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Monemvasia

Steaming To Monemvasia

Here I am in my grandmother's village, a place I keep secret to preserve it's specialness and keep people from finding me. We are in the midst of the worst heat-wave in 100 years alternating between the air-conditioned room and the sea which is still miraculously cool. Well it is not entirely true that this is all we do, because every morning Dorian and I drive to the town of Molaos to get the papers we need to restore my grandmother's house, now a complete ruin after decades of neglect. It's over an hour's drive to this small agricultural town and we leave early in the morning to avoid the heat. But as each day passes the heat gets harder to avoid and it seems that the nights are just as hot as the day and running around a regional capital going from office to office to get papers signed and stamped is no way to spend a holiday. So when Saturday comes around I want nothing more than to wake up in my air-conditioned room and jump into the cool sea and stay there until my body temperature gets so low that 110 degrees seems like a mere 99 and I can at least make it back to the room without heat stroke.

But Andrea has other ideas. She has been trapped in the village doing exactly what I want to do, for the last week, going back and forth between the sea and the air-conditioning and she wants out in the worst way. Despite the simple beauty of the village and the fun of playing chaperone and parent to a teenage girl and a seven year old who thinks she is a teenager, Andrea is going a little bit stir-crazy and demands an adventure to break the monotony.

Today is the hottest day yet, the hottest day of the year and maybe the hottest day of the century and what does she want to do? Go for a drive. Where? Monemvasia. The hottest place in the Peloponessos.

I am not a coward and I can stand up to anyone. Except Andrea. I would rather roast in hell than have her mad at me for the entire day in a confined space the size of our air-conditioned room. So we set out on our little journey and to make it more interesting we take our guests Dorian, who has been helping me with the papers and his daughter Holly, a beautiful teenager who loves to torture her father by using up the pre-paid calling card by talking to her friends in Athens on his cell-phone he has left her for emergencies only. With 5 of us squeezed into the little rental car and the temperature outside in the hundreds and rising, this promises to be a fun-filled day.

Geraka

Gerakas, the ancestral home of Telly Savalas Driving through the mountains of the Peloponessos is almost like watching a documentary of the moon. It is a stark beauty that someone like myself or Andrea can appreciate in the way a Bedouin can appreciate the beauty of the desert. But for a kid it is just plain boring and my daughter Amarandi and her new pal Holly begin a never ending chorus of "Are we there yets?" and "How much longers?" that are virtually uninterrupted except during a few roadblocks set up by goats, until we reach the town of Geraka, home of the mythical Kojak. Yes our first stop on this scenic tour of Laconia is the hometown of Telly Savalas.

Geraka sits on a big salt water marsh and lake at the end of a narrow passageway from the sea. It is really a beautiful place though occasionally the guy who is supposed to pick up the plastic bottles and bags goes on vacation and forgets to inform his apprentice. But because it is probably the most sheltered little harbor in Greece it is a very popular place for yachts and sailboats who can spend the night here and not worry about the changing winds or rough seas. Because of this the port area has several very nice little restaurants, cafes and ouzeries. Being a completely closed harbor it is not the best place for swimming as there does not seem to be any real beach, but people swim off the rocks in the channel.

Gerakas, ancestral home of Telly Savalas Today, it is so hot there are few people here. The yachts that have spent the night have moved further north or south and the only other people in sight besides a couple fishermen mending their nets are a Canadian couple. We talk to the man whose name is Peri, a filmmaker who has a family home in Monemvasia and dreams of exporting his olive-oil to America to finance a film about Kamakis (Casanova's) in Greece using the medieval town on the rock of his ancestral home as his set.

We eat a bowl of fresh homemade yogurt with local honey and sit in the shade trying not to move too much. It is really not unpleasant but the girls are restless and bored and Holly hates yogurt and wants to survive on chocolate cookies and ice-cream. Amarandi is sensing that if she declares she no longer likes yogurt then she too will be able to exist on chocolate cookies and ice-cream, and unfortunately there is a grocery store that sells yachting supplies, canned spam, chocolate cookies and ice-cream. We accept that we have lost our daughter and she will no longer be satisfied by the simple purity of the Mediterranean diet and send them off to buy whatever they want so we adults can have a few moments of serious conversation.

Cafe in Gerakas "They told me in my grandmother's village that Telly Savalas came back here to Geraka to film a documentary of his life. They said the villagers here were insulted because he would come into the cafeneon's and sit by himself and not talk to anyone or buy anyone coffee or drinks. Then he decided he did not like the way the village looked and went off and filmed it somewhere else, like Cosmas."

"This sounds like village talk" says Andrea. "Why wouldn't Telly Savalas want to film in this village? It is his ancestral village, it is beautiful and it is interesting and it has the lagoon."

"Maybe Telly thought Geraka does not fit the public's image of a Greek village. I mean how many Greek coastal villages have a lake? Maybe every time they wanted to film the harbor was filled with yachts. How can you make a film about a guy's humble beginnings in a town with a harbor full of yachts? And maybe he didn't buy the old guys in the cafeneon a drink, but he may have been shy. Sure Kojak would have bought drinks for everyone and kept them entertained with cop stories. But Telly Savalas was an actor and they can be insulated and insecure just like real human beings. The villagers should have bought him a drink. It's their turf. Despite his ancestry he was still a guest."

The conversation continued along these lines until Dorian came up with the most obvious answer. "Maybe they didn't trust him because he was a cop." It was amazing that none of us had thought of this. Of course, a remote village that probably did not even have a policeman of it's own, and who comes to town but the world's most well known cop. Each old man was probably wondering if this was his day of reckoning for some minor offense he had committed against his neighbor or a family member. A finger on the scale at the olive co-op or a foot or two shaved off a property boundary or even a tab unpaid at a now defunct store. Kojak's presence in the cafeneon probably make everyone in town feel the way I do when I see a state trooper in my rear view window even if I am driving under the speed limit.

It was too hot in Geraka to do anything but sit and talk about Kojak so we said good bye to Peri and got back into the car and drove south along the coast. We passed several interesting beaches and a small harbor with a sunken tug boat and some villa type houses being built that looked as out of place as wooden shoes on an antelope. But we stopped and I got out and took some pictures while the others huddled inside the car their skin sucking up every last cubic inch of air-conditioned air.

Monemvasia

Monemvasia Finally around a curve in the road the giant rock and the citadel of Monemvasia appears and within a few minutes we are driving through the modern city on the mainland which is separated from it by the narrow causeway and bridge. I park the car and we all set out in different directions, each with a purpose and only vague plans of where and when to meet again, we were so disoriented by the heat and the close company in the car. I had the most important task. I was to find the store that sold foreign newspapers. There was a small tourist shop that had the racks that said Herald Tribune and foreign press but it was filled with Greek magazines. Inside the man told me that all the foreign papers were now sold at the Supermarket. I thought maybe he had misunderstood me but I followed his vague directions and ended up walking about a mile up the road before realizing I had made some kind of mistake or miscalculation. But I used the opportunity to visit a couple of the hotels and take some pictures and meet the owners, before heading back through the city streets and the 110 degree heat to begin my search again.

Nea Monemvasia There were few people on the street and I was walking at a pace more suited to a wintry day in Manhattan, but with sweat poring out of every gland. I started from scratch and this time swallowed my pride and asked several people along the way and eventually found the Supermarket and the newspapers. I bought the International Herald and the Athens News and went back to find the others.

Of course there was nobody around and rather then wait I took the opportunity to wander around the modern town while it was still relatively early in the day and not as hot as it was going to be, the themometer at the first restaurant in the port reading a mere 112. Again I rushed from point to point like a fantatic looking for the best shots and angles while the people in the cafes drinking their frappes in the shade wondered what kind of a nut would be running around taking pictures today. How could they know the sense of duty I felt that made me practically oblivious to the terrible heat that had turned them all into mental cripples, unable to move from their chairs for anything less then using the toilet.

Miraculously we all converged on the car at the same time. The others however had been back to the car several times looking for me and it did not seem like such a miracle to them. They were drenched in sweat and unhappy and wanted to go to the beach. Luckily I had seen a nice beach in my travels and after stopping at an excellent little dive shop to buy a new mask and flippers for Amarandi, we drove through the town to where the cool blue Aegean met the hot white shore. We found a little bit of shade under a small tree and took off our shoes and clothes and ran to the water scorching our feet on the hot sand and stones. The relief was extraordinary but rather then make the most of it and spend the time enjoying it we began to torture ourselves wondering how we were going to get from the sea back to our clothes and shoes. My feet were already scalded and practically useless and I knew the others felt the same. We would have to pick someone to make the supreme sacrifice and run back to get our shoes, like Jim Brown in the Dirty Dozen. But looking at my crew of unhappy travelers I was forced to admit there was nobody with the courage of Jim Brown with the exception of myself and I didn't want to do it. I would just assume stay in the water until the sun went down and take my chances then. Luckily our old friend Peri the Canadian olive-exporting filmmaker showed up and got our shoes and we swam around working up script ideas for the film.

After awhile though our bodies were submerged in the cool sea the tops of our heads were absorbing an awful lot of heat and I had the feeling that brain damage was eminent so we gathered our things and jumped into the car which was so hot that I scalded my hands on the stearing wheel and had to drive with a wet towel. We drove back to the port to the Aktaion Restaurant and sat inside where it was only about 100. Peri joined us and we had a delicious meal of fish and salads, with Holly and Dorian eating a big plate of giovetsi. How anyone can eat meat when it is this hot is beyond me. In fact I felt like the only reason we were eating was to have an excuse to be out of the sun. When the thermometer outside is reading 115 degrees, the last thing on my mind is how hungry I am. But surprisingly despite the fact that the effort of chewing and swallowing made me sweat as much as doing a workout at Gold's Gym, I came to the realization that eating during a heatwave has the same effect as eating while you have the flu. You forget how much you are suffering, as long as the food holds out.

Flying Dolphin in Monemvasia My plan called for us to drive to the entrance of the citadel and wander through the village and take pictures. But nobody wanted to do this. Everyone wanted to go home to the air-conditioned rooms. We decided upon a compromise. There was a flying dolphin waiting at the dock on the causeway that would be stopping at our village on the way home. Dorian could take the girls and Andrea and I could continue our exploration of the rock. But Andrea was not enthused about walking through the village with the sun beating down on us either so we came up with yet another plan. We would all go home but while Dorian and the girls took the Dolphin, Andrea and I could drive back at a nice leisurely pace and enjoy the scenary without a car full of complainers.

So we drove to the ticket office and purchased tickets for the dolphin and then since we had half an hour we drove to the entrance of the citadel just to see it. I had actually been here 30 years before with my parents before Monemvasia had hotels, tourists or the Germans who had bought up all the ruins and turned them into beautiful summer houses. The history of the village is a rich one and the fortress which has been used and added to by everyone from the Byzantines, the Crusaders, the Venetians and The Turks, is one of the most spectacular sites in the Aegean and has been called the Gibralter of the East Mediterranean. There is a book available at the tourist shops called Monemvasia: The Town and It's History that will give you an appreciation of it's history. But to appreciate the dramatic beauty of the site one only has to visit the town and walk through the stone streets.

But not when it is 120 degrees. We dropped the others off at the Dolphin and waved goodbye as it left the dock, gathered up speed, rose up and left the bay.

Andrea and I were then able to drive back to the village and except to take a couple pictures of the lake at Geraka we didn't even get out of the car. The fact that there were only two people in the vehicle soaking up the cool air made it much more pleasant then the journey to Monemvasia and if I had to drive another ten hours I would not have minded. We got back to the village at sunset and went for a quick swim and then sat in the room until dinner. It was too hot to even have an ouzo but a cold beer tasted pretty good. Even Dorian, a recovered alcoholic who had not had a drink in 2 years had one.

The heatwave lasted 2 weeks. We survived it but it did not break until the day we had to leave the village to catch the ferry to Lesvos. It had begun the day we arrived in the village so in a way it was not as if we were on a vacation. We were just in a place where surviving was less challenging then say, being in Athens which according to my friends who were stuck there, was absolutely awful. But they don't have AC and can't escape the heat.

I guess the point of this story is that Monemvasia is indeed a beautiful and interesting place to go. But if you go in July or August you will want a room with air-conditioning and a view. The chances are slim that it will get as hot as it did the summer of 2000 and for as long a period of time, but it is better to be prepared than sorry.

Helpful Information for Monemvasia

For hotels in Monemvasia contact Kostas at Dolphin Hellas or ask one of the agents at www.fantasytravelofgreece.com or see www.hotelsofgreece.com and click on Peloponessos.

For trips from Athens see George the Famous Taxi Driver, but plan to stay overnight. The drive is around four and a half hours from Athens. You should probably plan on coming here by car or bus.

T
o rent a car and drive from Athens to Monemvasia check out Swift Rent-a-Car . They will pick you up at the airport or your hotel and drive you to the National road and let you by-pass the notorious Athens traffic or deliver the car to you.

You can find hotels in Monemvasia by location, price, whether or not it has a swimming pool, and see photos and reviews by using this link to Booking.com. Excellent prices and many hotels you can book and then cancel with no cancellation fee. For those who want to book without using a travel agency this is the best way to do it.

Selected Hotels in Monevasia

Here are a few hotels in and around Monemvasia. You can click on the name to see more photos, get more information, see the hotel location and to book the hotel.
Hotel Kellia 4 stars

Photo Hotel Kellia The building has it's origins at the dawn of the 16th Century and the architects followed the traditional architecture of the area. It is considered the most impressive stone building of the Malvasia Castle-city.
The hotel is ideal for romantic weekends. It is located at the nicest and most quiet area of the castle.
The hotel offers the visitors hiqh-quality services, a family atmosphere and the warm, traditional Greek hospitality.
The hotel offers rich, traditional breakfast with homemade jams and bread.

Wired internet is available in public areas and is free of charge.

Panorama 3 stars

Photo PanoramaThis hotel is conveniently located on Monemvasia's bridge with a view of the castle, only 250 metres from the nearest beach and 300 metres from the centre of town. Offering ideal facilities for a comfortable and restful vacation, the hotel remains open throughout the year. Therefore, for whichever season you wish to choose for your visit, the staff will endeavour to ensure that it is special and unique. Set amidst tranquil natural grounds with the traditional streets in close proximity, this modern hotel blends contemporary comfort with the area’s historic heritage. In the vicinity there is the medieval fortress of Monemvasia, providing plenty of opportunity to visit cultural attractions. All the comfortable and contemporary accommodation features a light interior and large balcony with a magnificent outlook of the castle and the open sea, the ideal base from which to explore this wonderful region. Wireless internet is available in public areas and is free of charge. Internet via modem is available in public areas and costs EUR 1.50 per hour.

Akti Nefeli 2 stars

Photo Akti Nefeli The hotel Akti Nefeli,built in a traditional style,is situated in the area of Xifias, just 5 kilometers from Monemvasia and overlooks the mountain and the sea. It is very well equipped, and can definately satisfy even the most demanding guests. The hotels' aesthetic and classical architecture, impress the traveller, while offering simultaneously all essential comfort in order to respond in all kinds of requirements.
You will find us 30 meters away from the famous beach of Ambelakia. This beach (among all those of the area) offers splendid sand,crystal clear water and an astonishing view on Kastropolitea.
We will be more than happy to welcome you to Akti Nefeli and we assure you that you will have a memorable stay. Wired internet is available in public areas and is free of charge.

Annema 1 stars

Photo Annema Annema Hotel is a quiet and friendly hotel offering the perfect opportunity for quiet outdoor relaxation by the coast of Monemvassia.
The Annema Hotel provides a truly recreational alternative to the busier tourist locations of Greece. Presenting visitors with an idyllic natural silence and surroundings, this is just right for those who value nature and tranquillity. Located in the small village of Old Monemvassia, there are only 12 houses and one church offering a friendly rural atmosphere. Annema Hotel is newly renovated and provides customers with a pleasant restaurant and bar. You can also enjoy a dip in the private pool.
Roughly 300 metres from the hotel, there is a beautiful and often deserted beach, where you can enjoy swimming in both salt water and the freshwater springs that flow into the sea. Just by the hotel there is also a fisherman’s harbour with ideal facilities for private yachts and motor launches. Enjoy your holiday in a relaxed atmosphere, which leaves you with a memorable experience and refreshed mind. Wired internet is available in the hotel rooms and costs EUR 1.50 per hour.

Glyfada Rooms

Photo Glyfada Rooms From the peace of your comfortable room enjoy breathtaking views of the sea and the castle.
Our rented rooms in Monemvasia, named Glyfada Rooms, are located just 15 metres from the seashore and 1.5 km from the castle. At the castle town of Monemvasia, you live in a dream. This is the place where time has stopped and the Middle Ages and the Byzantine era coexist with the present. As you stroll the narrow cobblestone pathways, gaze up at the stone 2-storey aristocratic residences and churches of the Byzantine era. After a day of exploring you can return to Glyfada rooms and relax with in drink in the privacy of your room. Sit on the balcony and soak in the beautiful evening views as the sea breeze touches your skin.

Apartments Hotel & Studios, Xifoupolis0 stars

Photo Apartments Hotel & Studios, Xifoupolis Luxurious apartments, studios and rooms in the sought-after seaside area of Xifias - Monemvasia, and just 3 miles south of the famous Castle of Monemvasia, the so called 'Gibraltar of the Mediterranean'. Ideally located just 100 meters from the best beaches of the area. The Complex boasts a large swimming pool with hydromasage section for adults and a separate smaller one for children. The complex is located in a quiet and picturesque area and it is ideal for couples and families looking for something out of the ordinary from their vacations. Internet via modem is available in public areas and costs EUR 2.00 per hour.

  

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