When we were planning our recent trip to Greece, Craig asked what I thought about spending time seeing a little of the Peloponnese peninsula. Of course I jumped at the chance. My reason was simple – several of the ancient sites I’d studied at university are there – Mycenae, Corinth, Thebes, Epidaurus, to name but a few.
We decided to make the modern(ish) town of Nafplio our base. I expected to ignore Nafplio and simply spend my time on daytrips to each of the ancient sites but, to my surprise, I discovered that Nafplio had a charm of its own that I totally fell in love with.
Nafplio is predominantly a “get-away” location where Athenians escape the frenetic pace of life in the big, bad city. It’s situated about 90 minutes away from Athens, which is about the same distance from Cape Town to Langebaan. Nafplio has a permanent population of around 10000 people… but I suspect it has almost the same number of street dogs and cats – but more about them later! With so many tourists and visitors, I’m sure you can imagine what an endless selection of restaurants, pubs, and gift shops… not to mention hotels and B&Bs there are.
Most people, both residents and visitors, congregate either on the waterfront or on the main square, which teems with people of all ages and nationalities from late afternoon till the small hours of the morning.
But for me the best parts of Nafplio were the tiny lanes and alleys just off the touristy areas. They are filled with small but good restaurants and surprising shops, some of which are real gems! Craig and I spent hours combing the tiny lanes and absorbing the rich and diverse Greek culture of this wonderful town.
Whether we were walking round the citadel that perches high above the town on the side of a cliff, sitting on the quay indulging in a mouthwatering ice-cream while staring out to the tiny island that was once a prison and is now a luxury hotel resort, or enjoying sampling the produce of the local distillery (including Uzo and a rather lovely rose liqueur), Nafplio had plenty to keep us occupied when we weren’t out investigating the ancient sites.
“But what about the dogs and cats?” I hear you ask, “You haven’t said anything about them, though you said you would!”
So, about the dogs and cats – Nafplio has a seemingly vast additional population of homeless dogs and cats. Unlike other places I’ve been to, the strays neither look destitute nor do they beg from passersby. Sure, they’ll come to you if you offer food or attention, but they don’t expect it. We saw several people putting down food and water for the homeless animals – they’re obviously cared for, even if they don’t have homes.
Strangely, every night it appears that the dog population have a community meeting, characterised by lots of barking and occasional snarling, if matters under discussion get heated. I’m not sure if cats attend too, but I think they’d have a problem making a point with all the barking that happens. Meetings seem to start each night around midnight and go on for about an hour, when everyone disperses so all the animals can go off and prepare for another day.
Yet, despite all these homeless dogs surviving in and around the town centre, we saw, smelled or encountered absolutely no sign of dog mess. Not one!
My estimation of a place I visit is always based on my answer to the question “Would I go back there” and my answer for Nafplio is a resounding yes.
Okay, so perhaps I didn’t go island hopping for 10 years like Odysseus did on his way home from the trojan War as described in Homer’s The Odyssey, but I felt my recent trip to Greece was no less of an an epic adventure than that great work!
Over the next few weeks I’m going to share some of my experiences from my trip, but I thought I would start off with a very brief overview of what I loved most about my extraordinary experience of being a blind tourist in Greece.
As someone who studied ancient history at university I’ve always been drawn to Greece because of it’s depth of history and myth. This time around I had the opportunity of visiting a number of ancient sites both in the Peloponnese and in Athens itself. The impression that remains with me is of how closely intertwined ancient and modern are in Greece – you can be driving down a modern highway and suddenly find a 5th or 6th century BCE (before common era) stone bridge right alongside the highway… or you can be following (fairly vague) signs to an ancient tomb and find yourself walking through a commercial farmer’s orange grove. At times it feels a little surreal – as if you’ve time travelled between one step and the next. But it’s also great that the sites are so accessible to those who are interested in taking the time to see them – and I’m not using the term accessible with reference to my blindness here.
Having said that, I found Greece very good generally from the perspective of disability accessibility. In all but one ancient site both Craig and I were admitted free of charge, in the archeological museum in Athens I was given a very special tour (more about that in a future post), and I was impressed to see that there was a well-constructed and easily accessible wheelchair ramp at the Temple of Poseidon (more on that in future as well).
I also loved the Greek culture. I found the people friendly and gregarious and felt very much at home with their way of life that is so outdoors based – food is often eaten outdoors or on balconies. And, talking of the food – wow! As a fussy vegetarian I sometimes struggle to find local culinary fare that I’ll eat… at times I’ve had to resort to hot chips or a plain cheese and tomato sandwich if I wanted to survive on an overseas trip… but not in Greece – there is an amazing array of delicious food, both meat and vegetarian, for any Greek visitor to choose from. In fact, there were times that my problems stemmed more from the overwhelming number of scrumptious options arrayed before me and my inability to settle on just one or two!
I’ll be sharing a lot more detail in the next few weeks, but hope this has given you just a taste of what an amazing experience my trip to Greece turned out to be… “stay tuned” for more photographs and stories of my trip!