This past week was almost a dream as it was one of the last program trips of the semester. For this adventure, we packed a week’s worth of items and traveled from the bustling city of Athens to the Peloponnese Region. Let me just say, this was one of my favorite trips while being in Greece!
The trip started by loading onto a bus at 8:30 in the morning. We then left the city and were on the road for a few hours before stopping at a rest stop for food. The place we stopped was in the mountains and gave us quite an unexpected view! A large layer of fog was visible over the land below us, which is something I had never seen before. It was absolutely beautiful! Our stop didn’t last long as we had to keep going, so we quickly loaded the bus and continued on. The next time we stopped was as soon as we passed into the Peloponnese. We were able to take a break and look at the small channel that separates the region from mainland Greece.
The channel, known as the Corinth Canal, is an amazing site with some pretty crazy history. The idea of creating the canal originated in the 1st century CE and an attempt to create it was made, but quickly stopped when they realized that creating the canal was practically impossible. Construction would only resume in the early 1800’s and finished at the end of the 19th century. The canal is fairly small, so only smaller boats can pass through. No matter the canal’s size, it was a sight to see! We spent enough time at this stop that I was able to watch boats sail through the canal, which was very relaxing after being on a bus for hours.
The next stop led us to Mycenae, an archaeological site known for its stunning finds and amazing history. To give some background, there have been numerous findings here with some of them now shown at the National Archaeological Museum in Athens. Being able to see some of these items in person back in Athens and now seeing where they came from was an experience I can’t necessarily describe! I learned about the findings from a class in 2021 and never thought I would stand where they were discovered!
Much of the site remains, such as the walls, a large well, and multiple grave sites that have uncovered valuable information. The most recognized part of the site would be the Lion Gate right at the entrance. The gate was beautiful, revealing a lot of sculptural details that have passed the test of time. We walked underneath the gate to view the remaining site, which led to amazing views of the nearby fields and eventually led us to a small cave where the Mycenaeans collected their water. Seeing everything and learning the history was amazing, and definitely something I will not forget.
Not far from the main site is one of the most preserved tholos tombs discovered. A tholos tomb was a large burial building with a “beehive” top to it. They are very large, which is why it’s more difficult to find them in good condition. This specific tomb is almost all from the original construction! Being able to walk into the tomb felt like I time traveled as it was something I have never seen before. I think what I will remember the most is walking up to the giant tomb.
We left Mycenae not long after and traveled to our next destination: Epidaurus. Epidaurus is a small ancient settlement with many sculptural findings and one of the most well-preserved ancient theatre in the world. The site has many ruins, some built by the Greeks and others constructed under the Roman Empire. While some of the site is still unknown, one of the most notable parts is the theatre located on the southern portion of the site.
The theatre is HUGE! I’d seen images of the theatre before this trip but I was unprepared to see it in person. It was beautiful as most of the theatre is the original. We were able to walk around the site, sit in the stands, and sing on stage. The most interesting thing about the theatre is its size but also how voices from the center carry throughout the structure, even in the farthest seats. There were people who took turns singing or saying something quietly to see if people could hear it from the top, which they definitely could hear! I couldn’t have been happier that I got to go to Epidaurus and experience something as amazing as this!
Time in Nafplio and a Day Trip to Corinth
After Mycenae and Epidaurus, we loaded back onto the buses and traveled to our final destination for the day: Nafplio. This town is quiet and stunning, with numerous restaurants and gelato stands (the town is known for their gelato)! We arrived late that night and I ended the day by eating with friends and then walking around the town.
The next day included another early start, with my group traveling to Nafplio Castle. The castle resides above the city, originally used as the town’s defense. The castle was vast, so much so that I didn’t have time to view everything there. One of the things I did see was an amazing site of the city!
After the castle, my group traveled over to Corinth to view the archaeological ruins. We had the chance to walk through the site and learn about what life would be for a Greek in Corinth. One of my favorite parts of this trip is standing in the same spot that the Apostle Paul preached while in Corinth! The space is labeled for everyone with a passage from 2 Corinthians carved into stone in the same spot.
After Corinth, we returned to Nafplio for the remainder of the day. It was nice to have time to relax and do whatever I wanted in such a beautiful city. I took a long walk around the edge of town near the beach and ended up at the city’s docks and watched the sun set. During this, I ran into a few friends who were playing instruments and joined in with singing. Even though I’m not a good singer, it was a lot of fun!
Castles over Sparta
The next day my group said goodbye to Nafplio and set our eyes towards Sparta. We arrived early in the morning and started off with a hike above the city in castle ruins, through multiple churches, and even visited a nunnery.
We started with a steep incline to the top of the mountain, where the castle ruins remained. The stones taking us up were slippery and I almost fell a few times, but that did not stop me! I was happy as when we were at the top we could see all of Sparta! It was such an amazing sight that no pictures can do it justice.
Afterwards, we started the long trek down. As we continued on, we saw many different churches that still have beautiful artwork inside, even with natural disasters and damage from the World Wars. What was most interesting about all of this was the active nunnery located near the ruins. The nunnery is home to less than ten nuns and dozens of happy cats. One of my favorite things is as we got there we saw a nun feeding the cats. After they ate, the cats ran over to us and surrounded us, wanting to be pet! If I could have taken all those cats home, I would have!
After the nunnery, we continued down to the bottom of the mountain. From there, we traveled back to Sparta and had lunch. We sadly didn’t have much time here, as we had to get back on the road to reach Kalamata where we would spend the night.
Palace of Nestor
The next day, we traveled to the Palace of Nestor. One of the coolest things about this trip is that my professor took part in the excavations at this site. Hearing him talk about it was a fun experience! We saw the main portion of the site, the tholos tomb discovered not far from the palace, and the well-known Warrior Grave near the tomb. While there, we saw that current excavation projects were taking place. I can’t wait to hear about the new findings when they are done!
We finished the day in Olympia by visiting a honey farm. The farm is run by a family and they gave us a tour of their work and the honey they create. It was really cool because I didn’t know much about running a honey farm, not to mention getting to try delicious honey! After the farm, we stayed the night so that we could quickly start the next day by viewing the ruins of Ancient Olympia.
We woke up very early again and traveled to the ruins. The site was vast, with so much information and buildings that I never saw everything. One of my favorite things was the stadium, as we got to run in the stadium and race one another. After that, we went into the site’s museum and viewed some of the most beautiful sculptures. Some of my favorites came from the pediments of the Temple of Zeus and the clay votive offerings that were the size of my pinky finger!
Return to Athens
After Olympia, we started our long journey back to Athens. It was sad that this trip had to end, as this means I am in Greece for only one more month. It makes me sad, but also helps to remind me to do everything I want these last few weeks. There is so much to do here in Greece that I will hopefully be able to do. I loved the Peloponnese and the time I had there! I will always look back on the trip with good memories. Now, I hope to take the same feelings back with me to Athens and make the most of the rest of my time here!