Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Lost Cities of Greece
Part III: Pavlopetri

Someone had told me that Simos Beach on the island of Elafonisos was probably one of the best beaches in Greece, but it wasn't necessarily the crystal clear waters that got me thinking about Elafonisos. A number of months ago I remembered catching a documentary about the oldest underwater city in the world, a city going back to 3000 BCE. I had long forgotten the name of this amazing site, but knew it was somewhere near Elafonisos. After a bit of research I found the documentary online and rediscovered its name; Pavlopetri. Because there is still extensive research going on concerning this site I couldn't find much material about it other than the documentary; something I will do my best to include on this blog.

To get to Pavloperti, and to the stunning beaches of Elefonisos, isn't as difficult as one would think. In fact, its quite easy. My journey to these places started around 5 am in the morning waiting at the Terminal B bus station in Athens. To get to Pavlopetri I had to take the bus that was running to Neaopli, one of  the southern most villages located in the Peleponese. The bus ride, so I had been warned, would take about 6 hours. Possibly the bus ride would have taken only four to four and a half hours, as the official schedule said, but that schedule wasn't including the numerous stops along the way.
The entrance to Terminal B Bus Station in Athens

Ticket booths selling tickets for many different places around Greece.
 It was nearing 6 A.M. and a line was starting to form at the ticketing window. I quickly grabbed by things, which consisted of a tent, snorkeling gear, some good books, a sleeping bag, and a couple of days worth of clothes, and waited in line.  Tickets, each way, were 30 euros. Boarding the bus I found my seat and watched the bus slowly fill up. I was  bit surprised because I didn't realize so many locals would be taking the bus this early and to be going in the general direction I was headed. Another thing that kind of surprised me was that I seemed to be the only "foreigner" on the bus, which wasn't a problem, but it got me thinking about where it was I was actually going.

When the bus began to move everyone got quite and tried to make themselves as comfortable as possible. The best way to get comfortable was to lean the seat back, which I soon discovered mine would not. I desperately looked around the bus for another seat, but to no avail there were none. It looked like I was in for a long ride with little sleep. This didn't bother me so much. After all, I had some books to read, I was still awake from the coffee and was super excited about what I was going to discover while swimming through this ancient city.

Three hours later we were nearing the bus terminal in Sparta, a bus terminal I soon realized I would have to change buses at (no one told me). For those that don't know, which I'm very sure most of our readers do, Sparta is a place, or rather was a place, known for its chillingly brutal and strong force of Spartan Warriors, or Hoplites. The most well known Spartan Warrior, or rather Warrior King, would be Leonidas. He was the Spartan who held back nearly one million Persian soldiers with only 300 of his best men (see the movie 300 for a better idea) at the Battle of Thermopylae.

After a quick break we were on a different bus heading toward Neaopoli. Once we got out of the main village of Sparta  we drove through the Saprtan "countryside". One thing I quickly noticed was that Sparta possessed many fertile valleys and hills which in turn were covered with various types of foliage; Olive trees, apple trees, orange trees, lemon trees and vineyards. The landscape really got me thinking. It was no wonder why the Spartans chose to be a closed society. Judging from the landscape, it appeared that they had a lot to be protective, or "closed", about. Here was a land you could sustain a community off of. It wasn't like the Romans lets say, who were getting a large majority of their wheat from Egypt. No, no, the Spartans needed no one. Or at least it looked like that to me.

Eventually we arrived in the small and quiet town of Neaopoli. Most of the people on the bus, boarded at the Sparta Bus Terminal, were young Greeks from ages 18-23. Needless to say that from Sparta to our final destination Neaopoli the bus became quite chatty. As soon as the bus stopped the driver announced, in Greek, that everyone should get out, go to the KTEL bus office across the street and purchase their tickets for Punta Beach. I wasn't catching all he was saying because he was talking very fast, but later figured out that another bus, for 2 euros, takes you to Punta Beach, about 10 minutes away, where there is a ferry you board for 1 euros that takes you to the island of Elafonisos. While people were waiting in line for their tickets at the KTEL office I went walking to different shops nearby to question the locals on where the site of Pavlopetri might be. Another shock I received on this trip was that no one seemed to know what I was talking about. Finally I ran into a lady who was shopping for vegetables at one of the outdoor vendors and asked her. She couldn't recall where it was exactly, but she seemed to believe it was close by, "very close". With her hand she pointed in the opposite direction at the beach and said, "I'm pretty sure its a few meters up that way." I thanked her, sat down and had a coffee and watched the last bus to Punta Beach drive away with the "screaming teens". Eventually I'd make it to Elefonisos, but Pavlopetri was my top priority.
KTEL Bus Station across the street that takes you to Punta Beach

KTEL Buses come in all colors and sizes!

After my coffee, and with the excitment that I was close to Pavlopetri, I went around looking for rooms. The cheapest one I could find was a place called, "Stathiki's Rooms" (Σταθακις Δοματια). He was letting rooms go for 45, but then he took one good look at me with my tent and backpack and said, "Twnety is probably a better price for you huh?" Of course it was. Kindly he showed me to my room and left.

I'm sure he had better rooms, but I couldn't complain. It was peak season after all and every one who owned a hotel in Greece should have been charging way more, or should have been full. But Neaopoli didn't seem like it was in a very good geographical location, what with the beautiful Monavasia to its north, and then the sandy beaches and crystal clear waters of Elafonisos to its south (and nothing to its east or west). Neaopoli, lets say, remained a redheaded step child (no offense to the redhead stepchildren out there reading this. You know the expression.).
Stathiki's Only Sign
 After settling into my room, I dawned on my swim trunks, packed up the snorkel gear and took off to the beach to find Pavlopetri.Coming down to the reception I asked the owner where Pavlopetri was. He laughed and said, "That's at Punta Beach on the way to Elafonisos." I was a bit frustrated because I was really looking forward to getting in there that day and thinking a good swim after such a long bus ride would do the body good. Regardless it was a nice day and I wasn't  going to miss out on a good swim, so down the road I went.
Rooms at Stathiki's....not the Ritz Carlton but really good for 25 Euros!

View from the balcony
 In Neaopoli the beach is somewhat divided by a pier, its where one can catch a boat to the beautiful island of Kythira. I walked to the far East end of the beach expecting the best part of the beach to be on that side, but when I neared the shore I sadly discovered a beach littered with various types of plastic bags and cigarette waste. I kept walking with thoughts it would get better, but sadly it did not. Sights like this are always unsettling, if not for the simple fact that littering destroys the environment and fragile Eco-systems, then for the simple fact that one of Greece's fine points is its natural beauty. As I neared the West end of the beach I saw the Blue Flag flying, which is a flag that indicates the beach in question has met certain rigorous requirements and is considered to be very clean. I must say that the beach was a bit better than what I had seen on the east end, but I really wouldn't say it met the "Blue Flag" standards. Regardless, I took a swim and read a good book on the beach till the sun was getting ready to set.
That "Blue Flag Beach" inhabited by ducks?! that wouldn't eat the bread I threw them?!!!

Later that night I took a stroll and went to one of the busiest taverns on the main street next to the sea. There seemed to be a healthy amount of locals eating so I found a nice table and took a seat. My meal was calamari ( τηγανητά καλαμαράκια), Greek salad (χωριάτικη) and potatoes. Again, I was a little disappointed at the quality of food and quiet shocked when the bill came out to be more than the cost of my accommodation. Neaopoli seemed like such a sleepy, nice village, but unfortunately it didn't have those authentic Greek amenities one "needs" when taking a holiday.
Main "Drag" in Neaopoli in August

Octopus drying in the sun....
The Seafarer

There are other things to do in Neaopoli
Sunset at Sathiki's with Stathis
 Early to rise. I bid Mr. Stathis goodbye and caught the first bus to Punta Beach. The bus trip to Punta Beach was short and only cost me 2 euros. As we passed through a few small villages along the way the land became somewhat instantly flat. I could see Punta beach in the distance. A surge of excitement came to me when seeing the ferries moving back and forth from Punta to the island of Elafonisos (my next stop).
Ferries going back and forth from Punta Beach Port to go to Elafonisos
 When getting close to the port I got a quick glimpse of a sign that read, "Archeological Site of Pavlopetri". I finally made it! The bus terminated at the port where we all got out. As the passengers rushed over to the ticket kiosk I dropped my bags and waited for the line to die down. When people started boarding the ferry one of the dock workers tried to rush me on, but I was quick to explain to him that i was staying. It was funny, because he gave me a look like, "Why would you want to stay here?" Little did he know that i had good enough reasons to stay. When I got to the kiosk I asked how often the ferry to Elafonisos was running and was told it ran every 30 minutes. The price was 1 euro, and judging from the distance it was only going to take 10 minutes to get across, if that. Just to be certain I wasn't going to make the same mistake as before I asked him where exactly was Pavlopetri. With a sweeping hand gesture, and a sly smile, he said, "All of this my friend. All of it."

I grabbed my things and made my way down the golden, sandy shores of Punta Beach. 
Folks, I can say this was one of the absolute finest beaches I have ever seen in Greece! For starters there were only 3-4 people on the beach, most everyone I assumed was at Simos Beach in Elefonisos, there was absolutely no sign of "scenic pollution". What do I mean, by this? On the beach looking south you'll see the crystal clar sea (very clear), and behind you olive trees and brush. There were no cafe's, hotels, gas stations, etc...Punta Beach looked to be virtually untouched. The third thing that really grabbed me was the utter clearity of the sea. I didn't know water could get that clear.

Pictures do Punta Beach no Justice!!!

From the documentary I had seen about Pavlopetri I kind of knew the general direction of where I should go, and a rough idea about where to swim. Basically I looked for landmarks that I saw on the film. I had also read that Pavlopetri was some 4 football fields in length, so I was certain that no matter where I chose to swim it seemed certain that I'd see something after a bit of exploring. On the eastern side of the beach I choose a spot that was somewhat near a ship that was flying the Union Jack. Could this have been a research vessel for the site? Within a matter of minutes I dropped my things on the beach, brought out the snorkel gear and made my way into the sea.

The  water couldn't have been finer, or clearer. After about thirty minutes of swimming around I saw what could clearly be the walls of a city, or what might have been a house. One thing that really caught my attention were what looked like strange rocks at the bottom. As I went down I knew exactly what these "rocks" were. Gently I waved off the silt to discover the top of what looked like it could have been a transfer amphora. Again and again I did this with finds yielding a handle, the bottom of some sort of vessel, the top of something else. The bottom was literally a treasure trove of poetry fragments and shards.

As a quick note, these fragments which seem to be somewhat unimportant to the layman are in fact vital clues into unlock the mystery and history of this site. It is strongly advised not to disturb, or take, any of these pieces if found. When an archeologist finds these pieces, they are photographed, cataloged, and before being collected their position is marked with laser technology and then recorded (see video). Also, the Greek Government has stiff laws and penalties for those that want to bring back "souvenirs".

Four hours had passed by quickly and the sun was getting ready to go down, so I dried off, packed up my things and took the 10 minute, 2 euro ferry ride across to Elafonisos. Once I got to the island I called Simos camping, where that famous Simos Beach was located. I was instructed to wait at the little kiosk (περιπταρο) for there free transfer services. I waited 5 minutes and the van showed. In a few minutes minutes I was at the gate of the camp site talking to the receptionist.
Ferry Boat to Elafonisos, as it says on the side.
 Once I was shown the camp site where I would be pitching my tent I dropped my things and decided to have a look around. I've never been much on camping, or at least camping like this, so I didn't know what to expect. Simos Camping is a very large and well thought out site. The grounds were quite big and very well maintained. They had camping with and without electricity, bungalows, a mini market, a kitchen, showers and restrooms, a cafetiria and of course that famous beach. First of all, the thing that really set me at ease, was the simple fact on how clean the place was (including the restrooms and showers). Simos Camping had cleaners working around the clock to ensure hygene was at its peak. The mini market had everything you could think of, from groceries to camping supplies and snorkeling and fishing gear. What surprised me about the mini market was that they didn't mark the prices up. All the items at the mini market were fairly priced (Good Job Simos). The kitchen was well equiped with cookers and many refrigerators and freezers to store your perishables! This was very helpful.  The cafetiria there was also very reasonably priced and actually really fresh. They had many diffrent options (mainly Greek Food), but also had the classic burgers, pizza and fries deal. Free Wi-Fi could be accessed there as well (see the cashier for the code).

Camping with and without electricity

Parking for RV's

Mini market that has EVERYTHING at normal prices

Cafeteria at Simos Camping

Before it got to late I had a quick wander down to the beach. From the cafeteria I followed the boardwalk between the sand dunes to discover Simos Beach. The sand was golden and fine and the water, like Punta Beach, was shockingly clear. I had decided right then and there that tomorrow was going to be early to rise and a full day on the beach.

That night I slept in the tent, which was not the most comfortable thing in the world, mainly because of the heat (July and August are the hottest months of the year in Greece). I wasn't too concerned because I knew I could catch up on some sleep tomorrow while at the beach. Waking to the sound of the birds I left my tent and went straight to the beach. On Simos Beach you'll find many, many umbrellas and loungers for hire, but watch out, they're different prices. Looking at the beach from the boardwalk, on the far right is where you'll find the nice loungers for 7 Euros per-day (you get a free bottle of water with that), and on the other side of the beach you'll find them for 3 Euros per-day (no water). I picked the loungers closest to the boardwalk in case I wanted to make a quick stop to the mini-market or restroom. Buying drinks and/or snacks from the beach-boys who walk up and down the beach taking food and drink orders could set you back if you're on a serious budget: small beer 5 euros, grilled ham & cheese sandwich 4 euros ,small bottle water 1 euro. Like I said, I just left my less important things on the beach and went to the mini market or cafetiere if I needed anything.

After finishing a good book and soaking up the sun I watched the sun go down and people leave. Most of them were no doubt heading to a beach party near-by. During the summer months they have many beach parties with live dj's. As the last bit of slipped away, it dawned on me that with the nice sea breeze and the lounger it would be a lot more comfortable to sleep on the beach then in the hot tent. I quickly went back to my tent to drop some things off and to pick up my travel pillow and flashlight. Back on the beach I noticed a few people had decided to do the same. I found a lounger, moved it out from the umbrella and relaxed. At that moment I realized Elafonisos not only had crystal clear water, but a star filled sky. As with the water, so with the sky. I had never in my life seen so many stars! At one point I was getting dizzy looking up at them. Light pollution on this island must have been near to zero. Every 2-3 minutes I would see 1-2 falling stars. It was one of the most spectacular things I've seen in the night sky. With the stars, the breeze, the fresh air, the gentle sound of the sea I feel asleep quite quickly.
Past the sand dunes

More crystal clear water

The expensive loungers

Sunset on Simos Beach!

Fine, fine, sand

Waking in the morning

Waking up to some beautiful sun rises, sleeping under a canopy of stars, snorkeling through the world's oldest underwater city, beautiful scenery, fresh air, excellent weather, so one might ask, "Were there any negative points other than the lengthy bus ride?" Only one that I could see, and it really wasn't negative. Simos Camping is riddled with young Greeks. If one wanted to mingle and to socialize a bit it would be very difficult if you didn't speak Greek. But like I said, that's really not a bad thing. After all, you are in Greece.
Leaving Elafonisos in the last sunrise before as I say goodbye.
 After a few more swims and another day on the beach it was time for me to go. Surprisingly the bus only took 4 and a half hours to get back to Athens, where it took nearly twice as long when we left Athens. When we took a break in Corinth, I asked the bus driver why it took 6 hours getting to Neaopoli and only 4 coming back. He gave me a stressed look and said in Greek, "Six, what are you crazy? Its four," and then went back to his coffee and cigarette. Maybe he was right. After all, I've never been good with Greek Time.

Getting There:

Car: Driving your own vehicle to Neaopoli only will take you about 5 hours and offer many opportunities along the way to see some really interesting sites and landscapes. You could always get a quote on rental cars from our website. Gas may set you back 70 Euros, but no more (current price per-liter is 1,75 Euros). Here's a map.

Bus: If you wanted to take public transportation you will take the KTEL bus from Athens to Neaopoli (bus departs from Terminal A at 100 kifissou Street Tel. +302105237889 or +302105150287  Fare. 33,70 Euros Departs: 6:00, 13:15, 16:15 Returns: 6:00 (exc. Sat & Sun), 8:15, 13:45, 17:0. Once in Neaopoli the KETL bus office is across the street; you will need to go there to purchase your ticket to Punta Beach (1 Euro). The bus stops at the port at Punta Beach. Ferry tickets to Elafonisos at 2 Euros. Don't forget that Pavlopetri is at Punta Beach, and NOT on the island of Elafonisos. 

Taxi: From Athens....forget about it. 

Archeological Site Information:

Tel. N/A
Tickets: N/A or FSA (Free to Swim Around)
Hours of Operation: N/A

Please respect the site and the Greek people's history. Please remember not to disturb the site.

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