Around Greece on a Vespa

Staying in a Byzantine village

June 23, 2011 by Debra Dawson

Thursday, June 16: Monemvasia. We left Neo Oitilo after breakfast and drove through bouts of rain, first through the mountains of the Mani to Gythio on the opposite coast. We pulled over a couple of times to get out the rain and at one point spotted a small farm stand as the farmer waved for us to come under the shelter. This nice couple was selling potatoes and tomatoes. We sat and “talked” until we could drive on.

One of the things that I’ve forgotten to mention is that as we’re riding through the countryside, I can smell the wild thyme and sage by the side of the road. Today we drove through endless orange groves on our way to Gythio, where we had hoped to stop for lunch; we admired the many tavernas along Gythio’s charming waterfront but we were not yet hungry, so we made the effort to get to our final destination for the day, Monemvasia.

After having visited the archaeological site of the Byzantine city of Mystra, between Kalamata and Sparti, we now had a great appreciation for Monemvasia, a Byzantine city that is still thriving, albeit for tourists. We rode the scooter over the causeway that separates this town from the mainland, parked and walked through the front “gate” which was a tunnel built into the rock of this fortified town. Our first impression was not too favorable, since the main street was full of shops selling things for tourists and it seemed too cute. Upon further inspection, we realized that we were walking through a city like Mystra, but that it was still intact. After walking around we were curious about some rooms and looked into the accommodations. Each room or apartment was like no other, since each was in a restored Byzantine house. We couldn’t resist the opportunity to stay in this old city and chose one of the two “rooms” offered. Here is a photo of the living area

and the bedroom

and B sitting on our deck overlooking the rooftop of the building below us and part of the sea.

The coast between Monemvasia and Nafplion

June 23, 2011 by Debra Dawson

Friday, June 17: Paralia Tyros. Having had a restful night in a Byzantine house in Monemvasia overlooking the Aegean, we stopped for morning cappuccino in the main square that was well patronized. As it turns out, the patrons were a group of eight or nine German men in their 30′s or 40′s who were lined up at all the tables but one. We sat next to this group and were amused to see that the waitress brought them each a tall bottle of ice-cold Mythos, which was very enticing since the morning sun was already very hot. They drank their beers and then came another round! B couldn’t resist capturing the scene.

Final scenes from Monemvasia:

The only way to transport supplies and food is by wheelbarrow or, in most cases, by donkey.

We left Monemvasia and headed north for our next destination of Nafplion. We stopped in a remote village mid-way for lunch and asked what was available from the kitchen. We settled on a traditional braised chicken with spices and tomatoes served with spaghetti. For dessert, the woman served us a candied baby eggplant with honey.

Here is B as we prepare to hop back on the scooter.

The landscape was very much like a natural rock garden with flowering shrubs and trees scattered among the rocks. The road was paved and there were few cars. At one point, the “national road” turned to gravel for a kilometer or so.

We couldn’t quite make it to Nafplion by nightfall so we decided to choose one of the small beach towns along the way. We ended up in Paralia Tyros, not a place we’d heard about, and found a terrific apartment for 35 euros for the night with a full kitchen with full-size refrigerator. The proprietor was a nice woman who spoke no English and asked where we were from, after I gave her one of our passports. We don’t think that she’d ever had American guests before because she didn’t recognize the passport.

The small town had a nice beachfront with clear water and small rocks, but each cafe/bar/restaurant was able to place their tables and chairs on a base of groomed level rocks overlooking the beautiful water.

We found a fruit seller and decided to buy our first watermelon to chill in the refrigerator.

Not new anymore

June 23, 2011 by Debra Dawson

Saturday, June 18: Nafplion. After cutting up our chilled watermelon for breakfast,

we drove north from Tyros to Nafplion, a city known to be charming, full of tourists, and a popular destination for Athenians. The scenery before arriving in the city was not very interesting, having been built with no zoning restrictions. B stayed with the scooter in the square while Deb walked up one of the narrow streets to locate the Amphi Triti hotels which George and Niki’s group had reserved for their trip last year. Deb looked at a few rooms and chose one that was in the ground floor of an old house, where we could park the scooter directly outside our room.

We enjoyed an afternoon on one of the terraces of the hotel which was covered with orange and lemon trees.

One of the owners made us a freshly squeezed orange juice and one freshly squeezed lemon juice as refreshments. This was a family-run group of three hotels and the daughter, a law student in Athens, spoke English which turned out to be very helpful later that evening.

After calling Cambridge and speaking with our friend George, we went back to our room to shower and change for dinner. After my shower, I was resting while B was in the shower and heard a loud crash outside our door on the street. Just as a mother surely knows the cry of her child, I recognized the sound of our new Vespa being hit. I threw something on and opened the door and saw two people holding up our Vespa. One side of the scooter was scraped in a few areas; the couple wanted to know how to stand it up and I said that I didn’t know and would get B. B was covered with soap suds, washing his hair, when I told him that I needed his help since someone knocked over the Vespa. It took a few seconds to register that I needed him NOW but B threw on some shorts and came out into the street with soap suds rolling down his back, in bare feet. The scooter was hit by a rental car with two young people from Germany. They were trying to back up on a pedestrian street and hit the Vespa which was parked in the recess of an ancient fountain off the street.

The daughter of the hotel owners was on duty so I told her about the accident and she called the police, who came after about 20 minutes since they were tied up at a procession of icons in town. We exchanged insurance information as we filed the police report.

We did go out for a simple meal afterward and had an unusual version of saganaki using feta which had been dipped in egg and milk, encrusted with sesame seeds and crumbled crackers and fried in olive oil.

B had found what he considers the best gelateria in town, “Antica Gelateria di Roma” which was enormously popular (we went there about twice a day). The owner, a very colorful Roman, greeted and talked with everyone in Italian, Greek, English, making each visitor feel special.

Day trip to Epidauros

June 23, 2011 by Debra Dawson

Sunday, June 19: Nafplion. Using Nafplion as our base, we made our first excursion to Epidauros, the site of the best surviving amphitheater in Greece (the world?). I climbed the stairs to stand at the top, then B recited some sentences from a few famous speeches to see whether I could hear him from the top of the theatre. Here is the theatre.

Returning to Nafplion after our excursion we decided on a simple quick bite and joined all of the Greeks who had come back from the beach at a popular place for souvlaki pita.

Our final evening in Nafplion.


June 23, 2011 by Debra Dawson

Monday, June 20: Corinth. We checked out of our hotel in Nafplion a day earlier than expected, believing that we had seen everything there, and drove north to Korinthos/Corinth, visiting the ancient site of Mycenae along the way. We visited the museum which had some pretty sophisticated ax heads for an ancient civilization

walked up to the ruins to see the “Lions Gate”

and saw the ancient treasury and burial grounds of this site which was visited by tourists in Roman times.

Corinth was a disappointment, but had a terrific bargain of a family-run hotel; king-size bed, air conditioning (now essential as the temperature was 100F in nearby Athens today) for only 40 euros. Our last stop before Athens.

Athens psistaria (grill house)

June 23, 2011 by Debra Dawson

Tuesday, June 21: Athens. We drove from Corinth to Athens today and one of the highlights was driving on the scooter across the Canal of Corinth, which was viewable down a steep gorge. The national road ran out at one point when we found ourselves on the toll road. This was not a pleasant experience with fierce winds, large trucks, and fast cars. When we pulled over to a rest stop for coffee we looked at the iPad map and could see that there were some small roads which may be accessible from the rest stop and we wouldn’t have to get back on the highway. B inquired of the gas station attendant and sure enough, he told us how to get to the back road which would take us to the “old road.”

Driving into Athens was as expected, unruly drivers, lots of traffic, non-picturesque views. We drove into an area just north of the Acropolis and inquired at a few hotels about room rates. Within 50 yards of each other, a hostel was 35 euros, a “designer” hotel with swimming pool and sauna was 125 and across the street from the designer hotel was the Economy Hotel at 60 euros. We chose the latter, a perfectly fine hotel room that overlooks the designer hotel.

I learned that there were laundromats in the neighborhood so I collected our clothing and set out to get us a fresh start for our next leg of the trip. The neighborhoods change from one street to the next and I discovered that the streets are full of prostitutes as I was walking to and from the laundromat (no photos here).

We inquired of the desk attendant at our hotel for a lunch place where tourists do not go. We were given a terrific recommendation within walking distance of our hotel.

We had a spectacular pastitsio.

Walking down Athinas street toward the acropolis, I saw this sign above a bakery and told B that this is “the grandmothers’ bread” and wanted to share it with my friends Niki and Kristina.

For dinner, we asked a different young man at the front desk for a place to have good paidakia, or grilled lamb chops. He gave us a few options, but the best one seemed to be in a “rough” neighborhood a few streets over from the hotel. We chose the latter, after a little struggle from me. Yes, we encountered crowds of young men hanging out and very unattractive surroundings, but landed on a street with one very nice looking hotel and across the street was “Telis” a local joint with a reputation, as it turns out. Once were were well into our meal, all the tables were taken. The owner came out to inquire where we were from, thinking German, then English, but surprised to learn that we were Americans. His wife served us plates of paidakia fresh from the grill with a salad.

She brought us a plate of extra seasoning that they use: lots of oregano, salt, and pepper.

Later, the owners brought out two dishes that we had not ordered, one of baked tomatoes, feta, and hot green peppers,

and another of grilled filet mignon. As we were paying our bill, the owner came over to thank us and give us his card, and posed with me as B snapped our photo. Unfortunately, you cannot see the huge grill.

Athens archaeological and acropolis museums

July 1, 2011 by Debra Dawson

Wednesday, June 22: Athens. We visited the Archaeological Museum today which boasts the largest collection of ancient Greek bronze sculptures, many of which were discovered within the last 20-30 years in shipwrecks.


Jockey on a horse:

After having visited the site of ancient Mycenae a few days ago, we were particularly interested in viewing the treasures which had been buried in the shaft graves at Mycenae today in the museum in Athens.

Marble vessel:

Later in the day we visited the new Acropolis Museum which has been open only in the last couple of years. We enjoyed the introductory video and the architectural models of the site representing several different points in its 2500 year history.

We ended the day with a walk through the Plaka neighborhood, adjacent to the Acropolis.

Nescafe frappe and the Benaki museum

July 1, 2011 by Debra Dawson

Thursday, June 23: Athens. We visited the Benaki Museum, which we thought was the best in Athens. Byzantine art and a fabulous costume collection were only surpassed by the two period rooms representing Macedonia and Thrace.

Here are two views of one of the rooms:

A Byzantine necklace was very similar to two at the Met in New York. The bead arrangement and the clasps looked as if they could have been made by the same hands.

The museum is housed in the paternal home of the collector, which featured a fantastic rooftop cafe where we had a salmon sandwich, and ham and cheese on a croissant.

It was here that I decided that I needed to order, at Niki’s suggestion, a Nescafe frappe with ice cream “me pagato”. It was terrific; thanks Niki!!

We packed up and rode to the port to buy our ferry tickets from Athens to the island of Samos, in anticipation of exploring the island and taking the 45-minute ferry to Turkey to go to Ephesus. Our ferry left the Piraeus port at 9:30pm with five island stops in between. We will arrive on Samos at 7:35am the next morning.

Relaxing on Samos

July 1, 2011 by Debra Dawson

Friday, June 24: Samos. Arriving in Vathi, Samos at 7:35am, we drove off the ferry to headed for a cafe for cappuccino. We drove west to the tourist/beach town of Kokkari, found a couple of nice places to stay to the west, but no vacancy for 2-3 nights. So, we drove a little farther away from town and spotted a tiny hotel with a lovely stone beach and decided to stay for one night. We had a nice little terrace that overlooked the water and the sun was so hot that I could hand wash a few things and hang them out to dry in short order.

Can we get to Turkey with the scooter?

July 1, 2011 by Debra Dawson

Saturday, June 25: Samos. We inquired about tickets for a ferry to Kusadasi, Turkey, but the boat could only transport passengers, not scooters. B really wanted to have the scooter as a means of transportation to Ephesus and not rely on buses, so we decided to leave Samos, head north to the next island of Xios, which did have a ferry for vehicles going to Cesme, Turkey, a little farther north. We bought our tickets to leave Samos in two days but for the second night booked a room in a hotel in the harbor so that we could wake up, have a quick breakfast, and drive onto the ferry. B was able to negotiate a price of 60 euros for the hotel which offered us a sea view and a posh bar overlooking the water. Freshly squeezed orange juice and “Doux Samos” for me and B at the bar:

Ouzo nightcap on the balcony overlooking the harbor: