Bye Pres! I miss you! (Nafplio & Mycenae, by way of the airport)

Quote of the Day:  “Oh look, another house.”  (from a tired-sounding boy of about 10 visiting Mycenae)

August 6:  Woke up early, even by Greek standards, to drive Pres off at the airport.  Made it to Athens in two hours, waited with Pres for about an hour, and said goodbye.  It was really sad — we’ve had a great vacation together, and it’s hard to imagine being in Greece on my own without him.

The motto of my midday was “Go Schliemann!”  For those of you not up on your 19th century archaeologists, Heinrich Schliemann was the first modern guy to excavate ancient Troy (0r at least the first one to do a really good job of bragging about and making himself famous for it).  He also did some important digging at ancient Mycenae.  And if you’d like to read a really interesting book about him, I highly recommend Laura Schlitz’s “The Hero Schliemann” — it’s a quick read, you’ll both learn and laugh a lot, and Laura is the best storyteller I know.

Anyway, I was saying “Go Schliemann” because I arrived at Mycenae at the height of the midday heat, and I was trying to imagine poor Heinrich and his many helpers toiling away under that relentless sun.  But toil they did, discovering some remarkable grave materials (including the famous gold Mask of Agamemnon, which is not in fact a mask of Agamemnon).

The Mycenaens built some incredible structures, including doorways with lintels weighing 120 tons, cisterns that go scary-dark-deep underground, and domed tombs 42 feet tall.  They also made beautiful pottery, strange little clay statues of women, and medium-sized statues of people that look like aliens.

They did all this about 3,300 years ago — and then they disappeared, and no one knows why.

It’s easy to ignore the heat when you’re looking at ruins like these, at least for a little while.  I eventually took refuge in the archaeological museum and then in the Tomb of Agamemnon (which isn’t really the tomb of Agamemnon … don’t ask me — I’m not in charge of naming these things).  The tomb has such a beautiful echo — singing there is just wonderful!

By 2:30, I was starving, so I drove back into Nafplio for lunch.  I went straight to Mezedopoleio O Noulis, where Rick Steves led me to order saginaki flambed in brandy and hunger led me to the crazy order of “eggplant stuffed with onions.”  These were both so amazing — the eggplant and onions simply melted in my mouth — that I’m going back there for lunch tomorrow.  Pres would’ve loved the cheese … I miss him a lot.

The afternoon was dedicated to a mix of working out (this hotel has a tiny fitness room!), shopping (sandals and earrings), napping, watching the Olympics, dipping in the hotel pool (which is both the size and shape of a very small bean), and discovering that I can hop up on the wall of my balcony and see all three of Nafplio’s fortresses in a 360 view!

As an aside, for those of you following the Olympics:  I’ve been watching a fascinating Olympic sport:  it’s an indoor cycling event simply called “sprint” on Greek TV.  I’ve never seen it broadcast at home; I suspect only Jocelyn & Dusty know what it is.  If you want to picture it, imagine a combination of roller derby and speed skating.  Here’s how it goes in a little more detail, for the uninitiated.  First, two riders get on their bikes and get hugged by guys (it’s always a guy, even if you’re a female rider).  Then the guys push the riders forward, one after the other.  Next, the riders pedal as slowly as possible, each watching the other warily.  I think the rider in front should get bonus points for watchfulness, since she or he has to be looking backward for much of the ride, but points don’t seem to be a factor in this sport.  Now when I say the riders go slowly, I really mean “slow” — like they’re practically falling over at times.  I started to wonder if you could go the whole race without breaking a sweat (I think the technical answer is, “yes”).  But then, at some completely random time, both riders start spinning their feet like crazy, and they go around the circle once or twice, and whoever started out in back ends up in front, and that person wins (unless the person who started out in front is from Germany, in which case she stays in front the whole time).  That’s sprint.  Look for it on YouTube.  It’s pretty cool.

Dinner tonight involved an intrepid trip to a restaurant on the coastal road to Argos, in a fishing village called Nea Kios.  The restaurant, Tsakiris, is impossible to find, but it’s the kind of crazy thing I’m willing to do when someone (in this case, Matt Barrett’s website) says that it’s one of the best seafood restaurants you’ll ever eat in.   So I drove around and walked around (past fishermen just pulling in and tucking their nets away for the night) and asked around and was rescued from an unwise turn down a dark alley by a helpful man who spoke a little English.  I finally found this unmarked restaurant by the sea, and I ate at a table about fifteen feet from the ocean.  The fish was, in fact, remarkable — I got to see it before it was cooked, which all of the best fish restaurants let you do here, but I never did catch its name.  All I know is that they said it was “like snapper,” but I thought it was ten times better than any snapper I’d ever eaten.  And all they did was filet it, grill it, debone it, and serve it (head and tail on, as at all Greek restaurants) with some lemon/olive oil sauce.  Divine.

The only other event worth noting at the dinner hour was that my neighbor’s table almost caught fire.  They always cover tables here with paper tablecloths (which they change for each set of diners), and bad things happen when you combine these tablecloths with candles and children.  It was exciting, if only briefly.

Drove back to Nafplio, survived the parking hazards that are ever-present here at night, and had some gelato.  It’s good that I don’t live this close to a gelateria in real life.

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