Friday, 22 January 2010
Xmas - New Year 2010
So now we have another full moon and a blue moon toowit (toowill) (???). Hopefully it will bring good tidings and joy.
OH FOR GOOD OLE NZ -
Kostas and I are spending two nights at a big hotel at the town of Ancient Olympia with music and dancing in to bring in 2010.
Passing the ancient town of Troizina, once home to 25,000 Athenians, evacuated there during the battle with the Persian Xerxes.(The Battle of Salamina and Marathon I guess. I should look up these important notes in history…but don’t). Troizina is now just the ruins of various temples and a healing centre underneath an acropolis, all amongst the olive trees, the sheep, goats and honey bees. Nearby is devils gorge and also the ‘site’ of Theseus birth and there below ‘his house’ is the stone under which he found his sandals and sword when he grew up. He was brought up by his mother at Troizina and not by his father the King of Athens whom he went to wearing his sandals and sporting his sword, killing all the nasties on the road to Athens. Grandson George has tried to lift the stone – too young. He’ll try again next year.
On the corner of the turn-off for Methana, under and around the small church dedicated to St Theodore, excavations have revealed the foundations of some temple or other. Not interesting enough to have been investigated by us but in the summer there are archeologists there doing their investigations.
We bypass the extinct volcano of Methana and go onto to the new coast road which took 20 years and three lives to finish. We now bypass the mountain villages and avoid the narrow winding road and all the shepherds and datsun ‘pick-ups’. Across the bay is the volcano and the village underneath it called ‘Megalohori’ (big village) where my mother in law was brought up. Besides the volcano crater which you can climb and see, there are hot baths for the elderly with arthritis and an acropolis which is very hard to access. In early spring the almond tree blossom is vibrant and lush. The baths are only availabe to those with notes from their doctor but you can swim in the sea nearby where the water is often a chalky white. The whole area smells like rotten eggs (Rotorua).
THE MYCENEAN AGE - and Hercules
As we go round the coast Piraeus appears on the horizon and then some of the many Epidavros’s. New Epidavros, Epidavros Beach, Old Epidavros. Ancient Epidavros, Epidavros village, Epidavros Harbour etc. The harbour has a small ancient theatre built into one of its hillsides. Both the small-er and the more well known ancient theatre are still used for performances in the summer – classical greek plays. We have visited the larger and better known of the ancient theatres many times with friends and relatives. Kostas thinks he should get free entrance now. He has paid enough for the ‘privilege’ of visiting his heritage so often. Going on to Lygourio there are the remains of a Mycenean tholos (round) tomb. We won’t stop at the ancient Mycenean bridge – though Tony and Rainie did and have photos to prove it. Paul and Karen have so many photos it is really a bit of a yawn for them!! Lygourio also has the remains of a pyramid dated back about 3,000 years. There was a network of well built roads and bridges in this area and many of the bridges can be walked on and examined. In this area is also an ancient walkway that you can follow – not that we have. Wonderful to imagine what it was like back so many hundreds of years ago. And that is only in the first hour of the journey.
This is olive country. No-one seems to be picking olives which means the harvest is over and probably wasn’t a good one. The work now is burning the branches cut during picking. There is an acropolis in this area, just visible from the road.
From there it is on to Nafplion and the Byzantium castle of Palamidi, past the ancient ruins of Tiryns (Home of Hercules), where you can, if you wish, see the ancient dam and also yet another acropolis. Past Argos (home of the Argonauts) with its big Frankish castle on the hill and ancient ruins below. We bypass Nemea, home of the best wines in Greece and also the place where Hercules beat the Nemean lion. We go down the’ wine road’ which is really uninteresting. No wine tasting I’m afraid and not much to see either. But in the villages around there (one of them called ‘Little Cauliflower’ and another ‘Limping Foot’) everyone has vines, tread their own grapes and make their own wine. Nearby is Mycenae, where Heinrich Schliemann excavated and said he found the graves of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra, who lived in the big ‘castle’ at Mycenae. Agamemnon fought at Troy. On the hills overlooking the coast are the remains of yet another pyramid – about the same age as the other one. This one we have climbed over (and wee-ed in). It has a view right over the plains across to Mycenae and out to sea.
AND INTO THE MOUNTAINS -
We go towards Tripoli (not the city in north Africa) and turn off into the mountains and the dells and dens of the God Pan. This is called the Road of Pan. You may hear him playing his pipes amongst the fir trees on the slopes of the Mainalo mountains.There are signs for ‘The spring of Pan’ and ‘the Spring of Pausinias’. These mountains have the remains of ancient villages and temples but also have the caves, and hide outs of more modern times. They are full of history – these are the refuges of those who evaded the Turkish and later german armies. There are monasteries built like eagles nests, nestling in the crooks of ravines and tottering on mountain sides. But the old stone villages are now full of stone villas and big ski complexes. There is no snow on the moutains here yet. The weather has been very warm. But at this time of the year they are the playground of the rich. We visit in the summer when prices are cheaper and the cool mountain breezes save me from the heat waves of the coast. Wish I could have a summer house up there and avoid the heat altogether. Returning we whizzed past convoys of big black jeeps, BMWs and Mercedes all going up to the mountains for the weekend.
Some of these villages are spectacular. They are built literally on the sides of mountains – perched is a good word to describe them. They look unsafe, as though they are about to tumble hundreds of yards in to the ravines below. But they are all built very solidly of local stone. The roads around here are in good shape and a lot of the traffic is from tourist buses but the roads narrow going through these towns and parking is extremely difficult to find. The best thing to buy in this area is the local honey. Bee hives are everywhere and the honey from the hives under the fir trees is wonderful. We stopped in the village of Lagadia for coffee and raki and had a look at the souvenir shops. Besides the honey there the most popular souvenirs are the things made from wood. Great if you can afford them. I saw a wonderful sort of wooden basin like the one my mother in law used for kneading her loaves of bread. Too expensive. But Kostas phoned his sister and asked her where their mother’s basin is. She had given it an aunt but has an even older one which belonged to her mother in law and has promised to give it to me!
TSIKOUDIA/TSIPOURA/RAKI - AND ANCIENT OLYMPIA
The cappuccino was good but Kostas says the tsikoudia (local name for raki) was not up to standard. He’ll have to keep on trying till he finds the perfect brew! Meanwhile I have found a recipe for ‘rakomello’ – raki and honey. Yet another liqueur to make.
Driving through the mountains we eventually reach the other coast of the Peloponese and ancient Olympia. Olympia is just a small tourist village with more hotels than houses. The nearest city, Pyrgos, is on the coast 20 kms distant. From the highest point around here you can see the island of Zakynthos on a clear day. Further north is the more popular Ionian island of Corfu, or Kerkyra, as the greeks call it.
That evening was New Years Eve so we just had a short walk around the town and then went back to prepare for the party. The town has obviously had a lot of money poured into it recently – probably for the Athens Olympic games in 2004. This of course is where the Olympic flame is lit and during the Athens games the shot put competition took place at the ancient stadium here. The streets are clean and cobbled and the pavements wide. Most of the hotels are new or have had a face lift. The town hall looks modern and recently built as does the park opposite which had piped xmas music nearly all day long right outside our window. The repertoire was rather limited and after the first hour irritating. There are loads of cafeterias and tavernas and souvenir shops, nearly all closed for the winter. I can imagine that in the summer season the wide pavements are filled with chairs and tables and tourists from every part of the globe. The souvenir and jewellery shops must make enough money in the short summer season to support their owners during the rest of the year. Those whose shops were closed are probably away in London for holiday shopping or in Dubai for a bit of sunshine.
NEW YEAR 2010 -
The New Years party was not quite what we expected. There was no live music – just a DJ who was not very good at generating
‘kefi’ (the usual wild greek party atmosphere where everyone is up dancing, singing and drinking.) Most of the people were on a guided tour from Athens and their tour guide did her very best. She grabbed the microphone, cajoled the men to dance with her, told jokes and wiggled a ‘tsifiteli (sexy turk/greek dance) in her lacy little black number but the music just did not excite. Kostas and I danced (a sort of) waltz and that was enough for us (more than enough for me). At midnight the lights dimmed and there was kissing, phone calls and sms-ing all over the room. We waited awhile in case things livened up and then went out to the bar to have a nightcap. Even the bar was closed but we managed to rake up a waiter for a whisky and baileys. And that was that. Perfect for me. A sober New Years eve for once. Bit of a disappointment for Kostas but he enjoyed the food and the people watching.
Next day we were up early to partake of the buffet brekkie. Very nice it was too. The whole package (except the DJ) was well worth the money. The hotel was clean and modern. The rooms warm and the water hot. The food was tasty and plentiful. Kostas got lots of roast lamb and the wine was a fair price and very drinkable.
The tour group went off to see their daily sites. Many many of those in this area too. Some of them are, the settlement of ancient Messini (369BC), the castles of Methoni, Kalamata, Navarino and Kyparissia and the temple to Epicurius Apollo, dated 420BC but built on an even earlier site.
We walked (yes, walked) up to one of the museums of ancient Olympia. Remember this was now New Years day – and it was closed. But we walked down to the main area where all the excavations have been done and the site of the original stadium. This was open and is obviously a huge area. We decided to continue our walk and energetically wandered along the road bordering it all and got a free sight of everything we wanted to see. The road runs alongside the ancient stadium.
THE FEAST OF ST. BASIL AND MORE RAKI -
New Years Day is also the feast day of Saint Basil in the greek orthodox church calendar. St Basil is the father xmas here who comes from a place called Kessaria. He was born in Kessaria, Turkey and was later Bishop of Kessaria. But what he has to do with Santa Claus I do not know! I guess it is only becuase his feast day is 1 January. He was a monk and a very frugal one. Most families have adopted St. Nicholas who does his rounds on Christmas eve. 30 odd years ago when I celebrated my first 'greek' christmas, this celebration was hardly noticed. No music, no decorations, no presents and a christmas tree in a window was a seasonal miracle! Now everyone has a tree, jingle bells has been translated and adopted by all and commercialisam is rampant. And we all watch with awe as Santa Claus starts his journey from Lapland - live on greek tv!
We decided to explore further afield and drove off to the coast via the old main road. First stop was a small cafenion in a one stop village (with three cafenions and a couple of big churches). Kostas ordered his raki and I tried for a capuccino. This really was a 'one stop' village. No capuccino here - just the universal nescafe. The two elderly men sitting at the next table started up conversation - or was it Kostas that started. These people (ie everyone but me) are so sociable. One of them, named Vassilis (Basil) paid for our coffee and raki in honour of his 'name day' and the other when he discovered we came from far away Poros told us that he spent a few weeks every summer near the Lemon Forest, down the road from Galatas (across the water from Poros). Everyone knows Poros. They told us how the villages had lost business with the opening of the new road which drives straight to the coast and they lamented the loss of the forests during the tragic fires of 2007. Forest fires wiped out villages, olive groves, reached the edges of ancient Olympia and cost quite a few lives in this area of the Peloponese.
And this is where Kostas was asked if he wanted his raki warmed up. This is truly raki country.