Delphi, Center of the Universe

After lunch in Kalambaka under the monasteries of Meteora, I jumped in the car and headed south to Delphi. Once considered the center of the world, Delphi is the most important ancient site in Greece and the Delphic oracle was the most influential in Classical Greece.

Between Meteora and Lamía, there are several mountain ranges to cross. Between these ranges are flat, fertile plains, where I saw cotton and other staples growing.

After Lamía, I headed south along a winding, mountain road toward the Corinthian Gulf and Delphi. The scenery along this road was wonderful and there was very little traffic.

As I approached Delphi, the mountain road opened into a wide delta region on the Gulf of Corinth. The entire plain was packed with olive trees. These are connected to the town of Amfissa, which is famous for its green olives.

I settled into my small room overlooking Delphi's main street, then explored the town. I watched the sunset from a cliff overlooking the valley, after which I grabbed dinner at the Lonely-Planet-recommended Taverna Vakhos. It was by far the best food I've eaten in Greece thus far. I ate a seasonal salad along with a whole snapper with fresh, in-season vegetables, rice, and some wine.

For the first time, I actually ordered dessert. A tour of the offerings from my waiter revealed four choices: chocolate cake, tiramisu, walnut cake, and something that was untranslatable. The chocolate cake and tiramisu seemed boring, while the walnut cake and the other dessert were Greek specialties. I chose the untranslatable cake. As I was eating it, the waiter asked me if I knew how to describe this in English, and I did not. It is called Ekmek Kataifi (Εκμέκ Καταϊφι), and it is a layered sweet with kataifi pastry under egg custard and vanilla cream icing. It was luscious and light.

Satisfied by a wonderful meal, I walked around town for a bit taking a few snapshots.

Ancient Delphi presents an entirely different experience than the modern town. After checking out of my hotel this morning, I grabbed a fresh-squeezed orange juice and walked about a kilometer to the ancient city.

I wanted to get there early to beat the mobs of people from tour buses. I arrived at 8:30 (they open at 7:30), and rushed to the monument saving the museum for later. I walked into the site and headed up to the top where the theater and the stadium are located.

I was the only one here. It was just me and the birds, whose song was reminiscent of the canyon wren.

I made it up to the stadium and I still did not see a soul. I was blown away by the stadium. How many people must have sat and watched sporting events and concerts held here? I did a rough estimate, counting the number of seats in one row, the number of rows in one section, and the number of sections in the stadium. Turns out, the stadium sat about 6,500. Its stone seating extends the 177-meter length of the stadium and ends in a horseshoe curve in the back. The seating on the opposite side has largely been destroyed.

On my way down, I toured the 5,000-seat theater.

Below the theater is the most important monument of ancient Greece: the Temple of Apollo. Inside the temple, the Delphic oracle, Pythia, would breathe fumes that emanated from cracks in the Earth, then fall into a trance and begin speaking in tongues and riddles. No major decision among the Greek city-states was made without consulting the oracle at Delphi.

I spent about two and a half hours on the site and by now the buses had arrived. And, along with the buses come the tour guides, dragging apathetic children by the ancient ruins. At the bottom of the site, I sat for a minute to book my hotel for tonight in Nafplio. I opened my guide book, chose a hotel, and called them on my cell phone. Within a few minutes, about seven cats were surrounding me.

After the main site, I walked another half-mile down the road to the ancient gymnasium and the Sanctuary of Athena. To my delight, there were very few people here. I walked to the Tholos at the Sanctuary of Athena Pronaia only to discover there were five people on the opposite side of the temple. Damn!

We began to talk and I recognized one man's voice as belonging to a group of annoying Americans in the restaurant last night. They were from Atlanta and, based on my eavesdropping over dinner last night, they were hairdressers. They asked me if they were in my way, and I responded politely that they were fine. A minute later they were standing beside the round sanctuary, holding hands in a circle and chanting. Between these people and the group prayer I witnessed at the Acropolis, I was left wondering why Americans are so damn freakish. Why do they feel they need to foist their religious displays upon others? Will a more demonstrative prayer session be more effective than quietly communicating in your head? Christians, you've gained a foothold in this world, you can stop with the downtrodden act.

Finally, the Atlanta hairdresser cult people left and I was able to explore the site on my own.

It was beginning to rain a little and I didn't have my jacket, so I rushed over to the gymnasium. Guess who I ran into there? They were sitting inside the round bath, once fed by a spring and used by athletes. I was waiting for them to be kicked out by the guard, but he didn't notice for about 15 minutes. The fact that these people knew better only increased my animosity toward them.

I hiked back up to the road and headed to the museum, where many of the artifacts from the site are displayed. The most striking figure to me was the melancholy Roman and the charioteer.

Having lucked out with the rain, I headed back to town on this gray day to grab lunch. The food was so good last night that I decided to return to the Taverna Vakhos. I had a fresh beet salad, which consisted of three huge slices of the most flavorful beets I've ever had in a little olive oil, along with a lamb stew. Today, I tried the walnut cake, the other Greek speciality on the dessert menu. He put the sweet on the house.

I walked around this quaint town, taking a few photos before getting in the car to drive to Nafplio, the Venetian, seaside city on the Peloponnesus.