Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Christmas in Athens - Day Trip to Delphi

Wednesday 22 December 2004

Misty Delphi
Up early for the Delphi coach tour. Booked this through Expedia and it seems to have worked. Only one hitch. We arrive at the Amalia Hotel in Syntagma Square as requested at 7.15am only to be told the bus doesn't go till 8.15. It would have been nice to have that extra hour of sleep, especially as 7.15 Athens time equals 5.15 London time.

Seems to take a very long time to get out of Athens. Marathon somewhere to the north. Thebes over to the right is an unremarkable cluster of buildings on a flat plain. We stop at an ugly cafeteria called Friendly Stop in Levadia. Clouds are gathering and spots of rain dot the window of the coach.

The Charioteer of Delphi
We can't really see Parnassus range of mountains because of low cloud. Three hours after we set out we are finally there, passing through the village just before Delphi. It's called Arachova and I remember it from the book My Brother Michael by Mary Stewart. The heroine is driving a big car and gets stuck in one of the narrow roads when a Greek driver comes the other way. Same thing happens to our coach. What must it be like in high summer when there are dozens of coaches going up and down?

Our guide, Doreen, is great. Articulate and well educated. She gives the tour in English and then French, even though only four of the 18 members of the tour are French. 'It never rains in Delphi,' she says. 'It's Apollo there; the god of light.'

It is raining when we get to Delphi, so we go to the museum. Light, airy, well-labelled. All the museums we will visit will be up to this excellent standard. The masterpiece of this museum is of course the Charioteer of Delphi. I've been to Greece a couple of times before but never to Delphi. I have waited many years to see him and he's worth the wait.

dripping Delphi
God has heard our prayers and Apollo acknowledged our libation. It's stopped raining when we start to tour to the site. It's wonderful. Completely deserted and all the stone and mosaics and walls rinsed clean. Colours are saturated. Water still drips from leaves and the birds of Delphi sing their hearts out.

Doreen provides some useful facts. I've been trying to find out which days the Pythia prophesied. She provides the answer: the seventh day of every month. A one-eyed cat comes up to say hello. You should never pet them. I have a flea bite the next day.

After an hour exploring the site we pile on the coach for lunch at the Amalia Hotel in Delphi. It's unremarkable food but nice to meet some of the other tourists, especially an art teacher from the International School in Istanbul.

This is the book with Delphi in it!
After lunch we pass back through Delphi and stop 20 minutes later in Arachova to 'see how flokati rugs are made'. For those of us who opt NOT to go for the obvious sales pitch, there is nothing to do. No coffee shops open and it's freezing. (This village is 3000 feet above sea level.) I don't think Arachova is all that special. It looks Swiss not Greek.

It takes a good three and a half hours to get back. It's dark and threatening rain in Athens so we go to an Italian restaurant on Loukianou very close to the St George. It's called Codice Blu and it's very cool. The clients are mostly men with grey hair in ponytails wearing black and brandishing mobile phones. The kind of men who aren't afraid to send a bottle of wine back. The music is chill. The food is great. We pay E 17 for a bottle of rose. We would never dream of eating at a place like this in London, but hey! we're on holiday.

[The 17+ books in the Roman Mysteries series, including The Fugitive from Corinth, are perfect for children aged 9+, especially those studying Romans and/or Greeks as a topic in Key Stages 2 & 3. There are DVDs of some of the books as well as an interactive game.]

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