Nafplio – The Most Romantic City in Greece

We planned the last part of the trip as an exploration of the Peloponnese Peninsula, but when we arrived in Nafplio we immediately fell in love. We extended our stay and canceled our remaining reservations. This town has it all…a fortress high on the hill, quaint streets with no cars, nice beaches, good food, and friendly people.

To get here we rented a car….we got a little Fiat 500c…cute as a bug!!!! And really good on gas.

On the way out we drove by the Corinth Canal. This canal literally changes the Peloponnese Peninsula into an island. The four mile long canal connects the Gulf of Corinth with the Saronic Gulf. It is only 70 feet wide at sea level and still is traversed by boats and small cruise ships, but only if they are 58 feet wide or less. Started in the 7th century BC, the digging proved too difficult. The project was picked up again during Roman rule (under Emperor Nero) in 67 AD using a workforce of 6000 Jewish slaves. This project was also abandoned. Not until 1893 was the canal finally finished. Today about 11,000 ships pass through every year.

Nafplio is just so cute. All the roads in the old town are pedestrian only. Like Chania, it is filled with cafes and shops, the buildings built during the Venetian rule. At night families migrate to the city square where their children ride bikes and scooters around the fountain, the men drink their ouzo, the women chat away….very family oriented. Nafplio is only a couple hours from Athens so many Athenians come here for a quick vacation. We did not see another American the entire time we were here.

The Palamidi…Venetian Fortress
High on the hill, overlooking and guarding Nafplio, is the old Venetian Palamidi Fortress. This was the last fortress built by the Venetians. Just as they were completing the walls, the castle was over run by the Ottoman Turks. These Venetians were expert masons….most of the fortress is still intact after all these years. In the harbor lies a water castle called the Bourtzi (means “Tower”). Originally built as part of the fortress system, it has since been used as a prison, a home for the Executioners (seems like no one wanted them for a neighbor), a hotel/cafe, and is now being refurbished to be opened up for tours. At night the Bourtzi and the Palamidi are all lit up…beautiful sight.

Beaches and Mycenae
Each day we would head out to a beach. Our favorite was Kontili Beach, a wide expanse of sand and gravel and crystal clear (and warm) Aegean Sea. At the far end of this beach is a tiny little church perched upon a small hill above the water. So much nicer than Pink Beach on Crete as it was devoid of the crowds.

Mycenae is the ancient bronze age city, founded by Perseus and home to King Agamemnon, leader of the expedition to Troy. (he happened to sacrifice his daughter to the Gods in exchange for fair winds to Troy….seems his wife held a grudge about this act and later took it out on him by stabbing him to death while he was taking a bath.) To enter the palace area you must pass under the Lion’s Gate with walls a good six feet thick. The museum on the grounds holds artifacts found on the site with displays of weapons and pots, gold jewelry and burial urns and so much more. Spectacular and so, so, so ancient.

Tomorrow we head home and we must say goodbye to Greece.
Our Turkey/Greek Odyssey coming to a close….an unforgettable trip!!!
Big question now…where to next???

Chania, Crete

Tell any Greek that you are visiting Chania (pronounced Hon Ya) and they will say “ti oraia”…How Lovely!!!!! Little known outside Greece, Crete’s cultural captial has long been Greece’s favourite city. A gentle and sparkling mix of historical beauty and seaside charm.

Crete is the largest Greek island and the fifth largest in the Mediterranean. It has pretty much escaped the tourist hordes but that may be changing. People are finding out about the absolutely fabulous beaches, the rugged mountains and gorges, the food, and, of course, the people. Crete is part of Greece, but is seems to have its own culture. One thing you can be sure of, at every meal you will be served some Raki, compliments of the establishment. You need to be extra careful drinking Raki….at 37% or more alchohol, the effects can quickly sneak up on you.

We took the fast ferry from Santorini to Heraklion, Crete….rented a car and drove the almost 150 kilometers to Chania, mostly in the dark. Driving is something else here in Greece. Important to understand that you drive on the shoulder pretty much all the time. This way, those who want to go fast can get around you and those in the opposite lane can also easily pass if you are off to the side. It seems to work, and we have quickly become shoulder drivers. At one point we almost had a few passengers with us. Right as the sun was setting, nature called and we pulled into a small gas station right on the coast. While I was busy exploring the men’s room, Heidi was busy snapping pictures of the sun dropping into the sea. All of a sudden the back doors opened and in popped a couple Greeks. A more astute partner outside the car noticed Heidi inside and at the same time spied their car just 10 meters away. Communication became a bunch of hand gestures and a lot of laughing. Seems everyone rents the same model of white Nissan Micra.

Chania is this “Cute as a Bug” city, with its narrow, labyrinthine alleyways to the historical Venetian Harbor. We heard one woman explain, “So cute!!! You can’t swing a dead cat in any direction without hitting something cute”. Never had heard that expression before, but she was spot on. Chania is dripping with cuteness. Getting lost should be your goal as you wander down alleyway after alleyway. It’s a shopper’s paradise and a feast for your eyes. Stroll past old Venetian homes and gaze upon ruins from Byzantine times, your camera your inseparable companion.

People have been living on Crete since the dawn of time, well at least over the last 6000 years…first by Neolithic people, then the Minoans, the Mycenaeans, the Dorians, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Venetians, Ottoman Turks, and occupied by the Germans during WWII. All left their mark on Crete, but for Chania, the greatest influence were the Venetians. Approximately 1/6 of the population of Venice moved here in the 13th century. They fortified the city and the harbor and built most of the buildings still standing in the old section of town.
I was reading another travel blog, and the author described Chania as “a jewel in the Mediterranean beautiful enough to make your eyes feel as if they’re going to burst into tiny little hearts and spill out all over the turquoise sea.” I can’t think of a better description.

Tomorrow going for a drive to visit some mountain monasteries and do a small gorge hike.