Olympia, Delphi and Meteora
We have always wanted to visit Olympia but there were so many great locations on the way we just never made it on previous trips. This time we were determined to it after visiting south West Peloponnese. We set off early and Beatrice our GPS unit was behaving quite well so we made good time through a very fertile agricultural area. Obviously melons were in season because huge transport truck brimming with melons were everywhere.
We arrived at Olympia about 10:30 found a good parking spot and started to walk down to the ticket office. A guy passed us carrying a backpack which reminded me we had our lunch in our little backpack. I looked at my wife and she didn't have it and neither did I so we had to trudge all the way back to the car to get our lunch and water bottle. Its pretty hard to play the blame game since both of us had handled it when we arrived but each thought the other had brought it along.
I had heard so much about Olympia but I was not prepared for how big it is. It just keeps on going. The ruins while extensive have been badly damaged by earthquakes and not very much reconstruction has taken place. I was having some trouble trying to put into perspective the jumbled remains of this site.
We sat down to eat our lunch and promptly had a whistle blown at us. Apparently you can’t eat on the site. I should have left the lunch bag in the car. It was a very hot day and there were dozens of school tours visiting so we tried to visit each site between groups. For the most part we managed to find little oasis of quiet as we wandered the grounds.
We then left for the museum. Like most archaeological sites the good stuff has been removed and can be found in the museum. In al,l we spent about 4 hours at Olympia so it was still mid afternoon so we hopped back in the car and continued north to Delphi. We followed the national road until Patra and then took the new bridge. What a magnificent structure. It was a 13 euro toll but well worth it for the short cut.
We arrived late afternoon completed a drive through of the town and scouted the ancient sites and then drove back into town to look for a hotel. Parking was at a premium as there had been a bicycle race that weekend and the crowds were just leaving. So we turned off the main street and headed up hill and the first hotel we found had a vacancy and a magnificent view down a huge valley flowing with olive trees all the way to the Bay of Corinth. We just sat there on our balcony admiring the view until we heard magnificent music and songs echoing through the town. At first we thought it must be a disk jockey but we had to go look for the source. About 200 meters away we found a lovely church and in the courtyard there was an American boys school chorus singing a great medley of songs. What a setting. We then found a nice taverna with the same view over the olive tree valley then we trundled back up the hill to settle in for the night. Because we were so high up in the mountains we slept with the patio doors open and it was cold during the night just like at home. Loved it.
The next morning the old man who owns the hotel arrived just as we came down for breakfast. He wanted to meet with us because he had worked in Canada in the 1970’s and he wanted to talk about Canada, Greece and the economic crisis. During that discussion he told us we were the only people in the hotel that evening but he was expecting 67 guests today. Feast or famine I guess.
We arrived at the archaeological site around 8:30 on a bright cool morning and had the site virtually all to ourselves. While Olympia was a good site Delphi is spectacular. Clinging to the side of the mountain overlooking that valley it is easy to understand why the ancients took this to be a special place. There has been just enough reconstruction to allow one to get a feel of what it must have been like. It was well marked with signs and we spent a couple of hours just climbing higher and higher into the mountain visiting the amphitheater and then up to the stadium. In my view this is the best archaeological site that we have seen in Greece.
As we started to return down the mountain side tour buses started to arrive and crowds started their tours. If anyone wants to visit Delphi I definitely recommend arriving the day before staying in town then getting an early start. I am not a big fan of tour groups.
We had not spent as much time as we expected to in the Peloponnese so we still had three nights before we had to return the car so we made a spur of the moment decision and punched in Meteora into Beatrice and away we went. Unfortunately we did not bring a map of Northern Greece since we had no plan to go that far. Little did we know it but Beatrice was playing another big trick on us. We hit the big 4 lane toll road heading north and hopped on it. Here we could go 120 km per hour just about the top speed on our little Accent. And we kept on going north. Every time we reached a milestone Beatrice would just give us another destination and the number of kilometers to go so we faithfully followed her. Since it was a toll road there were no cities where you could exit and return without having to pay an extra toll. We found that out the hard way and paid 7 euros in tolls over a 2 kilometer span of the road. As we paid each toll I realized we were running short of both fuel and euros. I was starting to get suspicious that this drive was taking way too long after 5 hours but we were both horrified to see a road sign to Turkey and Bulgaria. Even I thought it was time to stop at a gas station and ask directions. Who would have thought that Meteora is also a subdivision of Thessaloniki. I would have also expected to see a highway sign pointing to Meteora just like Mount Olympus and Thermopolis which we had already passed. Ah well.
We retraced our steps back 2 hours found the turn off for Meteora, found a bank and a gas station and arrived just at sunset a full 9 hours after we left Delphi. We also paid over 30 euros in tolls that day. All we could do was laugh and agreed to blame it all on Beatrice. I will give my thoughts on GPS units and Greece at the end of this report
We arrived at Sunset, found a hotel for two nights then looked for a tavern. I certainly felt the need for a liter of wine to calm my nerves.
The next morning we had breakfast and headed out for a walk in the village. What a setting with those massive mountain formations just hanging over the town.
Meteora means. in the heavens. Over 20 Monasteries were built in the 14th century. They are perched on the top of massive sandstone columns. Apparently the Turks were starting to invade Greece and monks took refuge on the top of these columns. The only access was to be hauled up in a basket so they remained safe there all through the Turkish occupation.
Today 6 monasteries still remain but fortunately, one does not have to trek the cruel mountain paths nor be hauled up by a basket on a rope. Today there is a road winding between the pillars and each monastery has a pathway. We only visited one monastery even though three were open on our day. Our first visit was enough to put us off. We arrived at the same time as 6 busloads of Russian tourists. Boy those people can sure expand to fill every bit of space. We decided it would be more prudent just following the road along looking for the best vantage point to see the monasteries. That worked pretty well so by the end of the day I had lots of great photos.
We went back to the village for dinner and an early start the next morning but woke up to a light rain. There was mist in the air so I had to retrace our steps back up into the mountains to see what effect that might have on the monasteries. I think they are much more impressive and mysterious in the mist. What a stroke of luck.
Often on the forum we get a question about non EU drivers needing an international drivers license. I am always saying you don’t need the IDL to rent the car but if you are stopped by the police you are going to be in trouble if you don’t have one. Well as we left Meteora the police had a checkstop and we got pulled over. The officer demanded our passports looked at them and confirmed we were the people in the pictures then sent us on our way. They were clearly looking for someone specific. I really wanted to show him the international driver’s license but he didn't even care about it.
Musing on using Beatrice our Garmin GPS.
First of all she was very attentive and was good at keeping us on track. We found historical sites and got from point a to b much more easily than we had previously with a map. It freed up my wife from a lot of stress.
However, in order to use a GPS in Greece one has to realize that there are many cities and towns with exactly the same name. You need to have a very good understanding of what the municipality is. When we looked up Meteora again we discovered there were 7 of them. We just chose the first one which was the wrong one.
Secondly translating Greek place names into English is not a science but rather a somewhat fluid art form. We realized that we needed a good detailed map just to get the spelling of the places we wanted to go so we could input them into the GPS.
Olympia, Delphi, Meteora
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Olympia, Delphi and Meteora