In Part 1, we arrived in Greece despite strikes, volcanoes, and lack of legroom, and managed to see some sites in Athens, like the Ancient Agora and the Temple of Olympian Zeus (pictured), but not the Acropolis. Next day there was a transit strike; there was no way to get out of Athens except by car—but the god of good timing (Apollo? Artemis?) was smiling on us: we'd rented one.
I worried that desperate Athenians would be grabbing rental cars and fleeing town, leaving us without a vehicle, but our reservation was secure, and we picked up a nice new Toyota Auris. It had manual transmission, which meant only I could drive it. But my ability to drive stick impressed Elisa so it was OK.
And Athenians, it turned out, weren't "desperate" about anything. Strikes are a part of life there, since long before the current economic crisis, and Greeks take these things in stride. Helpful hotel staff give you the scoop on what's not running on any given day, smiling wanly at the inevitability of it all.
We left the big city behind and headed for the seaside haven of Nafplio in the Peloponnese, stopping on the way at the ruins of Mycenae—the civilization that predated Classical Greece—as well as Ancient Corinth and, looming over it, the Acrocorinth. Greece is studded with places like Corinth: a small new town adjacent to an ancient site of the same name.
View of Acrocorinth from ruins of Ancient Corinth
We arrived at Nafplio by day, and the backstreets of the old town seemed a little dingy at first. But the town's really beautiful when you explore it from inside and outside, and its charms grow on you quickly, especially when evening falls and you stroll along the row of waterfront restaurants listening to the relaxed people—including a lot of Greek tourists—shooting the breeze about politics, fishing, and…well, we were just guessing, since they were speaking Greek.
And smoking. Everyone smokes. Fortunately, in Greece in May, you spend all your time outside. Except when you're in museums—the only places, it seems, where smoking isn't allowed.
It's a pretty-sounding language, Greek—not quite as musical as Italian, nor as magnifique as Parisian French, but with a flowing lilt all its own, thanks partly to the soft consonants. For example, in Modern Greek the letter Beta is pronounced not like a B but like a V, and the letter Delta isn't a D, but a soft "th" as in "these." It's confusing for a person like me who studied ancient Greek in college.
But at the same time, that background had given me a knowledge of the Greek alphabet, so I could read words, like place names on road signs, which impressed Elisa so it was OK.
Of course we couldn't understand a word of spoken Greek, but in touristy circles in Greece there's always someone who speaks English, and many speak it quite well. Getting by was pretty easy most of the time. Explanations in museums, too, are generally in English along with Greek.
View of Acronafplia, fortified over the millennia by the Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Venetians, Franks, and Turks. After climbing up and down the 800-plus steps in the hot sun, we drank the best cans of cold Fanta we'd ever had.
Our trip to Nafplio included a side-jaunt to Epidaurus, home of the most famous theater of antiquity, with still-famous acoustics.
Greek children ham it up at the ancient Theater of Epidaurus
I'll leave you with a view of the town and harbor of Nafplio, as seen from partway up the Acronafplia. In the next episode, we motor up and down startling switchback roads across assorted mountain ranges to Ancient Olympia, and consult the oracle at Delphi about whether the timing is right for Manhattan to attack Brooklyn. Click here for the next installment.
Climbing the Acronafplia