May 23 – Delphi (updated)

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May 23rd 2016
Published: May 23rd 2016
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Treasury at Delphi
On Monday we had a long day touring Delphi and we had a busy evening preparing to depart the next morning, so there wasn’t time to properly describe that interesting day. Now we can give you an update about what we saw and what we did.

We had booked both our Greece tours over the internet a few months before the cruise. We had used the Viator web site because we have dealt with them before and have been happy. Here in Greece the delivery company is actually called “Chatours”, but they are essentially a local branch and they performed to the same standards.

Our tour was scheduled to pick us up at our hotel at 7:50. That had been one of several mandatory criteria we had for selecting a hotel in the first place. Anyway, we got up and had a good filling free hot breakfast in the hotel dining room – it was more crowded this morning but not a problem. One interesting thing about tea in Greece is that the regular Lipton Tea that Janet drinks at home is called “Yellow Label Tea”. After breakfast we waited in the lobby and our

Climbing up to the Temple, and beyond
pickup occurred pretty much on time. We were driven to the central terminal and once again we were lucky that our pickup bus was the same one which was going to take us on our tour – no change required. We decided to move to a better position on the bus before the rest of our tour group came aboard. Surprisingly there were many people going with us to Delphi, but who were bringing luggage because they would leave half way through and would continue further using another bus on a 2-day trip.

Our guide was named Demetra and she was fairly easy to understand and very knowledgeable. We left just before 9:00 and the drive was about 180 kilometer (3 hours) each way – either we hadn’t realized that or had forgotten since the booking. First we drove through the city and then on their Highway #1 to Thebes, which took about 2 hours. There was a 30 minute rest stop where we could get something to eat/drink as lunch would be late today. We got pastries and Tea/Coke – David has found that except in Cartagena the Coca Cola has been in cans and has

Sibyl's Rock below the Temple of Apollo at Delphi
had the same USA flavor, so whatever the issue had been years ago, it doesn’t seem to be a problem now. Then we got back on the bus and drove on to Delphi, arriving about 12:30.

Throughout the drive our guide gave us information about Greece in general and about the location we were visiting. She recounted the history of Greece from ancient to current times. It was interesting and she provided lots of information, but if you really want to know the facts then a Google-search is probably your best bet (we could easily have some of it confused). Basically Athens started about 5000 years ago and claims to be the birthplace of democracy. “Modern Greece” really started around 1830 after the defeat of Persia.

Greece is about 2/3 mountains and 1/3 planes or coastline, however the many of the interesting places seem to be up on high spots. Athens needed a water supply to grow from an initial small village into a business/cultural center so they created an artificial lake up in the mountains and built an aqueduct system. That same lake still provides a lot of Athens’ water today. About 70%

David at the Temple of Apollo
of the Greek heavy industry is located in Attica, which is the province surrounding Athens, the foundations of which were established far back in history. In the country areas there are an abundance of olive trees – some of which are better for making olive oil and others for growing olives to eat – who knew? These trees have a very long life and the same tree can be expected to produce for generations of growers. They take 7 to 9 years before a tree first starts making fruit, but the long term payback seems to be worth the wait.

The ancient Greeks had a religion based on Gods & Goddesses which resulted in mythological stories about their exploits. In these stories the Gods would solve challenges and overcome obstacles, thus establishing their importance to the people. Sometimes they needed advice so they went to Oracles for insights into the future. Thus was born the basis of today’s tour. The Oracle of Delphi was supposed to be the God’s favorite “predictor” so the people built a temple in Delphi and installed some Oracles. The priests translated the mumblings of these “visionaries” into predictions for the people who

Looking down at Temple of Apollo at Delphi
came and worshiped there. However the advice was generally vague and could be interpreted many ways. For instance, one city asked what their future would be. The Oracle said to “use strong wood”. Initially they thought it meant to build strong wooden walls around the city, but eventually they changed the interpretation to mean build strong wooden ships. They became a strong seafaring city-state which was rarely challenged. So the Oracle had given them a good prediction. While we drove past Thebes our guide told us the story of Oedipus Rex. Anyway, she had a lot of stories like these during our ride.

We arrived at Delphi about noon and the whole group was let off the bus at the entrance gate. Those with the 2-day tour had until 1:30 before they were to be picked up and our 1-day group had an extra 15 minutes to do the same plus walking to the nearby museum. So we started heading for the temple where the Oracle had given her predictions. Unfortunately all the ancient temples in Greece were placed on the top of hills which are accessed by rocky paths and that caused a fundamental problem for

Amphitheater above the Temple in Delphi
Janet – Delphi was no different. Our guide seems to have been part mountain goat because she scampered up the steps at a pretty vigorous pace – maybe because of the time constraint on the first group. It was a much harder pace than Janet was able to handle. Even before the first spot where she stopped to give an explanation, there were some benches in the shade and Janet stopped to rest at this point. She allowed the group to move ahead and followed at her own pace (this was also above 1000 meters elevation, which was really different than 4 weeks at sea-level). Also it was a nice sunny day, which was good for viewing but actually got a little hot for climbing the mountain. Anyway, David went ahead and then came back to meet Janet later.

The ruins consist of multiple levels up the hillside, starting with a gymnasium-type training area below us, then the ruins of a shrine to Athena (Mother Earth)and higher up was the Agora (meeting place or market place). A Treasury and related administrative buildings were further up the hill with the Temple of Apollo itself above that. Just below

Janet at the Agora
the temple was a large rock upon which Sibyl supposedly stood to make her pronouncements. Higher up was an amphitheater with a stadium for athletic event at the very top of the mountain. There were individual markers at each location in case you could not keep up with your guide, but she stopped briefly at each place and explained what we were seeing. At one point is the “center stone” which is reputedly the spot where Zeus’ eagles collided when they were released from opposite ends of the earth – marking the center of the earth. Eventually everyone was set loose to take photos and wander on their own.

These Greeks must have been in great shape to get up and down the hill. Today the path has been improved with some wooden ramps in a few places but still many stone steps in others, and each was fairly steep heading uphill. David got as high as the amphitheater and took pictures/videos of much of it, but he did not try to find the stadium. Instead he headed back down to meet Janet who was at the Agora. Together we slowly descended back to the entrance and

Sphinx of Naxos in Delphi Museum
walked over to the museum.

At 1:45 our museum tour began and our group had shrunk from 42 to only 14 people. We had a fairly private tour of the museum and it contained some fascinating exhibits. Pictures were allowed (without flash). Primarily it contained artifacts which had been excavated from the temple area. There were several marble sculptures (mostly intact) including the Sphinx of Naxos, some exhibits of gold jewelry which had been found in the temple area, and the highlight was the bronze “Charioteer of Delphi” with its original alabaster eyes still intact. We had a 45 minute tour and a little free time before heading to the bus for a short drive to our lunch.

We had a lunch in a fancy hotel overlooking the valley below. This is a popular tourist area year round – visiting the ruins in the summer while in the winter they get snow and it is apparently one of the better ski areas in Greece. Anyway, lunch began with two slices of a kind of quiche, followed by a course of bread and salad. The main course was roasted chicken with potatoes and assorted vegetables.

Golden artifacts found in Delphi
For dessert we had a slice of baklava. As it was approaching 3:00 we were famished and we ate a hearty lunch. Surprisingly they only served water – for the first time in Europe they did not serve wine. Anyway, we were pleasantly full and ready for the ride back to Athens.

Three other couples joined the bus for the return trip (apparently had done the 2-day tour in reverse and were going back to Athens now). We had a short “shopping stop” in a quaint town called Arachova which had such narrow streets that only one route was possible for buses going either direction through town. The village was virtually pasted to the hillside and primarily had stone walkways heading up or down to other levels of the village off the single road. Although it was a picturesque little place, we didn’t feel much like exploring and stayed close to the bus. Soon we were all onboard again and headed to Athens. There was one short “rest stop” along the highway and then each couple was delivered back to their respective hotels. We got back to ours a bit before 8:00.

Janet ordered

"Charioteer of Delphi" in the Museum
a taxi for the next morning and left a wake-up call with the front desk. Meanwhile David went over to a nearby kiosk and got us a few snacks for our dinner (lunch had been so late we weren’t very hungry). We went back to the room and started the final packing for the trip home. This time the suitcases had to be carefully weighed for the next day’s air flight, but still allowing for a rapid final packing in the morning. Anyway, we got it done and went to bed to try to get some sleep before our early morning began on Tuesday. So that finishes our Delphi report. A very nice place to visit but a long ride each direction.


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