Four hours south of Athens along the southeast coast of the Peloponnese, you’ll find the Byzantine island of Monemvasia, a name meaning “single entrance.” The walled city and fortress were built in the 6th century AD, and aside from some tourist shops, restaurants and hotels that are built into the existing structures, not much has changed since then. One can easily get lost along the narrow cobblestone walkways, although the fortress isn’t very big, so you won’t be lost for long. If you stay within the city walls, you have to park your car along the roadway that leads from the mainland to the front entrance. Fortunately we got a pretty good spot — the advantage of arriving on a Friday afternoon.
But I wouldn’t say our trip down was particularly fortunate. We had this fantastic idea to flip Violet’s car seat to face the front so she could watch a DVD with Liam. Four hours in the car is the longest she’s ever endured, and I doubted she would sleep the whole way. The first half of the trip went well — she loved watching Curious George, her new favorite, and a perennial favorite of Liam’s. But then we left the turnpike and headed into the mountains. She started crying, and we figured she was getting tired again…until Mt. Vesuvius erupted. Oh, God, what a mess! We managed to change her clothes and wash up at a gas station. A short nap later and still 45 minutes from our destination, the vomit comet struck again. More cleaning up at the side of the road.
Finally, the magnificent island came into view. With a stop for lunch and “Vomigeddon” we added almost 2 hours to our drive. But we made it!
We had to park along a road that leads up the entrance to the walled city, then carry our things to our hotel. We were sure to pack light (and made notes to economize even further for our upcoming trip to Venice). The staff at the Likinia were very friendly, though I think we exhausted their knowledge of English when we inquired about a washing machine. No bother — we aren’t new to the concept of hosing off a puky car seat cover in a hotel shower. (Thanks to two-year-old Liam during our move to Florida.) The shower at this hotel was a bit tiny, but serviceable. Our room was nicely furnished, and the view from our windows was lovely.
Because I’m the expert in car seat disassembly, I volunteered to hike back to the car to collect the car seat cover and other victims of Violet’s unfortunate eruption. And while my task was less than stellar (having to do this on the side of the road IN THE DARK was especially trying), I did have a chance to wander the streets at night. So few people were out, it almost felt like we had the place to ourselves. While James had the unenviable task of clean-up duty using a bottle of baby shampoo I picked up on the way back, I ordered take out from a promising restaurant nearby called To Kanoni. As I waited for our food, the friendly proprietor chatted with me, provided me with brochures and maps, and told me all about this lovely city. I couldn’t wait to explore the next morning!
The children woke up bright and (alarmingly) early. Breakfast wouldn’t be served until 8:30, so we had a couple of hours to kill. A few episodes of Care Bears on the best invention ever (AKA the Amazon Fire stick, plugged right into the hotel TV), and then it was time to get dressed and run around the courtyard in the sunshine. What a lovely morning! No surprise, we were the first guests to arrive for breakfast at 8:30 sharp. They provided a very nice spread: omelets, ham and cheese cold cuts, little sausages, cereal, greek yogurt and honey. All things we enjoy. It took a little explaining, but they were also happy to make Liam a plain-Jane omelet to his liking.
We decided it best to spend the day wandering the streets at our leisure. Liam enjoyed leading the way, turning around at dead ends, looking through holes in the wall at the sea below, and discovering narrow passageways and staircases. Liam had studied the map, and he was intent on finding a path that led down to the water. But it eluded us. At the front gate we saw kids dressed in marching band uniforms ready in for a parade. Saturday was Greek Independence Day, so we expected to see a little parade.
Slowly, we made our way up and up and up. Finally, we made it to the entrance to the upper town…and the door was locked! Closed for Independence Day. Do’h! We briefly contemplated making a day trip to Simos Beach on Elafonisos island, but we were understandably not anxious to get back in the car to drive through the mountains again. So after a brief siesta in our room (and more Care Bears…all the kids want to do while we’re on vacation is watch TV!), we explored the old lighthouse. Built in 1896, it wasn’t nearly as old as everything else on the island. We couldn’t go up into the tower, and as lighthouses go, it wasn’t terribly impressive. But the views of the sea and the mainland were.
Time for lunch! We enjoyed our meal from To Kanoni so much, we decided to eat lunch on their rooftop terrace. I ordered the traditional Independence/Feast of Annunciation day meal, fried cod with a garlic sauce. A hungry cat kept pestering us. Violet was hollering “kitty!” as I was trying to shoo it away. Back off my fish, feline! I called the waitress over, and she brought up a water gun and chased him off. Hilarious! She left me the gun just in case. He eventually came back, eyeing me from a corner and biding his time until I got up to leave. But he kept his distance when the water gun was in view.
While the kids took another little siesta, I hiked back to the car to get the car seat cover back on and reinstall it. At least half a dozen people stopped to ask me if they could take my parking spot. So glad we came Friday! On my way back I wandered up a path from the road to a small cemetery that appeared to be the final resting place for the town’s priests. An interesting juxtaposition of modern photos with old-style tombs, and with a lovely view of the sea.
In the late afternoon we wandered around the upper reaches of the lower town, finding many dead ends and crumbling houses. Prime real-estate! We also came across some lovely private homes. Can you imagine actually living here? Paradise! Except for the parking situation…
As our intrepid (ahem…bossy) leader took us down another path, I discovered we’d lost James with a sleeping Violet on his back. Liam and I decided to wait for them on the porch of our hotel…James had the keys, of course! We waited and waited…and just as I was seriously starting to wonder where he went off to, James and a still-snoozing Violet showed up. He had found another path to the eastern reaches of the town, and it had a lovely view. He was happy to take us back…and he was right.
Not quite so bright and early Sunday (a technicality…it was daylight savings in Greece that weekend), James loaded up our car while I took the kids to breakfast. On his way back, he found that path down to the sea, the one we couldn’t find Saturday. I’m so glad he did. What a gem.
Then it was back up and up and up and…the door to the upper town was open! Yes! And totally worth the climb. The views were spectacular, and the old church was in remarkable shape. There were other ruins of residences and administration buildings of the byzantine nobility. Apparently this was the part of the island that rich people lived, back in the day.
The kids stopped for a snack outside the church, and it’s one of the few times they stay still enough for a photo together.
For the trip home, turning Violet’s car seat back to rear-facing helped tremendously. No more eruptions from her. But then Liam had us pull over every 10 minutes because he was feeling sick! Clearly, we cannot win. After the fourth time we pulled over, I insisted he eat a cookie. That helped. Thank God — at the rate we were going, we would have been lucky to make it home for bedtime.