Sunday, March 22, 2009

12:57 PM: Greece/Italy '09... Nafplio and the end.

Getting there was a bit sticky. Caris and I had researched where the bus terminal was, how we could get there, and then which bus to take to Nafplio, but you never really know in Greece. It was all guesswork. But we were pretty confident. Who cared if we got lost? We’d ask directions. So… we got on the metro in the direction of Aghios Antonios (don’t ask me how to pronounce it) and got off at the last stop. According to the map—which we’d accidentally left at the hotel, but had memorized in our heads—we needed to find and follow this main highway until we hit the bus terminal before the big bridge. Easy enough, right? Right. We took a guess on a road when we exited the metro station, and, amazingly enough, we found in the big highway. Problem was, it was actually a really big highway. Lots of cars. Moving very fast. Kind of difficult to walk on the side of the road. But we did. I felt fearless as I led our little band past racing cars and very large trucks that almost took up the whole road. It was thrilling. We followed the highway for a long time and came to the big bridge. We stopped, looked around—no bus terminal. You have got to be kidding. So we asked this fatherly-looking, nice Greek man who spoke very good English.

“Bus terminal,” says Allison. He smiles and his eyes squint. He points across the road.

“It’s right there,” he says. “Just take the footpath across. Two minutes.” We thank him. He asks where we’re from.

“Canada.” Bah. Stupid Canada. I was sick of saying Canada.

So, two minutes later, we made it to the bus terminal, which looked vaguely similar to the Victoria coach station in London. We easily bought round-trip day tickets to Nafplio, boarded the bus, and were on our way. So easy. The countryside was amazing, from what I saw (yes, I slept quite a bit… something about buses and the jostling rhythm), and in about two and a half hours, we were in Nafplio, a.k.a. heaven. If I ever go back to Greece, I’ll only go if I can stay in Nafplio. The water is ridiculously blue, the sun is warm, and the sea breeze sweeps you away beyond this world. I’m serious. It’s so relaxing and peaceful. We walked by the water for a bit on the marina, took lots of pictures, and settled down to eat lunch at this outdoor cafĂ© restaurant. It was warm, but not hot because the wind from the water kept sweeping over us. Gah. So great. We walked around for a long while, taking it really slow, ambling through alleyways and peering into shops. Then we decided that we wanted to climb this hill-mountain thing (what now, Lycabettus?) to the medieval Greek fortress that was part of the “old city” of Nafplio. And so we did. We found this random path that led toward the mountain, but we veered off to discover these random ancient caves and overgrown paths and lots of other interesting things (I took pictures, I promise). We eventually found the path leading to our fortress, and we started to climb.

And climb. And climb. And climb. And climb. And climb.

It got hot, really hot. I was wearing two layers because it had been chilly in Athens. Bad choices. The view was unbelievable, but the wind couldn’t quite reach where we were on the mountain. But we kept climbing, stair after stair after stair. The view really did make it worth it. We stopped in this little shaded alcove with a stone bench and rested at about the half-way point. And then we kept climbing. I felt so sticky hot but so invigorated. We’d made it about three-fourths of the way up when we began really looking—really looking—at what was to our right. Water. Blue, sparkling, Mediterranean seawater. We made up our minds. When we got back down, we were going swimming.

So we made it to the top, but in order to get into the fortress, you had to pay 4 Euro, and it was 30 minutes until closing time. So, after all that, we decided not to go in. People we met on the way down said that the fortress wasn’t really worth it, but the view was. We sat at the top in the full sun and just stared. The peninsula of Nafplion stretched out in front of us, covered with tall, bushy Greek trees, and an expanse of blue, both above and below, lay to our left and to our right. A water fortress castle-thing stood in the middle of the water to our left. It was like heaven.

“This is Greece,” we said.

And so we made our way down, which was considerably easier than going up. We craved the water, and talked about how cool it would be to say that we had swum in the Mediterranean Ocean. Awesome! But we had a problem. None of us had brought bathing suits, and the beach we had spotted wasn’t exactly private. And we didn’t want to walk around in wet clothes all day, especially on the bus ride back to Athens. So we discussed our problem. I had an idea. We could find those Greek dresses, the ones I had seen in Athens, that were like big T-shirts. They’d cover enough, and we might actually wear them again. So, down in Nafplio, we hunted. It was around 3 pm. And I began to notice. All the stores were closed. Some of the tourist shops and restaurants were still open, but everything else was closed, lights off and doors locked. It was afternoon siesta time, the lull in the day where the sun is highest, and no one does any work.

We couldn’t find dresses. We’d walked everywhere around Nafplio. It was hot. We were grumpy from the futile search, and we were getting desperate. We looked at each other, eyes squinted in the sun, and just resolved ourselves. We were getting in that water. Period.

Without any plan in mind, we headed for the beach. The area was very park-like. There were woods with walking paths, picnicking tables, and even a little bathroom/beach-house thing. The beach itself was mostly rock that just sloped into the waves. We made our way a good distance from the main group of sunbathers—I noticed that there weren’t many in the water—and picked out a good piece of rock near a ladder descending into the clear blue water. And we kind of looked at each other. This was it. We were getting in that water. Period.

Shoes came off. Layers came off. I won’t go into details—you can use your imagination. I wouldn’t exactly call it skinny-dipping, but it was about as close as you can get. The water was soooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo flipping cold. But after your body got over the initial shock of it, you got pretty numb and didn’t feel the cold as much. We floated near the ladder for a long time, and then swam out a bit farther. There was a rock we found we could stand on so we didn’t have to keep treading water. Each wave brought more cold. Our teeth were chattering, but the experience was exhilarating. We were swimming in the Mediterranean Ocean in Nafplio, Greece. It was the best day ever.

I learned a lot about myself. I’ve never been that spontaneous in my life. I don’t care if people make fun of me as they boast about things they’ve done that were way wilder and crazier than what I did—that day in Nafplio was a big milestone for me. I got out of my comfort zone, far out of my comfort zone, even if it was in a seemingly small way. It didn’t seem small to me. I liked not caring what people thought. I liked being spontaneous. I liked defying the person I’ve always thought I was, that people have told me I am—“lady-like, proper Amber.” It felt good to move in that other skin, that other side of me that I’ve discovered since studying abroad. I’m still me, of course, but that day in Nafplio proved that I’ve changed. And I loved every second of it.

We spent a long time sitting and lying on the rocks in the sun, trying to dry off without towels. People passed—we didn’t care. We’d been in the Mediterranean. Eventually, the sun began to dip down, and we got a bit chilly. Laughing our heads off at ourselves, we strategically maneuvered into dry clothes and walked away from our lovely beach. We ate gyros for dinner (these pita-breaded meat wraps with things like French fries in them… they’re very, very good), walked around some more, still exhilarated from our spontaneous swim, and then headed to the bus stop. We slept most of the way back to Athens and fell into bed at the hotel. Such a great day.

The next morning, all three of us checked out of the hotel. We walked around the flea market again because Allison hadn’t been there yet, and later we found another part of the park Caris and I had visited a couple days earlier. We sat on a bench talking for a really long time. Eventually, Caris and I decided to head on to the airport. Allison’s flight back to London was later that evening, so she hung around Syntagma Square in Athens for a while. Caris and I sat and talked at the airport, munched on some snacks for “lunch,” and waited for our flight to board. We flew Aegean Airlines to Rome. Fancy-schmancey (at least compared to EasyJet or RyanAir). They actually served us dinner and drinks free of charge! Whoa! It was really nice. Two hours later, we landed in Rome, Italy.

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