Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Mystra and Athens

Well it's been a while since my last entry and I've done and seen quite a bit since then...
Spent a few days in Sparta in the southern part of the Peloponnesian peninsula. I needed a place to chill for a couple days after traveling every day for the previous week and Sparta fit the bill. It's a very nice small modern Greek city and made a good base to explore the surrounding countryside. The guidebooks basically tell you not to bother with Sparta because there's nothing there to see... I guess it all depends on your point of view. As far as ruins go there really isn't much in town. Ancient Sparta was never heavily fortified, they depended on their military superiority. One of their leaders was quoted as saying "Walls don't make a city, men make a city". (There is one pretty awesome larger than life bronze statue of Leonidas though). The town itself is very pleasant however... it reminded me a lot of some of the smaller towns in central northern Italy. Lots of outdoor streetside cafes, pedestrianized streets, town squares with fountains and a beatiful central "piazza". (I'm not sure what they call them in Greek).
The streetside cafes are packed all afternoon with people drinking iced coffees and iced cappuchinos (frappes and freddos), very rarely do I see anyone drinking a beer during the day. At night the central square comes alive with families, friends, couples and kids... eating, drinking, talking, laughing, playing soccer and running around with friends. It's a festival atmoshere every night of the week... Wednesdays are every bit as lively as Fridays... and most folks don't even think about dinner until 8pm. It seems to be a very relaxed lifestyle and I'm glad I chose to stay for a few days.
During the days I did some sightseeing or curled up with a book and a freddo at my hotel's streetside cafe in the pedestrian zone. I went to Mystra one day, 5 km from town.... It made a nice backdrop for the town. A Byzantine city sprawling across a mountainside. The Byzantine empire lasted over a thousand years... from the founding of Constatinople in 330 AD to the it's fall to the Ottomans in 1453. Mystra was a late Byzantine city, but a very imporant one for the time. It started as a Frankish castle at the top of the hill in 1249, but it didn't last long. The Byzantines captured it in 1262 and over the next few centuries it grew into an important city full of monasteries, convents, churches, a palace and administrative center and many beautiful mansions. The town was inhabited until the 1950's and is pretty much intact. Walking through it is like walking into a time warp... especially this late in the tourist season when I had the place practically to myself. Mystra belonged to the Byzantine empire and it's capital was always to the east in Constantinople. But it was in the western part of the empire and served as an important link to Rome and the rest of western Europe. By the 1400's, however, Byzatium was in decline and when Mystra fell to the Turks in 1460 (7 years after the fall of Constantinople) many of the artists and craftsmen headed west to Florence and contributed to the Italian renaissance. OK... that's enough for today's history lesson (sorry).
Spent the next days hiking in the mountains, meeting people, riding busses, etc. Then I headed north on a 7:30 am bus. Arrived in Athens by 10:30, caught the metro to the Acropolis and checked into the Athens Backpacker's Hostel in the shadow of the Acropolis! Pretty cool. I was in Athens to meet an old friend who moved from Easton and now lives in Paris. But Ira wasn't arriving until tomorrow so it took quite a bit of restraint not to climb up to see the Parthenon right there and then. What the hell... I've been waiting to see it since I was a kid, one more day won't kill. me. I toured a bunch of minor ruins (if there is such a thing!) instead. I also hoped on one of those red double decker tourist busses that I usually turn my nose up at. I was very glad I did... it was a great way to see the city. Saw then entire city in 90 minutes, got some history and an overall good lay of the land. Would have done one in Istanbul had I known!
Ira arrived the next day and we climbed the Acropolis. There's not much I can say about it that everyone hasn't already read. It's probably one of the most recognized sites in the world and I was just thankful that I was able to see it first hand.

Well that's enough for one day's writing.

1 comment:

  1. Suddenly realized you will be home VERY SOON... cannot wait to see some of your photos. Have an idea for you (if you want to hear it) about how to go back to your blog entries and add a few photos to each... your words tell the stories quite well... and pictures would be a BONUS!

    Safe travels!