We’d bought a guidebook in Athens to help us work out where we wanted to go in Greece. I hadn’t had any opportunity to do any research on Greece, as we’d only decided to go there about two days earlier. Given that it was late January and therefore winter, we decided against visiting the Greek islands – not only because of the weather, but because ferry connections and flights were few and far between, not to mention quite expensive. As we only had limited time, we chose to stick to the Peloponnese, and we’d found some places that looked well and truly worth visiting.
So it was that we found ourselves heading to the bus station and buying tickets for Nafplio. Nafplio is a coastal town situated on the Gulf of Tolo, and to put it simply, it’s gorgeous. The bus took us a five minute walk from our guesthouse in the old town, and we wandered through the paved narrow streets with plants hanging from tiny balconies to Acropol Hotel. We arrived in the afternoon – it only took about two and a half hours from Athens – and were both pleased to find that we had our own tiny balcony with a sea view. Ok, so it wasn’t much of a sea view, but we were quite pleased with it. To celebrate, we opened the bottle of wine we’d been given in Turkey - a lovely way to begin our time in a truly charming town.
We spent our first afternoon exploring the town, meandering through the narrow streets and walking along the waterside. The town was empty of visitors, much to the dismay of the shopkeepers and restauranteurs and hotel owners. While foreign tourists are rare in January, they usually get through the winter season on domestic tourism and particularly weekenders from Athens. Unfortunately the economic woes have caused domestic tourism to drastically decline, and so the businesses in town were struggling. Almost without fail we were the only guests in a restaurant, which is a bizarre feeling.
We found the old ‘Nafplio Railway Station’, and it was clear that it had been a while since any trains had come through. An old steam train carriage sat there, covered in graffiti and clearly a temporary home for vagrants, drunks and possibly drug dealers. The glass windows had been smashed to allow entry, and unfortunately the driver’s cabin was full of rubbish, syringes, used condoms and the like. It was a little unsavoury, and the fragrance of stale urine didn’t exactly add to the appeal. We’d already hung off the train before seeing the above, and while I’m not a clean freak I was glad I had hand sanitizer in my bag.
The next day we had a big breakfast before taking off to explore the Palamidi Fortress. Built by the Venetians in the early 18th century, it sits atop a rocky outcrop more than two hundred metres above the town. Apparently it’s possible to take a taxi to the top, however we chose to take the hard road – the seemingly endless steps that begin near the bus station. While I don’t particularly like stairs, I do enjoy the slow rise above the town, seeing the houses disappear and become a sea of ever-shrinking rooftops, broken up only by church towers. We counted the steps at 857. It’s a lot of steps, and that was only to the entrance and ticket office. More steps awaited us once we’d bought our tickets.
The fortress feels a lot older than its three hundred years – the weather has softened the edges, and parts collapsed are overgrown with grasses. Some parts are, apparently, dangerous; although I still believe that putting a warning sign up only encourages people to enter. People like me!
Within the walls are multiple bastions in strategic locations – one of which was used as a prison until the early 20th century. Mum was misbehaving, and so the prison came in handy.
The view from the top is spectacular, with the Myrtoon Sea sparkling a deep sapphire below contrasting with the terracotta red rooftops. It definitely challenged Mum’s problems with heights. I’ll admit I did little to help that, climbing up on the fortress walls and walking along them – much to her dismay. I enjoy climbing on things, and walking along walls, while Mum starts to freak out. She claimed that every time she turned around I was ‘frolicking’ on something. To clear the air, it must be said that I do not frolic. Mum did manage to sit on one of the walls, with a leg on either side. There wasn’t a sheer drop off the sides, although you still wouldn’t want to tumble over the wall into the prickly pears below.
We found a patch of weeds with odd little pale green pods covered in spines, and out of curiosity tried to pick one to have a closer look. To our rather loud surprise, the pods explode when any pressure is applied, shooting out jets of white sticky liquid. And yes, I know how that sounds. It wasn’t without reason that we decided to call them the ejaculating cucumbers, for want of their official name. Of course, our curiosity didn’t end there and we set about methodically exploding all the pods we could find, using little sticks like chopsticks. It was most entertaining, as even though we knew what was going to happen we still jumped every time.
Looking down from the top of the fortress we could see people swimming in a small bay on the other side of the fortress to the town. Mum decided she was going to go swimming, although she promptly tried to chicken out once we’d climbed down the steps back into town. She’d been going on about how brave she was going to be, swimming when it was bloody freezing, and it was of course my duty to remind her of all her tall talk until gave in and did swim. I, the sensible one, sat on the pebbled beach reading a book. The water was about 25 degrees too cold for my liking.
Out in the harbour lies a tiny fortress accessible only by boat. Unfortunately we couldn’t find anyone to take us over there and had to be content with staring longingly at it.
The next morning we climbed up to the second fortress – the Akronaplia Fortress – which, while hardly as impressive as Palamidi Fortress was still a nice distraction. We were leaving in the afternoon to go to Monemvasia, and relaxed in the main square enjoying desserts that made us look incredibly greedy before heading to the bus station – which is really more of a bus stop outside an office – to begin the journey to our next destination.