Kalamata has a metropolitan area population of approximately 100 000 . It boasts rich culture and entertainment. It is walkable, cyclable, driveable, and has public transportation. It seems to have more cafés per capita than any place I’ve ever seen. People have not lost their Greek coffee culture, even when they are being forced to become Europeans. Kalamata is fairly isolated. A 3 hour drive from Athens, it is the hub of anything substantial in the southern Peloponnese. It has everything a big city offers and all the comfort of a small town.
It is rare to find a small city with a vast beast and a good downtown shopping area, all the while producing a mix between urban and rural, modern and traditional. You bathe in the unknown entity of what may happen next.
Walking in the ghetto of Old Kalamata looked like a page out of the squalor of a small Vermont town —trivial at best. The graffiti seems so well planned and proper that it would be a shame to take it down.
The above picture is of graffiti next to the biggest church in the city. It’s a small church yet is surrounded by residences of priests, nuns, and future clerics. In another twist, there were what seemed like very poor immigrants in front of one of the buildings.
As you can see, it was time to leave. The heat was overwhelming.
The store http://www.thestorenikikartsona.com/ is understocked, like any high end store would be. The girl at the door is attractive and dressed well. In a higher glamour bracket is the slightly older lady who seems to be in charge, showing a seemingly wealthy older lady somethingthat everyone except said lady knows doesn’t go on her. Looking around the store is fun enough, but you try not to look too much at the price tags, if there are any. The younger girl smiles and moves on. The owner of the store has finished wrapping the wealthy lady’s gift and is there to answer questions. She’s patient, like someone with a lot of time on her hands who doesn’t really care if a sale is made. It’s a hobby, a game. She looks beautiful in her dress and her demeanor. Her fashion model years may be over, but she seems content being overhyped in a small town. Perhaps it’s better than trying to balloon your ego in a big city.
She sells the piece to the customer at a ridiculously low price. She wraps it nicely and decides to send her helper out for a double Greek with stevia.
It’s always best to beat the Kalamatan heat by getting there just as the stores open at 9. We went to a posh yet quaint café called Bistroteca, that, like many other cafés in the area, doubles as a restaurant and night club as the day and night progress. I took the smoked salmon and scrambled egg plate followed by a tropical smoothie while my cousin took the Madame Croquante.
The bathroom was upstairs and the furniture held a 60s living room feel compared to the industrial posh of the ground floor. It’s a great place for well-to-do older ladies and newbie teenage girls alike. We sunk into the fray as wayward tourists, or slightly squeamish and creepy screenwriters. Either way, we ate and continued to the stores.
It was 10.30 and the heat and humidity left me damp. The first stop was the perfume store. We needed some Lancome deodorant at 21 Euros a pop. The girl in that section was tall and had nice blonde hair and a face much younger than her body. You could say she had the tired look, in many senses of the word, yet none in a negative way. Rather, she was someone you wished to be with no matter how hard you knew it would be to keep her entertained and excited. So when she explains fragrances to you, you listen just enough to show you’re not creepy.
As you can see from the sign above ,we arrived too early for the white night that evening. All would remain open till Sunday morning.
It’s cloudy in August about once every 2 years, so we decided to literally take the high road and visit the savage part of Methoni, near the place where it all apparently began in the 14th century. We decided to remain outside the castle and take pictures of the wild thorny growth overlooking the omenous turbulent waters neighboring the fortress. The tour bus was there before 9 and the first batch of tourists were already exiting the castle.
Just next to the roadabove the shrubs are tons of prickly pear trees in full fruit bloom. Above is yours truly at the beginning of the journey. I had a Gothic feeling in me, something somewhat less than tranquil but content that I existed with nature. I know I had my phone and tablet, but how else would I have brought you all this?
A couple of construction workers were trying to beat the rain by hurriedly working on a roof overlooking all this wave bashingly time warped top of the hill. It was a small gorge that caught my eye and and even smaller canyon that had remained intact for 700 years. Nothing much has changed.
And yes, a couple of hours of this deserves a pre -lunch lager at the town’s best watering hole, Dourios Ippos (translated as the Trojan Horse ). This is a great place any time of the day or night where Iraklis (translated as Hercules, if you catch the unintended culmination of many things in this post ) and his staff treat you like royalty.
Beaches can very easily become a dime a dozen. A bar with umbrellas in front or on the beach, music playing in the background, and drinks and snacks being ordered continuously while people show off their latest tans or bathing suits. All this happens at Romanos beach, just 30 minutes from Methoni, 20 from Pylos, and 10 from Gialova.
This is the town where Costa Navarino, Greece’s premiere luxury resort is http://www.westincostanavarino.com. We spent 7 hours at Romanos beach. It was a slow morning as only 3 umbrellas with long beach chairs had been taken so far. We took a fourth one in frontof the beach, about 5 feet in front of the waves. The waves were quite big and noisy and you can hear the lather as it trickled back down into the water. Tracy from Silicon Valley told me things were dying down. It was the superiority of the chairs that caught my attention. They were made of wood and were still quite easily collapsible. The dunes were fairly deep and the sand soft and warm. I almost fell asleep before ordering my Frappé. The umbralla and 2 chairs were 5 Euros, a price I would usually balk at. But I felt I was paying for what I was getting.
The friendly young tattooed girl made us aware that the water bottles were on the house.
People started coming in droves and the beach was packed by noon. We went to eat at Kookoonari restaurant at about 2 o’clock. I was very pleasantly surprised at the creativity and quality of the menu of food. We shared some fried cheese crumpled in a tomato sauce with some nicely cooked shrimp. Then came the grilled chicken with slightly spiced yogurt on a lightly grilled Arabic pita bread. Then the piece de resistance, stewed octopus on a bed of rice perfectly seasoned with a citrusy after taste. To die for.
The rest of the afternoon was for relaxation.
This is by far the best beach I’ve been to on my trip so far.
I knew it would only be a matter of time before food and drink became the focus of this blog. But there’s nothing like a morning in Pylos, when you can change your sugar levels and cholesterol in a few minutes.
On top of Gelato and coffee, there’s that fresh smell of a tantalizing sugar donut twinned with the amazing simplicity of a sesame bread roll. Or the healthier ones can go for Greek breakfast, consisting of Greek yogurt, honey, walnuts, and perhaps a splash of cinnamon or even basil. Then you just need to try some baklava or galaktoboureko.
Pylos is the hub of southwestern Messinia and the mornings are full of people from the neighboring villages doing their shopping and taking care of business before returning home to eat and perhaps spend an afternoon at the beach.
There’s always been that image in the heads of Methonians with Sapienza in the background. It’s that ever present island in the back of most postcards. After the bourtzi of the 14th century castle, Sapienza is the emblem of the enduring spirit of Methoni.
Joanie came with my ice cold Freddo. The Frappé was passé according to those who counted, the youth. Meanwhile, the hotel manager came to ease a guest’s concerns. Some people were leaving their beach towels on the beach chairs overnight so they can have them available when they came to the beach the next morning. The nice manager said he had the boy on it and any future premature towels would be removed by 7 am the following morning.
As I order my drink and ask for the WiFi password, a nice young surfer -like dude in adequate English informs me that the WiFi is totally down. It could not have been my accent because my Greek is very passable. It must have been me actually tipping him for the smoothie. So after all the effort of finding the proper setting for my first post, I actually have to forego doing it live. In all fairness, Zanzibar is a great little place for a late afternoon cocktail in the shade. It is just a 5 minute ride from Methoni and, at least at the writing of this draft, some cool jazz music was playing in the foreground. The beach is full of umbrellas and the bar doubles as a restaurant.
But don’t blink too much because you might miss the turn that leads you down a dirt and gravel road that eventually takes you to Zanzibar . In late August, the weather is a perfect 28 degrees with no chance of rain. No need for a weather app.
The beach is an extension of Methoni Beach, but is 3 kilometers away from town. Methoni is packed with too many tourists and not enough parking spots; at least until end of season in about 5 days. And of course, after dark, Zanzibar is a great secluded spot for couples to visit in their cars. Or so one of the girls at the coffee bar in town told me.
These cacti, prickly pears, grow thorny fruit that many find marvelously pungent. The rest of us can enjoy in a newfound smoothie, preferably in a mix next to pineapple and mango.
The nice young man at the juice bar said he’d invented this concoction and that prickly pears were so abundant, it would be a waste not to .