Thursday, April 24, 2014

Greece, Part Two (Delphi)

This is a continuation of my previous post here.

Susan and I awoke at some ungodly hour of the morning in order to get our stuff together and hike back to Syntagma Square and grab a taxi. Our ultimate goal was to get to a bus station and head to Delphi, but for some reason there is no direct way by bus or metro to get to said bus station. The Athenians really thought that one through. There are all sorts of well-meaning wikis and how-to's online for ignorant foreigners, but I don't think I found a single one that made much sense. We just skipped the whole process and asked a nice cab driver to take us straight there. And that he did, for less than $10, which was surprising.

The bus station wasn't much to look at, but then again, I don't guess a bus station really needs to be extravagant. However, I would kindly request that, in place of a glorified hole in the ground, they get some actual toilets. And perhaps those toilets could be equipped with a toilet seat, unlike most of the ones I found in Athens. The beautiful exception was this jewel we found at the Olympic Stadium:

We ended up on the 7:30 bus to Delphi, on which Susan immediately passed out. Unfortunately, I wasn't made for sleeping in just any old place, so I stayed up and listened to music and watched as the landscape transformed. One of the most surprising features of the farms that I saw along the highway was that they contained entire fields of solar panels. I thought that was quite progressive and would later ask Christos about it (our CouchSurfing host and some sort of alternative energy engineer). Apparently he hates the solar panels (or at least the way they were implemented), as no one can afford them and now the country is in debt in yet another way because of it. Oh well. There were a ton of olive tree farms along the way, too. It's amazing how abundant olive oil is around Spain, Italy, and Greece. You can get gallons of it for a few euros. Even our canned tuna was sitting in olive oil instead of water. Talk about amazing.

We ended up along some curvy roads in the mountains and the landscape took on a form much different from what I had expected. I had seen pictures of the north of Greece and knew that it was quite mountainous, but I guess I'd never looked up anything about Delphi. I guess I just assumed from the philosophy books I'd read that Delphi looked similar to Athens or Ancient Rome. It's one of those things where you hear about Socrates just walking over to visit the Oracle at Delphi and, for lack of a description, you just assume he's walking around in sandals down a little sand and dirt path for an hour until he gets to the temple (I apologize profusely to Dr. Pam Ryan if she did teach me this and I wasn't paying attention for some reason...I blame Daniel). Now I realize that Socrates, who didn't have a three hour bus ride to get him there, probably had a harder time than I had thought. And when he got to Delphi, he wasn't anywhere that resembled Athens...

One of my principal desires upon reaching Delphi was to learn how to ask, "Who is the wisest man in all of Athens?" in Greek. Obviously it wasn't me, as I couldn't hardly order a coffee in Greek. But order a coffee we did, in a little tavern/inn right outside where the bus dropped us off. We later figured out that the owner of the tavern was also the bus ticket salesman. Given that he got the bus to stop right outside of his place and could easily attract tourists who didn't know where to go once they arrived, his setup was genius. His menu was quite pricey and was displayed in Greek, English, and French, so I'm sure he was making some dough.

We found our hostel right up the street from the bus stop. It was a quaint little building with the nicest old man running the place. He admitted that our room wasn't ready yet and gave us another room to hang out in and clean up a bit. I'm glad we got to move into the other room shortly afterward, though, because the view was phenomenal.

After getting settled, we strolled down to the main archaeological site in Delphi. The beauty of Delphi was that, unlike Athens, everything was located within reasonable walking distance. The town and the ruins combined were probably no bigger than my hometown of Owingsville, if they were even that big. Susan and I were educated on the site by little historical markers placed throughout. The story behind Delphi, as I understood it, is that Zeus sent out two eagles around the earth in order to determine the exact center of the planet (the point at which they would cross paths). I'm not sure Zeus controlled for all of the variables, but I assume he had some idea of what he was doing (being an all-powerful deity and all). Anyway, they supposedly met up around the side of this mountain and Zeus dropped a big rock there to mark the spot. Some Greeks came along, saw the rock, and decided that this was where they would build a big temple to Apollo. Regardless of the veracity of that story, someone decided to build all sorts of buildings right on the side of this big hill, which seems at once impressive and poor planning.

Theater at Delphi

The path up the hillside kind of forces you to pass through each of the ruins in sequence. This mimicked the proposed layout of the ancient site in its heyday, wherein pilgrims would ascend the hill while stopping to buy religious trinkets and cleanse themselves before visiting the Temple of Apollo. It's also fortunate for tourists looking to see everything, too.

What's left of Apollo's temple

Theater at Delphi

While we came primarily to see all of the ruins, I was really torn in terms of what captivated me more - the ancient site or the nature that surrounded it. It was difficult to concentrate on the fossils of Apollo's temple when there were flowers and mountains and beautiful scenery everywhere you looked...

The Temple of Apollo wasn't without its own interesting facets, though. The historical marker briefly mentioned the site for the temple potentially being chosen because of a fissure in the earth from which poured a bunch of fumes. The oracles could supposedly huff the fumes, become delirious, and then prophesy something. Unfortunately, the sign didn't say anything else about it, which blew my mind. You would think that oracles getting high out of their mind would be a more interesting highlight.

The Theater of Delphi was also pretty fascinating. The original was much larger, for one. And sometime in the early 20th century, I believe it was, a married couple (a Greek and an American) revived the site with a play. I can't recall which play, but from the black-and-white photo that they showed, it looked like the turnout was immense. I couldn't imagine sitting there between all of those mountains on an ancient bench, watching a play among thousands of people, all dressed up in fancy attire. Beautiful.

Last but not least, at the top of the giant hill, there was a stadium. The stadium used to house one of the precursors to the Olympic Games, a pentathlon that occurred every four years. It was apparently a big deal, although it didn't seem like it was Delphi's biggest claim to fame.

After a hike around the ruins, we went back and visited the Delphi Archaeological Museum. They house most of the findings from the site there in the museum, everything from the little pieces of broken pottery to the columns and panels from the temple. Susan commented that it was a good thing we went to the site first, because the artifacts in the museum would have had much less significance. We were able to visualize where the artifacts fit into the bigger scheme of the site much easier.

This lovely trifecta formed part of a big column.

 Statue of a philosopher - I like to think the lack of hands
was done intentionally on the part of the sculptor,
a slight towards the thinkers who never actually
got their hands dirty.

After our time in the museum, we decided to get some grub. While walking around looking for a place, we quickly discovered that the town of Delphi was really just a gimmick of sorts. If it weren't for the ruins, most of the businesses there would be irrelevant (hotels, souvenir shops, overpriced restaurants, etc.). I suppose the people of Delphi would have found an alternative means to make a living, but tourism seems to be working for them quite nicely. We ended up finding a nice little bar with a view of the nearby lake. I think the price of the view was incorporated into our bill.

We spent the rest of the evening relaxing and trying to catch up on all the sleep we had lost during the previous week (a futile venture). In the morning, we visited our clever capitalist friend at the tavern/bus stop and bought our passage back to Athens.

We had a relaxing stroll through Syntagma and Susan bought me a new memory card for my camera, as I had filled up my smaller card and couldn't find my bigger one. We ended up splurging and getting a big meal at a little restaurant near Christos' apartment. Susan got a salad and I got what was described on the menu as a hamburger filled with gouda cheese. The hamburger patty was indeed full of gouda cheese, but the patty was situated on something that more closely resembled a gyro than a hamburger sandwich. I did not complain.

The sauce on the side was divine.

We met back up with Christos for one more night of CouchSurfing. We had plans to head to Santorini in the morning, so we had to get up really early to catch the ferry, but that didn't stop he and I from staying up talking about music again. He showed me some bands that he knew played around Athens, including one that his friend is in. Watching his friend play the violin with this band inspired him to start playing the violin himself three months ago. To be honest, I kinda wanted to play it too after listening. I also shared with him my love for the sound of the saxophone and tried to explain how it could actually be pretty sexy. After a failed explanation, I just let him listen to a few songs with some good sax and he soon agreed. We didn't go to bed until around 1 a.m. and we said our goodbyes then. Christos was a great host and I was sad to have to leave, but our next destination was calling us.

To be continued (yeah, again)...

No comments:

Post a Comment