The tale of Mistra and the 999 steps.

As Aliki promised, the past two days were utterly exhausting.  I can't believe tomorrow we are leaving Nafplion already--it seems like we just got here, and like I hardly had any time to explore the city because we were so busy with field trips!


Yesterday left at 8 am by bus to visit the medieval city of Mistra (spelled multiple ways, I have seen it Mystraz and Mystra as well).  The city is on a hill directly above where ancient Sparta used to be.  We drove through the modern Sparta on our way to Mistra, and it was a huge disappointment!  Over the centuries the city was continually rebuilt, so today it is very modern and a little rundown.  There are some ancient sites preserved there, but we didn't stop at any of them.  Certainly, it wasn't what the movie 300 had prepared me for!

Mistra was never inhabited by the Spartans.  Unlike many Greek cities or people, the Spartans didn't feel the need to build an acropolis on a hill for protection.  Instead, they would use their shields and swords for protection.  They had a fierce reputation as warriors and prided themselves on this.  As Aliki always says, their motto was "with your shield or on it!", which is kind of the equivalent of "go big or go home".


Our guide at Mistra was a very old Greek woman named Nike (pronounced like Nicki, not like the Nike brand).  She was born during WWII, so that gives you some idea of how old she is.  She was a little difficult to understand at times, but very knowledgable and friendly, helping many people and groups navigate the huge site.  However, because I couldn't understand her very well, I didn't retain a lot of information about the place.


Fortunately, we began our journey though Mistra at the top of the city, so most of the journey was downhill.  We all had to dress modestly, in long skirts or pants with our shoulders covered, because we were going into churches and nunneries.  We also had to wear our best shoes, because the site was rocky and difficult to walk through.  This made for some very attractive outfits combining tennis shoes and long skirts.  ICK!  Lol but we rocked it anyway.  The fact that it was super hot and we were all sweating was also very attractive.  Thankfully the only people living there were the nuns!


We stopped at the nunnery first, and though we couldn't take photos of the nuns, we were able to look at different things they had embroidered.  Selling these embroideries are the only way they make a living, so each of us bought a little something.  I bought a bookmark and an embroidered napkin/doilie/square that my mom could use in a quilt or something.


We also went into several other Byzantine churches, and it was incredible to see the beautiful religious frescoes and how ornate and how much effort was put into making these small churches divine.  It was very different to see so much of the city still standing, compared to the ancient/classical ruins we had been used to seeing, which were mostly demolished.  The style of architecture was distinct, made of smaller stones with mortar in between.  The effect was less impressive on a grand scale than something like the Parthanon, but still beautiful in the way the city and the landsape blended together.


After our visit at Mistra, we had a planned lunch at a mountainside taverna, which included bread, water, some cooked vegetables, cabbage and carrot salad, very tender chicken and potatoes, and watermelon for dessert!  They sure feed us well here!

Including the drive back, the whole trip lasted from 8am to 5pm.  By the time we got back we were all utterly exhausted; thank goodness we didn't have class and could nap and shower before dinner!


Today was a less stressful but equally exhausting day.  I think I was pretty dehydrated from yesterday, because during the night my calf cramped up...OUCH!  It hurt so bad and I couldn't even scream because my roommate was sleeping :(  Today I drank lots and lots of water to try and catch up and make sure it doesn't happen again.


We had class in the morning from 9:30 to 12, and then some free time to get lunch or do whatever.  I did some laundry and walked into town to get lunch.  Then I took a nice long nap before our planned field trip at 4:30.  The field trip was within walking distance, only a few minutes away across the town square.  It wasn't quite that easy to access, however, because in order to reach the site--a HUGE medieval castle--we had to walk up 999 steps in the scorching heat first!  Imagine going on the stairmaster for 25 solid minutes and you will know what this felt like!  I might go back tomorrow morning and do some of the steps for a workout :)


The castle was pretty amazing--there was so much to explore, and we didn't have a guide this time, so we got to wander pretty much wherever we wanted.  I set off with two other girls and one of the boys, together we scoped out a few scary looking caves and crevices, and some old jail cells.  The view from way up there was absolutely every view here has been.  We spent about an hour and a half looking at the site and still didn't see everything.  Probably the funniest moment was when we were taking a break outside by a drink and snack stand, several of the girls in our program had run out of money and wanted a slushie.  They asked the stand owner if they could do the chicken dance for a slushie...and he said yes!  So the four of them made total fools of themselves.  But hey, they got what they wanted!

I have lots of pictures from both field trips, but only the ones from Mistras are loaded...I will have to do the Palimidi site photos tomorrow.  We get to sleep in a little tomorrow, because around noon we are driving 3.5 hours to Olympia, where we will relax and spend the night.  And then on Saturday we are going to ancient Olympia where they held the Olympics, and will continue on to travel to our final island, Kefalonia!  I can't believe how quickly this time is flying by...



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Comment by Ariel Lewis on July 15, 2011 at 12:11pm

It has really sped by.  I don't know if or when I will get the chance to go abroad again, so I am trying to make the most of this opportunity.  Coming here does make me want to learn more about other cultures, though, and I wish Oberlin had a cultural studies minor or something.  I realize reading about cultures and experiencing them are in no way equivalent, but that's likely to be as close as I'll get any time in the near future.

I'm going to post a little about Olympia soon, but what we've seen of it has been quite small and quaint.  Tomorrow we will get to run the actual stadium, so that should be pretty incredible.

Thank you both for reading and commenting.  It's nice to know my experiences aren't floating into a vaccuum!

Comment by Judy Hanna on July 15, 2011 at 1:08am
I agree with J below, four weeks seems like no time at all when you're studying abroad! I like how detailed your writing is, and it will definitely help you keep the memories for years to come. I'm very jealous you get to go to Olympia, it's definitely on my bucket list (Greece in general, actually).
Comment by J.H. Barnes on July 14, 2011 at 3:36pm
Hey Ariel: Are you planning on studying abroad again? 4 weeks is just not enough time! Good for you for committing to your writing. You'll be so happy to have chronicled this journey.




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