Day 8 - Gytheio-Pyrgos-Patras. Rio and cathedrals.

With enough time and a more reliable car, getting from Gytheio to Patras could be quite picturesque and exiting. If one chooses the longer route through Kardamili and Kalamata, which winds along the coast of the Messenian Bay, instead of the relatively harsher mountain landscape of the faster and shorter route through Sparta, there is a chance to travel for many hours, stopping at each of the beaches listed as “20 Peloponnese beaches to see” because really 80% of those beaches are there.

We choose the fastest road through the mountains, which is still 300 km and 5 hours of driving, and exit at the coast above Cyparissia, totally bypassing the Gulf of Messenia by land. From Cyparissia to Patras, the road runs parallel to the coast, about 3-4 km from the sea, so the temptation to stop on the way to a beach or two is not so insurmountable.

The vegetation along the road is extremely pleasing to the eye – white, red and pink flowering oleander bushes with a height of 2-3 meters alternate in places with equally tall reeds, as well as with coniferous species typical of Greece – cedars, cypresses, yews, thuja and pines. One has the feeling that one is traveling through an endless botanical garden.

The road passes by Lake Caiaphas, which offers sulfur-rich hot springs and is separated from the sea by a narrow strip of land. For birdwatching enthusiasts, the place is ideal for watching many migratory species, but in winter.

We pass the town of Pyrgos on the way to Patras. I decide that it is agood idea to enter the city instead of bypassing it on the ring road, hoping to gather impressions of another Greek city. Either I’m not hitting the right streets, or there’s really nothing to see here. After several attempts to find a stopping place and a pedestrian zone, I refuse to see Pyrgos, but I am still lucky enough to leave the city with a short stop, where I can photograph a modern Byzantian style church.

We arrive in Patras at 16:00, much earlier than planned. Our host is asleep in the afternoon, but someone still has to accommodate us. We have a very nice (and quite profitable) apartment in a house with a yard and a private parking lot on the outskirts of Patras. The city is 4 km from here, but it is very quiet and I will not think about parking the car. We unload our luggage and go sightseeing.

Patras has a population of about 214 inhabitants and an area of 335 square kilometers. The place has been inhabited for about 4 000 years and today is an important center of trade and communication with Italy and Western Europe. The city has many Christian temples, a fortress, two universities and a technical institute. Many cultural events are organized every year. One of the biggest carnivals in Europe is held every February in Patras.

A landmark of the city is the Rio Antirio Bridge, officially named Harilaos Tricupis, which connected the Peloponnese with mainland Greece and is the longest fully suspended bridge in the world – 2380 m. It was opened on 12th of August 2004, one day before the start of the Olympic Games in Athens. Shortens the distance from Rio, Pastra district, to the opposite city of Antirio by 45 minutes by ferry, to 5 minutes by car. There is also a bicycle and pedestrian section, which I regret did not have time to try. The bridge is named after the Greek Prime Minister Harilaos Trikupis, who was the first to propose the construction of such a bridge in the 5th century, which for that era proved to be an impossible task for the country’s economy

We head to the ferry port in Rio, which overlooks the bridge. While driving on the highway (moving inside the city invariably involves at least one ascent and descent from the highway, I have the feeling that all the infrastructure is organized around it) I wonder if there is a connection between the name of the neighborhood and the city of the same name in South America.

According to data on the Internet, the name Rion rather means “bulge” or “piece of land”, but after I found out that every January in Patras is organized one of the biggest carnivals in Europe, I prefer to accept the more romantic version, namely that the name is associated with the carnival capital of Rio. I offer you two videos related to the carnival – one is a little older, but it contains interesting information about the 180-year history of the carnival, and the other emphasizes footage from the 2019 edition. In my opinion, the carnival in Patras can be a worthy rival of his South American counterpart.

We get off the highway and park near the ferries overlooking the bridge. I take some good shots because the water in the port turns out to be surprisingly azure and there are a lot of bathers. I focus more on the ferries during the filming, because the bridge is far from here and I don’t have a good shooting angle.

We go again, this time in the direction of the historic center and the fortress and of course again follows the exercise “boarding and disembarking” from the highway. There is a convenient free public car park near the center, so this is a good starting point for a walking tour. Although it is already close to 18:00, the heat is pushing us with full force. We climb the hill to the fortress, although we know that it is closed at this time of day, hoping to have a view of the city. Well, there is no view of the whole city, but I manage to photograph an interesting graffitti project, executed on the whole facade, as well as several churches, one of which is “Christ Pantocrator”, with its rather unusual architecture, as can be seen from the photos.

The heat, the long tiring journey and the hunger make us stop the historical tour and head to a place to eat. This is the penultimate day of our trip, we are shaken by the uncertainty of how we will return with the malfunctioning Landcruiser that awaits us in Volos, so we decide to have a quick & dirty dinner with gyros near the parking lot, we do not have the strength to look for something special.

We take to the hotel and the inevitable portion of the highway, when in the opposite lane I see the sunlit “St. Andrew ”- the most important temple here, because St. Andrew is the patron saint of the city. I look around feverishly for a U-turn, (because the sun will not wait for me too long), turn a few blocks down and then a few back up and 10 minutes later I safely stop with the emergency lights on right on the boulevard near the temple and unceremoniously abandon Tiny to indulge in photos.
St. Andrew’s is an impressive building that attracts pilgrims from all over the world. Construction began in 1908, but the cathedral was consecrated only in 1974. It is the largest Christian church in Greece (although “St. Pantaleimon” in Athens disputes this ranking) and the third largest church in neo-Byzantine style in the Balkans after the cathedral “St. Sava ”in Belgrade and“ St. Alexander Nevsky ”in Sofia.

The light is still perfect and after these photos I am ready to go back to my room and fall asleep after this tiring day.

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