The two women with brooms and buckets lingering in the hallway outside my small room here at the Mystras Inn make me anxious. I am pushing my check out time. It’s about noon, and it’s hot.
I spent almost four hours wandering Mystras, and now I have a two-hour ride to Monemvasia. It looks like rain.
Beyond the sprinkling of rain and the usual aggressive Greek drivers, the ride to Monemvasia passes through small farming communities with plenty of fruit trees, watermelon patches, and olive groves.
I keep yawning; I am tired. Perhaps I woke up too early, or maybe it’s the heat.
Monemvasia is another Byzantine fortress, as was Mystras, this medieval outpost was built by William II of Villehardouin, the ruler of the Frankish Principate of Achaea. The Byzantines took over shortly after and expanded it.
Monemvasia is a massive rock island connected to the mainland by a small peninsular strand of dirt, now paved and with a bridge. Think of the Rock of Gibraltar, and you get the idea. Except here, this tiny stone village, also designed and built in multiple levels like Mystras, is carved into the east facing side of this ominous rock, looking out toward the Mirtoon Sea.
There are no vehicles inside the old medieval city, with its maze of cobblestone lanes that wind around old monasteries converted into cozy inns, the only way visitors get in is through a small archway. They carry or roll their luggage in, and if you’re a merchant or restaurant, everything comes into the city on small wheelbarrow like carts pushed by stocky men.
One morning I noticed three dozen cases of bottled water. Water filtration is not common in Greece, plastic bottle water consumption is high. At many restaurants, servers bring guests a plastic bottle of water and a couple glasses upon seating.
Monemvasia is in better shape than Mystras, thanks to ongoing renovation and a surge in tourism. Like Mystras there’s a lower town and an upper town. They abandon the upper town, like Mystras, but there’s a slew of activity in the lower town.
I decide not to stay inside the old town for fear of leaving my bike unattended outside the main gate. Monemvasia is busy this time of the year, outside the castle rock most hotels are booked. It takes three stops before I find a cozy waterfront guest house, just 1.2 miles from the gate.
I plan to catch up on my writing and digital photo and video management, but after a shower and an hour of work, the city loses power.
Rather than ride my bike to the medieval fortress for dinner, I take advantage of the full moon and walk. Cars are parked along the narrow road that lines the south side of the rock, making it challenging when two cars approach each other or a throng of pedestrians heading to or from the old town.
Inside the medieval town, several restaurants and bars boast rooftop views, the entire rock is about 600 feet tall, but even in the lower town, the rooftops are still several hundred feet about the Mirtoon Sea, shimmering blue under the bright moon.
I find a cozy stool at one of the rooftop bars and savor a cold beer as I watch couples nuzzle close to each other, embracing, or holding hands as they take in this romantic scene. The screens of selfie-obsessed visitors detract for a moment from the serenity and peace of this view.
The small main square of Monemvasia offers views to the distance and is flanked by a couple cafes and the medieval Church of Elkomenos Christos (Christ Drawn to His Passion). In the center of the square are an old well and a canon—a reminder of what’s important to the Byzantines: access to water and artillery to defend it.
After, I wander into a restaurant without a view. Instead, the attraction is the food. Volte is a small restaurant just inside the main gate. With only seating for about 30, one of just 5 stools at the window of the kitchen is open, so I sit down. It’s like the chef’s table. Front row to just three chefs and a dishwasher in a tiny kitchen barely 80 square feet. Yet they create magic and delight guests with meze or small plates.
I order fava with bacon and caramelized onions. The softened fava beans are pureed with olive oil, garlic, and mild spices, and eggplant rolls, stuffed with feta and vegetables, and then Glina, a roast pork sauteed in vinegar and its own fat. So here in an old medieval town, I savor modern takes on classic Greek food and ingredients, a fitting way to satiate my appetite from the walk and wander around this town.
I strike up a conversation with the only male in the kitchen, Diamantis. He’s curious about me and my travels, soon he’s giving me recommendations—places to visit off the beaten track, including a petrified forest, a secluded beach, and a small church. I am amazed and how much gets done in such a tiny kitchen, I gather them together to take a photo before leaving.