Our tribute to Messinian Mani may be over, but not our journey. Our next stop will be Kalamata and the surrounding area, in a small tribute of two articles.
In the first part of our tribute to Kalamata we swim by its huge beach, visit the Kalamata Municipal Railway Park, talk to the people of the hotel that hosts us, eat a delicious breakfast in the hotel cafeteria and wonderful dishes at a fish tavern of Kalamata, walk in the city and organise an excursion to Ancient Messini and nearby monasteries. At the end we drink tsipouro in the monastery at an altitude of 860 m. with the pastor, on occasion of the feast of the Transfiguration of the Savior.
After a short trip from Neochori and Stoupa to Kalamata we arrived at the hotel that would host us, the hotel Central Rooms in the central square of Vasileos Georgiou, one of the busiest places in Kalamata. We learned that the square is almost 400 m long and almost 45 m wide, while its name has changed twelve times, depending on the political situation, from Tzanis Square at the end of the 19th century to Vasileos Georgiou Square for the last time in 1992.
The polite receptionist Makis was waiting for us at the hotel, to show us our room and help us load our luggage. Our room was on the second floor, spotless and bright, with nice minimalist décor, hidden ceiling lighting, a beautiful work of art on the wall and all the amenities, from air conditioning and a brand new mini bar to soaps, antiseptic wipes and a hair dryer.
But since the sea was waiting for us, we only left our things and got ready for the beach of Kalamata! For our coffees we chose the cafe and bar Kafein, which belongs to the same owners as the hotel and is located on the ground floor. We took two cold coffees in hand -we were very happy that they were in a recyclable paper cup- and headed to the beach.
Arriving at the beach we got impressed by how big it was! The sandy beach extended, as far as our eye could see… The beach of Kalamata has a very long length and is easily accessible from the city, as it is located on its south side. It is sandy with pebbles in front and clean. The day we went there were big waves, but without depriving us of the enjoyment of the bath, they just made it more playful! We chose to spread our towels on the sand, but we could also sit in one of its many organized places.
After splashing in the blue waters of the beach of Kalamata, we returned to our hotel to take a bath and get ready for our afternoon walk and night out. The bathroom in our room was spotless, with a shower that made it stand out!
Kalamata is a large city, the second most populous city in the Peloponnese after Patras. It may be a little difficult to give an overall picture of the city, but we took a walk through its streets and saw various interesting places, which we photographed.
Kalamata is a city that is very comfortable to walk, since it has very large sidewalks, along with extensive bike paths for those who choose to travel by bike… We saw many cyclists and we really liked this choice, since it is also ecological!
e wanted to end our walk in an attraction of the city which we had heard is very special. This is the Kalamata Municipal Railway Park, a open-air museum unique of its kind in Greece. It is located in one of the central parts of the city, near the main square on one side and the port on the other, in the area where the railway station “Kalamata-Limin” was located and in its neighboring area, which in the steam epoch had coal depots.
As we read, the open-air museum was founded in 1986 but due to a catastrophic earthquake was completed in 1990. In the area one will see the station building and carriages, passenger and truck vehicles, a manual crane, and various other very interesting exhibits. One will also look at small elements of the organization of the railway landscape, such as change keys and lamps. And not only will we see them, we can touch them and have a lively, hands-on experience of the open-air museum. We even saw children playing on and in the carriages, which shows that the exhibits have been actively integrated into the daily lives of the city’s residents and have acquired a new “life”, a new function, in addition to their function as historical souvenirs. This is very important and shows that this place is really a successful open-air museum.
There is also a coffee shop at the place, while cultural events are also organized in a small theater, such as a music concert of a local club that we came upon the day we visited the park. Another use of the municipal park that shows that this area is a very important part of the daily life of the city’s residents.
The Kalamata Municipal Railway Park, in addition to a wonderful open-air museum is also a very large green space in which families and groups take walks and sit and enjoy the beautiful environment. We were really excited by such a place in the urban space, it was fantastic, and if we lived in Kalamata we would definitely do our daily walks there!
For our dinner we wanted to eat fish this time and so we chose the fish tavern Notias in the marina of Kalamata. We sat at a table near the sea and before we tried his kitchen, we talked to the store managers. We were told that the tavern had existed for many years with another owner. It was closed for two years and now operates for fourteen months with chef and owner George Koutsolias. The chef reopened the store and kept the name, which was a very good legacy, slowly trying to introduce people to his own kithen.
We were also told that meat is preferred in Messinia, but here they try to pass the philosophy of seafood and fish slowly, with quality local ingredients. They make traditional recipes with modern touches, such as a delicious sweet fava (a peas puree). The fish come out at 68 degrees measured with a thermometer, so that it is always the ideal result for the fish to have the correct and safe cooking, while remaining juicy. We tried a menu that was suggested to us with representative dishes of the fish tavern and we were thrilled!
Returning to the hotel we sat in the Kafein cafe for a quick shot with the receptionist Makis Mouliatos and the son of the business owners Menelaos Laskaris. They told us that Kafein serves coffee all day, the cheapest in the area, despite its good brand, Mr. Rose. In the evening until midnight one can have a relaxing drink in the square. For the winter they have many new ideas to further develop the enterprise.
Makis told us that the business has a family atmosphere, with great care for the customer, so that he feels beautiful, like being at home. Because the building does not yet have an elevator, they are very careful to help guests with their suitcases, or if there is an elderly person to help him to go up. He also told us that at breakfast they make sure everything is fresh, the orange juice for example is natural, and that they serve the customers in the best way they can. So, we were looking forward to waking up the next day to try their breakfast!
We thanked them very much for the treat and went up to our room for a comfortable and deep sleep, in the wonderful, soft and cool bed of the hotel. The next morning we met the receptionist Dora, who was very kind and helpful, like all the people in the hotel, something that really made us feel at home!
For breakfast we went down to the cafe Kafein, where breakfast is served to all guests of the hotel. Breakfast was complete and delicious, with whatever coffee we wanted, fresh orange juice, rolls, butter, jam, toasted sandwiches, eggs, croissants, fresh fruit salad with yogurt and cereal, and pancakes with praline, strawberry sauce and whipped cream. We devoured them all! Especially the pancakes were the perfect sweet closing for our invigorating breakfast!
During our breakfast, Mrs. Maria Laskari, owner of the Central Rooms Hotel, which is a family business, sat with us -the family also owns the Kafein cafe on the ground floor of the hotel- and we had a nice chat. She told us that in addition to the hotel and the cafeteria, they have another business, an outdoor playground with inflatables on the beach of Kalamata. She told us that children are her love, that is why she has three of her own.
Then, Mrs. Maria spoke to us about the philosophy of the Central Rooms Hotel and told us that what they are interested in is for people to be happy. She wants to treat their guests so that they feel like kings. She stressed that, for her, personal contact matters above all and that she wants to listen to the negative reviews, because she believes that this is how a person evolves.
We asked Mrs. Maria how long the hotel has been there and she told us that it is very recent, since October. She told us that the building belongs to her husband’s family and that they made the decision to open the hotel seeing what people were asking for and that Kalamata now has many visitors due to the road that was built. She also told us that they still intend to improve a lot of things, always having as a priority not to lose touch with the people. The primary purpose of the hotel is to make the customer feel at home. This is the direction they give to the employees who work in the company, Dora and Makis.
Mrs. Maria told us that at the moment the hotel has seven rooms, one different from the other, some with a window and some with a balcony. They are thinking of preparing four more in the future and at some point they aim to turn the hotel into a boutique hotel. We wish them all their beautiful plans to come true!
Having enjoyed our breakfast with the nice chat and having relaxed drinking our coffees, it was time to start our next short trip. First destination will be Ancient Messina, an archeological site that we definitely wanted to see up close.
Ancient Messini is one of the most important and well-preserved archaeological sites in our country. On the website of the Municipality of Messina we read that the city was founded in the winter of 370 BC-369 BC by the Theban general Epameinondas, after his victory over the Spartans at the battle of Lefktra and his invasion of Laconia. Inside the archeological site you will see the Theater, the Arsinoe Fountain, the Stadium, the Church, the Market, the Hero-Mausoleum and other important sights.
Because we wanted to see some other places too in our short excursion, we did not enter the archeological site, but did a short hike on a path around it. It is a route that we recommend to every visitor, since it offers a panoramic view of the archeological site which is really awesome! If you have the time, of course, it is worth entering and walking inside the archeological site, to see all the sights up close.
A short hike around the archeological site of Ancient Messini:
The next stop we wanted to make was the Monastery of Voulkano, a short distance from Ancient Messini. The monastery is located on Mount Ithomi, at an altitude of 359 m. The Holy Monastery of the Assumption of the Virgin Voulkanou we read that it is the most historic and largest monastery in Messinia, with great national and ecclesiastical activity. In the revolution of 1821 it was a refuge for rebels, and made a significant contribution to the provision of money and food. In 1825 the monastery was set on fire by the troops of Ibrahim Pasha and its monks took refuge in Mani and Zakynthos, taking with them the image of the Virgin Mary. They returned in 1828 and since then the monastery has been operating without interruption.
Unfortunately when we arrived at the monastery it was closed, so we prayed outside and enjoyed the wonderful view, breathing fresh air in the countryside. We also tried a fig from a fig tree outside the monastery, which was very sweet!
The next stop of our short trip, since it was the day of the feast of the Transfiguration of the Savior, we wanted to be a monastery dedicated to this wonderful event. So, we decided to head to the Holy Monastery of the Transfiguration of the Savior in Varybopi, Trifylia, a village that is now called Monastiri. The village of Monastiri is a mountainous settlement, which took this name in 1928 and is located near Aetos, Messinia, at an altitude of 570 m. The monastery is located at an altitude of 860 m., something we understood as soon as we got out of the car and a cool breeze hit us.
On the way to the Holy Monastery of the Transfiguration of the Savior in Varybopi of Trifylia, passing by the village of Monastiri (former Varybopi)
In the monastery we had the good fortune to meet Grigorios Panagoulias, pastor of Timios Prodromos of Kopanaki, who serves the monastery. He told us that once the monastery had nuns, but now it does not. We asked him a few things about its history and he told us that the monastery existed before Christ as a temple dedicated to the transformation of the Savior Zeus. When he became metropolitan of Christianoupolis, Saint Athanasios Korfiatis built the Holy Monastery of the Transfiguration of the Savior in 1711. During the Turkish occupation the monastery was destroyed. After the liberation from the Turks in 1882, started the reconstruction of the monastery by the inhabitants of the village on the old ruins.
Searching for a few more things about the history of the monastery, we found that with the first excavations, valuable water was found, thanks to which the works could continue. At the same time, they found many tombs of monks and possibly rebels who would have sought refuge in the monastery. These findings show that the monastery had experienced great glories. They also found the ruins of the old monastery and the altar. Elsewhere we read that the monastery supported an entire Greek school, the Greek School of Varybopi, Trifylia, which is maintained to this day.
Pastor Grigorios Panagoulias told us that the monastery was originally manly and only in the last thirty years it became a woman’s monastery with the last nuns being Christofora and Epistimi. Today the monastery does not have nuns. Every Saturday there is a service in the monastery, unless a priest can not come. The monastery is open only on Saturday, it happened out of luck that we found the pastor and his son doing errands in the monastery and we are very happy for that! The little son who cleaned the candlesticks of the church, told us that he made them totally bright, which of course we agreed on! We are also very happy that father and son take care of the monastery so much, with so much personal effort and love…
The pastor spoke to us with great love about the villages of the area and about the monastery! He made us feel very familiar, as if talking to a friend, he put us in the rooms of the monastery and showed us many beautiful things, he diligently searched dozens of books to find valid details about the history of the monastery and offered us homemade tsipouro (traditional Greek drink) to wish us for the great feast of the Transfiguration of the Savior that was that day… We had many conversations on many different topics, since the pastor was very friendly and sociable and we felt him very close to us. We thank him from the bottom of our hearts! Equally smiling and nice was his little son who helped in everything, to whom we wish to be strong and to have good progress with a lot of love!
Now we will close the first part of the tribute to Kalamata and the surrounding area. Soon comes the second part with even more sweet experiences and beautiful pictures, so stay tuned!
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