Get Lost in Greece's Monemvasia, Part One

Very uncharacteristically, I found myself in a light debate with one of my best friends last year.
monemvasia tourism
A view of the Monemvasia lower town with two of its most in-tact churches
OK, characteristically.

A bit of back-story: This friendwe'll call him "Todd"was dating (and is now engaged to), a flight attendant. Not only is said flight attendant beautiful, devoted, and hilarious, but she also has the unique power to bestow upon Todd one of life's greatest gifts: no, I'm not talking about the miracle of childbirth (although this, I suppose, is also in her power)I'm talking about the miracle of completely, unabashedly FREE airline travel.

Todd had had these travel benefits for a good year or two and Iever-vigilanthad noticed that not only had he not come to visit me out in Jackson, Wyoming in the four years since I had lived there, but he had also neglected to make any trips out of the country or to any locale that wasn't some bustling American city.

I told Todd that he better come casually suggested that Todd visit me during my European travels, whereupon he replied with something along the lines of "I don't see the point in traveling, most places are essentially the same wherever you go."
church cross
The remains of a church and its cross against the sky
monemvasia churches
The pristine Panagia Chrysafitissa Church
We won't get into the many ways in which I thought his outlook was painfully and dreadfully incorrect. Suffice it to say that I did my best to show him of the error of his ways, and I doubt that I was successful.

What I've now learned is that if a person is convinced that every place in the world is essentially offering the same experience, don't waste your time with logic or debate tactics attempting to make them see the light; just knock them out, tie them up, and put them on a plane to Monemvasia.
Approaching the fortress
They'll thank you upon landing.

As you approach this ancient city, the feeling begins to take over. It's a strange one: some mixture of disbelief, wonderment, and romance. And don't try, there is no escaping it.
Overlooking the lower town
The feeling remains, growing stronger as you cross over the single causeway linking Monemvasia to the Peloponnesian mainland. In fact, Monemvasia translates to "single entrance," and as you approach the stony, timeworn  gates to the city, it sinks in that the single entrance is the only exit as well...unless you're a really, really good swimmer. This place was made to protect itself.

Just barely a mile long and a mere 900 feet high, you have to wonder how the Greek gods jammed so much pure magic into such a small area.

An earthquake in 375 A.D. set this great rock apart from the rest of Greece, and there it lay uninhabited until 583, when the local Byzantines set up shop in order to avoid outside invaders to the mainland. There they stayed in relative peace for about 700 years, after which battles for occupation ensued nearly until the 1800s.
The wall surrounding the entrance to the lower town

Clearly Monemvasia has always been the place to be; since it's initial occupation, "ownership" of Monemvasia has changed hands at least seven times.

I'd been introduced  to this other-worldly retreat by the gracious owners of the house and pets we'd been "sitting" for the past three weeks. I went back when my parents came to visit over Christmas. And I went for a third time because honestly, I couldn't get enough.

John and I treated ourselves to two nights in this enchanted town for two reasons:
#1. We had spent nearly eight months traveling and paid for accommodation for a mere total of two nights.
#2. It's off-season, baby!
The view to the right from our hotel room's patio

If a splurge was in order, this was the place for it. But although we attempted to "splurge," I'd say the final payment was absurdly inexpensive. An apartment-like room with a balcony, fireplace, and free firewood and breakfast set us back a mere 60 euros per night at the Hotel Byzantino. What's notably special about the room was that it has that Monemvasia character; it's easy to feel as though you're actually "living" somewhere and experiencing the lifestyle, not just staying in an aseptic hotel room. Even with the shower being half the size of your refrigerator and a paltry breakfast of toasted white bread and jam (but with fresh OJ and coffee!), we couldn't have asked for more at that price.

If I positioned myself just-so and looked out of our window, I could imagine that I was on an ancient schooner, sailing toward the Parthenon to pay tribute to Athena. We were that close to the crystal blue water and we had it all to ourselves. Thank you, off-season rates.
aaaaand view to the left
Yet we couldn't stay sitting on our balcony all day playing backgammon. There was history to see.

The lower city of Monemvasia is filled with old houses, shops, and about four of the original 40 churches, most of which are in a state of disrepair. It is almost enough to lose yourself within these cobblestoned streets, stealing glimpses of the sea, stepping into a shop selling local honey-wine, or trying to catch a glimpse of one of the dozen-or-so year-round residents.
That is an upside-down Christmas tree. A little late, a lot cool
Our favorite cafe/bar, Enetiko, was loaded with handmade art, like this beachwood dragon guarding the bar (look closely)
A wine cellar/spice shop
More windy streets
The one possible problem with visiting a tourist town in the off-season is that many of the stores and restaurants aren't open. Luckily Marianthi, the restaurant we chose (which only had one competitor), was a winner.

We started dinner off with some local raki served straight, which I would compare to a mild moonshine. It was followedby cabbage rolls stuffed with a mixture of ground beef, pork, and spices and served with Greek yogurt sprinkled with paprika; then fried Greek cheese; and finally we shared an entree of locally-caught fried red mullet.
There were two older ladies working, one as the chef, and one as the waitress/cat chaser. The chef casually sits down at your table to take orders and tell you what's on the menu for the night before heading next door to begin cooking. Old women chefs, as a rule, are generally the best. Meanwhile, if you're lucky, an accidentally-opened door might let one of the bountiful cats from outside leak in, which causes the waitress to dance around while beating a thin bamboo stick against the walls and floor. The sound, I suppose, is meant to scare the cats...

But we all know that cats don't actually get scared.

It's a informal restaurant, to say the least, and the food is divine.

Afterwards, we stopped by an uber hip lounge across from the restaurant where we sat on chic cushions next to chic tables and imbibed chic beverages. That is, if you can call John's White Russian chic. My B&B (warmed brandy and bénédictine), however, makes the chic list without any hesitation.
candles in paper bags...too hot to be cool
Of course we brought the cards...
How a place like this exists amongst so much antiquity, I don't quite understand. But it's nice in an opposites-attract kind of way.

The next morning, despite a mild desire to lounge around as intensely as possible until nightfall, we set off to the very top of our huge rock to discover the real bygone days of Monemvasia.
Heading up the rock on a slightly ominous Monemvasia morning
But that is a whole different story.

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  1. Places like Monvasia are why we travel! You never know what gem lies ahead! Travel "stretches" us in a way that always keeps us young at heart!

    1. I see you still haven't quite "learned" how to "spell" Monemvasia, mom...but you're right about "everything" else!

  2. After seeing these pictures and your previous house-sitting ones, it seems that Greece, with more aggressive marketing to tourists, could rival Italy and coastal Croatia. Looks really beautiful.

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