Sunday, March 21, 2010

Nafplio—Venice in Greece

By Claire
We left Finikounda this morning early—Katie and Derek even dragged themselves out of bed to hug us goodbye. I said goodbye to Erika and another German couple then walked up to pay the bill, turn in our bathroom keys and return a book Chuck had borrowed from the camp library. Spiros and his wife are the kindest, sweetest people you can imagine.

Spiros—in his everyday yard work clothes

It’s always hard to leave our comfort zone, but once we hit the road (stopping at our favorite market for provisions along the way), I was ready for our next adventure. We stopped at a small town and sat on benches in front of the Mediterranean to eat fresh bread and a little cheese before carrying on, a late breakfast. Our goal was to have time for a few stops—with Nafplio the certain one.

It’s a charming little port town, small and cozy and perfect for walking. Naturally, we whipped out our Rick Steves’ Athens and the Peloponnese. He has a walking tour of the town that has a stop at Antica Gelateria di Roma, owned by the very friendly Marcello.


We walked directly there, fearing that it would close during the siesta time. It’s been a long time since we’ve had gelato. It was wonderful and gave us a taste of Italy, good preparation for our coming journey back.

The entire town has a very Italian feel to it; no surprise since it was occupied by the Venetians. When they weren’t in charge, it was the Ottomans. Apparently, it went back and forth time and again. There are three castles guarding the port:

Bourtzi, located on a small island

Palamidi Fortress, high up on the hill—we decided against climbing the 1,000 stone steps to the top.

The third was just above the Old Town.

We continued on the walk, stopping in Syntagma Square, Nafplio’s central plaza. It was a perfect, sunny day to stroll around and this square is lined with nice restaurants and old buildings and best of all, kids playing soccer. One boy was even wearing gloves and playing the goalie, defending the archway of the old Venetian arsenal.

Soccer—note the ball just above the boy leaping in the air in the red shirt.

We mostly ignored the many shops along the way—this is a tourist town, after all—and instead took in the Greek Orthodox church, the architecture and the 18th century Turkish fountain hiding in a niche in a wall across from the church.

I really enjoy the Greek Orthodox churches, perhaps because they are different from the many huge, open cathedrals I’ve seen. They have a cluttered beauty inside—many impressive chandeliers and gold or silver decorated saints and icons and lower ceilings. I’m still trying to figure out how they all have the same clove scent that we found in Meteora. I want to bottle it and take it home.

There are two mosques left in the town—one is now a gallery, theatre and cinema. The other became independent Greece’s first parliament. It is now a conference center.

We made our way to yet another town square and into a lovely park, surrounded by restaurants. A gyro sounded just right and we found a place making them for only €2 each. We sat outside in the sun, basking in the day.

Chuck just had to try the traditional bakery, recommended by Rick Steves. Their specialty is ekmek, cream topped-baklava, and they’ve been making it since 1955.

We’re now at Camping Dionissiotis in Athens where Manos, who I’ve been emailing with for a few weeks, greeted us warmly. “Welcome to my camping!”

He carefully explained the bus and metro system—we will be storing Homer here while we are in Paros and will need to get to the port at Piraeus early Monday morning. As he walked me to a camping spot, with Chuck driving behind us, a man walked by, spotted the Dutch plates and started speaking either Dutch or German. I told him we were American and he instantly spoke perfect English. He’s from England! He hustled over to talk to Chuck, sitting at the wheel of Homer, while Manos whispered, “He drinks and wants to live here. I don’t know how long he will be staying.”

In fact, it was difficult for Chuck to extricate himself from the guy so that we could get into our spot. He finally left and we got settled and pulled the curtains. Neither of us was in the mood to entertain a lonely drunk.

While we were driving towards Athens, with the sun shining on the very blue water, we somehow started talking about the Munich Olympics where the Israeli athletes were killed. That was 38 years ago, and those men have lost all that time and more. It served as yet another reminder of how fortunate we are to be on this trip enjoying yet another magical day.

Love does not consist in gazing at each other, but in looking outward together in the same direction. ~ Antoine de Saint-Exupery


Karin said...

I am so glad you stopped at Nafplion, it was one of my favourite towns! You did it justice! We didn't know you could get such good gelato there, darn! Did you know Nafplion was the first capital of Greece and in 1834 King Otto moved it to Athens? So now you are situated in Athens for your next adventure! Good idea to stay away from lonely (and drunk) Englishmen! Keep those curtains closed! Ha, ha.
See you tomorrow!
Karin on Paros

Pat in Santa Cruz said...

I have enjoyed the interlude of "Life in a Campground." Spiros and his wife look like wonderful, warm people. The friendships you have enjoyed for this "moment in time" have been very special. And, once back on the road, I can see that your spirit of adventure has been reignited. I find your "technology-based" friendship with Karen (and Michael) in Paros to be quite wonderful and am so happpy that you will meeting them "up close and personal" :-) Greece is sooo beautiful.
Ciao, Pat