Thursday, January 02, 2014

An account of my travels in Greece, Part 3: Sparta, Mystras, Kardamyli


Previously: Athens; Nafplio, Mycenae, & Epidauros

From Nafplio I made its name to Sparti, the modern town built on the site of ancient Sparta. The handy thing about going there is you can say, "This is Sparta!" without fear of contradiction. Walking around naked but for leather kecks is also not something that attracts odd looks - for in Sparti it is nigh mandatory. There is not that much from ancient times to see there, however, as the ancient Spartans did not hold much with stone buildings. I did see the ruins of some ancient temple where older Spartans used to flog the youth as part of some crazy religious festival (it might be the Festival of the Naked Youths mentioned by Herodotus). I also saw the rubbley remains of some effete Roman settlement near the ancient Spartan acropolis, which boasted that most un-Spartan of buildings, a theatre.

Aside from being able to say "This is Sparta!" and visiting a town in Greece that seems largely untouched by tourists, the other big attraction here is the nearby abandoned city of Mystras. At one time it was the capital of the Peloponnese, now it is a Hellenic Pripyat, showing to the world how quickly nature retakes a town deserted by its inhabitants. For although Mystras flourished in the middle ages, it was only abandoned in the 19th century when the Bavarians built modern Sparti and persuaded the locals to all move there.

Mystras is a strange and interesting place and it surprises me that it is not better known. Being built on a 45º angle would make any town look scenic, even if trees and plants were not growing everywhere. It also has a castle at the top, fortunately less than 900 steps up. And there are old orthodox churches with icons and frescoes and stuff. And a shop, where I bought two CDs of Byzantine music by some fellow called Costas Zorbas. One was of Byzantine religious music (kind of like you would imagine) and another of Byzantine secular music of somewhat nautical bent, which turned out to sound rather Middle Eastern in its sound.

I probably had my nicest and most enjoyable meals in Sparti, in a restaurant called Elysse that my guidebook recommended in a lukewarm manner but which turned out to be a purveyor of tasty noms. And I generally enjoyed Sparti as the most Greek of the places I went to, for all that it was built by Bavarians.

From Sparti I travelled across the Taygetus mountains (by bus), on crazy hairpin bends where I only thought we had driven off the side of a cliff once or twice. The mountains were very scenic and featured some old ladies selling honey by the side of the road. On the other side I arrived in the town of Kalamata and hung out in the local bus station trying to get my fare together before heading on to the town of Kardamyli. This is in the Mani peninsula, albeit near the top, and is famous for being where Patrick Leigh Fermor lived for a bit. It also has a hotel that is always advertising in the London Review of Books. When Fermor was there it would have been a pretty remote and wild spot but now it is basically another tourist town, albeit a very small one. It is not the worst place in the world (they are all nice tourists) but I was hoping for somewhere a bit more… something. Still, the town is nicely situated for walking in the countryside, which was nice.

On my second day there I had the great idea of going for a walk along a dry riverbed. The bed was made up of loads of small white rocks that always threatened to move as I walked on them, making a trip and perhaps a sprained ankle an omnipresent risk. There were also places with overhanging walls of rock, with ominous signs warning passers by to beware of falling rocks. Were something untoward to happen that would have left me immobile, I would be unable to telephone for help, as the high walls of the river valley blocked any mobile single. And I had cleverly not told anyone where I was going and was talking on my own on a desolate route on which I met no other hikers. "What a clever fellow I am!" I thought.

Nothing untoward happened on my walk - phew. But I did come round a bend in the river and find myself only a few metres away form a monstrous snake. I nearly jumped out of my skin and uttered an involuntary expletive. But the snake seemed equally perturbed by my presence, hastily slithering away. I then continued on my journey without further incident.

I returned to Athens by bus, falling asleep on the fellow beside me on the way. Then I flew home with popular airline SAS, with a stopover in Copenhagen. So now I can claim to have also visited Denmark, albeit not entirely convincingly.

More pictures:

This is Sparta!

Mystras - Pripyat of the Peloponnese


All my Greek pictures

An inuit panda production

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