Tour du Péloponnèse

A few weeks ago, my Dad and I set out on our slightly delayed ‘summer’ holiday. Though we had a slight mishap that cut our trip short, we had a few wonderful days of driving (or trying to drive) our 1965 Panhard 24BT around the Peleponnese. The trip was organised by a great team at Scuderia Triskelion, the first year re-inaugurating a 1930s-era tradition of rallying in the Peleponnese. The trip was a combination of sightseeing and regularity rallying, a kind of road test (not a race!) based on speed precision and navigation rather than simply speed. The trip began from Dimitsana, a mountain village in the centre of the Peleponnese, and totalled almost 1200km over seven days. We caught the first 2.5 days, which included Dimitsana, Olympia, the Temple of Epikourios Apollo, Dimitsana again, Mystras, Sparti, and Monemvasia. (The trip went on to Nafplio, Mycenae, Methana, Epidavros, etc..!), and had enough time to get to know a group of wonderful participants from Greece as well as Italy, Germany, the Netherlands, USA, France and the UK. Panhard 24BT

The 1965 Panhard 24BT that we drove is not ours, but had been recently restored by the team, and although it was a gorgeous car it had some… idiosyncrasies that made the trip a major adventure. I named it Pierre and was in love before we even met, but a completely nonfunctional ventilation system, dubious windshield wipers (including one that decided just to fly off at one point) and some undiagnosed engine problems meant that we got a lot of time to take in the scenery from various points on the side of the road while my dad and the team mechanic tried to coax Pierre back to life. He made it as far as we did, to Monemvasia, with all 848CCs and his little 2 cylinder engine.

On the road

The first day we left from Argos, on the eastern side of the Peleponnese, where we had picked up the car the night before. Our destination was Dimitsana, located almost 1000 metres up in the mountains of Arcadia, a village that had its heyday of the Greek Revolutionary period and is now a mostly winter getaway for Athenians and other tourists. Though our group was certainly not alone there, the small number of permanent inhabitants gives the village a kind of bygone atmosphere, and it felt very cosy and wintery for the two days we spent there.

On the road

On the road

On the road

Dimitsana

The approach to the village itself was dramatic, and as we slowly (very slowly, as we hit our first mechanical problem while going up into the mountains) the weather began to change, with  some very atmospheric clouds and a autumnal chill to the air. I loved it – and was ready to curl up with a hot tea upon arrival.

Road work

We settled into our hotel, the lovely Xenonas Kazakou, which lived up to all my hopes for cosiness, and had just enough time to find that hot tea before it started to rain. Not ideal, but very dramatic. During a lull in the weather, I had a moment to step out and snap just a few photos of the village before the rain started again and we retreated to a fireplace for more tea, as the rest of the Tour du Peleponnese arrivals trickled in from Athens and from the port of Patras.

Dimitsana

Dimitsana

The next morning the rain had stopped but the clouds hung around the mountains, making for a cinematic start and also a very wet car.

Dimitsana

Dimitsana

We set off for the ‘ceremonial start’ of the Tour – Ancient Olympia – and it was the car’s first major test. Could he keep up with the rest of the pack? Turns out he performed admirably, though upon arrival in Olympia both dad and I had a distinct aura of ‘eau de exhaust’ – basically no ventilation inside the cabin, but wonderful scenery nonetheless!

On the road

On the road

On the road

On the road

On the road

On the road

Despite questionable sounds and smells from our car, we were the second to arrive in Olympia where we had just enough time for a coffee before the rest of the group arrived and we began our tour with the wonderful guide who travelled with the group. Photos from our quick trip through Ancient Olympia are in this post, where I mused about the difference in the site between spring and autumn.

Goats on the road

On the road

On the road

From Olympia was set off south to the temple of Epikourios Apollo, on a roadabout route back to Dimitsana. During that stage the first rally-style regularity test was set up, but Pierre the Panhard (the car) wasn’t very happy during the our mountain driving and we spent a while enjoying the view while also tinkering with the engine, as well as avoiding goats on the road. We missed the group tour of the amazing Temple of Epikourios Apollo, which, although it is really in the middle of nowhere on a dramatic and desolate mountain top, was the first site in Greece to be designated a World Heritage Site. Since it is so remote, it has been preserved remarkably well, and it’s now taking shelter from the mountain elements under a giant white tent. It would have looked almost circus-like in a different context, but was very otherworldly on a windswept mountain side.

Temple of Apollo, Epikouros

After regrouping briefly at the Temple, where we arrived just in time to see the rest of the group getting ready to leave, we set off again, crossing our fingers we’d make it the 70km back to Dimitsana. Those adventures..to be continued!

Image credit to Scuderia Triskelion

Travelogue: Ancient Olympia in the Autumn

This may be a little too soon to post a follow-up to my post on Ancient Olympia in the Spring but I like the contrast. We only had about an hour and a half there this time around, so didn’t explore all the hidden corners, but it was beautiful as ever. Since living in Greece, I have become a major proponent of visiting sites in the ‘off-season,’ or rather at least not in high season. April, May, September and October are my favourite time for adventuring, and though these photos of Olympia lack the incredible purple flowering trees that dotted the area in the spring, it was still fairly quiet and we got to look around in peace. And without the heat of the summer sun too!

Olympia

Olympia

Olympia

Olympia

Olympia

Olympia

Olympia

OlympiaDon’t forget to check out the spring photos – almost every angle looks strikingly different in April versus October, except that final picture. The marble finish line marker of the stadium seems to defy all seasonal change, reflecting an appropriate timelessness.

Travelogue: Archaeological Museum of Olympia

After exploring the site of Ancient Olympia, we popped in to the museum on our way out. Though this site is several hours from Athens, the museum is worth the drive all on its own. A few thousand years as a major devotional centre have led to some amazing archaeological finds, from the Classical and Roman periods. People from all over the Greek world founded shrines, endowed monuments and left thousands of votive offerings. These are just some highlights!

Ancient Olympia

Ancient Olympia

Ancient Olympia

Ancient Olympia

Ancient Olympia

Post museum – on the road again!

Voidokilia, Peleponnese

Travelogue: Ancient Olympia in the Spring

Over the Easter holidays, my dad, my aunt & I embarked on 5 day long road trip around the Peleponnese, and set Ancient Olympia as our first destination, around three and a half hours from Athens.

Ancient Olympia
The weather may not have been perfect, but it was definitely the right time of year to be there. Not very crowded, not too hot, and amazing, amazing blooming things. I don’t know why, but I didn’t have very high expectations of this archaeological site. I wasn’t excited about the site of the Ancient Olympics? Silly me.

Ancient Olympia

Ancient Olympia

Ancient Olympia

During our trip, I used an old Blue Guide from the 1960s as our guide, and once I read more about Ancient Olympia, I (unsurprisingly) got pretty excited. From 776 BC, the Olympic Games were held every four years, with the introduction of a truce among the Greek state for the duration of the Games. They went on until the early Christian period and the reign of Roman Emperor Constantine, and the last games were held in 393 AD. There are reasons this is a world heritage site – and lucky us, we had the place almost to ourselves.

Ancient Olympia

Ancient Olympia

Ancient Olympia

Ancient Olympia

Ancient Olympia

Ancient Olympia

Ancient Olympia

Ancient OlympiaI couldn’t resist running a lap or two around the stadium… Not cliche at all… Kind of fun though.Ancient Olympia

Ancient Olympia

Ancient Olympia

Ancient Olympia

100 Days Challenge: Days Five through Eleven

As I mentioned in this post, I decided to set a challenge for myself for the last 100 days of 2014. I’m back to carrying my big camera around with me, actively looking for the little things that I love, appreciate, might miss, laugh at, etc., every day. The challenge for me is to use these moments for inspiration, and to write a little bit about those moments.. Here are days five through eleven..OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Day Five – 27 September 2014

A dreary Saturday in Athens. With a massive to-do list and trying to get through the last part of my dissertation, I only went out in the evening because I set myself this challenge. I’m glad I did it – evenings like these make me love Athens. The clouds were so much better in real life, and the pulse of the city was thrumming on, business as usual. Not a pristine sunny day, but a cloudy, dramatic, regular day. Not to mention a welcome sign of autumn.

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Day Six – 28 September 2014

An afternoon spent at my aunt’s house, in the company of family past and present. This was one of my great joys in the past week – finally digging into a box marked ‘photos’ and forgotten in a closet. I discovered it several months ago, but was resisting really getting into it until my dissertation was behind me. I often wonder what it is about my background, upbringing, personality, whatever, that makes me so happy to lose myself in these ‘memories’ that aren’t really mine. As of now, no conclusion. I’ll get back to you on that one..

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Day Seven – 29 September 2014

Finally an excuse to bake! Though autumn may or may not exist in Athens, I embrace it fully, and used end of dissertation as a reason to make this Pumpkin Walnut bread. I’m not sure there’s much better than filling up my apartment with cloves, nutmeg, etc., even if the weather was still decidedly late-summer. A few days earlier, a friend of mine told me he doesn’t like autumn, because things are dying, the days get shorter, darker, colder, etc., and although I see his point I just can’t get behind it. The season from now until the end of the year is my favourite – I start feeling grumpy about the short days in January, but until then I’m all about the baking and coziness of October, November and December.

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Day Eight – 30 September 2014

Hello Rusty! Not much exciting happening on Day Eight of my challenge, despite hauling my camera up and down town. But this guy (and his brother, Rocky) have played a fair part in keeping me happy and sane. I always forget how much I miss having animals in my life until I am actually around animals.. The antics of these crazy guys is always entertaining and their affection always appreciated. I think it’s because they’re always there (well, at my aunt’s house), hanging around and being weird (and also because I’m afraid of becoming a cat lady) that I rarely share any photos, but Rusty was looking especially photogenic here (and I didn’t have any other photos from the day!)

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Day Nine – 1 October 2014

Ok, I admit today’s photo is a bit of a pathetic one. But! It is more meaningful than it seems. Though I rambled a bit about fall above (and will continue the ramble below), I opened this box for a ceremonial ‘First of October’ cup of Pumpkin-y tea and it was lovely. Beyond that, this tea was a gift, and an indulgence of my weird autumn obsession, which to me means more than the fact that it was lovely and spicy and warm.

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Day Ten – 2 October 2014

Ah – where to find the words for this one? This gorgeous (or not-so-gorgeous thing, let’s be real..) thing is perhaps my favourite food in the world. It’s called ‘Peynirli,’ which in Turkish means just, ‘with cheese,’ but obviously it is so much more. It’s a traditional food brought from the Greeks who lived in Asia Minor (when Turkey was the Ottoman Empire), when they came to Greece as refugees in the 1920s. Then, and now, the restaurants specialising in this delicacy are centred in a far northern suburb of Athens where the descendants of those refugees go on  pilgrimmages to eat this thing. It’s basically fluffy dough, with cheese, an egg and pastourma, spicy cured meat – topped with liberal amounts of butter. That description does not do it justice. This particular Peynirli was enjoyed as a post-dissertation celebration, as well as a welcome dinner for my dad who is now in Athens. A memorable meal, as always.

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Day Eleven – 3 October 2014

More fall – but this is extra special because my dad brought it for me from Ohio. Not many mini-pumpkins to be found in Greece, especially this time of year. I do my best to keep the space around me inspiring and comforting, and small things like this bring me a disproportionate amount of happiness. (I’m reminded of my room at university in first year – I went all out on the Christmas decorations, and although my friends indulged me, assuring me it was lovely, I’m sure that the decorations made me happier than anyone.) Also it’s small and adorable. Very simple!

Ok — lesson learned from this week. Too much fall related stuff. This post is really orange  Challenge met but.. perhaps some more thinking outside the box is needed. Next week I’ll be away, travelling in the Peleponnese with my dad for the first Tour du PéloponnèseThere will certainly be no shortage of photo opps, but I’ll do my best to push myself a little and try and get creative. Stay tuned :)

Athens: Platia Agias Eirnis

Though I haven’t really mentioned it on the blog, earlier this year I started contributing some of my work to Portes Magazine, published by two Greek-American sisters I met here in Athens. The first thing I wrote for Portes was about one of my favourite areas of Athens – Agia Eirini Square. This was where my university classes were held, and even over the course of the calendar year I watched as the area became more lively and popular with young and old Athenians alike.

The square is named after the church -Agia Irini, which is itself really lovely, though nowadays most people walk past it on their way to the bars, cafes or restaurants. It is worth looking at though, even just for a moment. The land was previously occupied by one of the main churches of Athens, but that building was destroyed during the Greek Revolution, and the current church built to replace it in 1847. The style is an interesting combination of neoclassical, reflecting the new Greek state’s obsession with its ancient past and early rejection of Byzantine influence. To the casual visitor, it doesn’t seem very ‘Greek,’ but the church is actually very much of its time.

The crowds in the square are, on the other hand, timeless. Spilling out of cafes even in the colder months (I took these photos in February), the square is bustling with people at most hours of the day. While many of these cafes and bars are at the higher end of the cafe scene (Tailor Made is especially popular, with an eclectic selection of coffee, tea and liquor), they all have outdoor tables and are great for people watching. 

Though enjoying a leisurely coffee while taking in the atmosphere of the square is all well and good, there are also choices for some more substantial munchies. Greek souvlaki is famous for a reason, and this actual hole in the wall is my favourite. This is a big claim but I will go on record – I think it’s the best in Athens, and I’m not the only one, as the queue outside the door attests. The controversy of this claim, however, comes from the fact that Kostas’ souvlaki had a red, spicy sauce, in contrast to the usual tzatziki. Like any good Greek, I do love tzatziki, but this ‘secret sauce’ is in a league of its own. Yum.

Ah. Heaven. 

After a quick souvlaki, there is always room for dessert, and this place is a quick walk across the square at the corner of the square. A modern twist on traditional loukoumades – usually described in English as ‘fried dough balls’ but so much more! – this is really worth a stop. I used to say I didn’t like loukoumades – traditionally they’re covered with honey and cinnamon, neither of which I’m a major fan of. BUT as you can see from the photo below, this place has totally corrupted the classic – in a good way. They offer the plain ones of course, but also will stuff them with chocolate, banana, mastiha or other cream, cover them with whatever you want, and serve ice cream on top, in all kinds of unholy combinations. Though I have always left this place clutching my stomach and moaning ‘whyyyy did I eat all of that,’ they are really that good..

Chocolate stuffed loukoumades with praline (nutella-like) drizzle and almonds. After moaning about this, the guy working there said ‘yeah usually we do one or the other on the chocolate, not both inside and on top…’ Oh well, I take my chocolate seriously. 

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These are plain loukoumades with honey, walnuts and kazan dipi ice cream, made from the traditional sweet kazan dipi. Not pictured – the empty dish at the end. Bon Apptit and Happy Adventuring!