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Day 16 - Looking backwards into history


Location: Mycenae

We fueled up at the enormous breakfast buffet, did a little souvenir shopping in Olympia, and headed out. I had spoken to the hotel manager about our drive to Mycenae, where things are a thousand years older than they are in Athens. Google maps showed three ways to get there, so I asked the him, “Which one of these is the treacherous mountain road, which one is the terribly curvy road that is in rough shape, and which one is the fairly easy and well-maintained one?” He didn’t even blink. He nodded and said that the one that appears the most direct is the most curvy and mountainous one, and the one that seems to veer the farthest off course is the easy one to drive. Of course.

We got turned about only once (okay, twice), at a three-pronged fork in the road near Kristena, and we had to backtrack about 6 km, but soon we found the big road with all those tunnels and tolls. When did they build all this? For the 2004 Olympics? It was, as the hotel man warned, a little dull by Greek standards (no cute villages, just a lot of bamboo fields), but after those gravel goat paths that they call roads in Kefalonia, some smooth, boring concrete was just fine.

We kept passing these large, empty modern buildings in the middle of nowhere. Triumph noticed that they all had basketball courts, and most had some large construction equipment parked around them. I suspect they were built during — and for — the construction of this road. Near one of these buildings, we stopped at a “Super Market” that looked like it would just be a big grocery store. Inside, however, were half a dozen smaller stores (lunch stands, coffee shops, a souvenir shop, a candy store, a book store, some kiddie rides…) all with separate tills but all staffed by three people who moved around. The common WC had showers. We bought a hot cheese pie (for the starving kid), some local wine (for later), a couple organic sesame seed bars (everything here is made out of sesames), and a cappuccino (for the driver). But we could have also bought helium balloons, some frozen octopus, or a large statue of Apollo. Seriously. Who shops here? We ate our snack out on the large patio overlooking the bleak highway and shared some bites with three kittens. Where did they come from? So weird.

It got cloudy for our last push into Argos too, which was also very odd. It almost rained one night, for five minutes, when we were in Kefalonia, but generally wind is all we see for weather. But by the time we pulled up to the hotel, it was bright and hot again. It had been a long day.

Back in March, we booked our two night stay at La Petite Planete based on nostalgia. David and I stayed here in 1997, and had a magnificent time. We had sat on the deck overlooking the Argolitic plain just under the Mycenaean Acropolis, and we had a spent a lovely night having dinner, wine, and a chat with the hotel manager. If we weren’t the only guests then, we were one of two groups. In my emails with the hotel, I was told that the daughters of the owner were now running things, and they were excited to welcome us back.

The woman who greeted us warmly at the door then tried to check us in, and everything went sideways. She asked if it was true that we had requested rooms at the back. We had not. She had confused us with another couple who had been here in 1977 and were returning as we were. The rooms she had set aside for us were awful! Small, smelly, last updated in the 70s, hemmed in by the mountain (so no view at all), and screaming with these loud cricket-like bugs we have encountered everywhere here.

She apologized for the misunderstanding, offered to let us stay the first night for free, but claimed she had nothing else. I was devastated. We took a few minutes to figure out what to do next. Mycenae is the tiniest of towns. There are only about three places to stay, and we were not up to a hunt.

The host returned to say she dug up our email and we did not specifically request a front view, so she would reduce our rate by 10 euro per night (rather than a free night), and let us use her pool if we decided to go stay elsewhere. We sat by the pool and tried to reconcile ourselves to the inevitable let-down of memory and expectation.

Then, somehow, miraculously, two rooms appeared on the lower floor on the front of the building. They were not beautiful, but they were bigger, and, because they weren’t nosed up against the mountain, they were airier, and quieter. The view now has two big houses in it, but at least it was closer. We remain unconvinced that the hotel (with about 20 rooms) ever had more than 5 rooms full. Too weird!

The room thing settled, we went for a swim and chatted with a lovely Irish couple with two young kids who were all in Greece for a wedding.

Then the next hurdle: dinner. Our hotel only offers a set menu, and we had not mentioned in advance that we were 3/4 vegetarian. We could not eat there that night. The host sent us down to La Belle Helene, a fairly famous place in this town, which we found out is run by her cousin. This is where the first (and many subsequent) archeologist, Schliemann, stayed, as well as many, many famous writers, artists, politicians, and a fair number of nazis too. They have a display of their guest book with names like Virginia Woolf, Jean Paul Sartre, William Faulkner, Bertrand Russell, and Jack Kerouac in it. We were the only customers there. The owner (great-great grandson of the original owner) told us exactly how he feels about the economic crisis and the EU interlaced with tales of German invasion, Elgin theft, and Greek mythology. Mycenae is still pretty close to its roots, and clearly a bit of a family affair.

After dinner, we walked around the town, behind the main strip, and met every (friendly) stray dog in town, and there quite a number of them. We went to bed hoping tomorrow’s dig into the past would be smoother.