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Greece (Athens, Delphi) Greece (Peloponnese)

How to get from Delphi to Olympia by bus

See this restaurant? It doubles as the Delphi bus station. Really. 

COVID-19 Preface: Greece officially reopens to travelers on Monday, June 15. According to this Associated Press story published today, “Timely and strictly enforced lockdown measures have so far kept the infection rate in Greece low and the death toll below 200.”)

It was a little confusing. The Delphi bus station appeared closed.

An arrow painted on the building facade, however, pointed to a restaurant called “In Delphi Cafe” next door. Nearby, a man wearing a crisp white shirt and black trousers, waved us down from his curious position in the middle of the street. (It’s a slightly confrontational technique to entice wandering tourists to stop for a bite.)

“Dinner menu?” he asked. 

A bus schedule would be more like it, I thought, since my husband and I still needed to plan the next leg of our trip from Delphi to Olympia. We smiled, and asked, “Bus tickets?”

“Go inside the restaurant, please. Someone will help you there,”  he answered.

We ventured inside. The restaurant immediately reminded me of the beautiful double-story trattoria from Love Actually where Jamie proposes to Aurelia. A balcony. Warm gold-colored walls. Heavy timbers. Sparkling glassware.

A woman behind the counter asked us if we needed bus tickets in plain-as-day English. 

“Yes, we are going to Olympia in two days and we need bus tickets,” my husband explained. 

She called to another waiter, who dried his hands and stepped to a computer at the bar. 

So this is the bus station, I thought to myself. Hmmm. Interesting.

An employee wearing jeans, t-shirt, and a white apron wrapped around his hips walked in carrying a stainless steel container covered with plastic wrap. He had come from the direction of the “bus station” next door. They must use the “bus station” for storage, I thought.

This photo was taken from the balcony of our hotel the night we arrived. We spent two nights in Delphi, a quaint and quiet mountain town known for its famous archaeological site. Towns around Delphi, such as Arachova, are winter skiing destinations.

Our waiter/ticket clerk stared at the computer screen, squinting, and asked us when we wanted to arrive in Olympia.

It would take all day, he said. Of course, that was fine.

It was what we expected. For although it only appears to be a jog to the southwest on a map, the bus route would take us to Itea, a small town on the shores of the Gulf of Corinth just a few miles south of Delphi.

Then the route would trace the edge of the gulf for nearly three hours before crossing south into Patras. From Patras, we would take a bus to Pyrgos (NOT the Pyrgos on Santorini, by the way).

From there, a final bus would drive us the remaining thirty kilometers to Olympia, where we would meet our AirBnB host, the fifty-seventh (okay, not really, but it seemed like it) man named Kostas who we met on our trip.

Here’s the route our waiter/ticket clerk gave to us, written on the back of a receipt:

We purchased and received our tickets, thanked the young man, and told him we would be back for dinner.

THREE HOURS LATER…

Roast lamb, moussaka, wine, potatoes, salads… all served on a candle-lit table under the leafy branches of a tree so large it sheltered like an umbrella not only the peninsula that served as the outdoor seating area for the restaurant, but also the two streets that ran on either side.

Delphi’s In Delphi Cafe is charming. We chose to sit under the large oak tree outside on a peninsula bordered on either side by highway 48, which here is actually a street..

Below is a photo of our hotel, Art Hotel Pythia, in Delphi…it was manned by one employee. In the mornings, he had to cover BOTH the front desk and the upstairs dining room simultaneously. Speaking of the upstairs dining room, it offered a very generous and complete complimentary breakfast selection of eggs, meats, fruits, cereals, coffee, pastries.

It was fabulous breakfast, even though it had been overrun by a large traveling group of students who had already dined and left. Tables were littered with used china and glasses, since the one staff employee hadn’t been able to leave the front desk to clean. Still, there were pastries and eggs to be had, and it was nice to see actual dishes being used instead of paper and plastic.

We sympathized with the employee and knew he was doing the work of three to four people.

This hotel with its impossibly small staff caused us to wonder about Delphi’s economic outlook. The town appears to be a sleepy village holding on for dear life during Greece’s financial crisis. Across the street from Art Hotel Pythia was an abandoned multi-story hotel that was probably packed during the Olympic Games in 2004.

Thank goodness for the amazing archaeological site just down the road! Read my post about the site here.

Art Hotel Pythia, our hotel in Greece.

The day we departed Delphi, we left our hotel around 11 a.m. and waited outside the restaurant/bus station for the large, air-conditioned bus that arrived about fifteen minutes late. We loaded our luggage into the lower bins of the bus and boarded.

It was a packed bus. There was a group of about ten kids travelling to the beach at Itea. Like kids everywhere, they were talking and joking, laughing over shared phone screens.

This map shows the route our bus took from Delphi in the upper right corner down to Olympia in the lower left corner. The small white dot in the blue road above the word “Archaeological” is in about the same spot as Pyrgos, our final stop before reaching Olympia.

Our bus made its way down to Itea on the shores of the Gulf of Corinth, which you can see in the distance in the photo below. This was a beautiful drive with two or three tight hairpin curves.

The weather was warm and sunny when we left; as we drove, the temperature rose. Thankfully, our bus was comfortable and air-conditioned.

After passing more and more olive groves on the way, we eventually stopped at the bus station in Itea on a road that fronted the shore of the Gulf of Corinth.

Itea was a quiet little town that, based on the many outdoor cafes and shops, we could tell would be busy with tourists in July and August.

I took this photo of my husband Mitch standing across the street from the bus station at this small dockside park.

We were nervous about missing our bus to further points south, so we crossed back over to the bus station and waited. The bus station was little more than a hallway with a counter at the back, so we couldn’t wait inside where it was warm. Instead, we bought spinach pies at the small restaurant next door and ate them sitting outside on the sidewalk next to our four pieces of luggage.

And then we waited. It was fun.

Our bus finally arrived and we boarded, knowing this would be a much longer leg of the trip than the short jaunt down the hill to Itea from Delphi.

Our bus ride meandered part of the way through the lowland hills along the coast of the Gulf of Corinth.

We stopped here and there at several towns to drop people off and allow others to load. In the photo above: a market along the way.

Of course, olive trees were everywhere, tucked into any field available. Note the Greek Orthodox church on the horizon.

We stopped several times to board more passengers.

Driving along the coast often meant driving about twenty feet from the water. Waves splashed onto the road in several places.

We passed through several nondescript towns. Many have boarded up or shuttered stores and offices. Greece’s financial state is quite obvious, especially in the more remote and smaller towns. Last summer, some blamed the Olympic Games for at least part of the economic crisis.

Along the road, we would often see Olympic statues such as this one that traces the route the torch bearers took as they carried the flame toward the games in Athens in 2004.

I took this shot of a sidewalk in Nafpaktos, one of a dozen or more towns we traveled through on our way to Olympia. It’s north of the Gulf as we made our way west to cross over to Patras.

We were nearing Patras, Greece’s third largest city (after Athens and Thessaloniki).

This majestic bridge can be seen from a distance. It’s the doorway into Patras and points south on the Peloponnese peninsula

This photo shows another point on the Olympic torch trail.

We were dropped off in Patras as this bus station. After going inside and inquiring about our next leg of the trip, we discovered we needed to be three blocks away at a different station to meet our bus, which was scheduled to leave in about fifteen minutes.

The only solution to get there quickly was to walk.

We each grabbed our carry-on and pulled our jumbo suitcases and took off for the right train station. We charged through empty sidewalk cafes, deserted in the mid-afternoon. At one, an employee was hosing down the seating area. The coolness from the water kept us moving on.

We finally made it to the Patras train station. As Mitch took care of buying our tickets inside, I waited outside to make sure we got on that bus.

Which we did.

Safe and secure in another air-conditioned motorcoach, we settled in for our next-to-last leg of the trip to Pyrgos.

This leg of the trip held its own frustrations for us.

We’re not absolutely sure, but we think we booked a local bus that stopped numerous times. One city we spent an especially long amount of town in was Amaliada. Either our bus driver was lost or he was just playing a trick on us because we spent about an hour piddling our way back and forth in this town.

More dawdling in Alamiada…. but we did spy another church and some non-touristy scenes of typical Greek living: old men sitting at card tables outside of cafes or clubs, kids playing in playgrounds, young men drinking beer in the brittle, dusty grass of an abandoned city park. (I rarely saw women out visiting and socializing, by the way.)

True, Amaliada wasn’t Skopelos, but part of the reason we took bus transit was to see an unfiltered version of Greece. In fact, check out our neighborhood where we stayed in Heraklion.

Finally on our way out of town to Pyrgos, we spotted these hothouses of strawberries and watermelons.
The bus station in Pyrgos was a bright, airy place.

Victory! We finally made it to Pyrgos… ten minutes late.

Our bus to Olympia had departed ten minutes before we arrived. Instead of trying to book another bus for the remaining thirty-mile ride, we opted to take a taxi instead.

It had been a long day, but the end was in sight. And what a different world it was from mountainous Delphi!

Welcome to Olympia! Yesssss.

We met our AirBnB host, the sixtieth man named Kostas, for some friendly introductions. He met us in the middle of the street of our AirBnb, waving his arms to catch our taxi driver’s attention.

Kostas gave us a short tour to the entrance of the Olympia archaeological site so we could find it easily the next morning.

It’s quite a haul to get from Delphi to Olympia in one day, but it’s…

  • quite possible,
  • inexpensive,
  • and full of scenery that runs the gamut from the beautiful to the mundane.

While we plan to rent a car the next time we’re in the Greek countryside, we are definitely glad we took the public transit options that were available on our first trip.

Even though taking the bus requires you to engage in some risk-taking, confusion, second-guessing, and moments that will test your patience, we would recommend it if you want to experience authentic Greece.


Thanks for reading! I’m amazed that story ideas are still surfacing from our travels last summer. Leave a like, make a comment and become a follower for more travel posts. While travel stories aren’t my only genre on this blog, they do seem to dominate my posts lately. That will be changing soon.

For my totally separate English teaching blog, click here.

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Greece (Peloponnese) Uncategorized

Visit Mycenae: Feel the quiet power of the Lion Gate

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No, this isn’t our photo, but we did take the next one below. The photo above, however, shows more of the famous Lion Gate at Mycenae. Credit: Andreas Trepte [CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)%5D

What you can expect to see at Mycenae

Ask an art historian about Mycenae and they will likely mention the Lion Gate, the monumental sculptures carved at the entrance to the citadel at the Mycenaean acropolis.  While the Mycenaean civilization they guarded through the millennia was buried and ravaged by time and destruction, the lions remained quietly standing, sentinels that protected the inhabitants within.

Today, Mycenae is still a protected site. Mycenae and the nearby Tyrins were inscribed upon the UNESCO World Heritage Liston December 4, 1999.

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According to a placard at the entrance to the site, “Inscription on this list confirms the outstanding universal value of a cultural or natural property which deserves protection for the benefit of all humanity. The two most important centers of the Mycenaean culture dominated the Eastern Mediterranean from the 15th to the 12th centuries B.C. and played a vital role in the development of the culture of Classical Greece.  The two citadels are indissolubly linked with the Homeric epics, the Iliad and the Odyssey, that affected European art and literature for more than three millennia.”

 

This isn’t the first post I’ve written about Mycenae. My first post was written on the road during  the middle of our cross-country six-week Greek odyssey last summer. That post was much more concise; it included a handful of photos, but nowhere near the number of photos in this post.

Enjoy these photos and if you have a visit to Mycenae in your future or if you’ve been there already, please leave a comment and share your thoughts.

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Tickets are 12€ each and include entrance to the archaeological site, the museum and the Treasury of Atreus.

After purchasing your ticket, you’ll walk on grounds that surround the hillside below the citadel on the acropolis, the uppermost part of the site. Beehive tombs and other city structures can be seen around you.

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The latest “funerary monument” beehive tomb is on the hillside below the acropolis. It was discovered by chance by villagers during the time of Ottoman rule.

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The same tomb… just a little closer.

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And closer still. Here, I’m standing in the doorway where apparently some scaffolding is used to bolster the heavy stones. My husband, Mitch, is standing along the far wall, to show the size of the tomb.

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And… looking up at the ceiling of the beehive tomb.

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Outside the tomb, you can see theater seating (circled above in red) put in place by Greeks in Hellenistic times.

And another tomb…

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Another beehive tomb we encountered on our way up to the acropolis.

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I took this shot inside the tomb. The stonework is unbelievable.

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Get a load of those lintels above!

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Here’s a shot looking straight up at the underside of those mammoth lintel stones.

 

 

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There’s more than one acropolis in Greece. This is the acropolis –the highest place — at Mycenae. It is also referred to as the citadel and was the home of the palace, House of Columns, grave circles, and other structures. If you tap the photo and zoom in you can see tiny figures walking along the very uppermost edge. The walking tour takes you from the edge of this parking lot up to the various sights on the acropolis and the surrounding hillsides.

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This is Grave Circle A, part of “an extensive cemetery” at Mycenae, according to a placard at the spot. “It was used exclusively for royal burials during the 1500s BC. The shafts, which you can walk down (see below), were near graves that held the bodies of royal family members and grave goods. Those goods can be found at the National Archaeological Museum in Athens. Here’s my post on that museum.

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This circular enclosure was an updated feature added to enhance the royal burial ground. When was the updating done? 1250 BC.

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A view from the citadel at the acropolis. The hillside is filled with myriad structures, foundations, and remains.  According to a nearby placard, most of the ruins visible today date to the 13th century B.C., but there is evidence that use of the site began in the Early Helladic period (3000-2000 BC.) 

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This is another photo from the citadel. Some of the structures on the acropolis include a large court complete with porticoes and antechamber, and the megaron, a political hub with administrative and military functions.

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We marveled at the size of this lintel piece on the citadel. 

There’s much more on the acropolis at Mycenae. Click here to see my other post about Mycenae that includes more photos from the top, including the House of Columns.

But for now, on to the museum…

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The sign at the entrance  to the museum reads in Greek “Archaeological Museum Mykines,” which English speakers say Mycenae.

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The cup looks very contemporary; however, it was made from 1350-1300 BC. The deep bowl in the back was made 1250-1150 BC.

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This ivory Mycenaean sculpture was made between 1250-1180 BC. It stands between only 3-4″ h. Read this post for more information about this little number.

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These “anthropomorphic figure” sculptures captivated me. I still am surprised at how contemporary the expressions and poses appear. These were made about 3,200 years ago… 1250-1180 BC! Simply stunning. 

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This anthropomorphic figure appears at the far right in the photo above.

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The spiral motif is timeless. This stairstep was decorated with a repeating pattern. 1450-1350 BC.

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A variety of personal items were excavated from the sites at Mycenae. These combs are dated 1300-1180 BC. The colorful faience and glass necklace at left? 1400-1040 BC.

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This large storage jar is overwhelming in its size. 

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This photo, found on Creative Commons, shows the back side of the museum. When you visit the museum, you enter on the opposite side and and unable to see the various levels of the museum that descend down the mountain slope. Photo Credit: George E. Koronaios [CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D
After touring the museum, we decided to leave the main site and walk back down the highway to bring our Mycenaean odyssey to a close. The sun was out in full force and we felt the pull of a mid-afternoon nap in our comfortable AirBnB. Here’s a post about our wonderful hosts.

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By the time we left, the crowds were increasing. Even so, the park wasn’t especially crowded. No lines. No waiting. No hassle.

But before that, we knew we wanted to check out the Treasury of Atreus, also known as the  Tomb of Agamemnon. One arrives at it when you head back down the highway toward the town of Mycenae. We had noticed it on our way up earlier that morning.

The Treasury of Atreus isn’t an afterthought… it’s a must-see.

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Just outside the main site, your ticket will allow you into the Treasury of Atreus. Here, you’ll find a guard station, a park bench or two under some pine trees, and, if I remember correctly, a vending machine. There are no facilities. 

But why is it called a treasury?

It’s called a treasury — and not a tomb — because treasures were placed inside to commemorate the ruler buried within.

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This is the Treasury of Atreus, also known as the Tomb of Agamemnon. It’s a large “tholos,” or beehive tomb on Panagitsa Hill at Mycenae. It was built in 1250 BC.

Just so you know…

The Treasury of Atreus has no real connection to Agamemnon. The Mycenae archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann named it thus and the popular name persisted. According to this article, the royal buried here would have ruled at an earlier date than Agamemnon.

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I took this picture looking back from the entrance to the Treasury of Atreus.

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That lintel above the entrance to the tomb weighs 120 tons!

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This is a more accurate picture of the inside of the Treasury of Atreus. It’s dark inside… and nice and cool, too.

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We walked along an asphalt highway up to the Mycenae Archaeological Site. It was a sunny and breezy day. 

I hope you enjoyed this photo essay about Mycenae. It’s a lonely yet so important archaeological site.

Greece, including the Peloponnese region (that part of Greece connected to the mainland by the land bridge at Corinth), offers a plethora of ancient sites. It’s truly difficult to visit them all. In fact, we already are making a list for sites to see when we return someday.

But in the meantime, if Greece is in your future, make time for Mycenae.


Thanks for reading! Make sure to leave a comment or share a thought about this post or to share news about your own visit to Greece. I’m looking forward to hearing from you. 

 

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Greece (Peloponnese)

A great man is always willing to be little

His expression compelled me to stop and linger at the display in Mycenae.

 

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This ivory sculpture is in the collection of artifacts at The Archaeological Museum of Mycenae

 

Only three to four inches in height, this ivory Mycenaean sculpture does not overwhelm with its size or weight, but with its expression. Made between 1250-1180 B.C. this “Ivory Male Head Figure” was excavated in the ruins of Mycenae (Mykines) in the Peloponnese region of Greece.

We saw a staggering number—thousands?—of artifacts this past summer; however, this little number above is still my favorite.

To realize it was conceived and shaped by human hands so very long ago is a lesson in humility.

Of what use  is our modern technology?

Of what purposes are our conveniences?

Of what skills can we boast in light of this quiet gem?


On May 29, my husband and I journeyed to Greece for about five weeks. Three weeks were spent on Skopelos, one of the three islands in the Sporades east of the mainland. The remaining two were spent venturing from Mycenae to Delphi to Olympia and finally Heraklion on the island of Crete to tour the sites at Knossos and Phaistos. Athens formed the bookends of our Greek odyssey. 

I posted daily for much of the trip, but still have so much more to tell. Follow my blog and stay tuned.

Acknowledgement: “A great man is always willing to be little.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

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Greece (Peloponnese)

When your AirBnb host shows you the town

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Kostas, our AirBnb host in Olympia, Greece. The town has a permanent population of 700 residents, he told us.

…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.

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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.

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The door to our apartment is on the far right. The main street is right at the bottom of these stairs.

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.

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A jewelry shop owner snagged us inside with a tale of his brother who carried the Olympic torch during the 2004 games. He wanted to take this picture of us. I wish I had taken one of him!

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.

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Once we made it to Patras, Greece’s third largest city, we barely made it on this connecting bus to Pyrgos. For some reason, the ride took longer than it was supposed to and we had to taxi to Olympia. Still don’t know what happened.

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.

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On our first night in town, I took this picture from our balcony right after we got back from Taverna Orestis, located across the street from our flat. Kostas recommended it as a non-touristy choice since it wasn’t on the main tourist street. We ordered grilled sardines, dolmades, Greek salad, and tzatziki with bread. It was excellent and fun to see the locals socializing.

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.

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We found this taverna right in the center of the main district. It was so quaint and also had the misters running in the afternoon, so we decided to enjoy the place with some cappuccini.

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Mitch had a freddo cappucino (iced) and I had a regular hot one.

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After a morning of sightseeing at the Sanctuary of Olympia, we took a break for gyros and sodas at another local taverna. Then we headed back during the hot afternoon to the air-conditioned museum. See this post for more about the archaeological site.

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During our second night in Olympia, we opted to eat in with food from the market on the main street. We bought some toasts, gouda cheese, a freshly-picked orange from a tree, some salami, and Greek olives. 

 

 

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Another view from our balcony.

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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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Greece (Peloponnese)

Carrying a torch for Olympia, Greece

Olympia, Greece was worth three bus rides and a taxi

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Here I am just looking out at all the layers upon layers of excavations.

Yesterday, we toured the Sanctuary of Olympia, the mammoth archaeological site at Olympia, Greece.  Thanks to the Olympic Games, I would venture to say that most of us have heard of this site. However, I myself didn’t realize that there was virtually a complete city in this location, in addition to the athletic contests.

Above is a diagram of the Olympia site that our AirBnb host showed us when we arrived at our apartment. See what I mean by city?!

It’s a good thing the archaeologists and designers placed an ample supply of informational placards around the site so people like me can understand and appreciate more of what they’re seeing.

To summarize, the placards placed at two locations near the front of the site read as follows:

“In this place Zeus, father of the Olympian gods, was worshipped, and splendid athletic contests, the Olympic Games, were celebrated. In the cella of the temple of Zeus was placed the enthroned gold-and-ivory made cult statue of the god, work of the famous Greek sculptor Pheidias, one of the seven wonders of the antiquity. Here too, nowadays the ceremony of lighting the flame for the modern Olympic Games is held.”

After I read those placards, I looked around and here was my first thought:  this place is huge.

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One ticket gets you into the archaeological site, the archaeological museum, and the museum of the history of  the Olympics.The site and museums are open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily. Adult tickets are 12€ each. You can leave and return later in the day to any of the sites and even return the next day to continue your visit or see more. Note: We did not visit the Museum of the History of the Olympic Games. There was only so much time. If we had had another morning, we could have visited it then.

As I gazed across the grounds, as far as I could see were partially reconstructed colonnades, temples, baths, workshops, dwellings, and myriad other structures.

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The colonnade is a popular photo subject. Google “Olympia” and you will see lots of pictures of these columns.

This ability to see layers upon layers of excavations is the one major difference when I compare Olympia to Mycenae and Delphi, two other sites we had just seen during the previous three days.

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The Philippeion Tholos, a circular temple,  and the Temple of Hera in the background

By the way, we’re on a whirlwind tour of Greece. We’ve spent three weeks on the island of Skopelos and now we’re taking two weeks to see Athens, Mycenae, Delphi, Olympia and Crete. We will return home July 9.

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The Temple of Hera is in the background. In the foreground is the site of the lighting of the Olympic Torch that begins each modern Olympic Games.

At Mycenae and Delphi, you can definitely survey the sites across a hillside or from a high point (The Citadel at Mycenae, the Stadium at Delphi); however, at Olympia, you are looking through the site.

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The Tholos, a circular temple

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I took this picture because I couldn’t believe how sharp the scroll carving still is on these Ionic capitals.

For example, before you stands the colonnade of Palaistra. Beyond that, however, you see the impressive Tholos, and beyond that you see the standing columns of the Temple of Hera, and beyond that you see  the multi-tiered Nymphaion aqueduct fountain, through which you see the arched entrance to the stadium, the site of the first Olympic Games in 776 BC.

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Passing through the arched entry to The Stadium

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The marble starting blocks for the competing athletes at The Stadium

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The stadium, where foot races (forerunner to today’s 200-meter races) were held in the ancient Olympic Games.

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This is the workshop of Pheidias, the sculptor for the statue of ivory, gold, and bronze status of Zeus housed in the Temple of Zeus, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.

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This slab of carved marble is in Pheidias’ workshop

In other words, from any spot at Olympia, you will see layer upon layer of ruins in various stages of reconstruction. And then compressed between all those layers are stashes of more pieces.

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An earthquake in 522 AD 551 AD toppled these columns that stood in the Temple of  Zeus, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. Notice how the drums fell and appear almost like dominoes.

Perhaps a field of column drums, a row of lion head water spouts, a random six-foot-tall triglyph, a plot of Ionic column drums, then a plot of Doric drums, then a composition of more rare Corinthian capitals.

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Here I’m standing next to a triglyph, three carved “columns” that were placed between metopes, relief sculptures below the pediment (the triangular-shaped friezes). See caption for next image.

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I’ve circled a triglyph in the image above. I’m standing next to one of these in the preceding picture. I couldn’t believe how large it was.

 

So many pieces and parts, but if you need a quick list of the top sights within Olympia, I think they would be:

  • The Temple of Zeus
  • The Temple of Hera
  • The Tholos
  • The Stadium
  • Workshop of Pleiades
  • The Palaistra , which includes the Colonnade

What’s more, when you tour the park, you will walk right among most of the artifacts and monuments and stones. You may even walk right on the original marble steps placed in this city of 2,500 years ago.

 

 

 

 

 

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Lion water spouts in a row on the ground surrounding the Temple of Zeus.

There are 1/2″-inch ropes that show you where you can and can’t go, and if you stray where you shouldn’t, you’ll hear a park employee sitting on a nearby park bench remind you with a sharp blast on a whistle.

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More columns.

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This was a building for council members. It contained water around the outside of this “curvy” centerpiece and also around the inner section.

Late last night, one couple climbed upon a large “rock” to see the floor of the Temple of Zeus, which was roped off unfortunately. (You can see them in the picture below.) Suddenly, a shrill blast! They didn’t hear or didn’t recognize their offense. Another blast! They looked around, the park employees shouted something in Greek, and down they jumped.

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We couldn’t believe how large this capital (the top of a column) that  once topped a column on the Temple of Zeus. Note the visitors standing on the stone shelf—that’s a major no-no.

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Each capital had these notches carved into them to help them lock onto the column.

Perhaps they didn’t realize they were standing on an architectural relic. After all, there are so many stones EVERYWHERE.

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We returned in the evening to see parts of Olympia again. The light put a different cast on the monuments.

To be safe, when you’re at Olympia, assume that any rock is not actually a rock, but rather an artifact. If you want to sit down for a bit, look for an actual park bench. There are several. That’s the safest bet.

Or head over to the Olympia Archaeological Museum.

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The Olympia Archaeological Museum front entrance

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Various helmets excavated at Olympia

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This was a statue of Nike that used to be mounted on the Temple of Zeus.

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This is a statue of Hermes and was found in the Temple of Hera.

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One of two reconstructed friezes from one of the pediments on the Temple of Zeus. This one features Apollo (son of Zeus) in the middle.

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One of two reconstructed friezes from one of the pediments on the Temple of Zeus. This one features Zeus in the middle.

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More lion water spouts and other prominent sculptures are placed around the outside loggia of the museum. You can just walk right up to these. But don’t touch, obviously. There were no guards anywhere around, which surprised us.

Although Olympia takes some planning to reach, it’s definitely worth the visit.

The site and museums are open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Adult tickets are 12€ each. You can leave and return later in the day to any of the sites and even return the next day to continue your visit or see more. We arrived at the archaeological site at 8:30 a.m. and left about two and a half hours later. Tour bus groups arrived around 10.

As it was getting quite hot, we left at 10:40, went out for gyros and a soda, and then returned to the air-conditioned museum for about two hours in the afternoon.

Later that evening, we returned to the archaeological site to see more and take pictures with the sun coming from a different angle.


The modern city of Olympia is a beautiful little city that is literally about two blocks from the archaeological site. I’ll write a short post about the town tomorrow. Our AirBnb host told us the permanent population is only about 700 people! 

Thanks for reading! Click like, leave a comment and follow my blog for more stories about travelling in Greece. 

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Greece (Peloponnese)

Meet our AirBnB hosts: Kostas and Toula

Our fabulous hosts at Mycenae

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Mitch, Toula, Kostas and me

AirBnb offers something that a traditional hotel doesn’t: contact with local residents. We met Kostas and Toula on our first night in Mycenae after three weeks on Skopelos Island.

That day, we had ferried to Skiathos Island, flown for 25 minutes to Athens, then taken a bus to Athens’ KTEL terminal, and finally taken a 1.5-hour bus ride to Fichti, which is just down the road from Mycenae.

Kostas was waiting for us under an olive tree in Fichti. When the bus stopped, the driver made no announcement and there were no signs indicating we were at our destination. Mitch decided to ask the driver where exactly we were and when the driver replied, “Fichti,” Mitch scurried to get our luggage from the hold. At that point, I realized that Mitch was not coming back. (He told me later he thought iI was right behind him.)

So I quickly grabbed my purse and hurried off the bus.

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Our AirBnb at Kostas’. We climbed up that spiral staircase to our door.

Kostas was expecting us to be arriving on this particular bus. I had been in contact as our plans unfolded throughout the day with his daughter Sophia, and she had kept him in the loop.

However, since we had booked our Airbnb under my name, when Mitch climbed down from the bus first, Kostas asked him, “Marilyn?”

But then Kostas saw me climb down, realized that Mitch was not Marilyn and we made our introductions.

Kostas was so friendly. He talked the whole drive back to our apartment. He told us about his daughter and son, who currently lives in Canada. In fact, Kostas lived in Canada at one time for several years, which explains why we were able to communicate so well. He struggled with finding words at times, but overall his English is excellent considering he is a native Greek and nearing retirement age.

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The sign on the outskirts of town showing the way to the ruins.

When we reached the little town of Mycenae, where our apartment was located, Kostas pointed out the mini-market and two or three tavernas, which we visited the next day.

Inside our apartment, Kostas and Toula showed us around the one-bedroom apartment. It had a nice living room, large eat-in kitchen, full bath, and plenty of seating with an extra couch tucked here and there. There was WiFi, air conditioning, a washer, and a large tile front balcony with clothesline.

They also took great pride to show us the fridge, which they had stocked with six eggs, a small carton of milk, local honey, a loaf of bread and toasts, apples, oranges and apricots. Kostas also showed us a bottle of olive oil fresh from his groves. (He farms olives and oranges, he told us.) We used the olive oil to cook eggs for breakfast the next two mornings. They also provided instant and Greek coffee, which we made on a single-burner stove.

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Kostas and Toula kept lots of games in the apartment. Here are Greek Scrabble pieces.

Their generosity and hospitality were incredible… above and beyond! They have definitely mastered the art of what AirBnB calls “the extra touches.”

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The view off the side of our front porch balcony. Those are apricots in that truck. Olive trees in the distance… and right by the truck also.

The next evening, we visited with the couple again when we inquired about how to get a taxi back to Fichti. We visited inside their apartment, which was located on the ground level of their three-story building. Over small porcelain cups of Greek coffee, water, and fresh apricots, Kostas offered to drive us back the next morning, as he and Toula were making a trip to “the big city” of Argos.

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The view off one side of our front porch balcony.

We also met their sweet little Chihuahua-mix dog, Kirra, who sat on my lap and stared deep into my eyes. She is very old, Kostas said, which you could tell from her fully gray nose and jowls. She rolled over on her back in my lap as we talked.

Toula, who speaks as much English as I speak Greek, multi-tasked all the while. (Several times, Kostas would stop the conversation and translate to Toulah.) She kept her eyes on a TV program, and occasionally listened in our conversation about Kostas’ and our kids, job prospects in Greece for young people (there aren’t many, he said), the cycle of world superpowers, and how Greece needs the help of larger countries to succeed.

 

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The highway between Fichti and Mycenae was quiet at night. Earlier in the day, tour buses from Argos drive through. It seems that maybe Argos gets most of the tourist business.

Kostas also told us that it had been several years since he had been up the hill to the Mycenaean ruins. In fact, when he had been there before, he had been working there. “They charge too much to see it,” he said. “They think they are the United States and charge a lot for it.”

We explained that the 12€ tickets didn’t seem that high to us, but then again the culture of Ancient and Classical Greece is revered perhaps more when you don’t grow up around it. To us, it’s an amazing site. Perhaps to Kostas, it’s just a bunch of old rocks.

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I had chicken souvlaki and Mitch had pork souvlaki.  Both were served with french fries. We also had tzatziki as an appetizer. The weather was beautiful. Taverna owners and/or waiters walk right up to you on the sidewalk asking you to dine at their establishment.

We then made arrangements to meet outside the apartment at 9:30 the next morning for the drive back to the Fichti bus station. Kostas also said he would help us buy our bus tickets back to Athens.

As promised, we all met the next morning… fifteen minutes ahead of schedule.

The four of us made the ten-minute drive back to Fichti. We unloaded our luggage, then I sat with it under a tree while Mitch and Kostas walked across the street to get the tickets. Toula waited in the car. After a few minutes, she emerged from the car, and we hugged, kissed cheeks European style, and said, “Thank you,” to each other. Soon, Kostas and Mitch emerged from the bus station with tickets in hand.

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The Fichti (say “Fith-ya”) bus station, about ten minutes north of Mycenae

Of course, Kostas absolutely would not accept the 20€ Mitch tried to hand him, waving his arms and stepping back when it was offered. So, while Kostas and I hugged, Mitch tossed the bill onto his car seat. With her limited English, Toula couldn’t refuse it.

We took our seats under the tree, and turned to wave goodbye to our hosts. Kostas, now finding the bill, shook his head. “I don’t want it,” he said.

“Goodbye!” we shouted. He continued to shake his head.

“We would have spent it anyway for a taxi. You take it,” Mitch explained.

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This Greek Orthodox church is right around the corner from Kostas’ and Toula’s place.

Kostas finally conceded, smiled, and pulled away. “It’s been good to meet you,” he said.

“It was good to meet you, too,” we replied.


Thanks for reading! We’re on our way to Olympia today from Delphi. At least two bus station transfers, we think, but we’ll have to confirm with the driver. The bus station in Delphi is actually inside a restaurant. You just ask one of the waiters and he instantly turns into a ticket clerk.

Click like, leave a comment and follow my blog for more stories from our trip to Greece.

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Greece (Peloponnese)

Marry an artist and then go to Mycenae

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Mitch and I at the Lion Gate, the spectacular entrance to the Citadel at Mycenae

Here’s another perk of being married to an artist

A few days ago, I posted on Instagram about how one of the perks of being married to an artist is that you can tag along with them when they serve an artist residency in Greece.

Image-1Well, if you need another reason to marry an artist, here it is:

You have a built-in tour guide for all things artistic: museums, historical sights, and exhibitions. 

Today, I fully realized the benefits of being married to an artist while walking the grounds of Mycenae. Not having studied these incredible ruins for a degree in journalism and teaching, I really didn’t understand much of what I was seeing.

However, walking around with my husband, I gained a glimmer of understanding about the culture that preceded classical Greece and influenced western art, architecture, and philosophy.

Mitch was able to tell me that: the Lion Gate that leads to the Citadel at Mycenae is important because it shows a monumental post and lintel entry point. Another reason: those lions throughout history never became buried or destroyed. Always visible down through the ages, they created a landmark for historical study that continues in current times.

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A closer shot of the Lion Gate.

The Lion Gate structure, like all of Mycenae, was built  from 1600-1300 BC. When you wrap your head around that date, these ancient ruins— some of them today merely stubs of stone outcroppings and faint traces of walls and foundations–are indeed spectacular.

Many times today, I found myself asking things like:

  • “How in the world were they able to hoist that huge stone all the way up there?” 
  • “And why did they need that large of a stone in the first place?”

My husband Mitch is also able to tell me about the triangular openings above many entries. These triangular openings displaced the weight from above so the weight didn’t rest directly on the lintel. We saw several of these triangular openings on beehive-shaped tombs. Imagine how many failures were experienced over the years in order for the Mycenaens to learn and then apply this engineering principle in the surviving structures we admire today.

This was taken inside the Treasury of Atreus or the Tomb of Agamemnon. It’s mammoth. In fact, it’s the largest of the nine similar tombs at Mycenae.

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That’s one BIG stone above the doorway. See how it curves?

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See how that curved stone is actually bigger than it looks? You walk under it a good bit when you enter the tomb.

Another example of my husband’s knowledge that comes in handy when you go to places like Greece: Back in Athens, inside the Propylaea, the entrance to the Acropolis, one could easily walk under the ornate “ceiling,” never pausing to consider the enormous stones above.

In the next photo of the Propylaea in Athens, see the large horizontal pieces, some of which have new and whiter marble replacement pieces? Now see those stones in between those horizontal pieces? Those are separate stones placed over the horizontal beams.  Stone on stone on stone. Truly incredible.

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Ceiling of the Propylea at the Acropolis in Athens a few weeks ago.

But let’s return to today’s Mycenae visit.

Here’s I am again walking under a lintel that spans the posts, transferring the weight to the posts. Maybe this is common knowledge to you, but it’s new to me and fun to hear about from my husband.

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Post and lintel doorway at the Citadel

Another spot I saw today: the House of Columns at the Citadel at Mycenae. Notice the large stone in the front of the picture? Now see how there are four more behind it spaced regularly? Those used to be columns. Amazing.

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The House of Columns at Mycenae

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Quick summary of the importance of Mycenae

We walked the mile or so up the road to Mycenae from our AirBnB. It was a breezy, sunny day and warm, but not too warm. It was actually a nice walk full of oleander and olive trees.

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We started out here at our AirBnb. Yesterday was a long day. We arrived here last night after leaving Skopelos, ferrying to Skiathos, flying to Athens, and taking a bus to Fichti, where our host met us at the bus stop before driving us to Mycenae (spelled Mikines in Greece using English alphabet).

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Our AirBnb in Mycenae

 

Tomorrow, we head to Delphi, where Mitch will get to play tour guide again. What a perk for me!


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