Thursday, February 18, 2016


On the third day of Presintine's weekend (I'm going to turn this into a song like the Twelve Days of Christmas), Phil and I absconded from our hideaway hotel in Kardamyli, and trekked over the mountains, past Kalamata, to Mystras. In addition to the following pictures, I also came home with "The Bear Went Over the Mountain" stuck in my head, after singing it repeatedly while we were driving through the canyon.

Goodbye to Mani:

Here's one final glamour shot of Elies hotel. This is a real place. You can really stay here. 

Phil's sad to leave the beach cottage. 

He's not too sad, though, because before we left for good, we went walking on the beach to look in the tidepools.

Phil took a few self-timed photos of us facing the camera, so I thought it would be funny to take one of us facing away from the camera. Instead, it looks like a "candid" shot from one of those hip travel blogs where couples give up their jobs and plan to travel around the world in relative poverty until their blog goes viral, and they start getting endorsement deals from companies. That being said, I will gladly take more photographs like this if it means I can get free stuff from businesses. Seriously, I will sell out in a heartbeat. Call me. 

On Canyon Roads:

I feel terrible for not being able to tell you where I took this photo. I think it was on the road between Kardamyli and Kalamata. If you're thinking "Kalamata...that sounds familiar," you're right! Kalamata is famous for its olives. Along the coast of the beautiful Peloponnese, the city of Kalamata is bustling, crowded, ugly, filthy little hub of tourism. There are a lot of cruise ship-y things around, because cruise ships come there, and there's also an airport, which you could use if you want easier access to Elies hotel, but please don't overrun the place and turn it into Kalamata. The outskirts of the city are really lovely.

This is at the summit between Kalamata and Mystras, or about twenty non-consecutive repetitions into "The Bear Went Over the Mountain," if that's how you measure.

Phil took a better picture of this rock tunnel we had to drive through, but he doesn't usually share his photos on this blog. You're stuck with my photo, which has a car antenna running through it. Do you ever look at things like this and wonder whose job it is to build roads through solid mountain? I'd only want that job if I got to blow stuff up with explosives. Slow digging wouldn't be fulfilling.


We made it to Mystras on Monday afternoon. It was a beautiful day. The temperature was something-degrees celsius. Outside of America, people tell you the temperature in celsius and expect you to react appropriately to it. I have a vague idea that temperatures in the 20s in winter is really exceptional, but I have no expertise in the nuances of specific numbers within that range. What I'm trying to say is that the science core failed me. So it was about 70 degrees fahrenheit.

Mystras is a city overlooking Sparta. It's mainly known for its archaeological site, also called Mystras, an old, fortified Byzantine city on a mountain. Mystras the archaeological site is another place to check off your UNESCO World Heritage bucket list. It's a massive site, with stunning views, surviving Byzantine art, and more stairs than I was capable of climbing.

This was our first view of the UNESCO site. It's all that rock junk on the mountain over there.

Entering the ruins.

Here's an old church. A sign at the entrance to the site warns visitors to only enter churches if you're wearing appropriate clothing. It wasn't clear to me what that entailed, but probably not shorts and a tank top. I read a story online once of a woman who packed a sarong when she traveled around Greece, so she could enter churches without offending anyone. I wore tight spandex pants and a tight long-sleeved shirt, and that seemed to go down okay.

Byzantine artwork, man. 

Here's a look down the mountain at the city of Sparta. Mystras used to be part of the Laconia municipality, which is famous for its oranges, but it was very recently moved into the municipality of Sparti. People used to think Mystras was ancient Sparta, until somebody came along and said, "No, dummies, it's not old enough and it's Byzantine." 

The site is so large, they recommend that you drive from the top gate, which is where the photos above were taken, to the main gate, which is further down the mountain. Either way, you have to do a lot of hiking. We weren't able to see the whole site when we went, because it closes at 3:00pm during the winter. At the very top of the mountain is an old castle. The lady at the ticket office told us it wasn't worth the 30 minute round-trip hike to see the building itself, which is mostly just walls, but she said most people like to go for the views. Because we were crunched for time, we took her advice and quickly browsed the upper part of the site without hiking to the castle, before we jumped in our car and drove down to the main gate. The rest of these pictures are from the lower part of the site.

I can't remember what this building was used for, but I think it was some combination of religion, commerce, and government.

An old Byzantine street.

More Byzantine art.

Phil testing out the fountain at the church/government/shopping place. It worked. They've put modern hookups on almost all of the old water fountains at the site. 

Inside a Byzantine church.

More Byzantine church art.

This is a Byzantine eagle tile that was roped off on the floor of the church. Constantine XI Palaiologos, the last reigning Byzantine emperor, was supposedly crowned on this spot. 

Phil and I thought this looked like a hobbit hole, which is the only reason I took this picture. 

This is probably an old Monastery, but I can't remember for certain. There were a lot of old buildings, and a lot of stairs. So many stairs.

This is pretty cool. Phil's standing in front of a convent that is possibly still in active use. Mystras is a really interesting site. According to UNESCO, the city was abandoned in the 1800s, which is a long time for people to be living in an old Byzantine fortress anyway.  In reality, there were people living in some of the old buildings until the 1950s! And, like I said, this convent is maybe, possibly still active today. We didn't see anyone when we were there, but it was clear that this building had some serious modern upgrades to it. There was also a sign near the gate, asking visitors to put on the clothes given to them while visiting the convent. We didn't get to see what the clothes were, but Phil looked it up later and, if I can remember what he told me, I think it's a covering for your legs if you're wearing shorts. I have to admit that I didn't actually go into the convent. My legs were giving out at this point, so I sat on a rock wall, enjoyed the breeze, and listened to the bells jangling on sheep necks in the valley below. There were some serious Sound of Music vibes.

The Artist at Work.
This is the last photo I took, and the one Phil is taking is the last photo he took, of our tour of Mystras. All told, we were only at the site for an hour and a half. We could have easily spent more time looking around, but we had to get out and use the potties before the site shut down for the day. For 5 euros, it was entirely worth the visit.

Skreka Restaurant:

Before I end this post, I need to tell you about the place where we ate dinner on Monday night. Skreka restaurant has been in business since 1935. It was a two minute walk from our hotel, tucked away on a quiet street on the hillside. We were the only customers for the first thirty minutes of our meal, but they still welcomed us and turned on the Greek music for the dining room. Phil ordered a chicken souvlaki meal, and I ordered battered cod. They had a wide variety of food, including some traditional Greek taverna staples, like tzatziki and Greek salad. Our food was delicious. For dessert, we tried a portokalopita, which the guy described as a Greek orange pie. It sort of has a similar texture to tres leches cake. It's made from oranges, shredded filo dough, and Greek yogurt, plus sugar and fat and stuff. It was very tasty. We stuffed our faces, forgetting that Greek restaurants usually bring an extra little dessert at the end of the meal, free of charge. Often, it's Greek yogurt with some sort of jam. This time, it was a little Greek cookie, similar to a Mexican wedding cake or Russian teacake, or whatever you call them at your house. 

Phil and I really liked this place, and we want you to spend a lot of your money there.

Just look how happy and full Phil is. 

In the final Presintine's post, I'm going to tell you about our hotel in Mystras, and show you another crappy video tour of our room. Hooray for that. I also took a lone photo in Sparta. It will be quite a post.

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