The Peloponnese, Greece
Our tour of the Peloponnese region began in the small town of Corinth, or to be more accurate, Ancient Korinthos. Much of the drive was along the water, a brilliant light blue colour that was tempting us to stop for a swim. We had planned to explore the town once we arrived, but we saw a sign informing us that the Acrocorinth, a huge fortress on top of a hill, closed at 3 p.m. As it was already 2 p.m., we returned to the van and made the slow journey up the steep incline. At the gate we were warned twice that had better be quick as we must be out by closing time. With only 40 minutes to spare we basically ran around the site. On our dash we managed to climb to the very top of the fortress, witnessing great views of the countryside and the water in most directions. The dry landscape consisted of olive trees, small hills, and not much else. Ten minutes before closing we were still at the summit, and the indirect route down the hill was going to take us longer than that. Danny decided we should take the fastest way back to the gate – straight down the precipitous slope. We were both wearing thongs/flip flops and we essentially skidded the whole way down (there were no paths or steps in the entire place, just rocks and dirt). We were filthy by the time we reached the exit, but we made it with two minutes to spare.
We drove back down to the town to see the primary ancient site, but decided not to enter as we could see most of it through the fences. The only surviving structure, the Temple of Apollo, was clearly visible and that was all we wanted to see. Across the road were a couple of Roman theatres, which were somehow different to all the Greek ruins we had been looking at lately.
By this stage we were covered in sweat and dirt and the water was still calling our names, so we drove straight to the sea and jumped in. The water was unimaginably warm, but still served its primary function of cooling us down. We stayed in there for about an hour, relishing the feeling of being warm rather than roasting. Afterwards we sat on sun chairs under umbrellas along the beach, taking advantage of table service for drinks. I'm pretty sure we were the only foreigners there. We spent most of the night in the van looking out over the water and the beautiful sunset, before finding a car park on a quiet street for the night.
In the middle of the night we both half woke up to a loud truck passing close to us. Danny then saw blue flashing lights outside, and he immediately shook me awake and whispered "police". We always presumed there would come a time when the police would move us on, but it wasn't going to be tonight. The lights went away and all was quiet again. It shook us a little though, and neither of us could get back to sleep.
Next up was Olympia, taking back roads the whole way to reach our destination. Up and down mountains, around corners every 100 metres - it was a slow drive. For some reason Garmin showed us the most indirect route possible, which involved dirt roads and a shallow river crossing. We even had to stop for a herd of goats on the road, who were in no hurry to move over.
The site of Olympia was a lot bigger than we were expecting, with dozens of ruins scattered about. I thought there was just going to be a running track, but there were also temples, a gymnasium, Greek baths, accommodation and other random buildings that I didn't know the purpose of. A small area known as Hera's Altar is where the Olympic torch is lit for each Olympic Games. You would think this would be a highlight, but it was extremely unimpressive. The main stadium (built 5th century B.C.) consisted of a narrow, dirt track with grassy banks, and a few concrete blocks for judges to sit on. Athletes ran in straight lines back then, not in circles like today. We also stopped in at the adjoining archaeological museum, with bits and pieces that had been dug up from the site. Most of it was fairly boring, even the apparently famous statue of Hermes, the Greek god of about 100 different things. To be honest we were only there for the air conditioning. In fact we loved the cooler temperatures so much that we sat in the cafe for ages, eating one of my favourite Greek foods, spanakopita.
It was too hot to sit around in the stifling car for the rest of the day, so we started driving towards the next town, Mystras. Mystras is situated right next to Sparta, a larger city with almost no sights to see (despite its historical significance). It was a perfect place to stop for the night. Again, Garmin decided to frustrate us by taking B grade (or C grade, or D grade) roads, where we couldn't even reach half of the speed limit because there were so many twists and turns. Through the mountains we were driving along the narrowest of roads, with trees hanging low overhead and scraping the van. Cars continually had to pull over so we could pass by. There was another animal holdup, but this time sheep were the offenders. The sheep dogs eyed us warily as we crawled our way through the flock. We were both ready to throw Garmin out the window.
The following morning we drove to the ancient site of Mystras. We started at the bottom and slowly walked up the large hill, where the castle was perched at the top. The sun was piercing today – not ideal when climbing mountains. We had a little relief in the tiny air conditioned museum, but as that was near the bottom of the hill it didn't help us when we needed it most. At least there were steps here, making for a slightly easier trek than at Corinth. The site was full of churches, many with visible murals on the inside, plus a palace and a building that looked like a motel but I had no idea what its function was. There was a fantastic lookout over the mountainous landscape at each stage of the climb, plus a sweeping panorama at the top. Overall we loved it, and it was made even better by the fact that it was free today (a surprise to us).
Our drive to Nafplio was again marred by Garmin issues. Danny's hour of driving was hassle-free, but as soon as I took over it started directing us down dirt roads, only to take us back to the main road again five minutes later. Twice we were forced to reverse because our van physically couldn't go where the sat-nav was directing us. The Garmin company needs to have a good look at its programming.
We did eventually make it to the Palamidi Fortress in Nafplio, overlooking the bay. Like at previous ruins we climbed to the top, absorbed the views, then made our way down. It wasn't the most impressive fortress we had visited, so we didn't spend long here. Again it was free – we thought maybe this was because it was a Monday (attractions are sometimes free on Mondays). It turned out that this was not the case. As we went in search for a supermarket, we discovered nearly all stores in town were shut. That only means one thing - a public holiday. We haven't had one in a couple of weeks so I guess we were due. We love the free sightseeing but it's frustrating when we have no food.
Reluctantly, we asked Garmin to direct us to a campsite. Why take smooth highways when we can drive along dirt roads, through rivers and past low hanging trees? At one stage I think we collected a whole tree and dragged it with us for a while. As soon as we arrived we dumped the car and hit to the beach down the road. Somehow the water was even warmer than Corinth, and it even had a few small waves coming in. Definitely the best way to cool down after a stressful day of driving. The caravan park handily had a small market on site, allowing us to cook a far better dinner than we anticipated with our meagre supplies. After eating we sat outside most of the night because it was ten times cooler than being inside the furnace-like van.
We rely on caravan parks to replenish our supply of drinking water, so as usual we commenced filling up our van before leaving. A few minutes later the manager wandered over to inform us that the water we were using wasn't drinking water. In fact, the entire area does not have any drinking water. Hard to believe that a popular beach side area and caravan park can't get access to treated water. So we spent our day driving with the tap running in the sink and the drain open under our van, hoping any nasties disappeared with the water. I guess it was a good way to clean out our waste water tank. I wonder when we will find drinkable water again?
On our drive out of the Peloponnese we stopped in at Mycenae to see the citadel ruins on top of a hill. We could see most of the site from the outside, and it didn't look like it was worth the steep entrance fee to bother going in. Instead, we covertly took a few photos through the fence and then continued on our way.