Giant Stones & Little Gems

27 May 2019

After 4 days R&R we trundled off at a leisurely pace into a warm, grey morning and headed up the coast to the small harbour town of Nafplio before turning inland to the ruins of Tiryns. In Mycenaean times Tiryns was a hugely important fortress city on the shores of the Agean guarding the sea approach to both Argos and Mycenae. Now it is a couple of kilometers from the sea and was covered in metres of deposits until excavated in the mid 1800’s. The city that legend tells us was home to Hercules while he performed his 12 labours is now a  UNESCO World Heritage site and, even better, neglected by tour groups. On a fertile plain covered in orange groves and backed by 4000 foot mountains, at first it appears like a huge rock outcrop. Then you see they are walls. Awesome Cyclopean walls bigger than those at Mycenae, 750m long, up to 8m high and 10m thick, and made up of huge stones – even today it is difficult to imagine how they moved some of them back in 1500BC. Beautifully empty, we saw only 6 other people as we explored and tried to make sense of in the absence of any helpful signage. A little gem of a site. 

Driven off by the rain we returned to our exploration of the Peleponnese – this time it was the turn of the southeast ‘finger’. We drove down the east coast on deserted roads, the towering hillsides above us a jumble of rocks and small shrubs. No goats, no farming, the only cultivation seemed to be patches of olive trees apart from one field of prickly pear. In some of the steep-sided bays we saw a number of fish farms, and some of the small settlements perched above tiny beaches looked like they were holiday homes for Greeks.  We came across a traffic accident, 2 cop cars and an ambulance clearing up the mess from the 2 vehicle collision. How they hadn’t tumbled down the cliff was a mystery. A plain clothes cop in an inconspicuous bright yellow polo shirt and a huge sidearm on his hip waved us through and we squeezed between the wreckage and the cliffside, hoping we would not meet too many more of the Greek drivers who like to come round hairpins on the wrong side of the road!

The satnav kept trying to route us down the middle of the ‘finger’ which wasn’t our plan so we ignored it and used the map (yes Daryl, a real map) hoping we wouldn’t come to a low bridge or some such and need to reverse for miles. We took a left turn just before Leonidhio noting the prohibition notice – no vehicles longer than 10m, we should be okay. Almost immediately we found ourselves crossing a dry riverbed and the road became more ….. interesting. 

We aimed for Fokianas and drank in the dramatic scenery. We had to breathe in and wince a bit at lovely Poulithra where the one-way took us between 2 mature trees that hadn’t encountered something our size in a while then climbed steeply inland up the mountain, the road getting narrower and the turns tighter, our poor van struggling at times despite Danny’s expert driving. The many roadside shrines commemorating those lost in accidents along the road were less than reassuring! Interesting stats – Greece has the 7th highest automobile deaths in Europe (Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia, Croatia, Poland, Latvia in descending order), Portugal is 10th), with blind bends, steep drops and bad driving major factors. In a survey, 1 in 4 Greek drivers admitted they drive when drunk and over 70% admit to road rage – although we have yet to see this. 

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We started to have doubts about the advisability of turning off the ‘main’ road and onto a more minor road to go down to the sea at Fokianos and along the coast. The sheer drops, gaps in safety barriers and increasing frequency of shrines did focus the mind somewhat. But we were there to explore so we took the turning. The drive may have added a couple of hours to our travel time and maybe a grey hair or two but it was full of “Wow” and well worth it. Smokebush in flower all over the slopes, fire-red flowers of small euphorbia, bright dustings of yellow wildflowers, small towns of beehive boxes, green shrubs, deep, sharp gorges, tight roads with crumbling edges and fabulous views.

We dodged the olive and carob trees that crowded over the narrow lane running down to Fokianos and then found 2 motohomes parked up on the beach there! After that the satnav did not recognise the new road at all – which expltheained her refusal to route us that way. It took us for miles before the satnav found herself a road again.

Turning back inland we found that Greek villages round here were built before vehicles. Squeezing round corners with balconies jutting out, trees leaning over and sharp building edges waiting to catch the unwary took all of Danny’s skill and locals watched with curiosity an a little apprehension as we lumbered through. But outside the villages the scenery was breathtaking and there were enchanting moments when huge herds of twisty-horned goats filled the road and refused to move, or when we had to stop to let a tortoise finish crossing.  This finger of the Peleponnese is truly beautiful. 

It was with some regret we reached the “main” road again and soon turned down a dusty track to the beach at Aghia Kyriaka to park up for the night, with views across to the island of Monomevasia. The sun was alrady thinking of setting as we threw open the door to stretch our legs and listened to the water lapping gently on the shore.

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