A quick trip along the Athenian Riviera

Aghia Marina, the Athenian Riviera, Taverna Lazarou. Photo credit: Nikos Kapsalis.

Last week the heat in Athens was almost unbearable, so when i was asked where I wanted to go to eat, I immediately said “Somewhere with a breeze and trees.”

My friend knew the exact spot: Lazarou Taverna in Aghia Marina on the Athenian Riviera. I agreed with alacrity, but then realised that we never managed to find it open last year. However, there are plenty of other tavernas open, so it wouldn’t have been a problem if it was still closed. Cape Sounion is close by and the fish taverna there is always open, even in winter.

Fish taverna on the beach at Sounio. Photo credit Melissa Julian-Jones

We got to Aghia Marina and Taverna Lazarou just before sunset, with the sun turning the sea orange. The tamarisk trees growing on the beach in front of the taverna afforded us some welcome shade, and there was a slight breeze. It is just as we remember it.

View from Lazarou Taverna over the sea, Aghia Marina, Athenian Riviera. Photo credit Nikos Kapsalis.

As the sun set we got even more amazing photos of the sunset.

Sunset over the Athenian Riviera from Lazarou Taverna. Photo credit Nikos Kapsalis.

The food wasn’t as good as I remembered it, but at least we were out of the city and had excellent scenery to look at!

Sunset at Taverna Lazarou, Aghia Marina, the Athenian Riviera. Photo credit: Nikos Kapsalis.

We stayed enjoying the cool air for some time, even after it was dark – probably much to the annoyance of the waiters, as we were the only customers!

If you are in Athens and want to go to Sounio to see the amazing temple of Poseidon, I suggest you book a tour with Kostas at http://enjoygreecetours.com

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Take a short tour of the Peloponnese

See Corinth, Mycenae and Nafplio in a day with Enjoy Tours Greece and Kostas

Ernmuhl at lb.wikipedia

Corinth canal
Credit Emmuhl at Ib.wikipedia

If you have never been to Corinth or Mycenae or Nafplio, you are in for a treat! On the way to Corinth make sure you look out of the left-hand side windows for breath-taking views over the Gulf of Corinth. The large island close to the mainland is Salamina, ancient Salamis, where Xerxes, the Persian emperor, watched the defeat of his fleet in 480 BC. It was quite a victory as the valiant Greeks were outnumbered by the Persians.

The blues of the sea are incredible on sunny days, so you may want to take some photos. In fact, this trip down to Nafplio gives you a chance to see some spectacular scenery.

The Corinth Canal

The Corinth canal, which joins the Gulf of Corinth and the Saronic Gulf is one of the engineering marvels of the 19th century. Only when looking down on it from the road can you begin to understand what a feat of engineering this was. It is amazing to actually go down the canal, as you can almost touch the sides from the boat.

If you didn’t have breakfast, you may be able to pick up a souvlaki or gyros just a few steps away from the canal.

Ancient Corinth and Akrocorinth

photo credit:.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/8/8e/GR-korinth-odeion.jpg

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/8/8e/GR-korinth-odeion.jpg

Ancient Corinth is where St Paul addressed the Corinthians. You can walk in his footsteps around this ruined city and visit the onsite museum.

Afterwards, head for the hills and Akrocorinth. Take a jacket, as it’s usually windy and cool, if not cold, up there. This city has been inhabited by the ancient Greeks, the Romans, the Byzantines, the Franks, Venetians, the Knights of St John and the Turks. They all added bits to the city, so it is a melange of architectural styles. You need to be fit to walk to the top of the city, as there are quite a few steps to negotiate. The view from the top is well worth the effort.

It’s always windy at Akrocorinth. Credit Kosatas Kasolas

Most tours don’t go to Akrocorinth, so if you want to go there, arrange it in advance with Kostas. It will add a couple of hours to your tour. That means that you might want a customised tour, leaving Nafplio until another time.

Mycenae

Photo credit: Carole Raddato from FRANKFURT, Germany – The Lion Gate, Mycenae, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=45976024

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Mycenae is perhaps most famous because of the brothers, Agamemnon and Menelaus, the ‘Lions of the house of Atreus’ which are carved in stone in the arch above the gate to this ancient site. Clytemnestra’s bath can also still be seen here, as can her tomb which dates back to around 1,200 BC.

If you remember the story, Clytemnestra was Agamemnon’s wife. He sacrificed their daughter Iphigenia so that the gods would give the Greeks good weather to sail for Troy. When Agamemnon returned years later, Clytemnestra killed him to avenge her daughter’s death.

The “Treasury of Atreus” or “Agamemnon’s tomb” is not on the same site, but it’s very close, on the opposite side of the road to the palace complex.

The museum is a must-see on the site. You’ll need about an hour to see all the exhibits. Don’t miss it!

When you can tear yourself away from Mycenae, you will start the trip to Nafplio which takes you through orange groves. Just before you get to Nafplio, you will see the excavations of Tiryns. This is a World Heritage Site along with the palace complex at Mycenae.

Tiryns is associated with Hercules, as the king of the city, according to myth and legend, gave Hercules his labours from his palace in Tiryns. For the ancient Greeks, Tiryns unbelievable, so they attributed its building not to men, but to the race of Cyclops.

Nafplio

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Grece_nafplio_bourdzi.jpg

Fortress on Bourtzi Nafplio. Credit: Ifernyen at French Wikipedia

Nafplio was the first modern capital of Greece after the revolution of 1823. It remained the capital until 1834 when Athens became capital.

If you walk along the promenade, you will see the Venetian fortress, Bourtzi, where Kolokotronis was imprisoned after the revolution. He had been its hero. In summer, you can take a boat to the fortress.

Above Nafplio is the Palamidi castle, the second prison Kolokotronis was sent to. You can drive most of the way up to the castle, so don’t be daunted by the steps! There are said to be 999 of them. Take care if you clamber around the walls!

Nafplio, with its neoclassical architecture is a shopper’s paradise. the winding cobbled streets of the old town are truly fascinating. You never know what you will see. There is a komboloi (worry beads) museum at Staikopoulou 25, if you are interested in these.

There are many other things to see in Nafplio, such as the archaeological museum and the Folklore Museum on King Alexander 1, St. If you have time, visit the National Gallery at 23 Sidiras Merarhias St.

For me, no trip to Nafplio would be complete without a visit to Roulis taverna. You can have meat dishes too!

You’ll certainly sleep well when you get back to Athens after this wonderful tour!

Enjoy Greece tours with your guide, Kostas!

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Back to the Faris Hotel, Laconia

2017 Easter at the Faris Hotel, Laconia, Greece.
Credit: Nikos Kapsalis

A few days before Easter, we went back to the Faris Hotel in Laconia, Peloponnese, Greece, to spend Easter there. One reason was that we had had such a good time there the year before.  However, I can always find a good reason to stay there. Perhaps we go for the oregano, the balsamo, or just to see how the landscape has changed with the season. Balsamo in English is St. John’s wort. It grows around the hotel, and in summer it is harvested, then steeped in olive oil, locally produced of course, and used to alleviate aches and pains in the joints and back It is also good for wound-healing. It is virtually a cure-all and I am so glad we found it. Actually, it was George, the owner of the Faris Hotel, who introduced me to it.

Argos and his satellite cat! Photo credit Nikos Kapsalis

This cat is inseparable from Argos, George’s large Greek mountain dog. They are always together, unless Argos is patrolling the hotel grounds, earning his keep by protecting creatures and people from wild boar. Argos is a very lovable, friendly, giant of a dog. I am so glad that he likes us though, as his teeth are huge! I have to be very careful because he tends to walk between my legs or hits the back of my knees with his very waggy tail. I was horrified to see that he had a healed wound cause by a boar’s tusk when we got there this time.

Argos minus his satellite cat! Credit Nikos Kapsalis

Argos was almost totally black as a puppy, but now he has some chestnut in his fur. I know that dogs have hair, but his is more like fur! look at the way he has crossed his front paws – just like a human! Look at his face, he’s totally irresistible!

Faces in the clouds over the Faris Hotel, Laconia, Peloponnese, Greece.
Credit Nikos Kapsalis

The weather wasn’t bad all the time, so we managed to get to the taverna we like on the beach at Varthi. The ducks were in attendance too. They like the hot spring water that flows into the sea, I think.

View from the balcony of the room in the Faris Hotel. Credit Nikos Kapsalis

Of course we stopped in the new Rouchanas taverna in Corinthos on the way and on the way back from the Faris hotel.

This is how wine is served at Rouchanas Taverna, Corinth. Credit Nikos Kapsalis

The new taverna looks a bit upmarket, but the standard of cooking is the same. The ‘new’ taverna can be found on the Corinth- Epidauros road. You’ll love it if you like fish and seafood,. Now there’s a small garden just off the main road. Great in summer as there will be shade from the mulberry trees. However, I think I might need a sun hat.

Monastery above Xirokampi, Laconia, Peloponnese. Credit Nikos Kapsalis

This time we actually managed the short drive up the mountain above Xirokampi, which is close to the Faris Hotel. We got to the monastery (Zembritsa), only to find that it was shut. We had seen the turret-like building many times from the mountain road, but we hadn’t realised what it was. Now we know.

Monastery above Xirocampi. Credit Nikos Kapsalis

I guess we will have to go again and try to get inside the monastery complex. Another excuse to go to the Tayegetus mountains and the Faris Hotel!

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Goodbye 2016!

Well, I can’t say that I’m not glad to see the back of 2016. For me, February was a particularly horrendous month. However, I got through it. How, eludes me!

March was better and so was April. There were trips to the Peloponnese and the Faris Hotel.

In March we went to Milos and stayed at Captain Zeppo’s boutique hotel. The weather was foul most of the four days we were there, but we did manage to see the whole island. It isn’t my favourite Cycladic island, but it does have a certain charm, and the hotel was wonderful.

We travelled a little further afield in autumn and went to Mytileni on the island of Lesbos in October. It was full of refugees and not many tourists.

We went to Mystras several times while we were in the Peloponnese and to the beach at Gythio. Then we found a really good taverna on a beach, with fish that were really fresh. We watched them being cleaned in the sea, shortly after they were landed.

I spent a lot of time in Plaka, as always, and was there on Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve. We ate at the Taverna Plaka, where I have been eating and drinking for more than 30 years now. This is close to the Hotel Acropolis House, where I saw a ghost.

So last night four of us ate at the Plaka Taverna in Kidathenaeion St. As it was New Year’s Eve, the wine and tsiporou flowed freely.  When we left, well after midnight, the most sober person handed me a jacket and said that it belonged to someone who had left earlier. Given that I thought the woman was sober, I didn’t look at the jacket.

When I got home, I realised that the jacket was a woman’s  clearly it didn’t belong to my friend. I inspected it more closely and discovered that it was a designer label jacket.

On new Year’s Day I phoned the taverna to tell them that the jacket was safe and we would take it back to the taverna that day or the next. Why I had to do it was beyond me, but it was easier than persuading the culprit to phone with an explanation. It’s a good thing they know me!

So that episode marked the end of 2016! I hope 2017 will be a better year for everyone!

Chronia polla! Happy New Year!

 

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From Athens to the Peloponnese and back

This return trip from Athens to the Peloponnese is now a very familiar one. Sometimes, when the wind is blowing away from the road, we stop at Kineta, where the oil refinery belches out its acrid s…

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From Athens to the Peloponnese and back

Kineta - a stop on the way. Credit Nikos Kapsalis

Kineta – a stop on the way. Credit Nikos Kapsalis

This return trip from Athens to the Peloponnese is now a very familiar one. Sometimes, when the wind is blowing away from the road, we stop at Kineta, where the oil refinery belches out its acrid smoke. We can’t take photos too close to the refinery for security reasons. We discovered this when a security guard appeared out of the blue and moved us and the camera away.

Sheep grazing near the oil refinery. Credit Nikos Kapsalis

Sheep grazing near the oil refinery. Credit Nikos Kapsalis

These rather large sheep were grazing close to where the first photo was taken. The man is a shepherd in charge of the flock.

Near the oil refinery at Kineta. Credit Nikos Kapsalis

Near the oil refinery at Kineta. Credit Nikos Kapsalis

The next stop is always to Rouchanas near Corinth for something fishy and some tsipourou. I have only just discovered that I like this drink, and so am making up for lost time. In fact, over the past few months, since I discovered I like it, I have become something of a connoisseur.

This is how wine is served at Rouchanas Taverna, Corinth. Credit Nikos Kapsalis

This is how wine is served at Rouchanas Taverna, Corinth. Credit Nikos Kapsalis

There’s a beach close to the taverna, but this time, we didn’t even sit outside, much less go to the beach. instead we joined the other customers (most eating crayfish) around the fireplace.  We had shrimps and remembered not to order octopus, which is out of season until March. The frozen variety is not as good!

Part of the Tayegetus mountain range. Credit Nikos Kapsalis

Part of the Tayegetus mountain range. Credit Nikos Kapsalis

There was some debate about whether we should take a detour and go exploring, but we decided against that (for a change!). Had it been summer we wouldn’t have thought twice, but there was a possibility of snow.

View from the balcony of the room in the Faris Hotel. Credit Nikos Kapsalis

View from the balcony of the room in the Faris Hotel. Credit Nikos Kapsalis

We decided to go straight to the Faris Hotel, our usual haunt on top of a mountain in Laconia, near the monastery of Gola. My favourite dog was there to greet us. Although still technically a puppy, just a year old, he is huge. He had grown out, rather than up, and rather noticeably from when we last saw him two months before.

A view of the Tayegetus just after dawn from the Faris Hotel. Credit Nikos Kapsalis

A view of the Tayegetus just after dawn from the Faris Hotel. Credit Nikos Kapsalis

Of course, we started our stay with tsiporou in front of the fire in the restaurant part of the hotel. The next morning we awoke to the scene above. However, it was soon to snow on the peak of the pyramid pictured above.

View of the Temple of Poseidon from the taverna. Credit Melissa Julian-Jones

View from a balcony at the Faris Hotel. Credit Melissa Julian-Jones

Luckily it didn’t snow around the hotel as it had done the year before. I was fantasising about the possibility of getting snowed in, and was half hoping that would happen! But it didn’t!

We stayed for a week, but the weather was not too good and it was cold. Now it’s New Year’s Eve and I am wishing that I was back there!

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My own Athenian Ghost Story (Part 2)

Hotel Acropolis House. Plaka Athens.Photo credit Nikos Kapsalis

You should really read Part 1 of this ghost story to understand it fully. The first part took place in Athens, at the Hotel Acropolis House, Kodrou 6, Plaka Athens. This part begins approximately ten years later, when I was back in South Wales.

I was working for the county council, doing outreach work in the community in Newport. I went to visit a company which trained teenagers to do certain manual jobs. The community was a multicultural one close to the docks. my friend managed the scheme, so I always enjoyed going to visit her.

This time, after I had had coffee and a chat, she asked me if I had met the South African guy who was working with her. I hadn’t, so she called him into her office and introduced us. I was stunned when I saw him, as he looked like my Athenian ghost.

Hotel Acropolis House, Plaka, Athens. Photo credit: Nikos Kapsalis.

Hotel Acropolis House, Plaka, Athens. Photo credit: Nikos Kapsalis.

I must have turned pale as he was concerned about me. I sat down and told him my ghost story. He was, to me, my ghost.

When I had finished my tale it was his turn to be amazed. He asked if I would wait while he went home to get some photographs. Of course I would!

When he came back, he was carrying a shoe box. It turned out to contain photographs, sepia as well as black and white.

His family had built the house which had become the Hotel Acropolis House. It was a family home, and my ghost had had several brothers. He was in the photos, and my new friend told me the story of how the family had moved to South Africa after he had committed suicide in the ballroom.

Hotel Acropolis House at night, Photo credit Nikos Kapsalis.

Hotel Acropolis House at night, Photo credit Nikos Kapsalis.

They grew even richer from gold and diamonds, although they lost most of the money because they were inveterate gamblers. My friend had left South Africa when he was young and had been a bank manager in Wales, after various adventures on the way.

It was very strange to meet my “ghost’ in the flesh. We became friends and slowly he told me more about his family, but not about my ghost, as he had never met him. He confessed, while looking at the photos that there was a striking resemblance between him and my ghost.

What a weird feeling though, to meet a ghost in the flesh. I wonder if anything like this has happened to anyone else.

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