Updated: Mar 26
I really loved Monemvasia and it tore me apart to pack up and be off. I was heartbroken to drive away from my adorable hobbit hole. It seemed unbelievable that I'd managed to find the most magical little cubby on the very first stop of my road trip. I figured I was now ruined for the rest of my road trip.
How could it possibly be topped?
The only thing that would have made everything that tiny bit better would have been slightly warmer weather conditions... and the budding of spring flowers. The effects of winter were still evident in all the barren branches. It was a compromise I had to make though. With springs comes more tourists... and I wouldn't have had the castle village all to myself.
Back in the car, I didn’t really have a plan as to what I was doing. Yes, I had pinpointed quaint villages and must-sees across the Peloponnese... but I was also very cognizant of my time. There was no feasible way I was going to be able to see everything. I had to be picky... and wise with my route. I was desperate to spend as little time as possible behind the wheel.
I chose Mystras, in Sparta.
Mystras is an archaeological site, spread over the steep mountainside of Mt. Taygetus. It is famous for the medieval remains of a city built around a thirteenth century caste. It dates back to between 1271 and 1460. It had come highly recommended by a few friends that had visited the Peloponnese... and it wasn't too far from Monemvasia. About an hour and a half.
As I had a bit of time to dawdle, I decided to detour along the Mani Peninsula. There was a cool photo I'd come across on Instagram. It was a shipwreck near the small town of Gytheio. Domitrio's Shipwreck.
It wasn't the nicest day to be out for a brisk walk, but I braved the elements to get a closer look at the rusted castaway. Apparently this legendary ghost ship has been abandoned since 1981. It has its share of tales as to how it came to be in its current state of ruin. Rumour has it that it was originally used for transporting illegal cigarettes between Turkey and Italy, but according to marine documents, it docked in an emergency as the captain was in need of medical care. The unsafe ship was then left adrift and due to severe weather conditions, the ship was swept away to its current position.
Pretty cool photo opp though, eh?
I definitely thought so.
I got a bit lost due to the absence of WIFI.
... still cursing the ESim.
My navigational powers failed me on a few occasions, but I always managed to figure everything out eventually. The amount of one way streets in the villages are tough to maneuver around and directional signs can be tough to decipher, especially when road parking is a free for all. Any which way is fine. U-turns and changing direction can be challenging... It can also be horrendoulsly embarrassing if you're in a panic and can't manage to get the gear shift into reverse while people are plummeting down the road, threatening to hit you if you don't hurry up and move. The highway tolls can be detrimental to your finances if you accidentally miss your exit. They don't care if you made a mistake or if you're turning around... pay.
I pulled into the picturesque town of Mystras around 3pm. It was a little too late to wander through the ruins of the castle, but I drove up to the very top of Mt. Taygetus and took a few photos before the sun went down.
That evening, I took a stroll through the village to try and find myself the perfect location to sit down and enjoy some traditional Greek delights. I was craving spanakopita.
I LOVE spanakopita.
Twenty three years ago, there was a small group of us leaving Crete, heading for Santorini. We were a little behind and were running to catch the ferry. All of a sudden, I got a little peckish... and decided NOW would be the ideal time to pop into the wee bakery and pick up something to nibble on.
My timing was a little off. It probably wasn't the best idea.
Once inside, I pointed at what I wanted to purchase and said to the lady, "One spanakopita, please." Actually... I probably said, "Spanakopita, efcharistó."
She flat out refused to give it to me.
Apparently I wasn't saying it properly and I was getting NO spanakopita until I said it correctly. So while all my friends were waiting, not so patiently, I was in a local bakery getting a Greek language lesson.
Yes, I eventually got my snack.
But... it took a while.
No, my friends were not impressed with me.
Yes, we almost missed the ferry.
I was determined to order spanakopita again and say it properly... though I've discovered I still have a little work to do. I'm not putting enough emphasis on the A in the middle of the word.
I found a quaint, traditional bistro up the hill always and walked right in.
What hit me first?
The cigarette smoke.
People here smoke! Man, do they smoke.
They don’t care where they are or what they're doing or who's around them.
The smoke in restaurants, cafés, toll booths, shops, malls... you name it - they smoke there. The waitress smokes as she's taking your order and I'm positive that the cook smokes while he's making your food.
More times than not, there is a cigarette.
It astounds me how far Greece is behind the rest of (some of) the world when it comes to smoking.
The family that owned the restaurant was lovely. I sat inside with them, for quite a long time, discussing their Canadian relatives and my trip throughout Greece. They smoked a lot but were delightful to speak with. I can’t imagine how enticing it must be for guests to dine indoors with all the smoke, but all the power to them. I chose to escape the suffocation and dine outdoors.
The grandmother of the family recommended I follow the mountainous roads from Mystras to Kalamata. It appealed to me as it was the road less travelled... and it avoided me paying highway tolls.
I liked that.
The spanakopita was a bit greasy but they did offer me a summer job should I ever find myself in Greece again!
I'll take it!
The following morning, I made my way back to the ruins to have a look around. I got there early and although it was a gorgeous day for exploring the remains of a medieval village, there were not many people around. The sun was shining, the sky was a bright vibrant blue, the spring flowers were in full bloom and I couldn’t have asked for a better day. I was completely spellbound by then entire place. I just kept winding my way up, up, up until I was at the castle at the very top.
What a spectacular view.
Of the ruins.
Of the valley.
When my ruins exploration came to an end, I headed up and over the Langada Pass, in the heart of the Peloponnese mountains. Yes, I managed to avoid the tolls and I definitely gave myself an experience… but I’ll admit, it was a little terrifying at the same time.
I’d been cautioned about rocks on the road, but I hadn’t paid much attention to the warning. Rocks? These were boulders. There were parts along the road that I had to scuttle along the edges to avoid the numerous landslides. My favourite part was when I was detoured from the narrow, windy scenic mountain road to an even narrower, even windier lane.
If I thought the other road was slightly frightening, I was in for a real treat with this mountainous route. It made the original secondary road look like a modern freeway. I kept wondering if I should turn around. Google Maps had taken me completely off grid, like I was completely out of range and they didn't quite register the route.
A few times I got out to take a photo and I just didn’t quite trust parking the car on the steep grades. The amount of breathtaking views, hillside villages and rocky gorges were too spectacular to not attempt to capture. Gone were the moments of being afraid of falling rocks and flat tires. Flashbacks to what happened to Cameron’s dad's vehicle in 'Ferris Bhueller’s Day Off' kept coming to mind. The infamous roll back and over the edge… Shit.
I did eventually… and successfully…. cross the mountain range into Kalamata.
I was determined to have a Kalamata olive for lunch. I found a place to park and wandered around town until I found a place that seemed authentic... and served Kalamata olives. Of course.
I actually overdosed on olives a little bit. I ordered both a plate of Kalamata olives and a Greek salad that was peppered with Kalamata olives. I could have easily just ordered the salad and been perfectly happy. Too late, smart.
Final stop of the day was Olympia, the home of the original Olympic Games. The sporting event of ancient Greece took place here every four years from 776BC until 393AD. The site paid homage to the finest athletes, represented peace and the nobility of competition, as well as a place where remarkable works of art and culture were created and shared to worship the Greek god Zeus.
It was a place where I really would have benefited from a guide. I tried to be quite diligent about reading all the informational signs. There were quite a few school groups around, but it was all in Greek.
The place I was staying was cool. It was a hostel with private rooms... but I was the only one there, so I had the entire house to myself.
There was a home across the road from the hostel and they had a small dog tied up. He was terribly skinny and sorrowful. It was heartbreaking. I could see his ribs. I mentioned how poorly he looked to the owner of the hostel. She agreed. Apparently she's phoned the police quite a few times and no one will do anything about it.
Such a shame.
Makes me want to come home and hug Potzy...