Experiencing the House of Atreus and the Lion’s Gate: Mycenae, Epidaurus, and Nafplio with Ammon Tours
As a late 20-something guy in college, I read my share of literature on my way to being an English teacher. One of the things that I really got into was the Greek mythological tales of Agamemnon and the House of Atreus, which also include Orestes, Electra, Clytemnestra, and Iphigenia, who we should have sacrificed for favorable plane seats to the goddess Artemis
Anyone who can’t afford more than standard class knows that they must have upset someone to have been cursed with not so nice plane seats on an 11-hour flight from Athens to Newark. On that note, if you can afford better seats as a lottery winner or all-star baseball player, then you should do that. Otherwise, you’ll need to befriend a chiropractor.
But alas, Greek mythology is kind of like an episode of the Jerry Springer Show. If I remember right, we even read something about putting the House of Atreus on the Jerry Springer show while I was in that World Lit college class. Thank you, Mr. Bokert.
By the way, the House of Atreus has its dysfunctional issues, which would rival your family’s next get-together by at least 10x.
Think about it. When was the last time your mom hooked up with some guy and got together to kill her husband who took up with some gal after murdering your sister to get home from war safely, an act that enraged your other sister to get your brother to kill ma and step pa? Yep, welcome to the House of Atreus!
Anyway… As an older guy, I am currently taking a class on art history, which also touches on the House of Atreus, but this time its far less sordid. Instead, it’s more about architecture as it looks at the 27″ thick, nearly 20 ton block of stone that is the Lion’s Gate in the ruins at Mycanae. This fortress was attached to Agaememnon, and it features his and his wife Clytemnestra’s burial place, which looks like a beehive.
On our trip, it was even protected from hordes of tourists, who had followed us into the archaeological site, by a swarm of bees. Fortunately, nobody got stung and we got great pictures.
Triangular-shaped and once carved into 2 now headless lions, this lintel block was raised and put into place to serve as a jamb to hold similar sized stones in place over 3,000 years ago. And the builders, whoever they are, did it without cranes or the intervention of ancient aliens.
I’m not sure how they did it then, but yeah… they did, and t’s a wild sight to behold, whether you’re an archaeologist, art historian, tourist, architect, military historian, or ancient aliens enthusiast (or a little bit of everything).
Actually, the whole fortress on the hill is an amazing UNESCO site and sight to behold. It’s in really good shape yet, and while you have to be able to ascend a couple hundred foot hill, it’s a relatively casual stroll when you get there.
Apparently, in ancient times, when people built this, they were stronger and hauled stones up steep hills for fun. Putting them into place was just extra happy happy joy joy!
And that’s what my wife and I took in on a day trip while we were in Greece, 2-3 weeks ago. Our tour guides for the day were Ammon Tours, who had just moved from northern Greece to southern Greece (centralized in Athens now). Not only did we get the tour, we got the private tour, sitting in the back of a sedan, which was driven by Kostos and co-piloted by Antonia.
Oh yeah, and it was the first tour of their new lives!
My wife is the talker, and I’m the observer of the group, so while she held pleasant conversation, I watched our journey to Mycenae through the window as the pleasant sounds of 80s and 90s rock music filled the car (NOTE – we encouraged him to turn the radio up since we’re down with those genres, which it seems like a lot of the southern European nations are, as evidenced by sounds we took in from random Italian and Greek travels – Bon Jovi is especially popular).
The drive took about an hour and a half, and it moved through the mountainous areas of Greece and its occasional snow-capped mountains to wind into the valleys of Mycenae via the Corinth Canal to the Aegean Sea.
After it was done, we got a chance to look through the souvenir shops, use the restrooms, and move on to our time at Mycenae.
By the way, restrooms in Greece tend to be normal toilets with seats (unlike a lot of Rome), but not all of them are. There are pit toilets and toilet seat-less affairs as well. Also, unlike in Italy, they weren’t pay toilets… at least anywhere we went. Be prepared for all of this (with spare Euros and leg muscles), just in case.
Our second stop was Nafplio, the Argolic Gulf-side town with a cliff-side castle (Palamidi) and a gulf island castle (Bourtzi). It’s a small town with shopping, much like a small American college town with a European feel. Bring some cash… lots of souvenirs if that’s your thing.
We went to a restaurant (see name below – I don’t have a Greek keyboard), which like many other Greek restaurants is A) affordable and B) really good. The pork steak below was 10 Euros ($12). It was about 2 pounds (see hat for size comparison). Everyone enjoyed the food and atmosphere. As the Beatles would sing, “A splendid time is guaranteed for all!”
From here, we left for Epidaurus to speak in ancient stereo for all the world!
When you stand on the disc in the center stage area of the amphitheater in Epidaurus and speak normally, it projects intenseley over 60 rows up and back. Yes, it is that cool. Unfortunately, when I got all my cool singing ideas, it was packed or I would have regaled the crowds with Iron Maiden or Polyphonic Spree, so you’re stuck with Shakespeare!
The scenery and history were amazing, both at the locations and along the way. Kostos and Antonia even pulled over, on request, to take pictures of the Greek coast, which really is all that.
I guess you could say this is the reason that in the Harlequin romance novels sold across the U.S., American women swoon at the opportunity to be wooed by a Greek tycoon!
While there, I would say what I enjoyed most was that we weren’t doing a tour that was punctuated by 5-minute stops every couple of minutes to discuss history. Instead, we got to question and answer before and after (some places don’t let other people’s guides in). While some of those guides can be enjoyable (I think of our guide at the Vatican Museum), it’s hard in mega-historical, heavily-visited locations. In fact, when we went to Delphi the next day, trying to do it like that ruined the whole enjoyment of the trip (see below).
The same could be said for our stop at Meteora the next day, which I was prepared for, going my own way to observe the beautiful Byzantine chapels without running commentary, catching up when the guide was done rambling. I got way more out of the Heads will Roll Room that way (The Suffering of Martyrs in the Chapel of the Transfiguration of Jesus – you aren’t allowed to take pictures there or I would have about 100).
Mind you, I love history, but there’s a time and place when the paths are like they are above.
If you go to Greece, you should really consider a tour with them. It was that good (safe drivers, good cost, very friendly, great value)!
Greece is a beautiful country. Let someone else do the driving and enjoy your time while making some great friends!
Our other pictures are here in multiple albums, color and black and white! Enjoy them.