Areopoli, Diros Caves, and Monemvasia (sort of)

Today, I drove to Gefyra, a town immediately beside the main attraction of the area, Monemvasia. I made a couple of stops along the way, Areopoli and Diros Caves.

(I’ve also seen Gefyra spelled as Gefira and Yefira in English contexts. There are probably a few other English spellings I’ve missed. For the most part, for the purpose of this entry, I’m going to call the combined towns of Gefyra (or whatever) and Monemvasia, each on opposite sides of a short causeway, Monemvasia because my hotel, which is technically in Gefyra (or whatever), is just a five minute walk from the Monemvasia. I’ve never seen Monemvasia spelled any other way in English contexts. This is another reason I want to call both side-by-side towns Monenvasia. That way, I don’t have to worry about which spelling to use. That and, despite Monemvasia having a much smaller footprint, it very much dominates Gefyra/Gefira/Yefira.)

I read that I should buy a timed ticket for Diros Caves online because they usually sell out on the day-of. According to what I read, I’d probably be out of luck if I showed up without buying a ticket in advance.

When I went to the ticket-selling website, my top two choices for time slots were already sold out. There were earlier time slots available. But I’m traveling for pleasure. Pushing myself to get going relatively early in the morning is the opposite of pleasure. I quickly grabbed a later time slot. Quickly because there were only a few tickets showing as available for that slot, 1:00 – 2:00.

I originally planned to make Diros Caves my only intermediate stop of the day. But, because I had some time before the caves, I also stopped at a nearby town recommended by guidebook, Areopoli.

I can change plans like that because Flexibility is my middle name. Actually my middle name is Michael. And implying that I’m particularly flexible is disingenuous. But I can be when pushed. So, never mind the whole “Flexibility is my middle name” thing.

Just to let you know in advance so you can celebrate early, regular readers will rejoice in learning that this will likely be shorter than my usual posts. Irregular readers, particularly anyone who hasn’t read any other pages in this journal yet, won’t know they’re getting off easy with this post.

Then again, I wrote the previous paragraph before writing most of the rest of this entry. Pages I think are going to be short sometimes end up being long. We’ll see what happens.

Okay. Let’s plow ahead and get this damn thing over with.

Areopoli

Statue of Petros Mavromichalis
Statue of Petros Mavromichalis

Areopoli is a smallish town with oldish buildings. Most of them are constructed with stones that are either grey or sand coloured, joined with grey or sand coloured mortar.

Rereading that last paragraph, the town sounds boringly two-tone. But, on the contrary, it’s quite handsome.

Areopoli’s core is a newish, decent-sized public square. The square hosts a jaunty statue of Petros Mavromichalis, a local hero who gathered together an army in 1821 and marched to Kalamata, launching the War of Independence. Either that or they marched to Kalamata to buy some Kalamata olives. But probably the former.

Most of the buildings on the other side of the streets that surround the square are small restaurants. There are a few small stores as well. There’s also a cute, little church of to one side. Because the square is decent-sized, but not large, that doesn’t allow for a lot of shops and restaurants.

Church near the square
Church near the square

One tremendous benefit of the square is that the sides of the streets beside the square have angle parking rather than parallel parking. I don’t think it does, but if the Guinness Book of World Records has a category for the world’s worst parallel parker, you’ll find my name there. Anywhere where you can park straight-in or angled, rather than parallel, is a place worth visiting in my books, no matter how far away it takes you from anywhere you’d otherwise want to be.

After, spending a few minutes in the square, I wandered around town a bit. On my walk, I saw a few isolated restaurants here and there, but not many. I didn’t notice any more stores, but I didn’t walk along every street, so there might be more.

An Areopoli street
An Areopoli street

The guidebook that recommended Areopoli said it is the commercial hub of the area, the Mani peninsula. I try to avoid being a big-city snob. But I almost always fail. I feel extremely self-conscious and regretful about that. However, I don’t seem to be able to help it.

My first thought after wandering around the town was, this is the commercial hub? Really? This is it? What do they do in the other towns on the Mani Peninsula? Just bum around? (Said the retired guy who is just bumming around the Peloponnese Peninsula.) Surely this can’t be the heart of commerce of the area. Where are the multi-floor office buildings? Where is the theatre district? And where are the high-end restaurants?

Yeah, yeah. Like I said, big-city snob. But, like I also said, I don’t seem to be able to help it. I’m deeply sorry for that.

Diros Caves

Diros Caves (also know as Dirou Caves or Pyrgos Dirou Caves, and, no doubt, other names) is a starred attraction in the guidebooks. (The English-language website for the caves is here). Yet, despite this and despite time slots filling up online, it wasn’t busy. Even with the stop in Areopoli, I still arrived at Diros Caves about 45 minutes before my designated time.

Two Diros Caves staff members were at the entrance. One spoke not-terrible English. I don’t think the other spoke any. The former was able to let me know that, rather than waiting for 1:00, I’d only have to wait until they had a full boat-load of six people. That took less than five minutes.

I no longer trust the “sold-out” and “number of tickets remaining indicators” for each hour on the ticket-selling website.

You might be thinking, “Caves? Boat? What gives?”

The bottom of the Diros Caves are submerged. Six-person boats ply through them on a circular route. The boat driver propels the boat slowly through the caves using a pole to push off the sides and top of the cave. (Sides sometimes, top other times depending on which is most convenient.)

The boat pilot provides frequent commentary along the way. In my imagination, it was the most interesting commentary I’ve ever heard. In reality, it was all in Greek. I have no idea if it would have been interesting if I understood it or not. One of the other passengers asked a number of questions, in Greek. The answers came in Greek.

Before the trip, I read on, I think it was TripAdvisor, about the Greek-only commentary, so I expected it.

Some portions of the cave roof are low. Some passageways are narrow. And some rocks jut out at points. Consequently, it’s occasionally necessary to duck or lean to one side as the boat floats along. The boat driver probably warned the other passengers about that in Greek. I had to learn it by watching the surroundings and watching what the other passengers did.

Diros Caves was amazing. It took about a half-hour to complete the route. Myriad stalactites hang from the ceiling densely packed throughout most of the cave. They vary in size from roughly the size of the thinest of icicles to fairly large pillars. Water drips from the ceiling in occasional drops. I assume that keeps the stalactite-formation going. The boat driver probably told the passengers that, but, you know, Greek.

The caves are artificially lit, but not very brightly. Consequently, the pictures I took are not up to my usual standard, which is not up to the standard of a half-decent photographer. Another problem with my pictures is that the best views were probably straight ahead, looking through the passages in the cave head-on. But I was in the third-seat back. There were two people ahead of me. If I took a picture straight ahead it would be mostly the back of heads, so I didn’t get any of those shots.

Diros Caves
Diros Caves

Now that I’ve appropriately lowered expectations, I feel I can include here one of the pictures I took.

In normal times, there is also a land-based portion of the site, where, according to my guidebook, you can get “up-close views of more limestone formations.” I say normally because it was closed. According to the guy at the entrance to the boat trip, it’s closed for cleaning. They think it will reopen next year, but they’re not sure.

I don’t think he really meant cleaning. His English wasn’t great. How long does it take to clean limestone formations? He probably meant rehabilitation of some of the associated infrastructure, maybe trails and protective structures, but I don’t know.

Lunch Near Diros Caves

Because of my earlier-than-booked start at the Diros Caves, I left there shortly after 1:00. I didn’t think there are many places to stop for lunch along the way from the caves to Monemvasia. So I looked at TripAdvisor for restaurants nearby to the caves. What’s a major tourist attraction, as Diros Caves is, without nearby restaurants?

TripAdvisor knew about two. One had a five out of five dot rating, but based on only three reviews. The other didn’t have a rating at all. I chose the former.

I arrived at about a quarter past one. The restaurant is not small, but not huge. At a guess, I’d say it had about three dozen tables.

When I arrived, the place was empty of people save for about a half-dozen or so staff. Totally empty. Yet, all but two of the tables were already set.

A sign out front displayed some menu items, but it was printed only in Greek. I asked the first person who presented himself if they had an English menu. He didn’t understand me at first and asked me “what?,” or something that sounded to me like “what?,” a couple of times. Eventually he understood and said, “sure.”

It turned out “sure” didn’t mean “sure we have an English menu.” “Sure” meant, “Sure, I’ll grab the only person here who speaks English and she will tell you what we have.”

After hearing their menu options, I decided to try it and asked for a table for one. The server pointed and said, “You can have this one or that one.” The two she pointed to were the two unset tables. Both were inside, not on the restaurant’s fair-sized patio. One was in a dark corner that looked unappealing. The other was right beside a door to the patio. So, if anyone sat on the patio, servers would have to brush by that table.

The restaurant was, as I said, empty of customers apart from me. I chose the table by the door to the patio. How busy could it get?

I ordered my food, a half-order of Greek salad and a chicken dish. From the time I arrived until the time the server placed my food in front of me, the restaurant remained empty of customers, but for me. The moment I picked up my knife and fork, two large tour busses pulled up outside.

All of the tables then filled up. My table had four chairs at it. Apparently, one of the other tables didn’t have enough chairs to accommodate all the people at it. A woman came to my table, put her hand on one of my unused chairs, and asked me what I imagine was something to the effect of, “do you mind if I take this chair?” But she said it in Greek, so I don’t know.

I apologized, in English, for not speaking Greek. She didn’t understand. I tried to make hand gestures that I thought would indicate I didn’t mind if she took the chair. Apparently, I didn’t do that very well. She took her hand off the chair and started to walk away without the chair. I waved her back and tried again to indicate the chair was hers for the taking. Eventually, we clicked and she took the chair.

Then another woman came by, put her hand on another of the vacant chairs at my table. We repeated an abbreviated version of the same game of charades and that chair went too. Then a server came by, not the English-speaking one, and took the final vacant chair without a word.

Shortly after that, the restaurant staff decided they needed another small table out on the patio. No, they didn’t take my table, but a server brushed my back carrying out a table from somewhere. Maybe it was the other unset table. I wasn’t looking that way.

When the tour group started getting their food. Server traffic behind me out to the patio became heavy. And the crowd created a din. To top it off, someone a couple tables away from me was smoking.

Needless to say, I became eager to leave. I didn’t wolf down my food (which tasted okay), but I didn’t eat it leisurely either. I didn’t have wine because I was driving, so that didn’t slow me down.

After finishing, I waited for my server to come by, or even look my way so I could signal her. But, with that crowd, she was busy in another part of the restaurant. Tour operators might bring huge repeat business. Understandably, I was a less important customer.

After about, probably, twenty minutes of waiting, I issued the universal writing-in-the-air symbol for “check, please” to a different server who passed by me, figuring she’d let my server know.

She responded in Greek with something that, from the tone, sounded positive. Apparently, I’m not very good at interpreting Greek tones. No one brought me a bill anytime soon after that.

Eventually, my server passed by my table. I was able to flag her down and ask for the check. I forget her exact words, but it was something like, “in a minute.” It was probably at least another ten or fifteen minutes before she brought it to me. Although, she did apologize profusely for my wait due to how busy they were.

To make a long story a tiny bit longer, I was at that restaurant for two hours or so, despite not having a huge lunch.


Aside

I feel the need to repeat something I think I said about another language in another post about another county, but I forget where. And I’m not even sure I said it before.

Be that as it may, here’s the thing. I worry (yes; I know; hard to believe I worry) that some people who read my discussion about people who don’t think speak English will think I’m complaining. Au contraire.

Sure, it’d be easier if they did, but I’m in Greece. Greek is the language here. If they speak any English, they speak infinitely more English than I speak Greek.

If they came to Toronto, I and most of my fellow Torontonians wouldn’t be able to help them in Greek. Toronto has a large Greektown, but outside of there, they’d probably be out of luck trying to get by in Greek.

Yet, here, this is the first time I’ve had any problem not being able to speak Greek. When I travel to non-English-speaking countries, I’m very conscious of being a thoroughly spoiled unilingual anglophone. Because English has become the lingua franca in much of the world, particularly in heavily touristed areas, being unilingually anglophone rarely prevents me from enjoying my travel.


Monemvasia (Sort of)

A view from one of my two small hotel room balconies
A view from one of my two small hotel room balconies

I got to Gefyra (or whatever) about an hour or so before dark, so I didn’t have much time to look around. Monemvasia is a huge rock with a small village on it. (And more. I visit it tomorrow as my only planned activity, so I’ll probably have more to say about it then.)

Gefyra is a nice seaside town as far as I can tell, but, as I said, I didn’t do much exploring.

My hotel is almost right at the start of the causeway from Gefyra to Monemvasia. Pretty much the only thing I did after arriving and checking into my room is to walk across the short causeway to the base of the rock, look up at it and walk back, type some of these words, and go for dinner.

A view from the other of my two small hotel balconies
A view from the other of my two small hotel room balconies

My hotel is not awful, but my room and the rest of the hotel are quite utilitarian and uninspiring. The hotel doesn’t have an elevator. My room is on the second floor, which in North American numbering terms is the third floor. The ground floor is floor zero in Europe. Not, I hope, to be confused with ground zero.

My room is clean, but very plain. The one good thing about it is that it’s a corner room with, not one, but two small balconies. One looks directly across to Monemvasia. The other looks along the coast toward half the town of Gefyra. (The causeway is about midway along the shoreline of the town.)

I posted pictures of the two views here.

The Drive

The drive today was like most drives have been on this trip: Up, down, twist, turn, with a few, but not a lot of, and not long straightaways. Again, the trip offered great mountain and sea scenery that I didn’t get more than quick looks at because I was too busy focusing on staying on the road through the ups, downs, twists, and turns.

Of topic, I am getting really frustrated with Apple Maps. I entered the name of my destination hotel. Apple Maps plotted a route to the only hotel of that name that it knew about in Greece. I arrived at the destination. It wasn’t the right hotel. It was the right hotel name, but the wrong town.

I checked again, this time not just entering the hotel name, but also the town name, Gefyra and variations thereof. It found nothing. The address the hotel provided on my reservation was “Monemvasia main road.” So I tried entering Monemvasia along with the the hotel name. It still couldn’t find it. I looked on Google Maps and it found it right away. Because I wanted the navigation displayed on the car’s screen and couldn’t find a way to put Google Maps up on CarPlay, I decided to use Apple Maps to get me to Monemvasia and then pull over and use Google Maps to speak me through the rest of the way.

When I arrived near Monemvasia, I followed the plan and pulled over. Just as I was about to switch to Google Maps on my iPhone, I looked at Apple Maps on the car screen and there was my hotel plotted on the map without me asking for it again. I was able to tap on the hotel name and and get Apple Maps to give me a route there.

But I’m still not happy with Apple Maps. When I got to my hotel, I searched the web to see if there is a way to put Google Maps up on CarPlay. It looks like there is. I don’t have much more driving on this trip, just one more hotel stop, with a few intermediate stops, before heading back to drop off the car. But I’m sufficiently fed up with Apple Maps that I’m going to try to get it to work. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Oh, that accidental detour? The town was pretty and, like Gefyra/Monemvasia, right on the coast. And it’s not far off the highway I should have stayed on to get to my real hotel. So, the detour probably added no more than half an hour to the trip.

Epilogue

Huh. It did turn out much longer than I thought it would. Sorry about that. Funny that it should be lunch and Apple Maps, rather than Diros Caves, that was to blame.

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