Off to the Mountains

Our morning started out at the Museum of the Olive and Greek Olive Oil (that’s the full name of the museum – it’s a mouthful). It’s a delightful museum, beautiful and modern with excellent exhibits. We learned everything that we could possibly want to know about the making of olive oil. It also gave us insights into how little Greece changed over thousands of years – even in the 1980s, people were still using olive pressing techniques mentioned in Pliny. We both enjoyed our visit greatly.

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The next step was errands in Sparta, which we completed in record time: bank, stamps at the fancy hotel, and a bakery. J and I discovered Greek bakeries today, and there may be no turning back – yummy!

It turns out that today was the hottest day they’ve had yet this summer, so it’s a good thing that J and I next headed out to the mountains to the east of Sparta. Our goal was the small mountain town of Polidroso (also called Tsintzina by the locals, and something else very long and impossible to spell by Google Maps). Lots of oohing and aahing and stopping for photos on the way up through the hills (note the forest fire remnants below from a fire seven years ago that raged for thirteen days):

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We stopped for lunch at the Pritanio Guesthouse, a gorgeous hotel where I’d stayed two years ago. The hotel looks like a restoration project, but it turns out that was actually newly built not long ago. The food (a grilled wild greens pie and a lettuce-fig-orange-cheese-raisin salad) was delicious, our waiter was funny and enjoyable to talk with, and the views were top-notch. So we lingered on the balcony for a while.

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Then – because it was the hottest da of the summer – we went for a short hike. The hike took us pretty much straight up the side of a mountain via a series of wicked switchbacks, but the air was relatively cool under the spruce and pine trees (and it smelled like Maine ….).  And we saw beautiful plants, including this wild clematis (Pres, I thought you might like a Tina & flower picture):

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At the top of the trail, we found ourselves at a chapel that looked like several stories of bad cement plastered against the hillside.  They put chapels everywhere here, often in impossible-seeming places.

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I’d been to this chapel too years ago, but I wasn’t sure when hiking alone that I wanted to go into the little sketchy door (about half my height) that appeared to lead inside. With J there, I felt braver – so I unknotted the rope holding it closed (high security) and walked into a cool, sunlit area with a small wooden staircase. Walking up one floor, and then two, we found ourselves in a cavern that opened up into the mountain – someone had built a full chapel, frescoes and incense burners and all, in a cave! It was remarkable.

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There’s also a really loud bell one floor up that you can ring with cheerful abandon, until Jocelyn tells you to stop (because we’d been told that the whole town could hear the bell, and the whole town was having its 4:00 siesta). J will tell you that my hedgehog was out of control here – more explanation of this to come in a later blog.

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Great views from the top of the town below and the mountains beyond:

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After we hiked down, we stopped by a mountain spring to cool off. Though we wouldn’t exactly call them wet, the mountains get rain year-round (and snow in February).  And pretty much every mountain village has a spigot like this somewhere for its water.

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Drove down to the beach for a very quick evening swim, this time to Pentanea. We’re becoming beach connoisseurs – this beach has softer, darker sand, cloudier water, and a relatively secluded feel (emphasis on “relatively” here – there were still plenty of people sitting out under the umbrellas). J went for a quick run while I read; then we both took a dip before driving home to get the computer.

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Now we’re sitting at the Dionysos [sic] Tavern in Xirokambi, where we’ve just finished a delicious dinner. It turns out that if you cook the entire zucchini vine for long enough and then drown it in olive oil and top it with feta, it’s wonderful. Same goes for beans cooked to death in tomato sauce and olive oil. Round it out with a Greek salad and a scene of tens of people sitting in the town square watching football on a giant screen on the side of a café, and you have a pretty great small-town dining experience.

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