Monday, June 10, 2013

Every Mile a Memory ( Part 11 ) Sailing Towards Ancient Greece

KALIMERA ( Good morning in Greek ) !!

Greece is one of the most beautiful country and one of the wonders of Europe. Historical name of greece is Hellas. Greece is known through its temple and theaters architecture. As part of the European Union, the official currency is the Euro (EUR). Credit cards and traveler's checks are also widely accepted. When shopping, remember there is a value-added tax tacked on to most purchases. 

(courtesy of google images )

In all the stores in Greece the " evil eye " amulet is very popular, from jewelry and key chains, to icons and paper products. They are often glass or plastic beads with two blue circles around a black center, one a darker blue. They are worn as protection from evil.

The air was sharp, crisp, warm, the deep-blue water was almost motionless as we docked at the port in Katakolon. We had booked an excursion today-- a walking tour to Ancient Olympia and Zorba dancing. We received our numbered stickers and boarded the coach to Ancient Olympia. Surprisingly, with only a population around 3,000 inhabitants, the Katakolon cruise port is the second busiest in Greece. The town first became a port in 1857 to handle the export of Corinth’s small raisins, actually currants. These days there are more than one million cruise passengers arrive from their floating hotels to its shores. To beat the midday heat, we left the ship early for the ancient city of Olympia, home to the Olympic games. 

On the bus we settled in for a 40 minute ride from Katakolon to Ancient Olympia we traveled through the fertile valleys of the Western Peloponnese region. Strawberries, watermelons, tomatoes, wheat and corn fill the fields-- behind them rose groves of olive trees. On the way, our guide lectured us on the demographics, political and economic history of modern day Greece. She also explained to us the legends of the past as well as the recorded history of the Olympic Games.  We learned the why’s and how’s of the ancient Greeks and I found it to be very fascinating and informative with a lot of facts I had never known.  She told us of many words incorporated into our own English language that came from Greek – like geometry, geography, democracy, etc. 

My first impression upon entering the Olympic site was how big the area was. More than 3 million people annually visit the site. Walking into the area, our guide showed us gymnasiums, temples and the spot where every four years the modern Olympic Game torch is first lit and sent on its journey to the site of the Games. You will see 3,000 year old columns still standing and other remains of structures that was quite overwhelming.   

The ancient site of the Olympics is now mostly in ruins, having been abandoned for many years and subjected to numerous earthquakes. Most were buried under silt, but have now be excavated. A few elements have been restored and reconstructed.

Things you don't want to miss:


One of the few structures onsite that retained enough of its features as to give us a glimpse of its former self. Dedicated to Philip, King of Macedonia and the father of Alexander the Great. This once-circular structure was decorated in gold and ivory.


The most famous of all the buildings is the Temple of Zeus, which once held the gigantic statue of Zeus. It is believed that the site was buried under silt that resulted from tsunamis. The ruins of the Temple of Zeus, was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.


The Temple of Hera was one of the oldest buildings in the site of Olympia.  According to our guide, The Temple of Hera was made using local limestone, with upper parts of the walls made from unbaked brick. The columns of the Temple of Hera were originally made from wood. When these columns needed replacing because of war, earthquakes, or the wood started to rot, stone columns were used.


When you enter the actual stadium, You will see an open field where 50,000 people sat on the grassy side areas to watch the athletes. The original stadium is remarkably modest. The highlight for us was seeing Hera’s Altar which the Olympic torch is lit using sunlight every two years in advance of the games.

The field is measured in 600 stadia with one stadia equal to the measure of a size 12 foot, legend being that was the size of the foot of Hercules who was the hero of the ancient games. The original stadium is a grass oval with upward sloping sides where the spectators sat on the grass similar to the Circus Maximus in Rome.  Originally, only foot races were the competitive sport with chariot racing and wrestling added later on.

Our guide provided some interesting information on how some of the early events were conducted.   The winner of the combined fighting ( combination of wrestling and boxing ) was not the guy that walked away, but rather the one that " gave his all " without giving in during the competition. Women were not allowed to watch or compete only men were allowed to compete in the tournaments. These competitors would rub themselves in olive oil! There was one area blocked off for the competitors to wait for their event and another small one opposite to it where the priestess oversees the events ( the only woman allowed inside the site ) would sit. 

Next stop was a taverna in Olympia where we were able to sample some of the local cuisine and see a demonstration of Zorba dancing. 

The best part about eating abroad is trying new things. With so many fresh, sun-soaked ingredients available in Greece, it's hard to go wrong with anything on the menu. Our lunch was a nice, large plate of homemade bread with a feta cheese spread mixed with peppers, lamb sausage, fresh tomato and basil bruschetta, kalamata olives, pickled zucchini and feta cheese. There were bottles of delicious red wine, more than enough for all of us to get in the mood…At the same time, some of the employees of the taverna started dancing in the center of the room.

Here is my video of the Zorba dancing which I took:

When they stopped dancing, the music continued and people were grabbed from the audience as a long line of dancers was formed, weaving in and out of the tables as well as in and out the doors of the taverna. It was so much fun!!!

The appeal of arriving here is like being transported back thousands of years of history. I recommend that you should see the sights of Katakolon.  Being in such an ancient, sacred place is really awe-inspiring!! Let your imagination wander and experience its tales but remember to carry water and take the sunscreen along.

 I hope you enjoyed taking the trip along with Lulu and me.

YIA SOU ( Goodbye in Greek ) !!!

1 comment:

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