Thursday, 30 July 2015

Monemvasia

Greece, 24th - 26th June 2015



Monemvasia is a town on the final finger of the Peloponnese that in Byzantine times was a major seaport.  It is built into the side of a hill on a small island connected to the mainland only by a causeway.  Once crossing the causeway, there is a single road approaching the fortified town, with one easily defendable entrance.  Historically, the town would have once been home to thousands; now, with the town’s purpose being made redundant by the end of the War of Independence and the opening of the Corinth canal, the town is populated by a few small clusters of families and a large quantity of cats.

The town was our next stopover point after leaving Paralia Astéri, after Matt’s obligatory morning dip. There’s a beach shower and tap here which had handily been replaced since we called here the other day when it was just a vertical water spout! We topped the water up with a water carrier full then drove to Monemvasia, where we found a place to park alongside a couple of other vans on the island just after crossing the causeway.  From here we took the walk to the town’s main gate for a look around.  The Lower Town is made up of tight streets and small alleyways, with one main stretch being taken over by souvenir shops, tavernas and hotels.  On
the whole it is a very picturesque place, if a little tiring to walk around all of the steep streets in the heat (we were starting to feel July rapidly approaching by this point).

The scenery of Monemvasia

The Upper Town, we have heard, is a collection of ancient ruins.  We never got to find out for ourselves, as when we reached the top of the Lower Town, we found No Entry signs warning us that the Upper Town was closed for renovations.  Some workmen made their way down, and a nearby group of American tourists asked them if it was possible to get to the Upper Town (you can always count on Americans to ask the awkward questions so you don’t have to); a workman said they could get as far as the main gate, but it was closed beyond that, so we opted to give the trek a miss.

The height difference between the Upper and Lower town - perhaps it was a blessing in disguise that the Upper Town was closed as it would have been a bit of a trek in the heat...
After further exploring the side streets and leaving Monemvasia, we made our way back over the causeway to the neighbouring tourist town of Gefira and parked up on the seafront by the beach (GPS: N36.68836 E23.03712), where we were later joined by an Italian couple in a Hobby van.  After a sea visit to cool off, we returned to the van to make use of one of the many free WiFi spots that were dotted throughout Gefira.  We could pick it up using our booster aerial, but it was a little slow and unreliable so we decided we’d drive to another car park closer to the town centre to see if we could pick up a better connection.  Our efforts were in vain, so we returned to our first spot.

Monemvasia as viewed from the beach at Gefira
Parking up for the night at Gefira harbour
The man from the Italian van approached us later in the afternoon; he’d seen us move to the other car park and come back, as well as seen a Police car driving around, so wondered if we’d been moved.  We said that we hadn’t had any problems with the police and were just WiFi hunting, and put his mind at ease.  Later in the evening the Italian came back to let us know they were moving to the other spot; near to us was a hotel we’d assumed abandoned, but he’d clocked a group sitting outside the hotel, probably squatters, who were “totally pissed”, and was understandably worried they may cause noise or other issues later in the night.  We thanked him for the warning and moved on ourselves after dinner (it probably would have been fine but no point inviting trouble if there is an alternative), but the other car park was too busy for us to park up with cars coming into town for the evening so we parked up at the harbour for the night instead (GPS: N36.68300, E23.03791).

Matt with our bag of purchases
Before leaving Gefira we stopped by at a bakery for some bread; here we found humongous croissants and pain au chocolats that rapidly found their way into our list of purchases, and Matt had to resist the urge to eat the still-warm pastries then and there.  He refrained, and we continued on our way, stopping at a couple of potential stopover points near Monemvasia before driving back towards Skala.  Both points looked like they would have been alright for overnighting, but I still get a little uneasy at the presence of ‘Freecamping is illegal’ signs (maybe because we’re still relatively new at this), and it was early in the day so decided to give them a miss and see what else we could find.

We found this old bus whilst driving around the coast - it looks like once upon a time it may have been a converted holiday home, but certainly not in recent years!

From Skala we drove north to Geraki, where there is another archaeological site with remains of a Byzantine castle.  We eventually found the road to the site, but once we made our way to the top we found it was closed up (we’re not having much look with these sites lately!).  The site was supposed to be a free visit, but it looked like they were in the process of building a reception/ticket office, so perhaps the site is reopening as a paying attraction.

The new town of Geraki
It looks like the entrance to the Geraki archaeological site is a no-go...
We took a couple of hours driving across the scenic mountain route that connects Sparti with Leonidio, and experienced the joys of no other traffic on the roads for a great deal of time, unless you want to count the period in which we had to stop to wait for a passing herd of goats to make their journey to a new spot!

GOATS!!!!
The road to Leonidio
Near Leonidio in the small resort of Plaka, there used to be a Camperstop, but we’d already been forewarned by both Dennis & Kate and Terry & Barbara that it had sadly been closed down, possibly due to the campsite nearby sending it out of business.  We drove there anyway to look at the area and as a stopping point to plan where we were going, during which time a man from the campsite (Semeli Camping) stopped by on his bicycle to give us a business card.  We didn’t really feel like paying for a campsite when we didn’t need one, so instead chose to head north to a spot near Agios Andreas (GPS: N37.38237 E22.77540).  It was a small remote beach, accessible by travelling a few km down roads between olive trees (which were, in a nice change of pace, pleasantly wide for rural roads) and crossing over a dried up river.

Our quiet little overnight spot at Agios Andreas
We stayed at this spot for two nights.  Our mobile internet allowance was about to refresh and we still had plenty of data to go before the refresh date, so we made use of the time to do some more blog work and internet errands until our laptop ran out of battery.  The beach had a beach bar, but on the whole the beach was very quiet and appeared to be used more by locals than tourists, perhaps because of its remote location, or maybe the season here hasn’t started yet.  The locals seemed to spend a few hours there in the morning, but we generally had the late afternoons and evenings to ourselves on both days, so it was very peaceful.  Just around the corner of the cove was a nature reserve that was a wetlands area signposted as being used as a migration route for birds on their way to Africa, as well as an important area for jackals and otters.  We saw no signs of any life during our June visit, but later we did notice some strange animal prints on the front of the van and the windscreen, as though something had been climbing on the van during the night.  On our second night we had a lightning storm; I couldn’t get to sleep even after the noise of the storm had passed us by, so I got up for a while and watched the lightning over the water.


We were aware that we were coming painfully close to the Argolid region (or 'Argolis', the final ‘thumb’ shaped peninsula of the Peloponnese).  Although there is a lot to see around the Argolid, it marks the end of the Peloponnese for us before crossing over into central Greece.  We’ve loved spending time in this area of Greece and it is very hard to leave it behind.  In the meantime however, Nafplio, Epidavros and Corinth await.

- Jo

Some more pictures:


  
I spotted this work desk in one of the fuel stations we
stopped at - naturally now Matt wants one too
One of the many cats taking refuge in Monemvasia

I think it has certainly been some time since this bridge last saw use...
Our supersized croissants!
Animal prints on the car windscreen

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