Wine, Inebriation and Ecstatic Dance – Road Trip

Dionysus was the Greek god of the grape harvest, wine and winemaking, inebriation and ecstatic dance. What a combo. In addition, from Wikipedia (just because I like the write up):

“Dionysus is represented by city religions as the protector of those who do not belong to conventional society and thus symbolizes everything which is chaotic, dangerous and unexpected, everything which escapes human reason and which can only be attributed to the unforeseeable action of the gods.” [Attributed to Gods of Love and Ecstasy, Alain Danielou p.15]

As it turns out, Dionysus was one of the most popular Greek gods, go figure.

In honor of Dioysus, we took a road trip into the Nemea region.  Nemea is wine country, in a big way.  Before we go any further, let me make it clear that I am no wine expert. I enjoy wine and am a “I know when I like it” kind of wine aficionado.

Our first stop was the Semeli Winery. They were just putting the finishing touches on a renovated reception/tasting area and it was beautiful. The view was fantastic and the guy who guided us through the tasting was knowledgeable and friendly (plus his English was very good).









We bought a case of a white wine. It is very good, in spite of an unfortunate English pronunciation of the name.












Next up and just around the bend in the road was the Gaia Winery.  They were not open for tasting, but we had had some of their red and dry white wine at Mike and Sue’s place – we knew what we wanted here.  A very popular Greek  grape varietal is the Agiorgitiko or Ayoryitiko. It used to produce a variety of reds. If you have an opportunity to try a Greek wine made from this grape, by all means, give it a go.  It is a nice complement to usual Cab, Merlot, Pino Noir, Shiraz, Malbec choices I usually face. You may just find a new favorite and something you can surprise your friends with.











While at the Gaia Estate, we also bought a very nice dry white wine, called Thalassitis, made from the Assyrtiko grape.  The Gaia Winery is located in Nemea and on the island of Santorini.  This wine is produced on Santorini and bottled in Nemea.











Our last stop was the Palivous Vineyards.  This vineyard is very close to the fantastic Nemean stadium and the temple of Zeus.  Our guide for the tasting was also very friendly and knowledgeable. Proud of the local varietals, he lamented that they have to produce some Cabs and Merlots because that is what tourists are familiar (and comfortable) with. Once they try those, he attempts to move them on the the Greek grapes, sometimes with success sometimes not.  It is too bad that people get locked into such a narrow view of wine.  Great wine can be produced from many different grape varietals.  As a matter of fact, in New England, I had nice wines produced from other kinds of fruits grown locally because the New England climate makes it difficult to grow many conventional grape types.  At any rate, we bought another case in Palivous.  Here is our haul for the day.








Greece produces some outstanding wines, but very little is exported.  They are beginning to receive some international recognition for their fine product, so you may see this change.  Ask your local wine supplier about Greek wines from the Peloponnese and see what they can do.  I was delightfully surprised at the wines we tasted (and bought).

As for the inebriation and ecstatic dance, lets just say that at this point we were very well prepared and leave the rest for a future post.

Wine, Sports and Temples to Zeus – Nemea style

ImageThe Nemea valley is located in the interior of the Peleponnesse at something of a natural cross roads.  As such, it evolved as the location for the Panhellenian Games of Nemea.  The Nemean games were established in the early 6th century BC  and modeled on the Olympic games.  Located at the site was an impressive temple to Zeus. The temple was leveled by an earthquake long ago. Some columns stand, others are being restacked and others lay where they fell.








One can walk all around the site, it is an awesome feeling to walk the grounds and in the temple and consider the footsteps you in which you are following.











The stadium is carved out of a depression in the rock. Like most of the ancient stadiums, the athletes enter through a tunnel in the side of the stadium.  The tunnel for this stadium still remains and is one of the earliest examples of vaulted construction in Greece.  You can run through it and on the the field if you like, who wouldn’t?











The stadium is used to this day. Each year, the Nemean games are held here.  Back in the day, there were two classes of races. In one, the athletes ran in full armor of that time.  In the other, they ran in the buff, no shoes or anything, just a good coat of olive oil.  These days, the competitors wear a tunic, sorry. Here is a view from the floor looking toward the open end of the stadium.  Unfortunately, the Greeks don’t really promote such events.  They seem to get only local promotion. I think that such an event with the ties it has to the past could make it an international event and a boon for the local economy.











Around the field are channels that supplied water for the competitors and to water the dirt field itself.











One really cool thing about this site is that the starting line and elements of a really clever starting gate system remain.  There are two grooves running the length of the starting line, one for each foot.  Stretched in front of the runners was a pivoting fence with two rope lines (like fence rails) marking the starting line strung between two end “fence posts.”  At each end, the “fence posts” were actually built like small vertical catapults. When they were triggered, they would quickly swing forward and down to the ground. That was the signal to start running.  The clever Greeks spaced the two rope “fence rails” such that if you started a bit early (before the starting gate was completely down), one or both of your feet would get caught and you would trip and fall, disqualifying you.  Then they would cut your head off and feed you to the lions (not really, I made that part up, but maybe the Romans did that).  Here you can see the starting line with the toe grooves but without the now-gone starting gate.











Here we have an example of a Greek athlete in his prime demonstrating the starting stance. Unfortunately we could not convince Mike to adopt either of the styles of dress (or lack thereof) used by the original runners, sorry again.











The baths associated with this area are pretty well preserved.











Even plumbing remains, which I have only seen evidence of for Roman ruins here in Greece.











It is also is the center of an ancient wine producing region that dates back some 7000 years and is active to this day. Wines from this area were prized across all of Greece. My next post will be about vineyards we visited.  Fields of grapes are visible near the temple of Zeus.










The acropolis at Argos


On the hill called Larisa overlooking the town of Argos (you know, of Jason and the Argonauts) is an acropolis whose beginning dates back to as early as the 8th century BC.  It is believed that at first, it had temples for Athena and Zeus.  The fortification walls date back to the 6th and 5th centuries BC. Over time, subsequent cultures (Byzantines, Franks, Venetians and Turks) built upon the site. In the picture below you can see the differences in the construction of the wall from different periods.

This is the view looking down on Argos.

The site was not exactly ready for public exhibition, so we were careful as we explored a bit.  The site, like many in Greece is lit at night to make it visible from the valley.  You can see, in the pic below, some of the light fixtures.  Lighted sites like this are beautiful and a daily reminder of the tremendous contributions this land has made to western culture.

These are classic poses for anyone with a camera in Greece.  There is a beautiful shot everywhere you turn.

Looking downhill in another direction shows the Sanctuaries of Athena Oxyderkes and Apollo Deiradiotes.

This is one old wall.

One last parting shot of the acropolis.

Beautiful Ladies of Nafplio

The aquatic beauties of Nafplio.

Windows and Doors in Nafplio

The town of Nafplio, like so many others we have visited has so much character captured in its architecture. Like people, some of it is old and some is new.  Much has been maintained or restored and some still needs attention.  Some have a beauty that only comes with weathered age.

A Few Days in and Around Nafplio

The beautiful town of Nafplio is located in the prefecture of Argolida in the Peleponnesse. It is a port town and was the first capital of Greece after they won independence from Turkey. This is the platia in the center of town.

It is ringed by public buildings, tavernas, hotels and shops. While we were there, the tavernas bring out big TVs so the people can watch the European Cup football tournament.

The town is built right up the side of the cliffs and the best accommodations (according to Sue) are up many flights of stairs.

We stayed in a place called Pension Marianna. Here is a view out the window – spectacular.

This was outside our room.

Fortunately, Mike figured out that we could drive to just above the hotel and walk down through this tunnel in the Acronafplio fortress wall and there is the hotel! You can see the sign pointing to our hotel. We still got our exercise, though, walking down into town and back up.

Around town…









The acropolis at Mycenae was the center of one the first and most important Greek civilizations. 20120613-131823.jpg

Located atop the lower hill, surrounded by much higher peaks, the acropolis was a stronghold of the 13th century BC. The main entrance was the famous Lions Gate.

Inside the walls, two burial circles have been excavated. Results of excavations have led experts to the realization that Mycenae was the home of Agamemnon and that the players in the story of the Trojan war were, in fact, real. Something any true Greek could have told you.


The back gate.


Commanding views all around.


The walls enclose a deep cistern that was fed from springs outside.


Of course it is open to the public.


Of course it is steep with slick steps and no lights or handrail. What to do? We realized there is an app for that – the flashlight app. No need for the sunglasses. Saner minds, though, stayed behind.


Halfway down we discovered this reassuring measure propping up the ceiling, presumably preventing a cave in. Could use a little Rustoleum.

Outside the walls and down the hill is a great example of the “beehive” tomb constitution, called the Treasury of Atreus. Unfortunately it was so visible and well known, that it was stripped of all artifacts and the details of it original usage are lost to antiquity.


Inside the tomb, looking up.


The museum is very nice and contain many clues to the history of the site.




More snake icons than I have seen anywhere else on this trip.




A Tripod and bronze axes. Some in pretty great shape.





Food pics, part 2

This is a toastie, kind a grilled ham and cheese sandwich, all it needs is some tomato soup on the side.

A sandwich from the Pirate Bar in Hydra. Arrrgh. Thankfully, there are very few pirate themed venues around Greece, although there was a time when pirate raids kept people from building cities on the shore. We did see one embarrassing tour group of Americans wearing silly pirate hats and wigs. Looked like they just left a Disney gift shop. Stupid.

A light evening meal at Sue and Mike’s.

Greek salad and cooked greens, good stuff.

String beans in a tomato sauce.

Dolmates, grape leaves stuffed with ground meat and rice covered with a lemon/wine sauce. Can’t get enough of that.

This is a kind of ground beef stuffed with garlic, carrots, cheese and other goodness. Fried potatoes on the side go real well dipped in tzatziki.

This is pork kalamaki. If you ordered it as a meal with sides it would be souvlaki.

Sometimes xoriatiki (the x is pronounced sort of like an h), Greek salad, comes with the feta cheese on the side. Part of the dining ritual is breaking up the feta to put on the salad.


We were invited to the home of Sue’s cousin Nikos, and his wife Litsa. Litsa is a great cook. She made a sumptuous meal of orzo and shrimp, xoriatiki, fish, potatoes and a selection of cheeses, followed by some great homemade desserts. They were great hosts. Dinners are often late in Greece, to better beat the heat of the day. We didn’t finish until nearly 2 in the morning! Mid-day naps are also quite common.

Another great meal on the balcony.


Flowers blooming everywhere on Hydra

Every where you turn, up every alley…








The Harbor at Hydra and Boats

The history of the people of Hellas is a seafaring one. The port town of Hydra is home to workboats, water taxis, ferries, pleasure craft large and small, and visiting yachts and mega yachts.

20120612-183746.jpg Beautiful and utilitarian work boats show the pride of ownership.


20120612-184050.jpg Plenty of room for little ones.

And room enough for big ones!

20120612-184733.jpg And this one pulled in to weather a windy night in port, wimps!

Hydra is a popular cruising stop and is well worth visiting to eat, shop, drink, shop, relax, shop and climb stairs.