Categories
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.

Categories
Greece (Peloponnese)

Carrying a torch for Olympia, Greece

Olympia, Greece was worth three bus rides and a taxi

IMG_2217
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.

IMG_0501
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.

IMG_0506
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.

IMG_0680
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.

IMG_0563
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.

IMG_0519
The Tholos, a circular temple

IMG_0521
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.

IMG_0554
Passing through the arched entry to The Stadium

IMG_0557
The marble starting blocks for the competing athletes at The Stadium

IMG_0558
The stadium, where foot races (forerunner to today’s 200-meter races) were held in the ancient Olympic Games.

IMG_0569
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.

IMG_0570
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.

IMG_0702
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.

IMG_2232
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.

IMG_0752
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.

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_0595
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.

IMG_0578
More columns.

IMG_0583
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.

IMG_0692
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.

IMG_0695
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.

IMG_2585
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.

IMG_0613
The Olympia Archaeological Museum front entrance

IMG_0617
Various helmets excavated at Olympia

IMG_0623
This was a statue of Nike that used to be mounted on the Temple of Zeus.

IMG_0629
This is a statue of Hermes and was found in the Temple of Hera.

IMG_0648
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.

IMG_0649
One of two reconstructed friezes from one of the pediments on the Temple of Zeus. This one features Zeus in the middle.

IMG_0653
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.