Rick Steves: Greece’s underrated Peloponnese Peninsula
Since we stopped our travels due to the epidemic, I believe that dreaming trips every week can be a great cure. Here is a reminder of the joy that awaits us in Europe at the end of this crisis.
At the beach restaurant, where my chair and table are in the sand, I feel a recurring beat and feel weak but refreshed. I look in search of a source, and I see a handsome young Greek man dressed in a suit the size of a mouse. It reduces arthritis by whipping it like a wet sack, over and over again, on a large flat rock. That Octopus will soon be shown eating … someone else’s food.
I call for moussaka and – to be sure Greek – a glass of sparkling sparkling sparkling sparkling sparkling sparkling sparkling sparkling sparkling sparkling sparkle. It makes me want to throw a string in one window and say, “Argh!” It’s like drinking wood. A waiter once told me there was no such thing as a $ 50 bottle of fine Greek wine. I asked him, “What can I buy if I want to spend $ 30?” He paused, murmured, and said, “Three bottles.”
Drinking retsina virus, I think that, like its wine, the Peloponnese are complex, but with a difficult history. I’m thinking of where to go. A group of tourists flock to the Greek islands, unaware of the delicious salts waiting here, on the island – no need to take a boat or escape. Farther southwest from Athens and the site of archeology, this ancient land enjoys endless Greek sunshine, with beautiful fishing villages, sandy beaches, warm swimming waters, and no tourist attractions.
I could head to the picturesque port town of Nafplio. It is small, fun, and mobile, with great pensions, beautiful restaurants, great evening spots, and nearby beaches. As the first capital of independent Greece, it is an important historical site, and is a tourist site of ancient Mycenae and Epidavros.
East of Nafplio, Epidavros has one of the most ancient archaeological sites. It was built some 2,500 years ago to accommodate 15,000 people. Today, it is busy with guests during the day and reviving the oldest games at night. The feel of the stadium is very appealing when you are alone. On my last trip, I sat in the far seat where my friend stood on the stage. I could hear the sound of retsina in her stomach.
North of Nafplio are the ruins of the Mycenae. This was the capital of the Mycenaeans, who had won the Trojan War and ruled Greece 1,000 years before the Golden Age. This means that for 3,000 years, people have stood near the house and built it at the Lion Gate. It is made of stone so large that people believe that no one can build it. It must have been the work of the Cyclope – hence the name “Cyclopean architecture.” Nearby, the tombs of tholos, built in 1500 BC, appear to be the largest igloo stone, with a smooth dome about 50 feet high and wide. Standing alone under him, I realized that the people who built this house were as old and incomprehensible to Socrates and Plato as Socrates and Plato are to us.
Another possibility is ancient Olympia. Modern visitors cannot refuse to post pictures on the original site from the first Olympic Games in 776 BC. The play took place as a religious festival, and also served a political purpose: to establish the Panhellenic name (“cross-Greek”). Every four years, the war between the rival Greeks was halted at a one-month holy convention, with leading citizens from all corners of the globe meeting to watch the runners compete. It was a tough competition with very strict rules. Drinking the blood of animals – the Red Bull of those days – was banned. Certified urine drinkers have been tested with an old-fashioned steroid.
Furthermore, the Peloponnese have a remarkable remnant of Byzantine rule. Monemvasia, a rocky outcrop like Gibraltar rising from the sea, has a fortified town underneath it and its ruins at its summit. In the 15th century, the fortified city of Monemvasia was one of the trading centers of the Byzantine Empire.
As I wiped the salt in my glass, I realized that I had not made much progress in choosing where to go. I’m worried: Retsina is starting to taste good. I finish my third glass, and enter a dangerous place. If I drink any more, I’ll read it again tomorrow… and I won’t see any more Peloponnese flavors.
The story was adapted from Rick’s new book, For the Love of Europe.
Rick Steves (ricksteves.com) writes European books, publishes television and radio shows, and organizes European tours. You can email Rick at [email protected] and follow his blog on Facebook.
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