Saturday, August 25, 2012

Living Large at the Costa Navarino -- Amalia's Grecian Odyssey Part 6

Several years ago a luxury resort complex called Costa Navarino opened in Messinia in the Peloponnese--the triumph of a man's dream to revive his native part of Greece.  His name was Captain Vasilis Constantakopoulos and he lived long enough to see his 25 years of preparation come to fruition, providing jobs for thousands of his fellow Greeks and introducing something for every visitor, while maintaining strict ecological standards.  The complex provides its own water and electricity, replaces every olive tree that has to be moved, and has a nature hall to introduce visitors to the flora and fauna of the region.  Now his three sons continue his work.

There are two resorts in the complex--the Romanos and the Westin--and a third, the Banyan Tree, will open soon.  It's a dream destination for families with children.  Amalia, just under a year, was too young to be part of the "Sand Castle" crew, ages 4 to 12, kids who can be entertained, fed, and cared for every day by young counselors in the area that includes an Aqua Park, an American-style diner, and a "Sand Castle" full of crafts, movies, child-sized bathrooms, even facilities for sleeping overnight in the Castle on Fridays and Saturdays.  (For grown-up fun there are swim-up bars and trendy restaurants and clubs and two world-class golf courses.)

A hamburger in the Diner comes with "Smiley Face" french fries.

Amalia loved playing in the Aqua Park with her Papou and her Mommy.

She watched while they slid down the large water slides.

She also enjoyed swimming in the private pool outside her room.

And collecting  rocks on the beach.

As for dining--she tried it all.  Here's just a corner of the bread selection at Breakfast.

She liked watching the sunset while listening to live music during happy hour.

Here is Mommy enjoying some "Mommy juice" at the  Souvlaki restaurant in the Agora--a kind of central village gathering place in the  center of the resorts.  There, in additional to many kinds of restaurants, there are often programs  demonstrating traditional Messanian cooking, dancing, and theatrical programs.

On August 15, the Virgin's holiday, Amalía and a lot of other children went with their parents to take communion in the small church in the Agora section of the resorts.  The church got very crowded so Amalia and others listened from outside the church, where Amalia made friends, including this young man.

And after church was over, there was a program, spoken in Greek and English, about an old grandmother who made special breads for every holiday. Her bread-making was an almost religious ritual celebrating her culture and her family.

Then Greek dancers demonstrated their skills and taught everyone the Kalamatianos.  It was Amalia's first theatrical production.

She loved it, doing a little dancing herself, and hoped she'd be able to come back to Costa Navarino again next year.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Caves and Kittens--Amalia's Grecian Odyssey Part 5

Amalia was asleep while her entourage was driving on the road between the Kyrimai Hotel and the city of Kardamili, both in the Mani.  She awoke, very surprised to find herself  in an underground cave (the Diros Caves--largest in Greece) with Mommy and Yiayia wearing life vests and about to get into a small crowded boat to tour the 3.5 kilometers of the caves, filled with scenic stalactites and stalagmites.  Amalia was very confused.  She didn't know that her Mommy cannot pass a cave without exploring it.

Somehow there were no life vests for babies and the boat tilted drastically every time the two large gentlemen in front of them moved.  The boat's captain somewhat resembled the three-headed dog Cerberus who guards the entrance to Hades (but he had only one head).  He moved the boat by pushing against the cave walls with an oar, and often shouted at the passengers (in Greek) to duck their heads forward and not to lean to the left or right.
At the end of the boat ride was a 200-meter walk to get to the exit.  Some people were sorry that the pilot only spoke in Greek, but Amalia understood him when he said that the prehistoric lakes held eels and spiders, but no fish.
Moving onward  to the Anniska Apartments in Kardamili, Amalia was delighted to be reunited with her Papou Nick, whom she hadn't seen since the beginning of her odyssey.  Everyone had a delicious lunch overlooking the sea after Amalia carefully inspected the fish they were about to eat.

Back in the hotel there was swimming in the pool and swinging the the porch swing on their large balcony while the sun set.  And in the reception area Amalia got to know a friendly kitten who lived nearby.
Despite the way this looks, Yiayia Joanie was not planning to kidnap the kitten and carry it on to the next stop in the odyssey--the  luxurious Costa Navarino in Messinia.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Amalia's Grecian Odyssey, Part 4--Fearlessly into the Mani

The Mani region in the southern Peloponnesus has been notorious for over 400 years (from the fall of Mystra in 1480 or so until about 1870) for the fierce blood feuds, worthy of the Hatfields and the McCoys, that caused families to barricade themselves inside their fortress-like homes and devote themselves to wiping out their neighbors, invaders (and pirates).

 Every inaccessible rock and hill in Mani usually is topped by one of the Maniote towers--built several floors high with narrow windows just big enough to stick the barrel of a shotgun through.  Some men lived most of their lives inside their fortress/home.  It was against the rules to shoot women and children, so the wives were gun runners and while not likely to be executed by rival families, women and girls might be kidnapped by enemies and sold to the Turks or the pirates.

Amalia and her entourage based themselves in the Turkish-style Kyrimai Hotel in Gerolimenas, once a  trade center for importing goods from Syros and the Middle East.   The hotel is now famous for its chef, Yiannis Baxevanis.  Breakfast every day, overlooking the water, was a revelation featuring several courses including local specialities.
 On the first night Amalia strolled a few hundred yards into the harbor and decided to have dinner at the Etilekton which, you might guess from this photo, specializes in fresh-caught octopus.  She quickly discovered a new favorite food--octopus meatballs.
 The kitties liked them too.
 While we ate , the cliff across the harbor was lighted.
 The next day we set out to see the fortified homes and villages of Mani, many of which are still occupied (although the blood feuds were suppressed by the government in 1870.)
 Most famous is the town of Vathia.
 We continued driving south until we reached Cape Tenaro, which has several distinctions.  It is the southernmost point of continental Europe (or so I'm told). It is also the site of a small ancient structure which is called the "Sanctuary and death Oracle of Poseidon Tainarios."
  And Cape Tenaro was considered by the ancients to be one of the gates to the underworld.

Fleeing such an ominous spot, we headed to the nearb Marmari Paradise Restaurant, perched high above an inviting beach where Amalia and her  Mommy took a quick dip.  Then Amalia discovered another seafood favorite--shrimp risotto.

Back at our hotel Amalia slept through happy hour but roused herself for an unforgettable dinner at the Kyrimai Restaurant, that ended with a chocolate dream desssert.  Life in the dreaded and infamous Mani was not so tough after all, she decided.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Amalia's Grecian Odyssey, Chapter 3 - Monemvasia

Siting on our balcony in Nauplion, Mommy Eleni and Papou Nick planned our route driving to Monemvasia, our next stop on Amalía's grecian odyssey, and on Thursday, Aug. 9, we set out.

Luckily Amalía slept through most of the harrowing drive along narrow mountain roads. (Lesson learned, if there's a choice between a scenic route and a faster route inland on modern highways, do not pick the scenic route.)
Monemvasia is a medieval city carved out of large rock, something like Mont Saint-Michel in France.  It's connected to the mainland by a causeway.  No vehicles can go inside--you enter on foot through the tunnel-like gate and climb up the winding cobbled streets.  Everything is accessible only on slippery stone stairs.

Our room was part of the Theophano Art Hotel, opened this past March.  Like every room in Monemvasia, it was cave-like, with arched ceilings, because all the buildings are basically carved out of the rock.  Amalia loved going up and down that ledge you can see behind her and the steps to the bathroom.

Here is the alcove where Yiayia Joanie slept.

At twilight we went to a nearby taverna/bar to watch the sunset.

It gave Amalía a chance for her favorite activity: pushing chairs around in a restaurant.

And stealing cutlery.

We had dinner at our favorite restaurant on the island: Matoula's.

The next morning we had a delicious homemade breakfast at the main building of the Theophano Art Hotel, far below.

Here is the reception area.  They sell art works and have musical events as well.

This window looks out onto the quiet square outside.

On the way out of town we stopped at the studio of artist Gregoreas Manolis and Eleni bought one of his works just as Yiayia Joanie had bought one many years before.

Then we were off on a drive to the region of Greece called the Mani.  We stopped for lunch at  the scenic town of Areopolis

Where Amalía discovered a new favorite food: fried zucchini patties.