A Travellerspoint blog

June 2019

Monemvasia, Mystras, and Kardamyli

History, beach time, heat, and more yummy food.

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We were sad to leave beautiful Nafplio but also excited for the 3.5+ hour drive to Monemvasia. We decided to take the scenic route which wound around the coastline and up a huge mountain of nearly 4,000 ft. The monastery built into the giant rock was remarkable.

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We stopped at the top of the mountain in a little village for coffee and a snack. DD#1 was little car sick from all the switch backs on this narrow Greek road. I gave up the front seat and she hung in there.

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We continued on through the mountainous countryside in awe of all of the olive trees surrounded by rock walls. There were almost as many orange trees. We were excited to see Monemvasia in the distance. It is a hidden city which is behind this massive rock. There is a narrow causeway connecting the rock to the mainland.

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We had a casual lunch on the mainland before parking on the narrow causeway. We were excited to have booked a hotel within the hidden city, also known as the Monemvasia Castle.

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This place reminded us of Mont St. Michel in France, without the hordes of tourists. It was a maze of small streets with a looming abandoned upper town towering above us on the giant rock. It was hard to stop taking pictures.

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We found an escape through the town's walls to the rocky beach below. We hoped to swim but the water was too rough.

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We decided to hike up to the upper town around 7pm because the rock was in the shade. We saw some giant spiders and fascinating ruins up there. It would have been fun to have a scavenger hunt up there!

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Like everywhere in Greece, there were friendly cats roaming about.

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We went to a somewhat touristy place for dinner before I took a night walk. Most of the town was well-lit for a dark stroll but I had to use my phone flashlight a few times.

When we awoke in the morning, we heard extremely loud wind! It almost sounded like the nearby ocean was going to overtake the town! The nasty ashtray on our outdoor table fell off and broke. When we finally went to investigate, chairs were tipped over and pieces of plants and sand were blowing all over. Apparently, these sort of winds are normal for Monemvasia. After our filling buffet breakfast, we trekked to the lighthouse at the edge of the rock and were nearly blown over.

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We really enjoyed Monemvasia and suspect it will become a more popular destination in the future. We hauled our suitcases out to our car and traveled more windy roads to the ancient Byzantine city of Mystras. The churches and architecture were astounding. I remember reading about the Byzantine Empire and was fascinated seeing this spread out city built on a steep hill up close and personal.

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We were hot and tired but I insisted on hiking to the fortress at the tippy top of Mystras. The rest of my family patiently waited.

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We stopped at a nearby taverna for some yummy Greek food. Grape leaves, Greek salad, and more.

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We had nearly two more hours of driving on more windy and narrow roads before arriving in beautiful Kardamyli in the Mani Peninsula. This area of the Peloponnese felt almost deserted with little traffic and open space. The surrounding mountains were larger and greener than I imagined. I could tell that we were really going to like this region. We were even more excited when we found our hotel had double balconies. Once facing the ocean, and the other the pool and mountains. DH and I were already scheming about how we could move here or at least spend some significant time in the future!

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Our first day in Kardamyli seemed like it was in slow-motion. We swam in the pool, in the ocean, and back in the pool again. We had coffee, freddo cappuccinos and espressos (cold) like the locals, saw the historic Old Kardamyli and poked into some shops. I am so happy to be staying here for three nights. It really is a vacation from our vacation.

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I love how easy it is to have dinner right on the beach. There are many open tables and the menus are not expensive. We sat out on the beach this afternoon and had local microbrews delivered to us for 2.5 Euro each. I keep pinching myself at how affordable and easy everything is around here. The locals are friendly and no one seems to be in a hurry. The Greek attitude certainly seems contagious among the many British tourists who frequent this area. We are eager for more low-key adventures tomorrow.

Posted by familyineurope 12:44 Archived in Greece Comments (0)

Nafplio. Beaches, history, food, and sunshine.

This sure isn't Athens. What a change of pace just a couple of hours from the big city!

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A Few Observations About Greece

After leaving Athens, we noticed a few things that seem different from other countries we have visited.

  • Water. We are so thankful for the free water that is often brought to our tables before a meal. What a nice change from other European countries! And if we do buy water, it is extremely reasonable.
  • Driving. Parking is a free-for-all, even in Athens! We never saw parking restrictions anywhere nor do people have to pay to park. Many people seem to just create their own spots. Motorcycles and scooters can drive anywhere. Pedestrian streets, sidewalks - it doesn't matter! And those rentable electric scooters are absolutely everywhere. Seems like a scary proposition to me.
  • Abandoned homes and buildings. They are everywhere! Maybe it's due to the economic crisis Greece endured in the last decade, but there are so many homes and buildings that are either empty, partially-built, or in severe decay. It would be a fixer-upper's paradise around here.

Renting our Car and Getting Out of Athens

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We had coffee and pastries and made our way to the Sixt rental car company. It took about an hour to complete all the necessary paperwork. Luckily, we scored a nice diesel Audi and got out of town. About an hour from Athens was the extraordinary Corinth Canal. It's a man-made canal that provides as a shortcut for boats not wanting to go all the way around the Peloponnese Peninsula.

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We continued driving to the small town of Nemea which is known for its wine. We found a recommended restaurant that ended up being one of the most memorable lunches we've had! It was a very local place that didn't even have a menu. The chef/owner came to our table to describe the choices. We went for a yummy Greek salad, tzatziki, roasted lemon chicken, and potatoes. It was so filling and delicious. After lunch, we stopped at a nearby winery where I tried some varietals I had never heard of. I bought a bottle for the hotel.

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Finally, we made our way to lovely Nafplio and found parking near one of those abandoned buildings. This one was a hotel that would have views of the ocean from every room. Sadly, it is looking beyond repair. It's quite the opposite of the nice pension where we are staying. I love the old rock walls and atmosphere. The adult room is upstairs giving us a little privacy from the kids.

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There are great views from the breakfast area upstairs. The breakfast is so yummy with Greek yogurt, orange cake, various savory pies and cakes.

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We wandered around the town and made friends with many of the resident cats. So many cats and kittens!

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We took some pictures of the scenic streets, got a small take-out pizza (we still were not hungry after that massive lunch), and called it a day.

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First Full Day in Nafplio

I began the day with a scenic run along the Mediterranean. Unfortunately, it was hotter than I am accustomed and I must have been dehydrated. Those six miles really worked me over! It was a scenic run with more cats.

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We decided to hike up 999 steps to Palamidi Fortress. We could see the fortress and its steps from our breakfast patio. It was a sweat-fest but we did it and it was really awesome!
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After cooling off with some ice cream, we packed up and drove to a nearby beach. The water was so warm! We found a casual beach bar with umbrellas. We felt spoiled having drinks and lunch brought to us on the beach! It wasn't very expensive either.

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After 2-3 hours at the beach, we came back to our room to cool off and unwind before a late 8:00pm dinner. We played games and relaxed. Dinner was a real treat. We sat outside on a small street enjoying moussaka (kind of like Greek lasagna), lamb, and another Greek salad. What a great way to end another day.

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Epidavros, a scenic lunch, and more beach time

After another yummy breakfast, we drove about thirty minutes to the historic Epidavros Theater. The theater was created in 300 BC and is the best-preserved of all of Greece's ancient theaters. The acoustics are amazing. You can hear someone speaking from the stage all way to the top seat. We all took turns clapping and speaking from center stage.

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We were hot and thirsty by this point so we found a recommended casual yet scenic spot for a snack. It was a twisty uphill road to an incredibly perched restaurant. We were practically the only ones there!

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We decided to head back to the same beach as yesterday because it was so easy and relaxing. We came back and wandered the streets of Nafplio for the last time. DD#2 had been eyeing a pair of Greek sandals so we finally let her buy them.

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We found another recommended place for dinner where we ordered way too much food! We tried some hummus and fish roe spread, more Greek salad, fried shrimps (unpeeled and still with their heads and tails. Interesting), grillled octopus, and lamb meatballs. So much food! We will be heading south down the coast tomorrow to Monemvasia. More to come!

Posted by familyineurope 12:59 Archived in Greece Comments (1)

Athens - gritty, historic, and delicious!

Let the Greek adventure begin!

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Our Greek adventure began in Oregon on a Tuesday morning. We flew to San Francisco where we connected to a very long flight to Zurich, Switzerland. The nearly eleven hour flight felt especially long for some reason. After a three hour layover and a very expensive Starbucks drink in Zurich, we completed our journey with a 2.5 hour flight to Athens. Whew! We took a 45-minute taxi ride to our Athens apartment called Marble House. Despite being exhausted, we rallied and took a walk to a nearby restaurant for our first Greek food. Delicious!
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We promptly came back to the apartment, pet the neighborhood cat, and finally got some sleep!
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First Full Day in Athens

We began our day with coffee and pastries at a good place nearby the apartment. Luckily, we all got some much needed sleep.
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We bought all-day subway passes and made our way to Syntagma Square where we saw the Parliament building with its Tomb of the Unknown Soldier guarded by military in full uniform.
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We used an audio guide on our phones to take a city tour down some of the main streets. We did some shopping, toured a few ancient churches, and eventually made our way to the Acropolis Museum.
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The Acropolis Museum contained so many artifacts from the Acropolis. We happened to be there on the museum's 10th anniversary so we got in for free. Of course there were nice views of the Acropolis from the museum. We were saving our visit to the Acropolis until tomorrow.
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We wandered though a colorful neighborhood called Anafiotika with tiny streets and ancient homes clinging to a hill.
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We found a tasty souvlaki place for lunch. Yummy grilled meats!
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We didn't go in, but we found the famous Little Kook cafe all decked out with a Mary Poppins theme.
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We saw this hill, Mount Lycabettus, off in the distance and decided we had to climb it. We were planning on taking a funicular to the top but couldn't find it. So we took our sweaty bodies up there in some intense heat!
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We were pretty exhausted by this point and the kids really need a nap and some down time. Luckily, they are at this magical age where we can lock them in the apartment and leave for a nearby beer at a neighborhood joint. Thank goodness for wifi and phones to stay connected!
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We picked up the kids, and headed to an Indian place, Namaste, for dinner. While in Athens, we decided to make the most of their diverse dining scene.
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And that's a wrap for day one!

Second and Final Day in Athens

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The Acropolis - oh my!

We arrived around 9:15am attempting to beat the masses of tourists ascending on one of the world's most popular attractions. There were crowds and it was hot, but it was manageable. It was hard to stop taking pictures!
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We saw this theater - Odeon of Herodes Atticus. What is so cool is that they were setting up for an evening concert that we are currently watching on live TV in our apartment. If only we had arranged for tickets.
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After the amazing Acropolis, we took a colorful subway north to the Psyrri neighborhood. We found a great place, Stani, for traditional sheep's milk yogurt with honey and walnuts.
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We continued wandering the Psyrri neighborhood through the central market. The goat heads were the most interesting and disturbing!
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On this ultra-hot day, we stopped for bubble tea, beer, ice cream, etc...
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Athens is quite a mish-mash. There are run-down buildings, graffiti, ridiculous traffic, cats, historic ruins everywhere! Despite the chaos, people are friendly and no one seems to be in a hurry. After two days, I find myself warming up to the place and feel a little sad to be leaving in the morning.
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And there are orange trees everywhere!
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After some wandering and shopping, (girls both scored new clothes at Mango) I sent my hot and tired family back to the apartment for some air-conditioning while I explored the Ancient Agora. The Temple of Hephaistos in remarkably intact despite being built in 450 BC! Incredible. I sat in the shade and imagined Socrates and Aristotle wandering around philosophizing.
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I met up with DH for another beer. We actually found a place with Czech Staropramen! Then we went to Tuk Tuk Thai for dinner. The kids are definitely ready for some beach time in Nafplio tomorrow! All and all, Athens was a great place to start our Greek adventure.

Posted by familyineurope 11:13 Archived in Greece Comments (3)

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