The final finger of the Peloponnese…. .

Well, it was bound to happen at some point on our gallivant around Greece.  An extended period of rain has grounded us.  Meh.  We can’t really complain as we’ve been in the country since the second week of November and any rain we have seen has generally been overnight, just for one or two days, or dried up pretty quickly.  So what better time to update the blog then.  I’m sitting in bed at four o’clock in the afternoon looking out at the rain streaked windows on the windswept harbour at Katakolo whilst writing this.  If it wasn’t for the blog I might be climbing the walls.

Fortunately, the deluge held off until we’d spent an enjoyable few days mooching about in Kóroni and Methóni situated towards the end of the fourth and final finger of our Peloponnese clockwise tour.  The two were both key Venetian ports in their former lives surveying the shipping lanes between the Adriatic and Crete.  First up, then, was Kóroni.  We parked beyond the town and walked the two kilometres along the beach and climbed up the steep hill to take a look at the remains of the castle walls.

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Colourful houses on the hill towards the castle at Koroni.
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I love the painted pavements.

The Timíou Prodrómou convent occupies the area within the walls and visitors are welcome to take a stroll around the grounds.  An eclectic mix of wrap around garments at the entrance provides suitable respectful cover for those unsuitably dressed.  Tim chose to stay outside.

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Outside the convent.

All the buildings are beautifully kept and surrounded by extensive gardens with a few chickens and sheep foraging about.

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View over the convent grounds.

The views over the rooftops of the town from the top of a completely unfenced crumbling building with sheer drops of ten metres off any of the sides were superb.  Curiously, it was fenced all the way up the forty or so steps but then at the top………..nothing.  The nuns had made sure they’d covered themselves against any litigation, though, with a sign saying ‘enter at your own risk’.  If I’d had children with me I’d have wanted them on a very short lead.

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View down to Koroni harbour.
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Compact Koroni.

The town below with its narrow streets and colourful buildings had a lovely feel to it and despite its obvious popularity as one of ‘the’ places to visit on the Peloponnese hasn’t succumbed to the more usual tat shop tourist scene.

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Heading down to the harbour.
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More pretty painted steps.
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View of the castle walls from the harbour.

Methóni, on the other side of the pointy bit of the peninsular, was our next stop.  After our first night in Methóni we realised that the campsite was open.  It didn’t look open as the gate was across and it looked a bit unloved and run down but open it was.  It was rough and ready but the owner was only charging €10 a night with electric, hot showers and use of the washing machine for free which was more than fair.  Shame it was broken though.

We were too late to visit the castle on the day we arrived as all the historic sites close at three o’clock in the winter so Tim decided it was high time he gave his new busking venture a go.  Whilst he entertained a small number of people sitting inside the few cafes and restaurants in the town plaza I kept a low profile and had a mooch around the beach and town.  I can’t watch.  I’m like a tense nervous parent watching their offspring at the Christmas Nativity play.

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Billy no mates!
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The bay at Methoni, sheltered by Sapientza island.

Apparently all went well and he wasn’t asked to leave so he gave it another crack the next day.  Alas, it was a little bit breezy and a gust blew over his music stand which then knocked his clarinet onto the floor.  So that was the end of that.  It wouldn’t play and now needs repairing.   It’s a cruel world the life of a busker.

To cheer him up we had a walk around the castle.  It hardly seems worth charging an entrance fee at €1 each at this time of year.  A couple of men sitting in the plastic porta cabin just beyond the entrance took our money though and gave us a shiny printed admission ticket.  Surely they can’t be paid to do that?  Surely not?  We were the only ones there.  They must get a handful of visitors at this time of year.  Maybe they were volunteers.  Still, at €1 it was a steal and we thoroughly enjoyed our visit made even more interesting by the rough (for Greece) seas.  We spent a happy half an hour watching the waves crash over the rocks.

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The bridge across the moat to Methoni Castle added by the French in 1828.
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Looking out beyond the Venetian sea-gate to the islet of Bourtzi fortified by the Turks.
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A breezy sunny day we had the whole place to ourselves.

 

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The 16th Century octagonal tower.
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View back to the castle walls.

The following day seeing as it was a Saturday and lots of people were around Tim braved the busking again.  This time with his back up clarinet.  Oh yes, he’s prepared is our Tim.  He has a spare.  Off he went whilst I read my book.  I met up with him after an hour and found him just packing up whilst swigging a beer.  Mmm, obviously things had gone well then!  Everyone had seemed to enjoy it and he was €8 and a beer better off.  He’d even taken coins off children.  Has he no shame?  Still, if they want to pass over their pocket money who am I to argue?  Not bad, almost minimum wage and this is Greece after all.  Time to celebrate with a beer at one of the cafes and a cheeky Ouzo on the beach before dinner!  I just need to get him out for eight hours a day, seven days a week and he’ll be earning enough to pay for our trip.

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Yay, Ouzo o’clock!
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Sunset over Methoni.

We left Methóni pootling further up the coast for a pitstop in Pylos before going on to Gialova Lagoon where we were hoping we would see flamingos amongst other birds which come every year.  We had a glorious day for the ten kilometre walk around the lagoon having a spot of lunch at the crescent shaped Voidokilia beach.  Fab..u..lous.

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Gialova Lagoon.
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You see how pink they really are when they take flight.
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A lovely, calm, tranquil day to visit.  Perfect.

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Views from one of the bird hides.
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Voidokilia beach.
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Yeah, right.  We’re not turning back after seven kilometres!

And there ended our good run of weather.  The day before yesterday it rained nearly all day.  Yesterday it rained nearly all day and today it has rained nearly all day.  Whether it’s the weather or the fact that our thoughts have started to drift towards our departure on the ferry next week to Italy we aren’t really feeling the love for this part of the Peloponnese since moving north of the Gialova lagoon.  We can still see the mountains in the distance, some of the time between the low flying clouds, but it is much flatter here and a bit sprawling.  Also, we pulled in to Lidl on Monday morning to find it closed as it was a bank holiday.  Always a disappointment!

I looked out of the window this afternoon and had one of the rare moments when I thought ‘what are we doing here’.  Those times are few and far between though and I’d have been thinking the same thing if I’d been in the UK with similar weather.

We. Must. Not. Grumble!

We may visit Ancient Olympia tomorrow if it’s dry.  There’s a train that runs once a day from where we are in Katakolo.  If I hadn’t seen the train this morning with my very own eyes I’d have never believed the line was still in operation looking at all the grass growing across the tracks.  Leaving the van on the harbour here and going by train will be more of an adventure but only if this weather bucks up.

Yia sas!

 

A Moody Máni…. .

And so to the Máni, finger number three, of our clockwise tour of the Peloponnese.  It was in bright sunshine that we said a sad farewell to the colourful little town of Gytheio heading for the southern most point of the Peloponnese.  It would take us a few days to get there as we were, once again, in need of a washing machine.  After a long drive of 4.9km we pitched up at Mani camping for the night to get everything turned around as it would be our last chance to find an open campsite until we reached Kalamata which was several days away.  Washing done, waste tanks emptied, water tanks brimming and campsite cats fed we commenced our meander down the Máni.

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The view from the beach near Kotronas.
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The Maniots must have been quite short as we saw many tiny chapels like this one.
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The church in Kotronas.
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Curious sheep.

Dominated by the Tygetos mountain range it is wild and rugged, quite different to anywhere else we have been to in Greece.  The fiercely independent Maniots have left their indelible mark on the landscape.  Villages made up of distinct tower houses and byzantine churches clinging to the hillsides blend in with the landscape.

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A beautiful day on the Mani peninsular.
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Villages blending in to the hillsides.
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A closer view.
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This has to be the cutest little chapel I’ve ever seen.

The area’s population of over 30 000 in the early 19th Century had slowly dwindled to less than 5000 by the early 1990’s.  We made our way down the eastern side of the peninsular taking it all in.  Having read and heard that the roads were particularly narrow we were quite relieved to see that, other than a few tight spots through the odd village, the roads were pretty good.  It also helped that we only passed a handful of cars coming in the other direction.

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Squeezing through Kotronas village.

On our second day we parked up in a large layby six kilometres from the end of the peninsular preferring to walk to the end rather than drive all the way to the tiny hamlet of Kokkinogia as the road did seem to get a tad narrow at that point.  Also the exercise would do us good.

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View towards Cape Matapan, the southern most point in Greece.
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Our parking spot.
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Looking towards the hamlet of Marmari, all closed up for the winter.

We got out of the van making ready for our assault on the southern most tip of the Peloponnese to a strong smell that I can only describe as smelling like cannabis.  Mmm.  Weird. The smell followed us all the way to the village.  Either the Maniot inhabitants have found a more lucrative way to make money or there is another plant that smells similar growing in the area.  We never did get to the bottom of it and with nobody about to ask it will remain a mystery.

The weather started to get a bit blustery but we made it down to the lighthouse for a spot of lunch without the weather closing in on us.

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Looking back to Kokkinogia the final village before you fall off the end.
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Cape Matapan lighthouse.
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A lunch stop with stone table and chairs provided free of charge.

Once back at the van, though, the weather did get more menacing.  Squally showers came and went in waves.

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The calm before the storm!

We went to bed that night being buffeted by gusts of wind on our very picturesque but exposed spot on the cliffs above the beach.  It was a loooonnnng looooonnng night.  I’d spent most of it thinking we were doomed.  The wind was snatching at the roof vents, which Tim had secured a few days previously with a Wallace and Gromitesque series of suction hooks and rubber bands.  They were doing a fine job.  If they hadn’t been there I think we’d have probably had three gaping holes in the roof by the morning.  It was reminiscent of a very windy night we’d had in Tarifa in Spain the previous winter but without the luxury of a town to hunker down in a couple of miles away.  Tim did even confess to having had a disturbed night and to thinking, at one point, that we had actually taken off.  My mild hysteria, then, wasn’t completely unfounded.

We had planned on staying another night to do another walk but thought it prudent to ‘get the hell out of there’ before we did, in fact, blow away.  We slowly pulled away from our parking spot heading back up the steep winding road praying that all four wheels remained in contact with the tarmac.  We took refuge in the pretty little port village of Gerolimenas to sit out the weather.  Over several hours, torrential rain came and went until the storm finally blew itself out.  Phew.  When the Máni’s in a mood it’s not a particularly hospitable place to be.

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See, it’s not always sunny.
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Geromilenas after the storm.
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Another petite chapel in Geromilenas.
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A walk to the next village of Ochia.
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Agios Nikolaos church in Ochia and our two companions who’d walked with us from Gerilomenas.

Further north we parked up and pottered around Areópoli, the main town on the western side of the peninsular.

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Areopoli.
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The back streets of Areopoli.

A pretty little place it is too where a footpath from the bottom of the town took us round to the next bay.

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The next bay around where you’ll find Pyrgos Dirou cave system, one of the largest and most colourful in Greece.
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The walk back.
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Wild flowers lined the way.

We’d parked in the large carpark just outside the village next to the school and bus station.  We spent the evening in the adjacent cafe watching the Six Nations Rugby on the laptop whilst troughing pizza, chips, beer and half a kilo of Rosé.  The locals were probably a bit bemused by us eating and drinking glued to the laptop with our headphones on and not exchanging a word.  Who says romance is dead!

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A quick pitstop in……..one of the towns along the way………can’t recall the name.
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The bay above the little village of Limeni.
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Looking across to Aghios Dimitrios.
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Sunset on a craggy coastline.

Our six night Máni meander, then, came to an end as we reached the Lidl on the outskirts of Kalamata.  As always, coming back to civilisation is a two edged sword.  We quite like to see more people again but instantly miss the solitude of rolling hills and wilder places.  The marina at Kalamata provides a handy stopover to do all the necessaries for another week of wandering.  Kalamata itself, as far as we made out, didn’t have much to recommend it except for a stroll through the ‘Railway Park’.

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Kalamata Railway Park.

DSC05330.JPGWe just stayed the one night and made ready to head off to Koróni but not without first speaking to our English neighbours, Jay and Fi, who had arrived late afternoon the previous day.  They turned out to be an interesting travelling troubadour couple from Edinburgh who seem to have sussed out the ‘work, life, balance’ conundrum.  Work for six months, travel for six months.  They had a big bouncing fluffy white puppy with them who we suspected hadn’t come with them from Scotland.  Said puppy was one lucky girl.  They’d spotted her foraging amongst rubbish on the outskirts of Olympia, gained her trust and taken her in.  You can read about her on their Website.

So I’ll end on that happy story:)

μέχρι την επόμενη φορά!

Gýtheio……in pictures…. .

Today is going to be a short photo post dedicated to Gýtheio, a lively little port town, and gateway to the Máni peninsular.

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It’s said to be one of the most attractive towns in the southern Peloponnese.  I wouldn’t disagree.

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The pastel coloured 19th Century buildings lining the waterfront are very elegant.

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The drying octopus tentacles………..aren’t.

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But let me take you behind the scenes through the labyrinth of alleyways lining the hillside behind the seafront.

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Derelict manor houses nodding to former wealth.

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Will they ever be restored?

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Crumbling houses further up the hillside.

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The old and the new side by side.

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Pretty painted steps.

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Colour co-ordinated balconies.

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The odd building plot.

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Washing drying in the sunshine.

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More steps.

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A lovely terrace filled with plants.

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Driving along the narrow causeway from our overnight parking spot on the small island of Kranai.  Onwards then to the Máni peninsular.

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I said it would be short!

Τα λέμε!

Marvellous Monemvasiá…. .

So, our pootle around the Peloponnese continues.  We left Plaka in glorious sunshine heading up through the Dafnon Gorge towards the mountain village of Kosmos deep in the Parnon mountains.  Oh, what a drive.  The first twenty kilometres of it featured in my last blog post as I’d already cycled up through the gorge to the Panagia Elona monastery from Plaka.

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Goat works again through the Dafnon Gorge!

Continuing on from the monastery the road zig zags its way up and up another ten or so kilometres before levelling out reaching a plateau where we were confronted with SNOW.  Eek.  We’re not good with snow.  Oh, we don’t mind being out in it on foot but we HATE driving in it.  I mean, there wasn’t much but it was still SNOW!

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Snow after the climb up.

By the time we got to Kosmos, which is 1150 metres above sea level, we felt very fortunate that the recent scorching weather we’d been having had at least melted most of it.  Now, we would have liked to stop in Kosmos as it looked to be a delightful mountain village but what with the narrow, winding roads and SNOW to negotiate we pressed on through the village and out the other side keen to get down to a more reasonable altitude!  We were relieved to get back down to sea level and the more familiar territory of Lidl just outside Skala.

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More snow on the way down.

Our destination for the day was Monemvasiá, nicknamed the ‘Gibraltar of Greece’ (but without the Marks and Spencer or the Morrisons).  Separated from the mainland by an earthquake in AD375, Monemvasiá remained an island until a causeway was built in the 6th Century BC.  The name derives from two Greek words, mone and emvassi, meaning ‘single entrance’.  Parked up on the harbour at Gefyra on the mainland it does indeed have a Gibraltar look about it, albeit on a much smaller scale and with the odd fishing boat tootling past instead of a Ryan Air Boeing 737.

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Ollie parked up at the Harbour in Gefyra overlooking Monemvasia.

Looking out from the harbour it looks, well, like a big lump of rock with nothing much to see but a few ruins on the top.  Ah but, a whole fortified town built on two levels does a good job of hiding itself from the mainland.  Across the causeway and a kilometre or so further on, enclosed within 16th Century walls, the lower town has all but been completely restored.

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The Western entrance gate to Monemvasia.

Settled in the 6th Century by inhabitants of ancient Laconia seeking refuge from Slavic invaders, Monemvasiá changed hands back and forth between the Venetians and the Turks over several centuries before being finally liberated during the Greek War of Independence early in the 19th Century.  Its strategic position on the main maritime routes of the Mediterranean made it an important commercial maritime centre.  Alas, the completion of the Corinth Canal in 1893 put the kibosh on Monemvasiá’s favourable position as maritime traffic dramatically reduced and the town went into decline.  Increasing numbers of tourists arriving during the 1970’s brought about a resurrection, though, and slowly slowly the town began a new chapter in its life.

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The town has been beautifully restored.

Practically the whole town has now been restored with many of the houses having been converted into hotels, guest houses, restaurants and little shops.  As soon as we were through the Western gate we were reminded of  a petite Le Mont St. Michel.  Cafe’s, restaurants and boutique shops line the main cobbled street.

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Just beyond the entrance to the town – reminded us of Mont St. Michel.
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Some of the little shops were closed up for the winter.

We had the luxury of wandering around the lower town for a couple of hours with only the odd builder working on a property for company.   It was absolutely fascinating to meander up, down and around the lower town having a nosey into some of the properties and several of the forty or so churches.  We loved it.

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The lower town.
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One of the houses in the process of being restored.

Climbing up to the upper town, which is largely still in ruins, gives a fantastic birds eye view of the rooftops of the lower town spreading out down to the sea.

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View above the lower town.
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Panoramic view of the lower town.

 

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Looking back through the gateway to the upper town.
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Restored church close to the gate of the upper town.

We combed the upper town on our second foray onto the island, which again, we had practically to ourselves.  Agia Sophia, the 13th Century church perched on the summit of the rock, is the only part of the upper town that has been fully restored.

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13th Century Agia Sophia teetering on the cliff edge of the upper town.
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Agia Sophia taken from a footpath at the bottom of the cliff around the corner from the lighthouse.
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Remains of one of the many water cisterns on the island for storing water in times of siege.

The rest is pretty much left to your imagination and we were free to wander around all the ruins.

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Looking back to Gefyra on the mainland.
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A quadrilateral, vaulted roofed funeral monument probably from the first period of Turkish rule (1540-1690).
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A narrow, steep, rocky path led to this tiny cave chapel.
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Coming out of the cave chapel.

All in all, then, Monemvasiá gets a big thumbs up from us and we’d certainly recommend a visit, preferably out of season, as I imagine it would be too hot and heaving with people in the summer.

After a couple of nights spent on the harbour at Gefyra we drove the eighteen or so kilometres north to the charming little fishing port of Gerakas.  Ahh, what a cute little place it is too.  Its set on an inlet sheltered from the open sea, flanked by mountains with one way in and one way out.

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Gerakas Port.

We were able to park up just short of the port in a large layby complete with benches overlooking the shallow waters of the bay where we spent a bit of time watching a few egrets and some little grebe type birds go about their business.  We walked up to the ruins of an acropolis above the town which gave us great views back across the bay.

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Looking back over the inlet from the acropolis at the top of the hill above Gerakas Port.

Not content with just the one walk we ventured out to the next village, also called Gerakas, via road and footpath.

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Spring has arrived in Greece 🙂

Such a sleepy little place with a ramshackle hotch potch of dwellings, some lived in, some not.

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Gerakas village, four kilometres from the port.

After a peaceful night it was time to head to Gytheio, the gateway to the Mani Peninsular, and the third ‘finger’ of our clockwise tour of the Peloponnese.

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Onwards to Gytheio.

Αποχαιρετισμός!