Sunday 3 August 2014

The Peloponnese: Sunday

All of Sunday's photos.

We slept long and well. I woke, dozed, woke and so on; eventually up at 9:15 and we all went down to breakfast. Served in the entrance hall; plenty of other folk about, possibly there for the rally. Breakfast was: sweetish bread, a variety of homemade jams, a gingerbread biscuit cake and a slice of homemade chocolate cake; later what appeared to be toast but was actuallly a cheese and ham toastie; D and E got through theirs but we didn't. Orange juice, water and coffee. We finished up after eating outside to play some whist.

Behind our table was a repro of a picture: idealised peasants gathered round a wall on which they trace the inscription "et in arcadia ego". Which I know from Brideshead revisited, describing the first sweeping up of the main character into the new world. However, M looked it up and apparently its from a painting by Poussin, and the wall is a tomb (this isn't obvious in the picture, it is folded into the background) and so the text becomes "even in Arcadia there is death".
Being in Arcadia is a strange thing; of course, it is not the mythical land of peaceful meadows that the West made it. Its a mountainous, rural hinterland quite akin to central Corsica, or the French alps, or somesuch: quiet, backward. And hot, in summer.

And so, really later than we should have been, to visit the monastries and the gorge. *Now* I have the geography fairly well in my mind; before, I didn't, and without it things are very confusing. Dimitsana is high above the East side of the gorge of the Lousios; the gorge itself is limestone and the river very deeply cut into it, so you can't see it except from close to. Any of the roads heading down into the gorge are slow and switchbacky, no matter what the map may show. For bonus points, many of them are pot holed in places, and in others gently slipping away.

First to Moni Emialon, which is sort-of a bit beyond the water-power museum, and a small cute church. Anyway, its the easiest to get to, and very quiet. It claims that you ought to be properly dressed (no shorts, etc) and to be shut from 1 to 5; but I'm not at all sure either were enforced. Since we weren't properly dressed we crept in quietly and sat in the courtyard; we didn't try to go into any of the buildings. It was lovely and shaded. Being Sunday morning, we could guess that any monks were likely at their prayers. There was a large central ?walnut? tree, its trunk painted white as all courtyard trees here are, and in lieue of a church tower it was hung with bells. So we sat in the cool shade appreciating it and the stillness, craning our necks up to the limestone cliff that overhangs the place. And stroked the local cat.

Then, back along the road to the water power museum, which we visisted because it was there, and because D and E like water wheels. Its actually quite good: the style there (because there is a lot of vertical fall) is different from the English. There was a fulling tank (a large conical pit into which a jet is directed to swirl stuff around) a nice pic of an old shepherd in full garb (I have a copy); a video on tanning and some skins and stuff; a gunpowder mill (this area was a centre during the War of Independence).

Just before we got back in the car I remembered the cute-old-little-church and went for a look; its stuffed full of icons and religious pix and, oddly, double headed eagles. Which I thought was Austro-Hungarian. Lovely and cool inside. Some greeks with kids came in, talked noisily and without a trace of reverence, and then just at the end the 6-7 years olds spontaneously kissed the pic of Jesus before leaving.

And so on - its now, well, middle of the day and hot out, though cool in the car with the AC on. We now have a choice and end up going to Moni Philosophu, which involves winding all the way into the gorge and up some of the far side. There is a "new" bit - 1691 - and the very old but now abandonded bit, from 900's. Arriving, there is a courtyard with more very welcome shade, then a proper-looking monk (cassock, beard) welcomed us with water (very welcome) and a sweet, gave a very brief description in English and a rather longer one in Greek, and then we looked around. The "new" church is small, indeed tiny by the standards of say English parish churches, but painted inside and filled nearly with a vast chandalier far too big for it, and delightfully cool.

After that, to the "old" bit which is signposted as 800 m away, the guidebok says 400 but don't believe that. In the noonday heat its a hot walk and D in particular got a bit grumpy. So that when we got there, it was a bit disappointing: its in ruins, and what you see are the old walls under the overhanging limestone cliffs, all much deeper into the gorge than at Emialon. And you can climb up inside to the church right at the end. In the right frame of mind, in quiet, you could sit still and try to think about how it might have felt to live here as a monk; but in the noonday heat with two somewhat grumpy kids, it was more like a pile of stones. And so back.

Thence, back to Dimitsana via the northern route, arriving about 3:30 I think, as the rally was finishing. To a cafe - the one opposite the old one where all the old blokes sit at their individual tables watching the world go by - since we're all hungry and thirsty; I have two cokes. Giant beans, sausage, greek salad, tzatziki. And some more whist.

M and I would both like to see Ancient Gortys, but D and E would rather, errm, not; so in a fit of compromise we agree that in the evening we'll go down and look and they won't. In the end we leave a bit earlier, at 5:30, and happily the roads - once off the main road, and past the potholed section near the top - aren't too bad, so it takes about half an hour. We only find the "asklepeion" which is of mysterious purpose; and a bit next to it with massive thick walls, or foundations, but the plan of which they outline is hard to interpret; perhaps it was for a row of colonades. There's a road/track leading to the acropolis, but also a path up by the river (oh, and also a teensy chapel) and so we follow that path, which wends up the west side of the gorge until crossing on a new bridge (apparently there are ruins of the old one, but we couldn't see it; also nearby the remains of the Moni fulling mill, not exciting) and then upwards and we end up at the Moni Prodromou (aka Moni John the Baptist) which was the one that the lady of the hotel had shown us pix of and recommended. It is probably the most impressive of the three, since the buildings are stuffed under the overhang with balconies leaning out in what looks a most precarious manner. Rumour has it that you can rent rooms there. We didn't go in; it was 7:30 and again there were "please dress properly" signs; though there were also a row of robes hanging up that maybe you were allowed to borrow.

The views as you come *up* the gorge are far more spectaculr than those looking down; so were I to recommend anyone visting this area it would be to get up early, park at Gortys, have a quick look at the site then, and walk up to Prodromou while its still fairly cool. If you had anyone prepared to go back and drive the car round, you could then walk on to Philosophu I think.
Back down takes half an hour, then I wade out into the river but don't swim - it really is quite cold. And so home, stopping to admire the sunset over the Arcadian hills. Indeed we got to see it several times: in the valley, the sun was behind the hills; as we climbed out it rose.

And back to the same taverna in Dimistana for dinner: stuffed tomatoes (which was actually a stuffed tom, and a pepper, and an aubergine); tzatziki; spinach pie (spinakopeta?); "salt pork and eggs" (pork omlette) and green beans. I'm currently winning the whist competition. The sky is pure deep blue when we start and black when we finish.

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