We made it across the bridge with the medicane a’coming. To refresh, a medicane is a term coined by the meteorologists meaning a hurricane that originates in the Mediterranean.
Our destination was Olympia, site of the first Olympic games and a UNESCO World Heritage site. The storm was still two days out and the winds were blowing at about 40 mph as the leading edge of the storm was already upon us. We stopped for a tea in town to get some WiFi and find an inexpensive place to stay as it was going to get wet. Finding one on the outskirts of town we could only stay for two days. Hoping the storm would be gone by then, we took it. There was a convenient market across the road so some supplies were purchased along with a bottle on Greek wine. Supper was prepared on the balcony using the door, table and our house camping bag as a shelter from the wind to keep my fire lit.
The next day it was windy, no rain and brief moments of warming sun, so we headed over to the Olympia archaeological site to explore. It was pretty amazing but many things were still as they had been found, prompting a conversation between us. If you go to an ancient site do you want to see everything intact with artificial pieces making up the ones that were destroyed, as someone thinks they were, OR, would you rather just see the ruins? Our consensus was a little of both would be nice and let our imaginations do the rest. What do you think about it?
The place has a long historical evolution of one of the brightest sacred temples dedicated to the father of the gods and people, Zeus, and was the cradle of the Olympic Games. Walking around seeing the stone footings and toppled pillars was a bit of a disappointment as my imagination had to work overtime. Walking the path that so many athletes and kings had walked onto the Olympic competition field was a highlight of the trip to these ancient ruins. We sat high on a grassy knoll overlooking the field and wondered who had sat in this very spot and whom they had previously watched on the playing field. Strolling back to the entrance we passed the site of the lighting of the Olympic torch. This is the spot that the torch is lit every 4 years as it journeys to the next site of the games being carried by runners.
That night we discovered the rain would be here in the night and decided we would stay a couple days to let it pass. “No room, we are full”, were the words we didn’t want to hear in the morning. We found another place closer to town and more expensive and without a place to cook. Eh, what’s a budget for if not to break it.
A couple days later the warm days had been replaced with cooler, fall-like weather. It was October. This was to be the temperature trend for the remainder of the trip. Packing up we headed for a much talked about pass that seemed perfect for motorcycles. We followed the road and turned off toward Dimitsana and to a bunch of what looked like insanely curvy roads headed south toward the coast.
The day grew warmer with brilliant blue skies as we curved back on forth on great roads following the canyon back down the mountain toward Sparti and our destination, Mystras. Mystras was the seat of the Byzantine empire in the 13th and 14 century. It is now a UNESCO World Heritage site and is considered one of the most well preserved in Greece. We found a muddy campsite near town at the base of the mountain, from the storm, with a view of the ancient hundreds of feet above us. After moving a visitor to our camp, along with her hundreds of babies, we set up and made camp and supper.
Soon after we a set a ruins with nobody around just off the side of the road. Pulling in it was a newly discovered stadium that had just started the renovation work. A wonderful discovery.
We came across a village perched terrace style near the top of the mountain. This was a crossing point of a trail system that crosses through Europe. Stopping for fuel just outside of town, we had to go inside a small restaurant to pay. It was Sunday morning about 1000hrs. There was a chill in the air so we decided that we would sit down for a cup of Greek coffee. You could feel the chill transfer into the room as we walked in as conversation stopped, the stares turning toward us. After ordering the coffee at the bar we sat down at a cozy table in the middle of the dining area. Conversation amongst the men started up slowly, in Greek, and I noticed all the men were drinking Scotch. If I wasn’t on the bike I would have joined them.
The next day we rode to the top of the mountain and hiked midway down the ruins before returning, riding to the base to see the rest. After, we went back to town and had lunch before heading back to camp to finalize our plans for ferrying through the Greek isles. We ate supper at the campground kitchen having to wake up our elderly host so as to order. He was probably 70+ years old and runs the entire campground by himself. He was up at sunrise and cooked until 2100hrs. I think he just caught naps as time permitted.
In the morning we rode another incredible pass headed to the coast. We rode on smooth, narrow tarmac weaving back and forth as we descended toward the Mediterranean. At times we passed under enormous rock overhangs resembling a tunnel without it’s outside wall. The views were just amazing. Following the coast south on whatever road we could find we kept telling ourselves we were coming back here to live. Seems to always happen, every trip. The world and the people are just beautiful. We would also be saying this many more times along this ride.
The day was getting long and the shadows longer so, reluctantly, we found a route toward Monemvasia. The island is linked to the mainland by a short causeway 200m in length. Its area consists mostly of a large plateau some 100 metres above sea level, up to 300 m wide and 1 km long, the site of a powerful medieval fortress. It is also referred to as “The Gibraltar of the East”.
As we sat having a coffee and searching for an inexpensive place in town to stay we started chatting with three women claiming to be “shipwreck survivors”. They were Americans and were taking a Mediterranean cruise on a luxury yacht that was shipwrecked during the storm and sank. They had to abandon ship during the storm along with the crew. All their belongings, money and papers, including passports, were sunk on the ship. They were stranded in Greece until new paperwork could be obtained. Quite the story. We eventually found a wonderful waterfront hotel just down the street with secure parking right under our balcony. I had to talk the owner down a bit, but he was super nice.
The next morning we rode out to the island and walked about the fortress where many shops, hotels and restaurants were located. It still had it’s charm as all the walk paths were still original cobblestones. The views were incredible making us understand the exorbitant prices the rooms were commanding. All along the path were cats owned by the town and allowed to run loose. There was cardboard laid on the paths and chairs out, all for the cats. Food and water were plentiful being set out by all the individual shop and inn owners.
Gathering up our belongings and packing Yellow Donkey, we set off for the port which would be the ferry starting point for our Greek Isle tour. But first, a stop at a shipwreck we saw yesterday along the coast, the “Dimitrios”. This 220 foot Danish cargo ship, built in 1950, was stranded here in 1981. It is a very picturesque location with the curve of the beach stretching out behind while surrounded by deep blue waters of the Mediterranean Sea. There are a couple rumors about the ship. One, it was a cigarette smuggling ship running from Turkey to Greece. Two, it is a ghost ship. The ship was simply abandoned there and no attempts were ever made to recover her.
Arriving at the port we wait at the front of the que for the ferry to arrive. It’s getting late and this will put us into the first island port, Kithira, after dark.