February 21, 2011 (continued)
Our time in the Peloponnese is going to spent travelling around a lot of the ancient sites and so we find ourselves changing hotels almost daily. We left our hotel this morning and headed to Ancient Corinth. At least, we attempted to head to Ancient Corinth but the lack of road signs meant we ended up on the toll road without an exit for about 15km knowing we were going the wrong way! Having paid the toll on the way out and then again on our return leg, we were surprised to see signs coming from this direction. We’ve found that a few times now, actually. Driving one way there are no signs and once you know you have gone too far you turn around and, lo and behold, there is a sign in the other direction!
It was annoying having to cough up the tolls unnecessarily but we were pleased when we finally found the site of Ancient Corinth. We started off in the small museum which told you a bit about the history of the site and included some of the statues and stone sculptures from around the site. The main feature of the ruins was the magnificent columns which marked the rear of the Temple of Apollo. Like all such large temples in the ancient towns, it stands slightly raised over the rest of the town. Even now with only a few columns of the entire temple remaining, you can get a sense of the shadow this must have cast over the city. There were lots of other smaller temples here as well as rows of shops and public baths and a couple of fountains. The entire area within the fenced site wasn’t very big but the remains here were very impressive. The massive hill behind the city known as Acro-Corinth was visible to start with and has some of the most impressive natural fortifications in Greece. Unfortunately, by the time we left the cloud had rolled in and the top was no longer visible. We decided we would head for our next destination and see what we could find.
We were spending the next two nights at Nafplio, reckoned by some to be the most beautiful town in the whole of Greece. We got on the toll road, correctly this time, and were soon well on our way before turning off and taking a lovely drive through the winding hills of the region. It was a scenic drive and we were greeted at the end by a scenic town overlooking the open seas, complete with an island fort just off the harbour. We had trouble finding our hotel amongst the narrow, enclosed lanes despite our GPS telling us we had “arrived at our destination”! Eventually, someone knew where we wanted to go and was able to point down a few steps towards where the reception area was. We got checked in and were cross-examined by the owner, who was friendly but inquisitive. She was trying to be helpful by standing there and demanding “ask me questions” but we really didn’t have anything much we needed to know at this point other than where to get lunch!
We found a restaurant which is known for its mezes (appetisers) and we ordered a plate of mixed appetisers, some tzatziki and a cheese/bacon omlette type thing! The food wasn’t as good as some of the stuff we’ve had and many of the items on the mixed plate didn’t exactly taste like they were freshly made for us, either! At least the bread and tzatziki was good!
In the afternoon we walked around the town and found lots of cool little shops selling local goods and actually proper local things, not tourist tat. There were lots of local food items as well as so herb and spice sets to enable you to make some of the lovely dishes we’ve tried here. If we knew where we were going to be in the next month or so we might have considered buying some but it wasn’t worth it for now. The town is really pretty and the harbour area is nice, too. The hill behind the town, alleged to have 999 steps, is topped by an interesting looking fortification and we decided we’d drive up there (not bloody walking!) one day to get some views over the town and harbour. The little fort in the harbour was quite funny, too, and you had to wonder what purpose it ever really had as a defensive outpost. At one point the fort on top of the hill was actually a prison and the small fort in the harbour, called the Bourtzi Fort, was actually the home of the executioners who worked there!
In the evening we again had the joy of torrential rain battering our windows and we decided we would leg it across the road to the restaurant there. The lady at the hostel had said it was good and cheap so that sounded just fine for us! When we got there we both ordered the meatballs and some red wine and the food was indeed good and cheap! In fact, our dinner was a lot cheaper than our lunch and we even got apple slices covered in cinnamon for dessert!
February 22, 2011
This morning we drove to Epidaurus which is just under an hours drive from Nafplio. This ancient city was famed and revered as a place of miraculous healing where visitors came from as far away as Rome to the sanctuary of Asclepius, the god of medicine, to seek cures for their ailments. The ruins are neatly tucked away in amongst pine-clad hills and are one of the many UNESCO sites in the Peloponnese. The main site to see here is the amazing theatre which is so well preserved that it still hosts concerts more than 2,000 years after they were first performed here. The theatre was much larger than I imagined and was really impressive, especially as we climbed to the top and listened to a group of French people larking around at the bottom. The way their voices carried and the semi-circle amplified everything was really some feat of engineering.
The rest of the other ruins were quite interesting including the main entrance to the city. All people who entered the city had to pass through one of two gates and as they did they cleansed themselves. The remains of the waterhole were covered here but you could clearly see the entrance to the city. From here the major buildings within the sanctuary site were the katagogeion, a hostelry for pilgrims and patients, and the Temple of Asclepius. Within this temple were the sacred well and the rooms where the patients were healed. Some of the healing methods were detailed here including one such room where the patient entered and a snake was put into the room. The patient was “cured” by allowing the snake to bite them. All of the ailments were secret and the treatment was done by the patients alone. The rooms they entered were just for them and no-one else had any intervention.
After we were finished at the ruins here we drove to Epidaurus. Confusingly, there are two sites called the same thing and both have a theatre. The one at the Ancient Epidaurus was much smaller and, also, closed so we had to make do with some views from the outside. The town surrounding this site was full of orange trees and the view across the hills of these bright green trees punctuated with orange spheres was really stunning, even in the dark, cloudy weather.
After we were finished at the two Epidaurus sites we decided to spend some time driving around the southern tip of this particular Peloponnese peninsular. We drove through a town called, passed a couple of series of caves which were inaccessible and to a village that was seemingly at the end of the world, called Portoheli.
As we returned to Nafplio we stopped at a supermarket to get some dips and bread for lunch. We were both quite hungry but decided to wait until we got back to the hotel to eat. We planned to eat and then head out but by the time we had finished our lunch the rain had started, almost at the same time as it had yesterday, and so we spent a lazy afternoon in the room watching TV and listening to the rain falling outside.
When we went over the road for dinner I noticed that the restaurant had something on their menu I wanted to try. I’m not sure why I didn’t pick it last night but I persuaded Elizabeth we should go back there so I could sample the swordfish souvlaki. Elizabeth went for lamb in lemon sauce and both the dishes were really lovely. Elizabeth didn’t like the swordfish though but then I hadn’t expected her to – still made her try it though!