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Wednesday, June 29, 2011


I'm in Gythion, entrance to the Mani at the south Peloponnese right now.  All this area belonged to Sparta and Gythion was Sparta's seaport.  Now it's a quiet little fishers town with scenic views of the sea and the distant peninsulas of the Peloponnese.
Yithio (Gythion) is an attractive seaside town, the shore-front lined with seafood tavernas and little hotels.  I've been staying at the Saga, run by a French/Greek family.  I just love my room and balcony overlooking the sea, and it's close walking distance to the town centre.  
Right across from my pension is the little  islet of Marathonissi.  This used to be named Kranae in ancient times.  Now there is a restored fortress there, the Tzanetakis, built around 1810 by the Turkish Bey to protect him from  his lawless countrymen.There's also a museum of Mani there, telling some of the history of this very unique part of Greece.   What is most famous about this little island is the story that it was here that Paris of Troy had anchored his ship, and when he abducted Helen from her husband Menalaus' palace in Sparta, the two renegade lovers spent the night here.


Whether or not he 'abducted' her is questionable.  After all, Paris was a handsome  young Prince of Troy and her husband was an older warrior king.  But whatever happened, it was the beginning of the fabled  10 year Troy Wars.  There is some speculation though, that the real reason the kingdoms of Bronze Age Greece rallied together to fight against the Trojans, was because Troy controlled the grain shipping lanes of the Aegean Coast and Helen's 'abduction' just gave them a good reason to do so.  At any rate, Homer's Iliad tells the whole story of how this 10 year war got started and ended,  a tragic end for so many including Priam and Hector of Troy and brave Achilles.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

THE ROAD TRIP: 1 ferry, 5 buses and a taxi

Galatia, the Peloponnese
It was a long day's journey but one I enjoyed very much, especially that serene feeling of traveling alone to a new destination, always an exciting experience for me.  I left Poros at 11 am. on the little ferry across to Galatia (about a 10 minute journey) and from there hopped a bus headed for Nauplion.  We had to change at Epidaurus and sat at a roadside taverna for a little while before boarding bus #2 on to the lovely town of Nauplion.  I've writing about this place before at http://www.travelthruhistory/html/culture11.html
Nauplion, The Palamidi Fortress
The Bourzi
Venetian Gate
Nauplion is a beautiful town exuding fading elegance, reminiscent of when it used to the capital of Greece.  It has an interesting, sometimes violent political history.  The first King of Greece, Bavarian Prince Otho,  had his residence here l833/34.  It's a picturesque town with a long, attractive waterfront and a high stony backdrop of cliffs where the Palamidhi Fortress looms above, a centre point of the War of Independence.  This is the site of the original acropolis which was later restored by medieval successors.  The towns third fort, the Bourtzi, is out in the bay. It was built in 1473 by Venetians to control shipping lanes.  Right across the bay is Argos, from where the fabled Argonauts set sail. My four hour lay-over there gave me lots of time to browse and refresh my photos of the town.
The Long and Winding Road
Panoramic View of the Sea looking down on Argos
Next I boarded a bus bound for Tripoli, which is the gateway to the Arkadia a place that features in a couple of chapters of my novel Shadow of the Lion. So of course I was thrilled to get a first-hand look at the geography. The road winds up and up, around hair-pin curves into the mountain heights with panoramic views of the valley and distant sea.  I couldn't help but think of my characters in Shadow who traversed that wild countryside by horseback.  Very hardy men indeed!

At Tripoli I had to walk across town to the Sparti bus depot and just made it in time to get the next bus, 10 minutes later.  I'd been to Sparti twice before and hoped I would make a connection on to Gythion because I didn't fancy getting stuck there.  The city is called Sparti, but it's the site of ancient  Sparta, a city that had no great temples or important buildings, its motto being "It is men, not walls, that make a city".   Modern Sparti is laid out on a grid and isn't very remarkable or scenic and in the past there always seemed be a lot of gypsy beggars lurking around.  I stayed put in the bus depot cafeteria for my two hour wait for the on-going trip to Gythion.

By 9.15 pm I boarded a bus full of young lads on their way back to their army barracks.  It was dark by then so I couldn't enjoy the scenery.  The trip only took about an hour and when I arrived at Gythion, not having a clue where to go, I just hopped a taxi and asked to be taken to a  pension that was recommended in my tour book.  It turned out to be an excellent choice as I am located on the sea front, right across from the little islet of Marathonissi where it is said Paris of Troy, having abducted Helen from Menelaus' palace at Sparta, dropped anchor and the lovers spent their first night  here.  How romantic is that?!
The Port of Gythion

The French-Greek owners of the hotel/taverna (the Saga) are very pleasant and I felt immediately comfortable and at peace.  For 35 E. I have a beautiful little room where I can sit on the balcony and enjoy the view of the coast and sea.  I can see it will be an excellent place for me to do some writing.

This morning I set off to find a bank and web cafe and will explore the town further and write more about it.
I am hoping I can find a bus tour around the Mani peninsula (which  is why I came here) but so far the tourist shop was closed so I'll try again later.  I plan to be here for at least a couple of days.  There is apparently a general strike in Greece for 2 days which means there won't be transportation although I did spot one bus today so I wonder if in the Peloponnese they are exempt from the strikes?

At Sparti

Sunday, June 26, 2011


A friend just sent me this little piece of advice. "She travels light who travels alone."
It came at an appropriate time for me when I came to the parting of the ways with my travel companion.  No surprise, really, as this particular person has proved unreliable on the road in the past  and (as usual) we parted on strained terms. This time it was her incessasant neurotic raving about mosquitos (among other things such as her opinionated, self-centered and usually bigoted commentaries on other subjects).  I got tired early on of hearing "I shall do this" and it all being what she wanted to do. I'm a pretty compliant person but found I was biting my tongue to keep from retorting whenever she went of on one of her rants and insisted on doing only what she wanted to do.

Traveling with a friend means you are two and it's give and take. In this case it was me being the compliant one all the time to accomodate what she wanted to do. (Remember something when traveling with a friend:  There is no "I" in "TEAM")

We had been enjoyed a day on Poros Island when I learned of my dear friend Dora's death  and was trying to keep my mind occupied on positive thoughts. So when I was invited for drinks on to a posh yacht,  asked because the yacht guy wanted to hear more about my novel, I grabbed the opportunity.  Of course I included my travel companion even though she seemed reluctant and negative about the invitation. 
The yacht "Scott Free"
We went on board, and believe me it was a mind-boggling experience to see what luxury these people can afford.  And they were very nice people, a Greek American and his wife and family from US.  We had wine and an excellent discussion on Greek history (mainly about Alexander). I tried included my friend as she is a classical scholar, and she did her bit of pontificating about what she knew but the family  seemed more interested in what I was telling them about Alexander and my experiences living in and visiting Greece over the past 32 years. 

When they mentioned they were hading for Kefalonia island I raved about it (I've been there 4 times and love that island!). My friend interjected that they ought not to go there if they were allergic to mosquitos. I made light of it saying I'd never seen any there and if there were any they would be sure to find her.  When we got off the yacht and began walking back to the hotel, she launched into a non-stop verbal rant at me accusing me of making an 'obnoxious' comment and going on and on and on about how mosquitos could kill her and how I didn't understand about people with allergies. (Yes I do. I used to work in daycare where we had strict cautions about kids with peanut and other allergies. And although I don't seem to have allergies of my own I know others who do and they do not rave on incessantly like she does).

Anyway this rant went on ad nauseum even after I asked her to stop and leave me alone to which she replied 'Yes, I'll leave you alone. I'm going back to Athens!" No surprise to me.  She always bails out when things aren't to her liking.  But what got me was the non-stop rant which she would not quit even when I tried to go to bed, until I lost it and had to actually 'scream' at her to shut up and leave me alone.  At one point I tried explaining that I was feeling bad about my dear friend's death but she simply didn't understand and dismissed this.  Anyway, we parted ways the next day, although it took two days to get her monologue out of my head.  But once I did, believe me, my trip took an definite positive upswing! She tried hard to spoil this trip for me but I wouldn't let her and frankly she spoiled it for herself as I had a grand time!

I've been an intrepid solo traveler since my early childhood.  My parents should have gone gray early on with my escapades. And once I got my adult freedom -- kids grown and on my own -- I was off and running up the road to adventure.

Now and then, though, I have agreed to travel with a friend. (I have only once gone on a group tour and that proved to be the most lonely time I've ever had!)  There have been some good trips, with travel companions who have been fun and co-ordinated their plans with mine.  One special trip was when I went to Venice with my friend Ingrid.  We had also had a successful trip to England and Greece the previous year.  And I have another girlfriend, Cheryl, who has made some excellent short-run trips around BC with me.  It was fun being tour guide for my sister and niece and there are also other accompanied journeys I've made that have worked out okay (with just a few snags along the way).  But sometimes there are time when traveling with a friend simply does not work out.  And this time, when I agreed to let my Norwegian friend join me on the trip I'd planned to the Mani in the south Peloponnese, I had some trepidations but dismissed them.  I shouldn't have. For one thing, she said she wasn't interested in the Mani and only wanted to lay on a beach. That was my signal that this wasn't going to work.   Every time I've agreed to travel with this person it has ended up in an unpleasant disaster.  I had even laid bets with myself this time as to how long it would take before the poop hit the fan.  It only took four days.
Dora's Sunset
(this was taken the night I stood on the shore and said prayers for my dear friend who had passed)

So now I am solo again.  Aside from the fact I am feeling devastated over the news of my very dear friend's death, and really had looked forward to sharing my travel companions company on this trip to the south Peloponnese,  her attitude just didn't fit with mine and the trip ended today.  I'm off tomorrow to Nauplion and hopefully will make a connection south to Gythion. It's a bit convoluted and may go through  Sparta,  but I've been that route before - solo - so it shouldn't be worrisome for me.  I guess it's just the sadness I feel over the loss of my friend Dora, and wanting to have company (someone who understood and could give me a sympathetic hug) that left me feeling quite at odds earlier today - wondering if I should just turn back and return to my other friends in Athens.  But, being the intrepid solo traveler that I have been in the past, I must get over these bumps in the road and go on.  There are new stories to write and new adventures ahead.  And I'm sure I'll meet some interesting new folk along the way.

(note: you will see by following posts what a great time I had.  And  if she had come along it would have been a constant complaining because the beach at Gythion wasn't that great and she'd have insisted on staying at one out of the town which would have made it difficult for me as I like to explore.)

Saturday, June 25, 2011


We got here three days ago and liked it so much we've decided to stay another day.  Poros ("The ford") is one of the green Saronic Gulf Islands just a short distance off the coast of the Peloponnese separated by a narrow strait.  It's actually made up of two islands divided by a shallow canal with a bridge crossing. Poros Town (Sferia) is a busy little port with a large harbour for ferries and yachts.  Kallavia is the quieter area across the canal.
Poros Town (Sferia)
We are staying in a refurbished old mansion, now the Hotel Dionysos, overlooking the harbour.  In spite of the buzz of the little pakakias (motor bikes) and cars, it is mostly quiet, especially early mornings and later in the evening, with a beathtaking display of nightly sunsets that paint the sky gold and crimson.  All along the harbour are huge yachts from various ports around the Mediterraean and even England.  And there is also an anchorage for smaller sailboats.
Hotel Dionysos

There aren't many tourists here and those are mainly Scandanavians.  The Swedes love this island and it is their archaeological society who tend the excavations here.  There's no shortage of excellent tavernas along the harbour as well as interesting shops with good quality merchandise -- not much of the cheap tourist trinkets usually for sale.  We spotted a dress shop last night near our hotel and intend to return to make some purchases.
Poros main street

 Kanali Beach

Yesterday I took a taxi up the mountain to the Temple of Poseidon where the famed orator Demosthenes fled after the Athenians were defeated by Macedon at the Battle of Charonea.  He had been making speeches, publishing anti Macedonian pamphlets and defaming King Philip and Alexander.  So rather than face what might happen if he were captured, he chose to drink poison and commited suicide at this sanctuary.

Temple of Poseidon

Monastary Garden
The road from the port winds up the mountain through the pine forests affording magnificent panoramic views of the island and sea.  There are excavations at the Sanctuary, although most of the building materials were removed during the 17th and 18th centuries and some taken to Hydra.  I stayed long enough to take some photos which I'll include here later. 
Lots of yachts and sailboats in Poros' harbour

Then the taxi wound back down the mountain to the beautiful 18th century monastary of Zoodhouho Piyis. I didn't go inside but browsed in the lovely courtyards where there were flowers and shade trees. 
Most of the time we are spending on the little sandy beach at Kanali, about a 10 minute walk from our hotel.  And at night we go to the Poseidon Taverna for excellent food, everything from sea food to Cordon Bleu.  Prices are reasonable and the waiters attentive.  In fact, we've found most all the locals friendly and helpful.
Me and the Mermaid

Of course the usual applied to the young woman working in the little tourist office next to our hotel who didn't seem to have a clue, nor cared to check for us, when we inquired about buses from the mainland to Gythion. (Claimed we had to go all the way back to Athens to get there!!!)  Typical here.  I often wonder what training these 'tourism' people have to go through before getting work as it has happened frequently in the past.  Best to do your own investigating and know where you are going.
Poros Sunset
Poros is a pretty island, and worth a visit.  In all the years I lived in and have visited Greece this was only the second time I came here. The first was on a rainy day back in the '80's when my friend and I stopped briefly while on a 3-island boat cruist.  I can totally recommend it as a good, quiet get-away, far from the tourist bustle of the Cyclades and by far just as beautiful!

Friday, June 17, 2011


I just spent a few days in Caerphilly, where my father was born.  And one of my favorite things to do there is to tour around Caerphilly Castle, MY castle - as I grew up hearing stories about it.  I never get tired of visiting this remarkable, well preserved castle, built over a Roman fort in about 1266.  And again this time, I looked for the Green Lady, but she didn't make an appearance.  I wrote a story published in Europe Up Close about the castle and the haunting of this Welsh queen,  and you can read about it here:
The Castle at Night: Looking for the Green Lady

I had been to Old Sarum iron age hill fort earlier this week, and yesterday, en route to Worcester with my cousin Chris, we passed two more iron age hill forts, British Camp in the Malvern Hills and Bredon Hill.  I'll post photos of these sites later. We only saw them at a distance but it was a beautiful sight.
British Camp (Roman era)
Today Chris took me to Warwick Castle for an amazing tour.This huge castle dates to the 1300s. and is beautifully preserved as it was lived in up to Victorian times.  One of the features is the dungeon, and a tour there was more spine tingling than any Halloween exhibit I've ever scene.  Downright creepy it is so realistic with interactive displays and actors posing as various characters including the executioner.
In the Stocks
Warwick Castle
A Knight
A tour through all the rooms of the castle was a wonder and in many of them are the wax figures of the characters who lived there over the years as well as displays of armour used in battle.  I loved the Secrets and Scandals of the Royal Weekend Party.  And guess who was there? The young Winston Churchill!
We also enjoyed the display of birds: eagles, raptors, vulture.  the one thing we didn't see which I'd have liked to watch was the jousting.   It's a fabulous place to visit with lots to do and see.  Today there were many school groups there and they have special events for kids like the Princess Tower.
Coming home we had a bonus visit to Stratford-upon-Avon to Anne Hathaway's house - a place I've always wanted to visit.  There was even a chair there that was supposedly Shakespeare's courting chair!

Anne Hathaway's Cottage, Stratford-upon-Avon

Thursday, June 16, 2011


A Blustery Day at Avebury

Even in the pouring rain with a battering wind destroying our umbrellas,  the stone circle of Avebury is an amazing sight.  My travel-writer tour guide Keith, an expert on the area's stone circles, took me around there on my first day in Salisbury.  I have to admit I thought I was suffering from  hypothermia   I was so cold and wet but it was such a fascinating place and even in the inclement weather it was worth a visit.  I can only imagine how beautiful it must be on a clear sunny day.  This is one of the oldest and larges henge sites in Britain, begun about 5000 years ago.  The unusual thing is a pretty little village is situated right in the middle of it. This area has been occupied since the Bronze age with farmsteads.  And nearby within walking distance are other famous prehistoric monuments as well.
Ancient Stones

The next day it was sunny and warmer so we wet off first for Woodhenge.  The earthwork here began in around 2300 BC and consisted of a circular bank with a ditch.  Instead of stones there were wooden posts in various sizes. And near the centre a small cairn of flints containing the body of a 3 year old whose skull had been split before burial.  This is one of a few pieces of evidence for human sacrifice in Neolithic Britain.
Wooden staves at the Woodhenge Circle

Not too far away is the famous site of Stonehenge a massive stone monument that evolved between 3500 BC and 1600 BC with giant blue stones brought from the mountains of Wales that align with the rising of the sun on the Winter and Summer solstices.  You can no longer go into the inner circle like I did on my first visit back in the '70's, but you walk around and can listen to the history of the stone circle on hand held recorders. 

The Great Heel Stone
After visiting these circles we stopped by the site of Old Sarum which is the setting for my work in progress Celtic novel Dragons in the Sky.  I wanted to make another visit here to do more research and I did find out a few new things, such as at the time of my novel the fortress of Old Sarum was made of white chalk bricks and that they used totems at the entrance gates, much like our First nations people did. 

The trench around the Hill Fort
Site of the hill fort at Old Sarum

View of Salisbury from Old Sarum

I never get tired of seeing these amazing places, all of them World Heritage Sites.  This opportunity, thanks to my writer friend Keith, provided me with a wealth of information and made it a fabulous experience.