Oracle, where you at? Delphi

Greece is famous for its beautiful weather, food, and people, but what it’s not famous for are its roads. The infrastructure is either brilliant or terrible, there’s no inbetween. Today, we saw it all – the good, the bad, and the ugly.

The trip from Corinth to Delphi is over 250km, if you go the long way round via the famous Rio-Antirrio bridge. The motorway across the top of the Peloponnese is a toll road, so it’s immaculate, smooth and also empty, but expensive. It’ll cost you to use it, but it beats the barely surfaced country roads and gridlocked towns that are all too common to this beautiful country. We turned on the Greek radio and heard Eleni Foureira – this time it was “Stou Erota Tin Trela“, which is definitely one of her weirder songs, but I was pleased to hear it nonetheless.

The Rio-Antirrio bridge (officially the Charilaos Trikoupis bridge, and if you give a toss about modern Greek history, you’ll he’s one of Greece’s most famous prime ministers. Behind only Venizelos in terms of influence, I think) links the Peloponnese with the mainland. One of the longest bridges in Europe at almost 1,000 feet long, it’s an impressive sight.

We wanted to get a closer look at it, but that’s easier said than done. So, we drove around a bit and found a beach in the city of Patras, and parked up on the seafront, ignoring signs that said something about a bus in Greek. Well, everyone else was parked there, and we’re Greek now so we don’t always follow the rules. Except we can’t really be Greek, as we had such bad luck – two seconds later a coach came down the tiny road and wanted to turn around, so we had to move the car.

Crisis averted, I sat on the beach, dipped my toes in the water and ate my lunch while admiring the view.

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FYI roadtrippers: it cost about 15 Euros to cross the damn thing.

The roads on the Greek mainland were notably worse than they are on the Peloponnese, but the scenery was gorgeous. We got off the motorway and headed east. Hugging the coastline all the way up to Delphi, you’ll pass by tranquil, turquoise inlets and seaside villages – and the best thing is, you’ll have it all to yourself. Then, if it’s mountain driving you crave, all you need to do is turn inland and make your way up the hairpin bends that lead up to Delphi. It’s the perfect road trip.

Delphi is the second major archaeological landmark in Greece – the first being, of course, the Acropolis. The ancient Greek site was once home to a huge stadium, temple to Apollo, a theatre, and a room where the Oracle of Delphi would make her vapour-induced prophecies. Sadly, she wasn’t in today, so I couldn’t ask her what my future holds.

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This is the Sanctuary of Apollo. The vapour hole still exists, but for health and safety reasons it’s covered up now.

I am genuinely interested by ancient sites, but I’m a modern historian at heart, so I fear their magnificence is slightly lost on me. The Sanctuary of Apollo is the most spectacular sight, and it’s certainly beautiful. If you keep ascending the hill, there are new ancient treasures around every corner, including the theatre and stadium. But to my mind, once you’ve seen one pile of ruined rocks… you’ve sort of seen them all. Sorry Greeks. That said, any lover of the ancient world needs to come here. The beauty of the mountainous scenery and fresh air alone make it all worthwhile.

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Admittedly this isn’t just any pile of rocks, this is an entire town that’s still relatively intact.

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When you try to take a wanderlusty photo from behind, but the scenery is more interesting…

The highlight, for me, was the athletics stadium at the very top of the archaeological site. Though this was definitely for the wrong reasons – I found a cute kitty cat who came to sit next to me on the bench.

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Stadium? Who cares? Cat!

The last thing any visitor to Delphi must do is visit the Pronaia of Athena Temple, which is down the road slightly, but I think it’s the most beautiful part of the entire complex. Once, it would have been a circular building with a coned roof, looking like a pavilion straight out of the Hercules movie. While the roof has fallen in and a few pillars have collapsed, you can still sense what it would have been like thousands of years ago.

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I think they used it to worship Athena, and play some tunes from time to time.

But, after all this sightseeing, the hunger pangs set in. Yesterday I had pizza to satisfy me, but it wasn’t Greek enough for me. Today’s dinner was found in a souvlaki shop in one of Delphi’s backstreets. The town is tiny, so there wasn’t a lot of choice for good value local food, especially on a Monday night.

The family-run gyros shop was empty, and the man in there spoke no English, so he was very surprised (but also delighted) when I asked for our food in Greek. My pronounciation is awful so he had to repeat everything I said back to me, but I tried, and that was the main thing. He made us our delicious food and engaged us in light-hearted eye rolling when his colleague turned up to work late. So, if anyone’s reading this in Delphi and really wants a souvlaki, you have to go to Souvlaki Gyros Pita at Apollonos 23. My man in there will sort you out for 2 Euros.

 

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A good gyros is heartily stuffed with chips, and this one certainly was.

Full, hot and happy, I rolled back to the hotel. But I’m shattered, and my shins are so achy they feel like they might collapse (I didn’t skip leg day on this trip, that’s for sure), so I am going to try and forget the pain by traipsing around more archaeological wonders. Later on, I’ll arrive in Greece’s second city, Thessaloniki – so stay tuned for more souvlaki stories and Hellenophilia.


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