12- 14 May 2019
We have taken a lot of ferries with the van and they have all been efficent, prompt and friendly. Our first contact with Greek ferries was Anek Lines who were, well, interesting. We finally got on board an hour-and-a-half after she was supposed to sail – no explanation – and the boarding appeared disorganised to say the least. The closest to a smile we got was when Danny finished reversing into a particularly tight position after a series of shouted and contradictory instructions, and shook the guy’s hand. We think he smiled in shock.
The 24-hr journey was uneventful and we amused ourselves by working out that to travel overland to Greece without paying tolls & ferry would have cost at least the same and potentially more and taken a couple of weeks. But a great adventure for us to do in the future.
It was 5 years since our last visit to Greece and that was with mum. We brought her for 8 years after we lost Dad, she loved Greece so much and it was strange to be back without her. But now we were off the boat and starting our newest adventure. The mountains, the warmth of the evening and the light were so familiar, it was great to be back. We drove out of the Peleponese over the Rio-Antirrio Bridge, the world’s longest, fully-suspended multi-span cable-stayed bridge, whatever that means, which, not being engineers we both agreed was very pretty.
After that it was a nice easy drive to the outskirts of Nafpaktos, a decent sized town with a pebble beach, waterfront tavernas and free roadside parking along the beach on the edge of town. People were promenading, jogging, and even doing yoga on the beach. The forecast was for rain and thunderstorms all week but to us it was a lovely warm evening. We dandered up into the town, Danny’s shorts attracting strange looks from the locals wrapped up in coats and bubble jackets. There was a very picturesque little harbour and we settled into the old square near it and had the ultimate Greek meal – a Gyros and a large, ice-cold Greek beer. Excellent!
Of course it poured down in the night and into the morning. We found ourselves a real Greek supermarket to stock up the fridge – apparently the Greeks import very little except bananas and so things are seasonal. Plenty of the thin-skinned green peppers and huge, tasty tomatoes, village sausage and baclava desserts. We took the coast road east towards Delphi, adjusting to Greek driving as we went. Looking across the Gulf of Corinth we could see the high, snow-capped mountains of the Peleponnese and wondered if Olympia was one of them.
Near Itea we saw mineworkings with piles of red earth – bauxite used to make aluminium and exported all over the world. At the town we turned inland, climbing the slopes of Mount Parnassos through a series of hairpins. Camping Apallon looked almost empty but had a large group coming in so only had a few places. We bumped on down and reversed in under a reed screen with views across the pool and down the valley towards snow-capped mountains – no complaints.
After lunch we pulled on our walking shoes and headed off uphill to Delphi, about a mile and a half away. The weather was grey but not cold and as we had hoped the countryside was filled with wild-flowers.
The small town was clearly heavily dependent on tourists although relatively quiet at this time of year, and on the far side we located the entrance to archaeological Delphi – easily identifiable by the coaches.
Recce complete we treated ourself to that great Greek tradition, coffee and ouzo, at a place with outstanding views and watched a goatherd, his long, thick greying hair tied in a pony-tail, moving his goats with his 2 huge dogs, the sound of the bells carrying up the mountainside.
We made sure we were at Delphi for 8 the next morning, intending to beat the crowds. Futile. There were already a couple of tour groups at the entrance and a third was de-bussing. We made sure we got ahead of them and paid up. It was 43 years since Danny had last visited and the girl on the gate pointed out that nothing had changed, but in fact it had. A museum had been built, restoration done, it had become a Unesco World Heritage site and the Theatre and the Stadium were roped off, but we only found this out later. The sun was shining, it was lovely and warm and the setting was amazing as we entered the Sacred Precinct and started to climb the Sacred Way eating our breakfast of boiled eggs on the hoof. We admired first the Treasury of the Athenians, built after their victory at Marathon (490BC) and reconstructed in 1906 by matching the hymns inscribed on every block. Further up were the remains of the Temple of Apollo where the famous Oracle would make her prophecies, six of it’s fallen pillars re-erected to give an indication of it’s former glory.
We got ahead of the Japanese group and took the steep path up the side of the 5000-seat Theatre to look down on it from above. Awesome views.
Further up through the pines we reached the Stadium, used during the Pythian Games and seating 7000. Roped off and with a guard to deal with errant tourists.
Retracing our steps we passed the many tours puffing their way up, groups from Japan, China, France, Spain, Germany & Greece. We left the site and walked down the road to the Castalian Spring flowing from a cleft in the rock that in legend was home of Python, son of Gaia, slain by Apollo. The spring now flows out through a modern fountain-head and the old Fountain House where people used to purify themselves – – including Lord Byron ( more of him later ) – looks a bit sad and neglected, roped off due to rock-falls.
Further down the road the Temple of Athea Pronaia was well worth a visit. Seem from above first, the Tholos is very photogenic although only 3 columns of those that supported the rotunda dome are standing. The actual Temple is a jumble of ruins in a very pretty setting.
We tried to complete the visit by visiting the gymnasium used by athletes preparing for the Pythian games, but the area is now closed off due it’s poor repair so we viewed it from the road.
Then we toured the museum which was great, filled with finds from the site.
Back to Delphi town, created by the eviction of the people living on top of ancient Delphi when it was ‘’discovered’ in the 1890’s. The Rough Guide recommended Epikourous for lunch and we got a window seat looking down the valley where we could monitor the goatherd. Local bread drizzled with olive oil, sprinkled with oregano and lightly toasted seved with a beautiful black olive tapenade yummy. Slow cooked kid kleftiko satisfied Danny’s craving for baby goat and chicken breast slow cooked in a sauce of tomatoes, olives, feta and peppers was very Greek, very tasty,and far too much.
Back at the campsite we sat in the warmth and watched a procession of 22 motorhomes of varying shapes and size belonging to the Dutch touring group and the previously peaceful site started to hum with life. Bah humbug! Time to move on.