For the next few days we decided to rent a car to explore more of Greece’s mainland; we headed to Kalamata by bus to collect our little red VW Polo. With a plan of action and a basic road map in hand we made our way along the coastline to Methoni (Dave drove and I tried to navigate though I’m not sure who had the harder job as the roads were really windy with steep drops, and I tried to navigate with the worst road map ever and minimal road signs. Nevertheless we made it!)
We walked around Methoni’s seaside village which was beautifully lit up in the evening darkness, with the sound of the waves as the soundtrack to our promenade. After a wander through and an evening meal we headed back to our campsite for the night.
The following morning we drove to Ancient Olympia, known for being the original site for the Olympic Games, together with temples dedicated to the Greek Gods Zeus and Hera. Learning about Greek Mythology when we were younger and having the film Hercules as reference, made this by far the most impressive place we had been to so far. The ruins of athlete training areas and baths allowed us to picture the history of the different rooms within the vast area, explained only by the layout of stones at foot level. Huge stone columns, so old it’s hard to imagine, with the details carved in still evident, stand proud among other fallen pieces. Some pieces were also restored to their original layout (according to historians) which also added to the ‘wow factor’ of Olympia.
The most stunning area of Olympia was the running track itself, this was spectacular to see from both the track and finish line, as well as from a spectators viewpoint! Simply breathtaking, especially for Dave and his love of athletics and running, and watching the Olympics on tv from a young age.
We also saw the cutest wild tortoise, minding her own business making her way through the ruins! So impressed as we have never seen a tortoise in the wild before, I couldn’t stop myself from filming for sheer delight! (She didn’t seem as impressed tho…)
Olympia also has an impressive museum collection from the excavations that took place; we walked around several sculptures and bronze figures from the temples of Zeus and Hera that were mainly intact (although only the heads and hands seemed to be missing for some reason?!) but they are masterpieces in their own right and worth seeing. Dave particularly was in awe of the 3,500 year old Persian armour and warrior helmets used so long ago!
We continued our drive along the coastline through Patra to find accommodation; thunder and lightning storms could be seen in the distance so camping was definitely not an option. Stopping for food and to borrow their wifi to find somewhere to stay, we drove in the rain following basic directions to what felt like the middle of nowhere. At last on a road with no street lights but one, we found the hotel in darkness, the Greek owner not speaking a word of English, and us not understanding a word of Greek, we (Dave) managed to communicate after some time the room needed. Tiredness set in and we were quick to fall asleep after an exciting day.
The following day was dedicated to seeing ruins in Nemea and Mycenae, but not before stopping to see another tortoise crossing he road!
Nemea was another site where Olympic Games were held every two years. A smaller site than Olympia but in a quieter setting, surrounded by vineyards in the Arcadian Mountain foothills. The ruins were less frequented with tourists which allowed us to wander around uninterrupted and in our own time. Although the temple of Zeus had partially been restored, three of the original columns were still standing, towering over the rest of the ruins and it’s spectators. The 4th Century B.C stadium grounds were smaller than Olympia but again we were able to see this completely by ourselves without interruption, walking through the vaulted tunnel (a great marvel of ancient engineering) that the athletes would have walked through from locker rooms to the running track, giving our visit a real sense of atmosphere and history.
Mycenae, home of King Agamemnon (from the film Troy), a fortified city nested between two hills in a large mountain plain. A Bronze Age City, there are two features which separate Mycenae from the other ruins we have visited. The first being ‘Lion Gate’, the impressive entrance gate into the citadel, composed of two limestone relief sculptures set in a triangular form. The second and most awesome was The Treasury of Atreus. Located five minutes from the citadel site, the stone and shingle pathway leading to the treasury was uninspiring at first site, a sparse wood of trees was all that could be seen (I did think to myself ‘yet another pile of stones in the dirt to see!’) Our impressions and especially mine were drastically altered as we rounded the corner and the entrance of the treasury came into view, (I instantly regretted the passing comment about ‘more ruins’ and fell quiet). It resembled a likeness to something from Indiana Jones and the Raiders Of The Lost Ark, the height of the entrance walls together with the gothic like arch entry point was truly awe inspiring! Going inside to explore was how I imagine a traditional bee hive to look on the inside, but with bats for company instead of bees, and big stone bricks for the structure.
Tired from walking in the sunshine, we drove to a seaside campsite in Tolo, had a relaxing evening swim in the still warm sea and stayed the night in a small camping bungalow.
Reenergised after a good nights sleep, we drove towards the last of the ruins on our list to visit, Epidavros, the centre of healing in the ancient world thanks to plentiful springs around the area. However, we were there to see the theatre ruins of Epidavros. The theatre structure of the ruins were stunning; rows upon rows of stone steps set in a tiered semi circle, with a backdrop of mountains that can took our breath away. The height from the back row of theatre seating was definitely a site to see; the sound of different conversations whispered in the main circle below could be heard from any direction, thanks to the impressive acoustics created by the amazing theatre structure. We were unlucky to just miss out on viewing live performances set in this incredible atmosphere and we will certainly visit in the future to do this.
Heading back to Kalamata to return our little car, we drove through the mountains and various seaside villages. Renting a car to see more of the mainland was an affordable option that helped us to explore the mainland of The Peloponnese region and gave us the opportunity to drive around freely with content, witnessing picturesque landscapes and small villages off the beaten track.