Catching Katy

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Athens

This is the final post about my trip – are you relieved?! This actually combines the arrival and the end of the trip, both of which took place in Athens.

We arrived in Athens Sunday night around 6pm and met our group and tour director. We checked into the Athenian Callirhoe Hotel, then took a little walking tour to the edge of the Plaka (a neighborhood) for dinner at Plakiotissa, recommended by our tour director (they even had live music!). Being the first night, I of course had to try the local drink of choice: ouzo. I knew I didn’t like licorice flavor, but when in Greece, right?! (I couldn’t finish it.) We wandered a little that night with our new friends, another mother/daughter pair in our group, but didn’t wander too far since we had just arrived and had to get up early the next morning!

Skip ahead a week and we arrived back in Athens Sunday night to the Royal Olympic Hotel. Very swanky. We took a walk to Smile for dinner, also recommended by our first tour director, and had a feast of chicken souvlaki (a very popular local dish – basically chicken skewers but seasoned deliciously). But Monday brought the Athens adventure.

We started the day on a bus tour of the city seeing many sites. The solid marble Panathenaic Stadium was built in 1896 for the first modern Olympic Games and is still used today. We saw a statue of Greece holding Lord Byron, who helped in the war of independence for Greece. We pulled off in front of the Parliament building (the Old Royal Palace) where the tomb of the unknown solider is also. It was time for the guards to change places (but not the full changing of the guards), which was fun to watch. We saw the buildings of the original university and the National Library.

The rest of the guided tour was to the Acropolis of Athens upon which is built the Parthenon and the Temple of Athena (along with other ancient buildings). It was very cool to see the actual Parthenon after visiting the replica in Nashville (yes, Tennessee). It was in the 5th century BC that the construction of these buildings took place. This was a very important place for the Greeks to worship their gods. The architecture is incredible and the views of Athens are breathtaking. After some free time on the Acropolis, Elena took us on a walking tour through the Plaka – lots of shops and beautiful streets. We found a restaurant off the busy streets and had a late lunch with our friends, then wandered over to the newly opened Acropolis Museum. The museum is built on top of ruins of the ancient neighborhoods at the foot of the Acropolis and there are glass walkways and openings to see into these ruins – very cool. And of course there are amazing artifacts in the museum – the coolest of which are the Caryatids of Erechtheum – the statue columns holding up the porch of the Erechtheum on the Acropolis. They have actually pieced together most of them in full. One is housed at the British Museum, the others at the Acropolis Museum.

We wandered back to the hotel, doing a little shopping along the way, did some repacking, wandered around a little (getting lost) and have a late dinner, then getting ready for our 3am wake-up call. Yes, 3am.

I’ve attempted to describe this wonderful country in words and pictures, but you really just have to see Greece in person. Move it to the top of your list (it was top on mine) and just go! If you’ve read this far, I’m very impressed and hope you weren’t bored. But maybe you can refer back here when you plan your own trip!


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Delphi

We woke up to a beautiful, yet very chilly, morning in Delphi. Built on the slopes of Mount Parnassos, Delphi was known as the home of the oracle, who told fortunes for people who traveled hundreds of miles. We started at the archaeological museum – again more amazing artifacts and statues. Many statues lined The Sacred Way – the path that led to the oracle. The Sphinx of Naxos and the Twin Kouros Statues are two of these. But the most beautiful, by far, is the bronze Charioteer. This young man had just won the Pythian Games (which took place in Delphi), you can see the sweat on his face and every detail of his body down to the eyelashes. Very beautiful.

We made our way outside to the archaeological site, walking up the winding Sacred Way as ancient Greeks used to. We reached the Treasury of the Athenians, beautifully reconstructed, then the polygonal wall – a retaining wall built in 548 BC and still completely intact as it was built. We reached the Temple of Apollo, where the oracle saw her guests, and kept climbing to the theater. The theater was built for music competitions honoring Apollo (the god of music) and is one of the best preserved in Greece (though we weren’t able to walk into it).

Back down to the bus, another delicious lunch at a family-owned restaurant in modern Delphi (I had couscous salad), then onward back toward Athens. Not without more stops though. We had a little time for coffee and wandering in Arachova, a popular winter/ski town for the Greeks. It’s a beautiful and cozy little town. Then another few hours on the bus back to Athens! Which reminds me, we had to get a picture with our very attractive bus driver, Finoures (sp?), who was a master at the sometimes sharp and dark curves of the mountains (I didn’t know Greece was so mountainous)!


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Olympia

Around the block from the hotel we come to the archaeological site at Olympia, where the Olympic Games were first held in the 8th century BC as a tribute to Zeus. They were held every four years and it was the only purpose of the town. It was a pilgrimage for athletes (just men….in the nude…) to both compete and worship Zeus and Hera. It was fairly easy to imagine the layout while walking the grounds: the Gymnasium, the Palaestra, the Temple of Zeus (one full corner column was reconstructed in honor of the 2004 Olympic Games in Greece and the statue of Zeus was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World), the Temple of Hera, and of course the Stadium. The stadium’s only seats were for the judges, while everyone else got comfy on the grassy banks. And it was not an oval race track, but a straight one. We of course had to run the ancient stadium. The Altar of Hera was the other cool site as it is still used today to light the torch for the Olympic Games every four years – which is interesting since women were not allowed even as spectators. They did eventually have their own Heraean Games.

We then walked to the archaeological museum on the site. They found an incredible number of artifacts and were able to put together a lot of pieces. The east and west pediments from the Temple of Zeus are there and our guide, Elena, explained in exciting detail the stories the pediments are depicting. The West Pediment depicts the battle of the Lapiths and centaurs, with Apollo in the middle looking on. The East Pediment depicts men preparing to race King Oenomaus in a chariot race in order to win his daughter’s hand in marriage. The King has cheated to win every race due to a prophecy that his son-in-law would kill him, but Pelops outsmarts the King, wins, and eventually creates the Olympic Games. Another beautiful statue that was originally in the Temple of Hera: Hermes carries his orphaned little brother, Dionysus, who is reaching for a bunch of grapes as they travel past some vineyards. If you know your mythology, you know the Dionysus is also Bacchus, the God of wine. I definitely did not find mythology so interesting in high school, but now I need to find a book!

We had another delicious Greek lunch then stopped for an olive oil and wine tasting (and time for shopping) before heading North towards Delphi. To reach Delphi, we had to cross from the Peloponnese Peninsula to the mainland of Greece over the Rio-Antirrio Bridge, a very impressive bridge opened in 2004 in time for the Olympic Games. One last stop at a rest stop at sunset on the coast of the Gulf of Corinth before finishing the drive to the Amalia Hotel.