In our travels through Greece, we took a drive from Kalamata, city of the famous olives that go so well in a Greek salad, to Sparta. The road was often a maze of switchbacks where you would not want to meet a bus. In order to prevent collisions on the sharp U-turns of the winding road, vehicles honked their horns to warn of their approach. We laughed at the funny sound of the Greek auto horns – a quick musical “doodle-oo-doodle-oo-doodle-oo.”
Along the way, seemingly in the middle of nowhere, we saw Greeks selling baskets made of what I think were pine cones. Once we reached Sparta, we visited the museum for 25 drachmas. I see that I wrote in my journal that we felt ripped off. We must have expected more, but Sparta was only a small town (so we shouldn’t have expected a big museum) and when I checked now to see how much 25 drachmas was at the time, I’m embarrassed to say it was only about 75 cents.
I took a picture of one of the ancient busts and was told that no photos were allowed. I guess that’s probably normal in a museum, but I didn’t know it at the time. Here is the one photo I had already snapped before being told not to.
It seems I unwittingly captured a well-known bust, probably that of Leonidas, of 300 Spartans fame at the Battle of Thermopylae.
Down the street from the museum we found a butcher shop and stopped in to buy something for our supper. It was another scorcher of a day, so we thought a frozen chicken might be a good idea. It would be thawed in no time and ready to cook that evening. Freshly killed chickens hung on hooks in the meat shop and we asked the butcher if he had any frozen ones. Our command of Greek was minimal but we pointed at the chicken and said, “Frio?”
He nodded eagerly, motioned to the hanging chickens, and said, “Frio!”
We shook our heads and made shivering motions as if we were cold (difficult to do when we were sweating from the 90 degree heat), pointed again at the chicken and repeated, “Frio.”
The butcher must have thought we were idiots. He took a chicken off the hook and bashed it on the counter two or three times and said, “FRIO!” And it definitely was “frio,” like a block of ice. We bought it and left the store quickly. We had a preconceived idea that a frozen chicken had to have its wings and legs neatly tucked in and then be presented, shrink-wrapped on a styrofoam plate, Safeway style. It certainly shouldn’t look like a freshly killed chicken hung by the flabby skin of its neck with its legs all dangling down-oh.
Fast forward to the next morning when we were up early to visit the ruins of Mystras before it got too hot. Foiled again! The Greeks don’t feel the need to get up early. They prefer to stay up late. We waited at the gates of the ruin for over an hour before someone came to open them to let in the tourists.
In ancient days ethnic groups fought each other almost constantly. Not much has changed in the last few thousand years except weaponry and communication systems. We no longer have marathon runners who carry messages and are then killed for being the bearer of bad news, and we no longer fight with swords, spears, and arrows. Let’s go back only about 800 years and take a look at the defences of a Greek city.
In the 1200s the town of Mystras was fortified to present a strong defence. The high walls on one side backed onto a cliff that made an attack extremely difficult. Notice the thickness of the walls.
You can see how inaccessible the walls are as they seem to continue up from the sharp incline of the escarpment. In the photo below you can also see how the fortress looks out over the plains. An advancing army could be spotted three days’ march away. No surprise attacks here.
The various levels of the city lie in ruins but one can only imagine how impressive the site must have looked at one time when the buildings were intact.
When we toured Greece in 1977, the ruins of this castle/fortress at Mystras (only 8 kilometers from present day Sparta) had not yet been declared a World Heritage Site (1989). I’m happy now that we went to the trouble to visit this famous site when the pace was slower.