Another epic adventure found me on my day off.
I received a text on Monday night from Chase, one of my Air Force friends, saying, “do u want to go to Sparta tmrw?”
I promptly replied, “Umm… yeah! What time?”
Four guys, packed into a military issue van, picked me up early the next morning from the bus station in Kalamata. We set off down the road. And up the road. And around the road. The switchbacks were unreal as we wove through the mountains. I was glad I wasn’t driving, as I peered out the window at the sheer cliffs along the wayside. The road cut through tunnels and narrowed to one lane at times—and this was the main highway!
At last, we arrived in “Sparti”, a very modern city with a lively populous. We found the tiny Spartan museum and saw the famous statue of Leonidas. The guys were intent on getting Spartan helmets, so we hit up the tourist shops nearby. We browsed the rows of trinkets and laughed at all the “300” t-shirts. I did find it ironic that a whole group of grown men wanted to go shopping. I was itching to see ruins!
Now, we had all prepared ourselves for a little disappointment. The Spartans were not known for their constructions or artistic talent. “This is Sparta” is really no more than a pile of rubble, but we had to at least see the place.
I asked the lady at the museum for directions and we quickly came across archaeological signs for the “Ancient Theater”. That sounded interesting, so we drove up the cobbled road, passing tourists out walking with their cameras and fanny packs. We briefly wondered if we were actually allowed to drive here, then someone in the van shrugged and said, “We’re ignorant Americans”. At the top of the hill, we had to stop for a man crossing the road with a wheelbarrow full of dirt. An excavation was taking place just above the ancient theater. It looked like the remains of an ancient Roman building, but none of the people working seemed able to communicate with us in English.
I jumped into Tour Guide Barbie mode and gave a brief history of the Spartans—from Homeric tales of Menelaus of Sparta to the three Messinian Wars to Lysistrata. My American boys nodded, examining the pieces of pottery that I pointed out on the ground. They were slightly more enthusiastic, though, about taking their picture with the giant Spartan statue at the base of the hill. One of the guys had brought a sword with him, so we were able to do some fairly epic poses.
We ate some delicious pitas and dakos (hard bread doused in olive oil, then covered with a layer of tomatoes and feta) at a taverna in the center square of Sparti, before heading back to the shops in search of moderately priced helmets and swords. Soon, the guys had to get back to base so we hopped in the van for the windy road back (after getting Magnum Bars to cool us down!).
This, ladies and gentlemen, is Sparta.