Trip Report Nafplio and Delphi
When our ferry from Naxos docked at Piraeus, we were no longer lazy island idlers, but serious tourists bent on seeing some major archaeological sites. Well, not too serious. We’d booked four nights in Nafplio and two near Delphi to allow us to loll a bit in between visits to stadiums, temples, and tombs. To help us access some of the lesser known sites, we had arranged a car rental for this leg of the trip. We booked online with Economy Car Rentals, a consolidator, as they offered by far the cheapest rates. We had no complaints, but be aware that their airport partner, Auto Union, is not located at the airport, but about an eight minute drive away. Auto Union offers free shuttle service to and from the airport, but if you are catching a flight after you drop off your car, you need to allow extra time.
On the bus ride from the port to the airport, I steeled myself for more Greek driving while Bill warmed up for more seat clutching. But neither was necessary for the drive to Nafplio. The roads were generally good, and where winding or narrow, not much travelled. Getting to Nafplio involved several turns, but all were clearly marked. Finding our pension was another matter; once in the city, we promptly got lost. (When in doubt, park at the port and walk.) After a phone call, we were rescued by Yiannis, the son of our pension owners, who solidified his hero status with Bill by hooking him up with a wireless internet connection.
In Nafplio we traded the whites and blues of Naxos for more subtle, warmer tones, the buildings washed in shades of yellow and beige, roofed with moulded earth-toned tiles. There was nothing subtle about the water though, deep blue or brilliant turquoise depending on the depth and how the light struck. It got me in the gut like the steep drop of a roller coaster. The best vantages were high up over the rooftops or the kilometre long promenade that hugged the shore. Our pension, Isabo (http://www.greek-pensions.com/EN/index.html, review filed on TA), was located in the lower, flatter section of Nafplio; Bill had had enough of stairs. After our day’s expeditions, I’d leave him in the pension with his internet and wander the higher haunts, introducing myself to the local cats.
Our main purpose in visiting Nafplio was to use it as base for exploring the many nearby sites. But the town proved worthy of exploration on its own. The first capital of independent Greece, it claims the building that housed the early Parliament as well as the church of Aghios Spyridon outside of which Ioannis Kapodistrias, the first Governor of Greece, was shot. You can still see the bullet hole in the wall behind a plate of glass. If that’s not enough, add three Venetian fortresses. We contented ourselves with admiring two from a distance, visiting only the oldest and least restored, the Acronafplia. Scrambling over crumbling walls and through arched doorways, Bill commented, “I would have eaten this up as a kid.” I thought he was eating it up pretty well as an adult.
We stepped outside the historic district to the old suburb of Pronia to try a taverna, O Pseiras, recommended by our pension owner. Arriving at 7:45, we found a man just setting up the outdoor tables. We dined alone—no tourists here and it was too early for the locals—though Lilo, one of the restaurant’s cats, joined us on a spare chair for a wonderful meal of grilled meat, garlic laden tzatziki, and zucchini fritters. My husband ate his vegetables and asked for more! Our server sat down at a table behind us, chatting through an open window with a neighbour across the way and shouting a greeting upstairs. We returned the next night, our last, to meet the whole family. Sister was also serving and mother was in the kitchen cooking. A loud, jovial, local crowd filled the tables inside but left shortly, and we had the whole family to ourselves.
Our meal finished and with no other tables to attend to, our cook joined her children outside for a smoke. I had taken up my tatting, a method of making lace with a small shuttle, and the whole family gathered to watch. Mom rushed off and came back beaming, carrying her best pieces of crochet. The two siblings bickered affectionately about who would get the favourite (they were fluent in English, she was not), a star shaped piece with filigreed amphorae. We felt welcome to stay all night, but returned to the old town for one last stroll along the harbour and one last gelato. Yes, more food. But this gelato, from a small store near the harbour is as good as everyone says, smooth and rich. A little goes a long way; you don’t need a big serving. Round this out with the fresh oranges and local wine in plastic bottles we bought at roadside stands and you have a map to my favourite Nafplio taste treats. (Though Bill would add the half decent cup of Greek coffee I learned to make at Pension Isabo, which provided all necessary equipment and supplies.)
You must be wondering if we enjoyed Nafplio so much that we entirely forgot about those archaeological sites. We did not. We walked through the lion gate of Mycenae, and flashlight in hand, I descended the stone stairs of a Mycenaean tunnel, the dark stone swallowing my light. Heart pounding, I braced my hand on the cool damp wall. (Do bring a portable flashlight—or torch, depending on your nationality—to Mycenae; you won’t be able to safely enter the tunnel without one.) We sat in the top row of the theatre at Epidauros listening to the clear, gentle notes of a young man’s recorder. We measured the girth of the walls of Tiryns, the grey stones punctuated by exclamation points of pink hollyhocks. We startled a hoopoe by the side of the road on the way to Argive Heraion. A good omen: we had the sanctuary to ourselves. We rounded the curve of the acropolis of Assine to be greeted abruptly by the beach. We climbed high above the stadium at Nemea to admire the single flattest piece of ground in Greece we’d seen. And we looked down over the packed brown earth of Lerna, shaking our heads at its age.
You need only to stand at Mycenae, Tiryns, or Epidauros to realize that these sites are not simply constructions, but places. Mycenae without its circling hills or Tiryns its view to the sea would be robbed, diminished, an orphan artefact. (Are you listening British Museum?) Although no crowd can blot out these landscapes, they can distract from them. Try to arrive early. And don’t neglect the lesser sites, particularly if you like solitude. Mycenae was jostling with noisy tourists, while nearby Nemea and Tiryns were almost deserted. The Argive Heraion, Assine, and Lerna were deserted, except for the occasional guard.
Our appetite whetted, we were ready for more. Off then to Galaxadi to explore Delphi, with a stop at Cornith on the way. The exit off the highway to ancient Cornith was easy; the entrance back, not. We wound up instead on the old coast road, more scenic, but also much, much slower. Bill proved he was good for more than seat clutching, managing, through entire conversations in body language and astute map reading, to get us back on track and the highway.
Galaxidi, on the Gulf of Cornith, has a proud history as ship building port. Small and quiet, it was perfect for relaxing after our drive and the next day’s visit to Delphi, half an hour away. We stayed at the Hotel Ganimede (http://www.ganimede.gr/, review filed on TA), the former home of a local ship captain, where once again Bill found wireless internet, and I charming nooks to explore. I watched fishermen mend their nets, a woman sell olives from the back of her truck, and a priest buy cigarettes at a kiosk. Together Bill and I enjoyed a trip to Galaxidi’s Nautical Museum, marked by a ship’s figurehead jutting from an exterior corner. A small museum, it’s crammed with logs, charts, sextants, and portraits of ships. We left with a deeper appreciation of Galaxidi’s present and past.
The ride from Galaxidi to Delphi proved Bill’s seat clutching days were not quite over. He glanced at the spectacular views of the gulf below only when I explained that at least one of us should see them, and if he wouldn’t look, I would. The views on the drive were more than matched by those at Delphi; I can see why the ancient Greeks considered this place the center of the world. Once more I marvelled at the interweaving of site and structure; once more I marvelled at how few visitors are willing to stray from the main site. We arrived at Delphi shortly after it opened, but by the time we left, the road was lined with tour busses. Still, as we walked the short distance down the road to Athena’s sanctuary, we met no more than six people. For at least 10 minutes, we sat alone in front of the tholos temple, eating apples and chocolate, the whole of Delphi spread out on the opposite hill before us.
Pictures at http://flickr.com/photos/25804015@N00/sets/72157605497835458/ (Nafplio)
http://flickr.com/photos/25804015@N00/sets/72157605502723215/ (Delphi and Galaxidi)