This morning we woke up at Hotel Hercules, packed our things back into the car, and drove back to the main street in search of breakfast. We didn’t have to do as much searching this morning and found Café Zeus.
We both ordered a “filled” omelet with tomatoes, peppers and mushrooms that was actually pretty good. The owner of Café Zeus sounded Australian, so when I went to pay the bill, I asked what had brought her to Olympia. She did end up being from Australia and apparently her mom had left her Café Zeus. She wasn’t especially talkative, so I’m not sure what brought her mom here or how long she has been here, but it was pretty neat nonetheless.
After breakfast, we weren’t exactly sure where to go but followed the dozens of tour buses to the Olympic Archeological Museum. Here we learned about the Statue of Zeus that was once at Olympia.
It was made of ivory and gold and was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Unfortunately, it no longer exists (the pyramids are the only ancient wonders that are still around). The statue of Zeus was brought to Istanbul and eventually destroyed. It was especially sad to hear that the Olympians had taken down many of their own buildings when they were under attack from the turks in order to use the stone to fortify the walls around the Temple of Zeus to try to save their most prized possession, yet their efforts were in vain.
Some of the statues from the pediments (the long thin triangles that make up the front of the roof of many Ancient Greek buildings) of the temple have been saved and are a small glimpse at how unbelievable the temple and statue must have been in its day. At the museum, Kristine and I continued to develop our talents of getting illegal pictures of each other in front of museum artifacts since people are for some reason not allowed in photos. Here’s me in front of the remains of one of the pediments, casually turning around as Kristine takes the picture.
The statue of Zeus was made by the renowned sculptor Phiedias, and the museum also contained some of the artifacts from his workshop in Olympia, where he made the statue. Here are some of the actual molds he used to cast certain parts of the statue.
After the museum, we headed for the ruins. We got to see the remains of the gymnasium where athletes used to train prior to the Olympic Games, which was pretty neat.
We also made our way to the Ancient Olympic Stadium, where the games were held. There weren’t any built-in seats, so it wasn’t as much to behold as the Panathenaic Stadium, but it was hard not to be in awe of its historical significance. Here’s Kristine about to walk through what was once the tunnel leading in to the stadium.
When we walked in to the stadium, there was 50-100 people lined up at the other end. They looked to be some kind of tour group which I later guessed was from Germany and we watched them in an all out race down the length of the stadium. After they were done, I was compelled to do a lap myself.
Over the hill of the stadium, Kristine and I spotted some current excavations going on, which was pretty cool as well.
We continued on to see the ruins of the Phillippeion, which was completed by Alexander the Great.
To finish up the ruins at Olympia, we got to see the remains of the Temple of Zeus that we had learned so much about at the museum. It was destroyed by earthquakes thousands of years ago, but they restored one of its pillars in preparation for the 2004 Athens Olympics. Just seeing the immense size of that one pillar made my imagination run wild trying to recreate how incredible the temple must have been in its day.
After the ruins, the last thing to see in Olympia was the Museum of the Olympic Games in Antiquity. As a huge fan of the Olympics, I loved this museum and enjoyed learning more about the ancient games. They ran every four years continuously from 776 B.C. until 393 A.D., a span of 1169 years. Despite the continuous warfare between city-states in Greece, the Olympics were never interrupted thanks to the “Sacred Truce” which suspended conflict before, during and after the games. Clearly, the Greeks took the truce, and the games, quite seriously.
Ancient Olympic athletes had to travel to Elis one month before the games so that the hellanodikai (judges) could ensure that they met the qualifications for participation, namely that they were Greeks and that they were born of free parents. For that final month before the Olympic games, the athletes would train in the gymnasium like Kristine had, proving they practiced the principle of fair play.
The hellanodikai associated with the athletes on a daily basis to ensure not only that they were in the proper physical condition to compete and to assess their talents, but also to assess their ethics and character. All of the athletes had to take an oath prior to the games.
On the way out of Olympia, we stopped at a gift shop and I bought Kristine a fun little Greek dress. Kristine had been enthralled by the Statue of Zeus, so we bought a mini figurine to add to our collection. I also bought a postcard that showed the lighting of the Olympic torch that happens in Olympia every four years. I had somehow forgotten about this tradition that links the modern Olympics to their ancient predecessors and wished that they had had some more explanation about it in the ruins or the museum.
As recommended by Arthur, we stopped in Andritsena for lunch since it was on the way to our next stop in Nafplion. It was another cute town built into the side of the mountain with similarly breathtaking views.
I’m so glad that we had the foresight to rent a car on this trip. Had we decided to take a train or go on a tour bus, we would have missed the opportunity to make all of these little side trips to small towns, which have been one of my favorite parts about this trip. At lunch, I (finally) got the mixed grill plate that we had been expecting when ordering “Patsaga” a few nights ago in Athens. It had chicken and lamb souvlaki, sausage and some kind of homemade sausage that was amazing and looked and tasted like a meatball in the shape of a sausage link.
While we were eating, there was a cat that came up to us and sat a foot away from me. No amount of shooing would get this cat to flinch.
There have been cats and dogs everywhere we have gone in Greece. They are usually pretty content just to lie around and usually we can’t decide if they are strays or if they belong to people working at the ancient sites and restaurants that we have been visiting. It’s pretty strange.
During dinner, I watched the waitress take an empty water glass off of another table and walk down the street, only to come back with a full glass of water. I’m almost positive that she went to fill it up at this fountain. I can only assume that the pitcher of water we had was collected in the same way, though I didn’t tell Kristine about it until after dinner because I didn’t want her to get grossed out by it.
As we were leaving a great afternoon in Andritsena, we were passed by a truck with a goat tied down in the flatbed.
A few miles down the road, Kristine went nuts when we saw a herd of goats with bells and all, grazing on the side of the road. There was even a dog that looked to be herding them.
About a half hour later, we saw a guy herding sheep across the road. Talk about off the beaten path!
It’s a good thing Scrappy gets good gas mileage. When I filled up the tank yesterday on the way to Olympia, a half tank set us back 47 euros (about $65)! The prices here are around 1.80 per liter. The lowest octane rating is 95, and I’m curious to do a little more research to see why they use 95 when most cars in the US run on 87.
On our way from Antritsena to Nafplion, we saw dozens and dozens of small little shrines. We must have seen 100 over the past few days. At first I thought they were mailboxes, but many have pictures and lit candles inside, which is especially eerie since many of the little shrines we have seen have been on mountain roads miles and miles from civilization.
Since we saw so many on the winding mountain roads, I thought that they might have been in remembrance of people that had died in those places, but we have now seen them on roads just about everywhere, so I’m not so sure that’s the case. Many of them look like miniature models of the small chapels that also line the roads in even the most remote of locations. Hopefully we can figure out the mystery by the end of our trip. When we came up over the final mountain, we were rewarded with an incredible view of Nafplion and other small towns below.
We’re actually staying in Tolo, which is a small beach town outside of Nafplion at Villa Irene. Again our GPS could only take us to the city center of Tolo, so finding Villa Irene was no easy task. Luckily we didn’t have as much trouble as we did finding last night’s hotel because this time around it was still light out, plus Tolo is a pretty small town. The receptionist greeted us and took us to our room. As she was leaving, she had a change of heart and offered to show us another room a few floors up with a better view. I enthusiastically agreed much to the chagrin of Kristine, who had just put down all of her things. After climbing two more flights of stairs and opening the door to our balcony, I’m pretty sure she forgave me.
We have a little kitchenette and have been growing tired of restaurant food, so we decided to walk to one of the grocery stores we had seen in town while searching for Villa Irene. At almost 40 Euros (just shy of $50), the bill was pretty steep considering that we only got a few bags worth of fruits and veggies, eggs, a cheap bottle of wine and some tea. Nonetheless, eating breakfast at home the next two mornings will easily make that worth it, not to mention having dinner at home tonight and packing a lunch for tomorrow. After we dropped off our groceries, we wandered up and down main street and along the beach, passing stores and shops and dozens of restaurants. Apparently Tolo is a popular European vacation spot.
We started to work up an appetite and headed for home. I did my best to create a Greek-inspired dinner
We had a tomato and cucumber salad with olives and I tried to recreate the grilled feta we had a few nights ago (to moderate success). We also had some leftover meat from our lunch earlier in the day and I cooked up some homemade Greek pasta Kristine had bought.
After dinner, we sat drinking wine on our porch admiring our incredible view and how lucky we are to be able to be on this trip. We started to throw around ideas for the second half of our trip. I looked pretty extensively into Paris because I know that it’s where Kristine most wants to go. It would be really neat to use some of my limited knowledge from my trip there to show her around a bit and take her to all of the places that I wish she had been with me to see the first time around. Unfortunately, hotel availability is extremely limited, which I was surprised about considering the fact that this is off-season. Perhaps some hotels that cater to low-budget tourists close down in the off-season? The hotels that were available are very expensive considering how cheap and seedy they are. Most are upwards of $100/night despite poor locations and awful online reviews. We looked at going to Normandy, which is a day-trip from Paris that Hunter and I never ended up having time for. Another idea we tossed around was spending a few days in the Loire Valley—one of the wine regions in France—to visit chateaus and wineries. This too may be prohibitively expensive not only due to hotel prices, but also because we would probably have to rent another car to visit all of the chateaus. We looked at putting Istanbul back in the itinerary as a stop in between Santorini and Paris, however, flights home from Paris are $2,000 on Delta (the airline we were scheduled to fly home from Cairo on), so we may have to make our last stop Amsterdam (where our original flight connected through) in hopes that they won’t charge us extra. A lot is going to depend on how much magic my mom can work with the folks at Delta, so until we hear back from her, we put any additional plans on hold and went to bed. Tomorrow we’re visiting Nafplion itself, which Arthur said is the most beautiful city in Greece…can’t wait!