Fortress of Patras, Arrival in Olympia
First of all, we strongly disagree with the Rick Steves’ guidebook comments on Patras telling tourists to skip it unless you get stuck traveling through there. Patras is awesome. Perhaps a bit pricier than some cities due to the fact that it’s a major port city, but definitely worth the visit.
We checked out of the lovely Olympic Star Hotel and left our luggage to go exploring for the day. First, we hit the bus station to make sure we knew how long we had in Patras, and got tickets for the 6:30pm bus to Pirgos. Next, we continued our tradition of breakfast crepes and hit a creperie on Ag. Nicolau, the name of which escapes me but it had a big pink heart on the sign and was something like “love for crepes” or something like that. They didn’t have an English menu, and I accidentally left my Greek/English dictionary in my luggage, but the waiter spoke English and make a few suggestions. I ended up with an amazing Tiramisu crepe that had some sort of delicious espresso syrup inside, and Jon got one of the special savory crepes with chicken, veggies, tomato and some sort of sauce.
Somehow we can’t help but decide to climb to high places at the hottest part of the day. I blame the Greeks for putting all the cool stuff on top of big hills in the first place. But despite the climb up Ag. Nicolau’s steps and up the hill to the Fortress of Patras, it was well worth the effort. We were completely baffled as to why neither of our guidebooks suggested the fortress and castle as a sight definitely worth seeing. Not only is it amazingly well preserved, but there was almost no part of the castle or grounds we couldn’t enter (even rooms littered with tools and other cleaning or building materials were wide open for the exploring), and the view from the top of the stone castle looking out over the entire city of Patras was stunning. Inside the fortress walls, the paths through the grounds were lined with trees and huge bushes with pink and white flowers in full bloom, and views of stone walls and fruit trees nearly everywhere we turned. It’s also worth mentioning that their public restroom was spotless, had a toilet seat, and had soap (these are all very rare finds in this country). And all of this wonder comes completely free of charge. It’s shocking that the fortress and castle are not more strongly recommended.
We left just before 3pm (when the fortress and just about everything else in town closes) and missed the opening hours for our nest stop, the Ancient Odeon (erroneously marked twice on our Let’s Go map). We decided to grab a water, recover in the air conditioning in our hotel lobby for a bit, and then went to see what we could of the Odeon and March 25the Square anyway. The March 25th Square was fairly small, but was nicely shaded with blooming flowers around the perimeter, and we were able to walk all around the Odeon and at least see the outside through the gates (although the fence was so low that it was terribly tempting to just hop over, but breaking laws in foreign countries is generally a bad idea, so we stayed outside).
By then, we’d seen all we wanted to see, and went back to the hotel for our luggage. We still had a couple hours to kill before our bus, so we stopped at one of the cafes on Ag. Nicolau for a beer, then headed over to the restaurant inside the train station for a quick sandwich and salad before getting on the bus to Pirgos.
The bus ride was fairly uneventful. Typically Greek crazy bus driving, but got us there mostly on time, and we then waited another hour for the next bus to Olympia, getting in at around 10pm.
Hotel Pelops, where we are staying, was only about a block away from where the bus dropped us off and was the easiest walk yet. We’ve definitely made the step up from hostel-style accommodations now, with a big spacious room with balcony, private nice and clean bathroom, and free wi-fi. Sadly, no laundry option, but I can go another few days before it becomes an issue.
For dinner, we visited a place on the main street called the Aegean (fittingly, the same name as our favorite Greek restaurant back home) that turned out to be amazingly good. The waiter was very adamant about the fact that the tzatziki was fresh and homemade, as was the mousaka, and the other ingredients were all fresh (not frozen) plus homemade wine. Oh, and it tasted homemade too. The tzatziki was thick and garlicky and I gorged so happily on our plate of kalmata olives, bread, and my mousaka that we had no room left for desert (but we did manage to finish off our wine as usual!).
The only down side to the evening was the point at which my 30-some-odd mosquito bites started to drive me slightly insane. Tomorrow we’re stopping at a pharmacy to load up on bug repellant and anti-itch meds. I am tasty to bugs, and in the sea of tanned thick-skinned Greeks I think I must taste like mosquito bacon. So itchy!