It was already 10 years since last time that my wife and me went into a vacation alone. Not that we tried very much, travelling with friends is always very good. We tried as well at this time to get some friends or family, but all the stars were directed to having us travelling by ourselves.
Trying to decide where to go to, we bumped into some cheap air tickets with Ryanair to Athens. Since I brought my motorcycle from Germany to Israel in January 2020 through the North Peloponnese, I wanted to show this piece of heaven to my wife Lily. So, we took the opportunity, and on December 24th we were on our way to Athens, for a 3-day trip in which we would cover some of the beautiful parts of north and south of the Peloponnese.
I cover here some aspects of the trip, and show a little of what we saw. All days are shown in the picture galleries, you can click on the first people to see it in a large size and then scroll through the pictures.
We flew from Israel to Greece, and around 12:40 we were disembarking there. After the whole disembarking procedure, which is much more complicated in these COVID days, we proceeded to Avis to get our rental car. We got a very nice VW Golf. After throwing our baggage in and setting the GPS, we began travelling according to the itinerary in the second picture below.
Yes, you might be disappointed that this time we took a car. But at the current winter temperatures, a motorcycle was too cold for Lily. We still plan that in the future, in the summer, we will do another trip to the Peloponnese by motorcycle, for a longer time, to explore the whole peninsula.
Since this was 24/12, Christmas Eve, and the following two days of the trip were Christmas and then a Sunday, two days without any possibility to do any shopping, we began by stopping at the McArthur Glenn Outlet, which is 15 minutes from the airport, to let Lily see the movement and the shops. This is a period in which shopping centers look beautiful with all the Christmas decoration. They are also very full of people doing their last shopping for Christmas. We spent around one hour there, and continued on the way.
Next stop: Korinthos Canal.
We had a kind of a story with this canal. In 2015, when I brought (with Lily) my first motorcycle from Germany, we looked for the canal and couldn't find it, for some strange reason. After looking for it for around half-an-hour, we just gave up and continued to Athens. Then, in 2020, travelling alone, I managed to find it and discovered that in the previous trial we were at a walking distance from the canal, some 50-100 meters, but we just couldn't see it because we didn't cross the bridge.
This time I went to there for Lily to see it too. And we almost missed it again. But after some travelling round-and-round, I managed to find the place. And there we are, Lily and me, taking a selfie with the canal in the background.
After the canal, we took our way to the final destination the village of Xylokastro (or Xylokastron). As a motorcyclist in the heart, I didn't take the Freeway to get there. Instead, I took the old sea road, that goes from village to village, and it was a great experience. We passed through Kallas Beach, Paralia Vrachatiou, Kato, etc... each village more beautiful than the previous one. It is just a magic way to travel.
It was already getting dark when we arrived to Xylokastro. We took our room at the Arion hotel, and went out to walk in the center of the town and see how the Christmas Eve happens there. The church plaza was quite full of people, and most restaurants were open. It happens that many people go to have the Christmas dinner at the restaurants. At some point we went to a restaurant recommended by the hotel clerk, called Elladicon. The waiter told us about some Christmas Night special dishes that they make only on this day. We took the suggestion, and had a wonderful dinner.
I woke up in the second day, opened the window to the balcony, and was greeted by the marvelous view that you can see in the first picture of the gallery below. Behind the sea, we see the mountains of the continental Greece... look well and you will see snow at the higher peaks. Gosh, waking up and being welcomed by Greece with this view is priceless. It gives you energy for the whole day.
We dressed up to a cold day, since we knew that in our long way today, we would be crossing through the highest mountains at the Peloponnese, the area of Kalavryta and their ski center.
We ate breakfast and got on our way. First stop: Diakopto. Diakopto is one bigger village at the North Peloponnese blessed with beautiful beaches and a gorgeous view of the continent. In my trip in January 2020, I took a beautiful picture of my new motorcycle there, which Lily liked very much, and I wanted to show her where it was taken. We took, exactly in the same place, a picture of me with the car, and took the opportunity to shoot some more pictures in there. Besides photography, not much to do in Diakopto at this time of the year, since the town is based on summer tourism, and now everything is closed. So, we continued our way to Kalavryta.
Kalavryta is a village at the top of the mountains, and hosts the only Ski Center at the Peloponnese. The village itself is not under snow, but the temperature there was around the 4-degrees Celsius. Cold, but the main village is so beautiful that you forget the temperature and all you want is to walk around it. And that's what we did for around 1.5 hours. Then, back to the car and to the Ski Center to see some snow. We found the snow quite before arrival, and when we had the opportunity, we stopped the car at the side of the narrow road and went to have some fun in the snow. Lily was the first to go out of the car, and after getting out, she suddenly disappeared!!! I came out and to the other side of the car, to find her sitting in the snow, after her foot inadvertently went knee-deep in the snow and she fell while trying to get it out. :-D
Well, I pulled her out of the snow, we took some pictures there, and continued to our next destination - the Cave Lakes. The Cave Lakes, which formerly were called Troupisio, are 17 Km from Kalavryta, near a village called Kastria. They are very connected to Greek Mythology, and in general they are the result of an underground river that formed a cave with a series of lakes inside it. You can find details of the place in their website. It has been chosen by UNESCO as a world heritage site, and nowadays it can only be visited with guided tours. When you arrive there, you buy a ticket, and wait for your tour time. COVID has also caused that these tours have less people nowadays.
Unfortunately, we would have to wait for more than one hour to the time of the next tour, and the tour itself is not short, and we still had much to travel and see in our way to Kalamata. So, we have decided to leave the visit to the cave for the next opportunity, when we do a longer visit and can sleep one night in Kalavryta.
From the area of Kastria, we continued to another place which is considered a pearl in the Peloponnese, the town of Dimitsana. Dimitsana is by itself a paradox... a paradox between the very old buildings, built with stones and in the form of fortresses, and a very lively movement of tourists that fill the cafes in the village and, even more than the cafes, fill the narrow streets of the village with their cars. I believe that it was the most crowded place I have seen in the whole trip. The two-way streets can barely hold two cars side by side, and the traffic jam caused by the cars looking for parking spaces makes it almost impossible to cross the village - it took us more than 45 minutes to go by car from one side to the other. It would probably be faster walking. There was nowhere to park, as well. So, at the end, after we felt the beat of the town, we continued to our final destination of the day, Kalamata.
On our way out of Dimitsana to Kalamata, Google Maps made us a surprise and took us for some 20 Km through roads that in any other place I would be afraid of travelling through them. Rural roads, very narrow, in which your only view is of the trees around the road. Every curve needs to be done carefully for the case that another car is coming from the other side, because there is barely place for the two. A lot of curves. I was driving and thinking about how much I would enjoy riding my motorcycle on those roads. Beautiful and thrilling.
At the end, we got to Kalamata before sunset. We took our room at the Vista Marina hotel, a newly built hotel which is very budget friendly, yet superb. The host, Jelena, is a fantastic person, receives the visitors as if they were part of her family, and helps in anything she can. She found for us a place where we could take our required COVID tests for the flight back to Israel, called them, set a time for us, and in the next day, after the results didn't arrive, also found them and gave them our proper email address so that they could send it again.
We went to do our COVID test by foot (1.8 Km), and after that continued around 1 Km to the old town of Kalamata, a touristic area with pedestrian streets and a church, and lots of bars, pubs and restaurants. The whole area was all decorated for Christmas, and holding Christmas events. Really nice, and there we could see all the life of the Kalamatians, sitting at the restaurants and enjoying themselves. At the end, we also chose a restaurant called Platea for having our dinner. It was filled with people, but they had a quieter place at the second floor. We had a great dinner there, and made all our way to the hotel by foot through the city's main commercial road, Aristomenous street, and through the Municipal Railway Park, a park in which they have placed a series of old trains making it a kind of an open museum of trains.
We woke up to the third and last day of our Peloponnese tour. The Vista Marina hotel didn't offer breakfast, but they hosted a cafe at the front of the building in which we could have a good breakfast. I bought for me a breakfast based in what they called "Cheese Pancake". At the first picture of this series, you can see that it was "a little more" than a pancake, and it was gorgeous. For my wife, cafe and croissant. Total: around 9 euros.
After breakfast, we loaded the car again with our luggage and went in our way. First stop: Kardamyli.
The road from Kalamata to Kardamyli is one of those roads that only motorcyclists can enjoy. Fast and slow curves, and beautiful views. Kardamyli itself seems to be a very nice and lively place in the summer, but besides the stunning view, nothing was going on there in the winter. But anyway, the town is charming, we had a one-hour walk around there, took many pictures, and continued in our way.
Our next stop, already after noon, was Nafplio (or Nafplion). Here we were surprised with the amount of people - actually tourists - in the place. The town was completely full. The first thing we did was to go by car and visit the Palamidis Fortress at the top of the mountain, which oversees the whole town. After that, we went back down to the town center to walk and eat something. We found a kind of a boulangerie that had an interesting personal pan pizza to-go, so this was our lunch while we were walking through the harbor. We spent approximately 1 hour, or 1.5 hours in Nafplio, and left it with a taste of "more"...
Our last stop was Athens, where we took our well-known Acropolis Select hotel, in which we stayed in our 2015 trip. The hotel is still very good, but is a little beaten by the 6 years that passed since then. But the best of this hotel is the location, it is a step from the Acropolis and also from the famous Athens Placka, the most visited touristic place in Athens. Since 2015 Lily wanted to return to the Placka and find a specific store belonging to an artist in jewelry, to buy some specific things there. In 2020, she made me crazy trying to find this place, and I left Athens in distress that I couldn't find it. This time, she found it in 5 minutes, as we can see in one of the pictures below. One ring and a pair of earrings later, we were walking around the Placka again. In winter time, shops there close at 7 PM, a lot earlier than in summer time. But the restaurants stay open, so we found a restaurant that I wanted to (but didn't) try in my 2020 trip, called ESTIA. Lily chose a Spaghetti, and I decided that if you leave Greece without eating a Gyros, you haven't been in Greece. It was excellent! Together with an Ouzo shot, a good dessert and a fabulous dessert wine that they served us on-the-house, it was the perfect last dinner in Greece.
We woke up at 3:30 AM to leave to the airport. Around 4:50 AM we left the car at the Avis parking, did our check-in and ate something for the morning. Our flight left at 7:50 AM and arrived to Israel at 9:30, time in which we got our luggage, did our COVID test, took our car at the parking and went home for 3 days of isolation.
Travelling at COVID times can be an interesting experience. Specifically, if you look at all the trouble you go through as an interesting sociologic experience.
Some conclusions I took with me from the experience:
1. Although we don't see specific efforts from the government, at least not in advertisement, and no panic at all, my feeling after this trip is that the Greek people take the COVID thing much more seriously than the Israeli people.
2. There was not ONE SINGLE SHOP or restaurant, no matter its size, that didn't check our vaccination certificate. Not only they scanned the certificate, they verify the data from the scanning against what is written in our passport. No certificate, you don't go in. And this is not because they are afraid that the police will come in and fine them, but because they know that if they have another outbreak, the country will go into lockdown and their shop will be closed, God knows for how much time.
3. You don't see in the shops anyone trying to remove his mask, or put it under their nose, something so common in Israel. People in Greece understand and cooperate. And if not, someone will come and tell you to adjust your mask properly or to go out.
4. Outside the buildings, for example at the Placka, even in the outside, you see people voluntarily wearing masks when they are in crowded areas. Social responsibility at its best.
5. The Israeli government requires that Israelis travelling back from abroad do a COVID test 72 hours before travelling to Israel, and fill an entry form to Israel. The clerk at the Athens airport checked these documents, but NOBODY in Israel asked for them.
All in all, we felt protected against the virus while in Greece, much more than we feel here in Israel, where there is no shop or restaurant that really checks our COVID Green Pass, because even if the customer is not vaccinated and endangering all the other customers and their employees, they don't want to loose the customer because he didn't have a Green Pass. In Israel, it seems that each single sale is worth more than the public health, and this is why the government needs to be hysterical about COVID. This doesn't happen in Greece; everyone does his part.
Before the trip, everyone we told we were travelling to Greece told us we are crazy going at this time. Either because of COVID or because of the weather. But we were set to go.
Now, I think that they are crazy because they don't go. As I said, being in the Peloponnese during winter in general, and especially during Christmas, is a completely different experience. We had 3 different seasons every day, from hot to cold, from sunny to light rain. The temperatures varied from 4 degrees to 19 degrees Celsius. And regarding COVID, I think we were much more protected there than we are here in Israel.
It was a great trip - but we need to go again, in the summer, with motorcycles, and for a longer period.