…to share his enthusiasm for Olympia
As with all three of the towns we have visited so far in Greece since we left Skopelos Island, there is more to the towns than just the historical sites. For example, Delphi is a quaint Alpine-style village full of shops and establishments that cater to the tourist market that is always in town, at least in the summer months.
Mycenae is also a sleepy little village just down the mountain from its own historical site. There are a few tavernas, a mini-market, a bus stop, and a few other businesses that keep the town humming along.
Olympia is much the same.
When we arrived there a few nights ago in a taxi, we saw from a distance our AirBnB host, Kostas (another Kostas, not the one from Mycenae) standing in the middle of the street in front of our flat waving his arms at us. We pulled up, paid the driver, and lifted our bags from the trunk. Once we all shook hands, Kostas showed us our small studio apartment and gave us an impromptu history lesson about Olympia.
Standing inside our apartment, he showed us the laminated map below. He proudly explained several things to us in a deep, warm voice: how the ancient Greeks counted years by the Olympic games, details about the sculptures found at the site, and how the games were used by the Greeks to unite people and solve differences.
A history buff, it’s obvious that Kostas loves his town and its prominent place in world history. In fact, he reminds me of the enthusiastic Venetian tour guide I met a couple of weeks ago.
And then Kostas walked us downtown and over to the archaeological site so we would know exactly how to get there the next morning. When I say walked us downtown, I really mean that we walked down a series of steps from our studio to the main retail street that connects the modern town to the historical site.
The main retail street, as one would expect, is full of tourist shops, clothing stores, jewelry shops, restaurants, tavernas, a grocery store, The Archimedes Museum (a free museum dedicated to the inventions and discoveries of Archimedes) and the town hall.
The three of us did make one stop along the way to the site. Kostas asked us to wait outside the little super market so he could go inside and buy a can of dog food. He wanted to feed a dog that lived inside the Olympia site.
Kostas told us that several dogs live around town that the locals look after. Once we crossed the bridge and neared the edge of the park, Kostas let out a distinctive whistle. Suddenly, we saw a white and black-spotted border collie mix bound out from the monument grounds. It sprinted for Kostas, who peeled off the lid of the can and flung the food out on the road for the dog to lap up.
Wow, I remember thinking, this is a nice guy.
After our history lesson and our tour about town, Kostas bade us farewell, asked us to contact him if we needed anything over the next two days, and took off back to his home.
At that point, we went back to our apartment and collapsed. It had been a long afternoon of bus riding from Delphi, through Itea and then along the edge of the Gulf of Corinth to Patras, and down to Pyrgos, where we missed our connecting bus by about ten minutes.
In a few hours, however, hunger called and we walked across the street to Kostas’ recommended taverna, Taverna Orestis. He told us it was where the locals ate since it was off the main street. He was right. By 11 o’clock p.m., the outside seating area was chock full of people.
There were two large groups of about twenty each, several couples, and a family or two with children. I was surprised by how busy they were and so late at night! Our sleeping and eating schedules are so vastly different from those of the Europeans.
The morning after our visit to the archaeological site, we asked Kostas to confirm for us the time of the first express bus back to Athens. It’s very difficult to find current bus schedules and to know that they’re right.
At left is a screenshot that Kostas sent us via the AirBnB app so we would have a current schedule. We took the 9:30 express along the southern edge of the Gulf of Corinth and made it back to Athens by 1:30 p.m.
Olympia is small and comfortable. It’s busy when loads of buses drop off tourists, but after they leave for the day, it’s a very quiet town. In fact, there are several unoccupied hotel buildings scattered about town. I’m not sure if that’s an after-effect of the 2004 Olympic Games building boom or not. Regardless, the town is a winner and was definitely worth the three bus rides and a taxi to get there.
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