Pylos, Greece and Housesitting

After Athens, we took off by bus to Pylos (with a small detour to Tyros) to scout a potential house-sit.

We arrived in Kalamata (of the famed olives) in the late afternoon by bus. Our wonderful host Stéphane picked us up at the bus station. We loaded into his dusty Prius and drove to the beautiful rural olive groves of Gialova, Greece. (not far up the coast from Pylos).

Fairway Residence in Pylos

We arrived at the Fairway Residence villas after dark, and even at night the view is spectacular. The lower terrace looks out over Pylos and the Aegean Sea. At night the foreground is just a dark expanse of olive groves.

Pylos view
The same view in the daytime… not bad!

We moved into our temporary home, a deluxe two bedroom villa with full kitchen, big screen TV, and 6 person hot tub. Unbelievable! The pool is only a few steps away, and there is a large, open kitchen and dining table just above.

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Stéphane explained to us that another family will be renting “our” villa for 3 months. We will be house- and cat-sitting at their home, a few kilometers away. There are two cute, nameless cats that need occasional feeding and hugs while Stéphane and his wife Laure-Anne are back in Belgium visiting family.

Our Contribution

We’ll be contributing to the running of the villas, just so you don’t think we’re a bunch of freeloaders. We’ll be managing check-ins and check-outs, maintaining the grounds a bit (there’s a gardener and a pool guy) and doing some painting. It’s not clear how busy we’ll be, since the owners have never kept the place open through the “winter” months so they don’t know how many bookings there’ll be.

Both the villas and the house are surrounded by olive groves. The olives are harvested in late November and early December to make olive oil. During the olive harvest they strip the olives from the branches with long rakes and then prune back the branches. Apparently, only a new branch will produce olives. We will certainly have some olive leaves to sweep as well when the harvest is finished.

The House

Sorry, no pictures of or from the house yet. We did go and have lunch at the house with our lovely hosts. We met the cats, we toured the property and house, and relaxed on the terrace.

The house itself is airy and comfortable. There are two bedrooms, vaulted ceilings, and a wood stove for heat. The terrace has an even better view than at the villas. The view is west-facing, so every night is a spectacular sunset. There is almost no light pollution, the closest village is quite small. I’m pretty excited to see the Milky Way, I haven’t seen it since I lived in the Canadian Rocky Mountains.

We’ll be staying in Pylos from early December until mid February, but we won’t be entirely stationary. The house-sit comes with a rental car, and the cats are semi-autonomous. That means we’ll be road-tripping around the Peloponnese Peninsula on one or two day jaunts from time to time.

Good times, and a great place to spend the Christmas holidays!

 

The Vegan Apocalypse – oops, Acropolis

I guess the Acropolis could be called vegan, there’s only stone and plants up there. Also, we had a superb vegan lunch at the Lime Bistro before we went up. And we had a delicious vegan dinner at Nonna after we came back down, too. That makes the whole experience pretty much vegan in my books.

These days we use Agoda.com for our hotel bookings, and if you click that link and book, we get some pennies!

To get to the Acropolis, jump on any of Athens’ four metro lines (€ 1.4 adults, kids 1/2 price). They conveniently intersect at various points around the north slope of the hill of the Acropolis.

We took an Uber from our lunch resto to the ticket office. The ride was, like all of our Uber rides so far, quite easy and pleasant. We didn’t realize until we were rolling that we’d need to detour, slowly, around a busy shopping and restaurant district. Many of the streets north of the Hill are closed to vehicles. We also didn’t realize that at 3 PM ( long lunch), half of the city would be on the way home for a nap.

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If you’re coming in from the west by car, get dropped off at the Agora instead. There’s lots to see on the pedestrian streets, and the walk up the hill is beautiful. If you’re up for a very full day, you can hit the Temple of Hephaestus on the way.

Temple of Hephaestus
If you like horrifying fates, google Hephaestus

We read ahead of time that backpacks were not allowed on the hill, and that there is a “cloakroom” where things can be left. We, and many others, strolled right in with our backpacks, snacks, and nick-knacks. Tickets cost €20 for adults, €10 for kids at the ticket booth right below the Parthenon.

The Hill of the Acropolis

The walk up is trivial, unexpectedly easy considering the steep-sided look of the hill.

Quite a climb
Don’t worry, you don’t need to scale those cliffs

You can look at a million pictures of the Parthenon, the Temple of Athena, etc. When you’re there you see the worn marble columns and the steps smoothed down by years and feet. I think then it really sinks in how old this place is. It’s really, really old.

Horse heads
Horse heads in the attic

There was loads of people up there and it was windy and chilly, but the whole thing is awe-inspiring. The size of the stones used to build the Parthenon boggle the mind. Not only enormous, carved out of marble, but on top of a hill to boot.

The cherry on the top of the Acropolis
The money shot, even with clouds

The views are, of course, spectacular as well. Athens stretches out all the way to the base of the surrounding hills, and you can see the Panathenaic Stadium and other sites.

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After the top, there’s nowhere to go but down. The slopes of the Acropolis are peppered with other archaeological sites, amphitheaters, and ruins.

The blue boxes are stacks of cushions covered in case of rain

The Agora

You could hit the Agora and Temple of Hephaestus on the way up or back down, if you’re an early riser and have no kids with you. We went on the following day.

The site is filled with recovered sculptures and rebuilt walls, with a water clock and some walls the Romans built out of chunks of marble columns. Many of the statues and sculptures are still beautifully detailed, albeit missing some limbs.

The big, long building above is the Stoa of Attelos which houses more busts, statues, sculptures and some awesome models of what the hillside looked like before the Romans came in and trashed it. Of course, everyone has their own highlights…

Ancient buttcrack
We had to wait for the hilarity to die down before we could even take a picture.

 

Overnight Train in Romania – Amazing!

We’ve had some … interesting … overnight train experiences so far on our trip. Most have not been pleasant, some were merely tolerable. When it came time to head back to Bucharest to catch our flight to Athens we had a few different travel options available to us.

The bus would have taken about 8 or 9 hours from Cluj-Napoca, a rental car about the same, but both would have taken all day. Rental car would have cost a bit more with the drop-off fee, but would have given more freedom. The third options was the train, all day or overnight. We the adventurous, never afraid to step outside our comfort zone, were afraid. We took the leap.

The Overnight Train

Wow! Amazing! Terrific!

Carpeted, clean, a door that closes and locks! Imagine the luxury. Four berths in a closed compartment with clean sheets, pillows, duvets even!

Overnight train for the win!
Equal parts happiness and relief.

The bathroom was not pristine, but considering the train had been underway for 6 hours or more before we got on, not bad. There was even a bar / restaurant car which was closed when we got on. We could (in theory) have gotten up early and had breakfast, but obviously we let the kids sleep as long as possible.

Without any doubt, it was the best sleep we’ve ever had on a train. No vomiting, no diarrhea, everyone slept well. Miracles do exist!

The train arrived and departed about 30 minutes late from Cluj. This worked in our favour, since it pushed the arrival in Bucharest back by almost an hour (we lost some more time along the way, I guess). It’s definitely better to arrive at 8:30 than 7:30 when check-in is not until 1 PM.

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We even had climate control and windows that open! All in all, our faith in overnight train travel is restored.