The first part of the drive to Delphi – from Meteora to Lamia – was rather uneventful except for our stop at the Jumbo store. The countryside there isn’t very scenic, except for a few mountainous bits, and those we had driven just two days earlier.
What is a Jumbo store, you may ask. In our hotel rooms we’d noticed some very creepy Christmas commercials for these stores called Jumbo–their logo is the word “Jumbo” in balloon letters, and we asked ourselves the same question. After seeing multiple commercials, we surmised that it was similar to Toys ‘R Us. We’d seen a few around Greece, and we were really surprised at how big the stores were, so we decided to stop at the next one we saw. Basically, Jumbos are like Wal Marts, but all they have is toys and home decor items. All of the advertising was very brightly colored, and there were cheap Christmas decorations everywhere. The one thing that most amused me was a whole aisle of decorative (some even Christmas-themed!) ashtrays – I’d never even seen a decorative ashtray, except in antique stores!
We didn’t feel the need to buy anything at Jumbo, so we kept on. Luckily, between Lamia and Delphi the landscape is completely gorgeous!
We followed switchback roads through forested mountains–with colorful fall foliage and the now-familiar spindly cypress trees. Every so often we’d be startled by a flash of black and white as a magpie took wing, and on the most treacherous parts of the road we saw plenty of the little roadside shrines. There were some adorable red-roofed villages up in the mountains too. As we got closer to Delphi, we got a glimpse of the sea and then descended into a valley of olive groves, where we saw farmers harvesting from the silver-leaved trees.
Finally we reached the small town of Delphi, whose narrow, cobblestoned streets and tile-roofed houses sit on the side of the mountain. Our hotel was easy to locate since the town is so small, and we were soon in our room at Hotel Parnassos Delphi. It was a little stuffy, so we opened the door out to our balcony and I enjoyed looking over the picturesque little village. After a brief rest we asked the hotel owner for a restaurant recommendation and headed to Taverna Dion on the street that ran behind the hotel.
There we had a really fantastic meal… We shared a plate of delicious saganaki (fried cheese), which was especially good with the homemade bread, then I had dolmades (meat cooked in grape leaves) and Ryan had bifteki gimeso (a sort of Greek burger). At the end we had a small piece of baklava–which was free! Free dessert with your meal is common in Greece, and I must say it was always a nice touch! The waiter was really nice and gave us a postcard, asking if we could write up a TripAdvisor recommendation.
When we’d finished our late lunch, we walked down the street and along the walkway, where there’s only a railing between the street and the sheer side of the mountain. The museum and archaeological site are maybe a 10 minute walk from town, so we quickly found them. However, it was late enough in the day that we decided to wait until tomorrow to visit; we only would have had an hour at the archaeological site, and the museum was about to close.
The walk was so nice, though, that we didn’t mind. The mountains and forest around are fantastic, and we could make out some of the ruins of the site through the trees, including the famous Tholos of Delphi on the other side of the valley. Later we learned that you can actually visit that particular monument for free, and at any time of day–if we had known we definitely would have made our way over there!
On the way back into town, we decided to do a bit of souvenir shopping while the stores were still open. Oxidized bronze figures of things like helmets and animals from mythology are popular items here; I ended up buying a horse for me and a Spartan helmet for my brother. I also got some traditional kolomboi worry beads. The shop where we bought these things was the third one we’d been in, and the proprietor was really nice! When he found out we were engineers he showed us Pythagoras’ table of numbers and Pythagoras’ cup. I hadn’t seen either before and found them really interesting!
When I checked out the owner wished us good luck with our new president, and said that Greeks like Donald Trump, but only because he always has beautiful women with him! He also commented that he seems like a strange man, and I told him that many people thought it was a joke when he was first running for office.
We returned to the hotel, where I sat on the balcony for a bit, enjoying the breeze and the sunset while I worked on sketching a picture of my horse. When I got too cold, I went inside and read more of Mythology by Edith Hamilton. I’d read it once before–in my AP Literature class in high school–but I enjoyed rereading it and brushing up on my gods and goddesses while in Greece. The book seemed especially relevant while in Delphi, since so many of the myths include visits to Delphi for guidance from Apollo’s oracle!
We enjoyed the food at Taverna Dion so much that we decided to go back for dinner. It didn’t hurt that we already knew how to get to it either! 😉 We had saganaki again for our appetizer, but this time I had souvlaki and Ryan had veal with tomato sauce before we finished up with a bit more baklava. Theirs was quite good–lots of layers of pastry phyllo dough and a nice nutmeg flavor. We also enjoyed seeing some other tourists around that evening–some Australians and Canadians–since we were actually the only guests at our hotel that night!
After dinner we went to bed, ready to take on what we’d really come to Delphi for–the archaeology–the next day.
We arrived at the Delphi archaeological site early–too early for the museum to be open. We walked up the museum steps and enjoyed some beautiful tile mosaic floors while we chatted with some other tourists from Canada. It’s funny; when you think of ancient Greece temples and marble sculptures are the first things you envision, but we saw lots of beautiful, detailed mosaics while we were there as well!
Our original plan had been to visit the museum first, but since we were early we went ahead and did the archaeological site first. We were glad we did, too. When we started there were only a few other tourists around, but by the time we finished busloads of them were at the site! Entrance to the site and museum is available through a combined ticket. I believe they’re normally €12, but we got the special off-season rate of €6 each, which was quite a steal!
The archaeological site at Delphi was so much bigger than I expected! On postcards and such I’ve only ever seen the Tholos, so I thought that was the main attraction. But up the hill from there is so much more to see–basically a whole city! You can see the open air library, the Athenian treasury, what’s left of the Temple of Apollo, the oracle, the theater, the stadium, and the ruins of many, many other structures.
There’s also the Omphalos of Delphi, a stone in a rounded cone shape that is supposed to mark the navel of the world. Legend says that when Zeus wanted to find out where the center of the world was, he sent out two eagles flying in opposite directions. At the place where their flight paths crossed, Zeus threw down a stone to mark the “Navel of the World”.
We spent most of the morning exploring the site. The setting–surrounded by mountains and forest–was gorgeous, and we had a perfect blue sky. One word of note for the site is that it’s very vertical; there are lots of stairs so I recommend you wear decent shoes! The stadium is near the top of the mountain and is a bit of a hike, so only set out for the stadium if you feel up to it. On the way up to see it, we met another American and had a nice chat with her. She was from the DC area and had just quit her job a few months ago so she could take what she’s calling a “gap year” before finding a new job. We found it strangely comforting to talk to another American on Thanksgiving Day!
After the stadium, we climbed back down through the site and stopped at the museum’s cafe, where we enjoyed drinks (Greek coffee for Ryan, hot chocolate for me) and a sausage in a pastry for breakfast. We were quickly swarmed by about eight cats as we ate at a little bistro table and tried to enjoy the beautiful day! 🙂
The Delphi Archaeological Museum, when we finally went in to see it, was really fantastic. It’s a really good-sized, modern museum housing lots of sculpture and artifacts that were found when the site was excavated. Some of the highlights include the Sphinx of Delphi, the replica of the omphalos and the large decorative pillar it used to go on, sculptures from the Temple of Apollo, the twins, and the bronze charioteer. I also liked seeing the little model they had of what the site used to look like–you can see how much of it is left, even after all these years! As we were leaving, the busloads of other people were just entering the museum (and making rather a lot of noise), solidifying our belief that Delphi is best enjoyed in the morning!
Once done at the museum, we really only had one stop left in Delphi – the oft-photographed Tholos. Nearby is what’s left of the Temple of Athena Pronaia, so to find this spot just follow the signs for the temple. We parked our car closer to it and then walked down the gravel path. Afterwards I could see why this ruin out of all of the ones at Delphi is so well-known… the setting, down further into the valley, is really peaceful and the unique round shape of the Tholos captures the eye. I wish I’d known the night before that this part could be visited at any time–I’m sure watching the sunset there would have been gorgeous!
We met a family from Spain at the Temple of Athena Pronaia and asked if they could take our picture. I got to practice my Spanish a bit, and we had a nice conversation. They suggested we make Madrid our next trip! It was funny, because the American we’d met just a few hours earlier had recommended Barcelona! Oh, Spain… I’ll see you someday…
When we were done, we hit the road again, shortly coming upon the adorable skiing village of Arachova. Unlike the rest of Greece–which seemed half-closed down for the winter, there was some bustle going on there as people were preparing for the upcoming ski season. Before long, though, we were out of the mountains and onto another boring stretch of road, headed toward Athens.
We decided that, rather than spend extra time doing something in Athens, we would head to Sounio (aka Sounion or Cape Sounio/Sounion) to see the Poseidon’s temple by the sea. The cab driver we’d had the other day had showed us a stunning picture, and we still had the rental car for a few hours, so we figured why not? It was only about 40 minutes south of the airport, and we could still be back and have the rental car dropped off before dark.
I got really excited as soon as we saw the sea, with boats in the marina along the side of the road. It seemed strange to have been in Greece for nearly a week and to not have been close to the ocean at all.
The Temple of Poseidon sits atop a rocky outcropping overlooking the ocean. You can see the ocean on three of four sides, and I don’t think they could have picked a better spot for the god of the sea’s temple! The cost to get in was €4, and the site is open until sunset everyday. The temple is fairly well intact, too–with over half of its pillars still standing. We enjoyed seeing it and feeling the cool sea breeze… then we got ice cream (mine was cherry and pistachio!) so we could sit and watch the sun sink into the ocean. This little side trip was 100% worth the extra bit of driving, and made us even happier that we’d decided to rent a car while in Greece.
We drove back, returned our rental car, and took a cab to our hotel without any incidents. We stayed in the Plaka Hotel, which is a rather stylish hotel right in the middle of lots of shopping and dining. We had a large room on the top floor with a completely gorgeous view of the Acropolis, which was quite unexpected (I think only a handful of rooms were occupied, this being the off season!). We dropped off our bags and then headed out to grab dinner at a place called El Greco’s near Syntagma Square. We had gyros and roasted cheese which were pretty good. Then we enjoyed wandering around a bit. There were lots of people out and about–shopping, going to dinner, or just walking. Christmas lights were strung across the streets and Syntagma’s fountain was lit up with different colors. We got a bit lost for a moment, but during that time managed to find the Tower of the Winds, a ruin we hadn’t been able to fit into our schedule during our first days in Athens.
Finally, we found the hotel again and got ourselves to sleep. We had to get up early to fly out to Santorini the next day. After getting a little taste of the sea at Sounio, I was more excited than ever to see the island I’ve been admiring pictures of for my whole life!