Mystras & Mavrovouni

Woke up to a lovely, relatively cool day. Walked around contemplating laundry when I realized that, once again, the house was out of power. To make a long morning story short, we learned (by playing charades) from our neighbor, Nicoletta, that she had no electricity, either. Then Manos came over to explain that the employees of the power company are angry about proposed changes to their corporate structure, so they’d cut power to the village, “maybe for an hour, maybe two, maybe for the whole day …”In the US, this would have brought on threats of a hundred lawsuits. In Greece, everyone just shrugs.  So we joined in with the shrugging, shook our heads, washed clothes by hand, and had breakfast out on Dimitri’s lovely patio, out under the grape arbor (which you can see below under the freshly-painted house).

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We drove up to Mystras, a fortress that eventually became the power center of Greece’s Orthodox Church in the fourteenth century. Great views, lots of ruins and churches small and large (one church or chapel is never enough around here) with famous frescos.

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Mystras also houses a small group of nuns, and you can see where they live, which I think is particularly cool (the nun in the picture below is hard to see, but trust me, she’s there — look for the figure in all black from head to toe in the beating sunshine).

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J is continuing to do great experiments with her phone’s photo-taking options, which means we got a beautiful panorama of Sparta and the surrounding countryside:

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We didn’t end up trekking to the oldest fortress at the top of the hill — it was too hot, and we were ready for lunch — so we took a few pictures (the thirteenth century fortress is the tiny thing up at the top)…

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…and drove down to the adorable village of Mystras for lunch at The Kastro.  Lunch was a Greek salad (you’ll see this become a running theme) and stuffed grape leaves.  We finished with cold fresh watermelon, which hit the spot!

As a side note, we’ve been amazed at the differences in restaurant service in Europe. In the US, the wait staff are brisk, efficient, and cheerful. In Greece and in the Netherlands, you sometimes have to wonder if the wait staff have noticed your existence. There’s certainly no hurry in getting you your check. So getting the bill often involves waiving your hands wildly and taking bets on whether that will have any effect. It’s an interesting system.

We in general – and J in particular – have all sorts of ideas for improvements here. Better signage (could someone please mark all of the one way streets at such?) More information at museums and historical sites. Customer service (with a smile). Regular electricity. But we don’t think that the Greeks would take our suggestions even if we found someone who wanted to listen to them. They’re more relaxed, happy to sit in a café over a single cup of coffee for two hours without being interrupted by the waiter, largely unworried about the details about which Americans love to obsess. And they might have bigger problems to tackle (light their oligarchic government, or the overall state of the economy and the country’s debts). So we should probably keep our observations to ourselves.

Mystras is a lovely town — small with great fruit trees (nothing ripe, sadly) in people’s backyards.  It’s a little touristy — it has one tiny hotel and several tavernas — but it still feels authentic somehow.

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We made an attempt at going to Sparta to see a museum and buy some stamps, but it turns out that everything except the cafes is closed on Tuesdays at 3:00pm.  J really liked Sparta, which has wide boulevards laid out by King Otto to look like a Bavarian town in 1834.  Signs of old Sparta are almost entirely gone — what little they had (the ancient Spartans were well, pretty Spartan to start with) was long ago smashed by invaders or dismantled to build Mystras. But the new town has a small, accessible feel that’s pretty nice.  And you can drive up (we did) to see some old Roman ruins strewn out across an olive grove.

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Foiled by Sparta, we headed south and bought some fruit at the great stand on the road to Vathi.

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Then we went on to the beach at Mavrovouni and lay under frilly beach umbrellas for several hours.

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Prescott will think it funny that I spend much of our days trying to get J to drink more water (because I’m usually the dehydration risk in our house).  J is pretty resistant to this idea.  They need more (any) iced tea here to satisfy her drinking needs.

Dinner was a salad and shrimp with spaghetti at a beachside taverna.  Now we’re sitting at the taverna in Koumani drinking wine, because our only access to wi-fi is at cafes. The corner taverna here is an otherwise deserted-looking cafe that sits under a huge, elegant tree and is populated by a few quiet families and groups of friends.

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Everyone sits outside on a large concrete patio.  J and I are the only people with multiple electronic items out in front of us — there’s almost no cell phone use at restaurants here, which is a huge change from the constant texting and fact-checking when people are out in the US.  The servers here speak almost no English, and they have no menus, but it all seems to work out.

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