Join Thor and me as we ramble around the less-ancient attractions surrounding the fabulous sanctuary of Apollo, Athena, and Dionysos at Delphi, Greece.
NOTE: Since my 4-month backpacking trip around Greece too many years ago, I had been longing to return to this magical land of myth, history, and dramatic landscapes. I recently made a fabulous 3-week return trip there, to research additional settings for my novel-in-progress, THE ARIADNE DISCONNECT. My first post in the new series, on September 30, gives an overview of my rambles with my husband Thor from Athens to the islands of Rhodes, Santorini, and Naxos, and finally a pilgrimage to the ancient center of the world at Delphi.
When Thor and I flew back from the islands to the mainland airport, we found it easy to rent a car and navigate the excellent highways, following the ancient path of pilgrimage to Delphi. (More in an upcoming blog about the former perils of that road for the ancients!) The scariest thing we encountered on the way was this “Mac Gyro” on a desperation fast-food stop by the highway. Not recommended.
I had brushed up a bit on the Greek Cyrillic alphabet before the trip, which was helpful because many of the road signs do not add translations. Here is the sign back to Athens and forward to Delphi. (More in a later post about getting delightfully lost on the way back from Delphi.)
Around and about Delphi, we passed some of the ubiquitous roadside shrines, large and small.
On our recent trip to the Yucatan in Mexico, we noticed the similarities of the small shrines in both regions — complete with saint images/icons, offerings of spirits or food, and candles or oil lamps. In Greece, you will find them along the most remote goat paths, where someone has refreshed the offerings and lamp oil.
It’s hard to capture in a photo the magnificent setting for the Delphi sanctuary, below the towering cliffs of the Phaedriades (“The Shining Ones”) in the foothills of Mount Parnassos. The ancient pilgrims had quite a journey over the rugged landscape.
The view from our hotel balcony, over the roofs of the small present-day town of Delphi, reveals the valley of the Pleistos River running through olive groves to the Gulf of Corinth and port town of Itea.
We enjoyed the Hotel Fedriades, comfortable and very reasonably priced as the high season shaded into its end in late September. We had been running a contest throughout the trip to find the tiniest elevator (often squeezed into older buildings), and this one took the prize. Thor’s Nordic six-and-a-half feet barely fit. I think the mirrors were installed to stave off claustrophobia attacks.
We used the stairs, anyway, and the hotel staff was excellent and helpful with advice.
The manager recommended the nearby restaurant Epikouros, where we had a delicious meal featuring wild boar. The restaurant owner regaled us with stories of his friends who hunted the boar with specially-trained hounds. Stay tuned for an action-packed scene in my upcoming THE ARIADNE DISCONNECT when Peter is enlisted by the Corybantes women warriors to join them in a wild boar hunt — this one using traditional spears.
We didn’t get a photo of the meal, but we did snap this dinner companion who landed on our table before Thor relocated him to a potted plant. One of the things I love about Thor is that he goes out of his way to rescue any animal in distress, including worms stranded on pavement after a heavy rain.
The end of the tourist season came with great discounts on gifts and keepsakes, like these hand-made ceramic bowls with the distinctive raised designs:
Between explorations of the sanctuary temples and the museum, we headed into the subalpine valley to explore the ancient Korykeion Cave (see previous blog posts in this series) and enjoy the landscape that reminded me of Eastern Washington uplands, quite a contrast to the bare Cycladic islands we’d been visiting.
A short hike brought us to the cave where the ancient Bacchantes/maenads practiced their ecstatic rituals in honor of Dionysos. As described in blog post #25 last week, they were the inspiration for my fictional Corybantes.
The roads around Delphi offer interesting sights, like this rug seller’s display. The sign reads, “Drink this water. Is good for the stomach.” The abundant springs emerging from this porous limestone geology have been famous for healing/sacred properties for millenia.
Below Delphi, heading toward Itea, this aqueduct carries irrigation water from higher on the mountain. The Pleistos River no longer carries a sufficient flow.
Here, as everywhere it seems in Greece, you come across what Thor calls “more broken columns” or “random ruins.”
Even in late September, we were baking in a heat wave, so naturally we followed our noses downhill and past Itea to find a swimming beach.
The beaches we found were rocky and a bit windy, but we enjoyed a couple of brisk swims in the buoyant, clear sea. This was the first time I experienced a reverse thermocline, in which the surface water was cold, but deeper the water was wonderfully warm. I kept diving down to warm up! We guessed it was due to the winds driving in cold surface water.
Geologist/paleontologist Thor was interested to find, among the usual polished marble beach pebbles, this rock with a fossil “rudist colony.” I had to ask, “Why are they the rudest colony?” After eye rolling, he explained: The circles are the openings of horn-shaped extinct clams from the Cretaceous period 100 million years ago. Kind of puts into perspective our human notions of “ancient ruins.” He also reminded me that the marble found so abundantly in Greece is metamorphosed limestone. A scientist can be a handy companion.
A visit to Itea also netted a delicious lunch of fresh fish. The waterfront tavernas were largely empty as the tourist season was winding down.
Our waiter displayed the freshly-caught fish before it was grilled for us.
And, of course, a friendly Greek cat attended to help with the leftovers.
After our last afternoon swim, rain clouds starting moving in from the mountain, a dramatic close to our stay in Delphi.
Farewell to this magical place. We vow to return to the omphalos, the ancient center of the Greek world. Chairete! Rejoice!
You will now find The Rambling Writer’s blog posts here every Saturday. Sara’s latest novel from Book View Cafe is available in print and ebook: The Ariadne Connection. It’s a near-future thriller set in the Greek islands. “Technology triggers a deadly new plague. Can a healer find the cure?” The novel has received the Chanticleer Global Thriller Grand Prize and the Cygnus Award for Speculative Fiction. Sara has recently returned from a research trip in Greece and is back at work on the sequel, The Ariadne Disconnect. Sign up for her quarterly email newsletter at www.sarastamey.com