Kalamata. How could we have known?! The damn thing was written in Greek. 😊
Thessaly — Litochoro & Mount Olympus
That same day, we then drove back to Athens, dropped off the car, and stayed one night. The next morning, we boarded a train to Litochoro, which is a little town at the base of Mount Olympus — one of Scott’s “must see” things in Greece. Unfortunately, all through that night and the entire next day, Scott was sick with a stomach bug. We knew one or both of us would get one (or more) eventually during our travels, so it was his turn. While he was sick, I walked around the little town and enjoyed the weather and nature, especially having beers by a stream of water from the mountain.
On the third day, Scott felt better, so we took a taxi to the old Agios Dionysios Monastery, which was partially destroyed by the Nazis (like pretty much everything else those bastards touched). It is currently being rebuilt, and a group of monks still lives there in the summers. We looked around a bit and then hiked down, about half an hour, to the nearby Holy Caves.
Then, thinking we were better hikers than we are, I made the ill-fated decision to hike the rest of the way down the mountain through Enipeas’ Gorge (the same place where, legend has it, Orpheus was torn apart and devoured by the Maenads). It was said to be about a 10-km trek, but with the winding trail, it was more like 15 or 16 km. Big mistake. Huge. What people claimed to be an “easy to medium three- to four-hour hike” ended up being high-moderate to hard (for us, at least), and it took us well over five hours. I thought I was gonna die on that mountain.
In the end (and throughout every step of those circuitous, precipitous five-plus hours), I vowed to never hike that far ever again, if I can avoid it. I’m just glad I survived.
Onward to Albania
The next two days, we recovered from our hike and figured out where we wanted to go next. Our options were Macedonia and Albania, and Albania won out. We packed up our stuff and walked in the rain to the bus station, where we caught a bus to Korçë (“KOR-cha”); a small town in the southeast of Albania, it lies not far from the junction of the Greek, Macedonian, and Albanian borders.
More on Albania in our next post!
Connie & Scott