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Life in a slow place that quickly steals your heart.

Month

April 2018

Manic in Greece’s deep and wild Mani

 

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Sunrise view from the Maina house. This seven-storey tower in the abandoned village of Exo Nyfi is one of the tallest in the Deep Mani in Greece’s Peloponnese.

The deep and wild Mani’s history is like no other. Even for most Greeks, the Mani is considered a remote and mysterious region, a step into another world. A 75k-long peninsula, with a spine formed by the rugged Taygetus mountain range, it is inhabited by a proud warrior people, direct descendants of the ancient Spartans. For centuries, the Maniots fended off the Turks, while the rest of Greece was absorbed into the Ottoman Empire. Still today, the Maniot flag bears the words “Victory or Death,” as opposed to “Freedom or Death,” which is used in the rest of the country. Because, throughout the course of history, the Mani has never lost its freedom. Empty, ghostly hill towns cling onto distant ridges, still fortified against centuries-old threats.

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Into this land of more than 800 towers and six castles, bumbled four confident Canadian travellers with lots of wildlife encounters, including meet and greets with numerous bears, under their belts.

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Entrance to the village of Exo Nyfi.

After some tricky navigation and help from non-English speaking Greeks, we arrive at the abandoned village of Exo Nyfi in the most remote part of the Mani, termed the Deep Mani, unload our luggage and begin to look for the tower house called Maina that will be our home for a week.

Maina, a tower house dating from the 18th century, is perched on a hill with views over the countryside. The dilapidated building adjacent to a tower from the 16th century has been renovated and expanded by an annex. The project received an honorable mention in the 2015 Domes Awards 13 best built works in Greece of 2010-2014.

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Sounds cool right? We were pretty excited to see this unique house in this otherworldly part of Greece.

“Oh la, la! Oh la, la! There is a snake! I can’t stay here. Back to the car. Oh la, la!,” screams Patricia, the organizer of the home exchange that brought us to Maina. The colourful and possibly poisonous snake was shooed from the stone steps into the bushes and our life-long snake-fearing friend bravely calmed enough to complete the climb to the house. And so the mania begins.

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The scene of the crime…two crimes.

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Cool side note … In this village of Exo Nyfi John Kassavetis shot his film The Tempest (not a great movie…but fun to watch while we were there).

The original building was maintained as a long narrow volume, which unfolds perpendicularly to the topographic contour lines of hillside, as do the other houses in the settlement, looking out to the sea and the east. There is a new addition that comprises a second long narrow volume added to this old building, maintaining the same vertical relationships with the landscape relief. All three levels of the residence constitute single spaces, while the suitable placement of openings ensure natural light and ventilation during the hot Mani summers.

Once settled in with our bottled water to drink, beds selected and dinner cooked we called it an early night which was easy to do in the completely dark, completely quiet house with its lack of any neighbours.

Early in the morning I awake to something very creepy crawling over my legs and I  jump out of bed.  I make coffee and enjoy a sunrise on the patio overlooking the sea listening to the birds, the odd dog barking, goat bells tinkling and the braying of a donkey echoing off the rocky hills that form part of the house and enjoy reading the famous Mani, Travels in the Southern Peloponnese by Patrick Leigh Fermor.

When making up the bed I find this… well this is the much shrunken corpse after I smashed the shit out of it with a shoe.

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I later learn my billionopede is a scolopendra cingulata and lives in mountainous Mediterranean regions. It is often found under stones, rocks and fallen tree trunks where it rests during the day, only to come out at nighttime to feed.

Voracious feeders, they eat cricket, worms, spiders and moths, and have been known to devour young mice. They are not terribly sociable creatures and have been known to partake of a little cannibalism, occasionally eating each other.

Officially classified as centipedes, they have long bodies containing many flattened segments. They grow to 10 – 15 cm long (4″ – 6″) (although I’m sure my guy was 10″ when it was alive) and can live for up to an incredible seven years.

All interesting until I learn that it’s bite is extremely poisonous and can actually kill people. “Oh la, la.”

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Views of  tower villages… the Maniots waged long wars with the occupants of neighbouring towers while we only did battle with insect and reptile occupants of our tower.

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These severe, tall stone towers of Mani stand out against the limestone landscapes  and have become symbol of Mani’s fierce past and its fight for freedom.

 

Any thoughts of peaceful deep sleep in the deep Mani went out the window. Wearing sweat pants and a hoodie I did a strip search of the bed on the second night. Nothing… “OK, I can do this.” Had to take a second look and found this guy on the outside of the comforter (not aptly named). Another shoe smashing put paid to the scorpion. Unruffled husband says, “It wasn’t inside the bed, well at least not yet.”

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A fourth encounter with a hatch of a million flying ants in the downstairs house is barely worth a mention.

 

All disturbing but then there was this cure to the mania (The words Mania and Manic actually originate from Mani and it’s people)…

 

Less than a five-minute drive from Maina we found the most incredible beach boasting two tavernas whose owners happily delivered cold Greek beers to the beach. We were the only people at this beach which was the most incredible place to swim imaginable. “Have you ever seen anything like this?”, I ask my husband. “Yes, in a magazine.”

The Mani, this relatively unexplored part of Greece consists of 250 sun lit villages and sites with plenty of olive trees and cactuses. It is also about the beaches.

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View of a cool rock formation from one of the houses’ many patios.
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Sunset over “our” tower which we eventually grew to love.
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The tower itself has been stabilized with the hope of one day restoring it as well.
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This hedonistic beach was worth a few bugs.

All over the Mani you will find amazing beaches, all of them quiet and unspoiled. An ocean swimmer’s paradise of pebble, rock or sand beaches with crystalline, shallow waters of the bluest of blues.

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Koffie in Amsterdam

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This cafe, located near Anne Frank’s house, has been a coffee shop for hundreds of years.

When you talk of coffeeshops in Amsterdam it’s not about the coffee but the weed. Amsterdam coffeeshops are local legal dispensaries for marijuana, especially in the Red Light District where most of the 250 such shops are located.

I, on the other hand, went in search of the caffeinated fix. This little photo essay about Amsterdam’s Koffiehuis or cafes will give you a little snippet of the experience. Although not particularly known for their great coffee, the Dutch know a thing or two about presentation. The little cups usually accompanied by a treat and a glass of water are served in lovely cafes where you can linger and people watch.

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What better time of the year than Spring to linger at a cafe where everyone is basking in the sun after a long grey winter.

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The pastries are beautifully presented as well.

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A perfect chocolate on a Delft blue plate is too pretty to eat.

 

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Canal-side.

 

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Another cafe view
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The Dutch are known for their hot chocolate. I bought this mug from a cafe in Delft. I wish I had the hot chocolate in it right now as well.
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Coffee with a blossoming view near Vondel Park.

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