Continued from Part 3…
The road north from Ancient Olympia becomes a real highway as you near the Peloponnese's largest city, Patras, and the majestic new Rio-AntiRio Bridge—even the Romans would have been impressed with it—which would take us back to the mainland. Completed just in time for the 2004 Athens Olympics, it's the longest multi-span cable-stayed bridge in the world. Wikipedia says so; therefore it's true.
But we made the mistake of getting off the highway for a bathroom break just before the bridge.
We did eventually find a bathroom at a friendly Patras gas station. What we didn't find was our way back to the bridge—not for some time, anyway.
There's a good scientific explanation for this phenomenon: you see, my overfull bladder had shorted out my brain, preventing me from remembering the Greek word for "bridge." Road signs for "Athens" didn't help either since they (it turned out) led to the capitol back the way we had come, via the Isthmus, not the bridge. The directions we got from the gas station people were worse than useless. Suffice it to say, while Patras itself may have some sights worth seeing, I don't feel the need to see it again for a long time…
The drive east to Delphi runs mostly along the southern coast of the mainland, with the mountains of the Peloponnese visible in the distance across the Corinthian Gulf. But these sublime landscapes didn't prepare us for the majesty of Delphi.
It's no wonder the ancient Greeks thought they could communicate with the gods here; the location is breathtaking, and these photos don't remotely do it justice. Above, that's me gazing at the Temple of Apollo, where the Oracle delivered her riddles. In the next photo, the mountain view speaks for itself, I hope.
The site extends far up and down the slope. A bit lower down the mountain is the Temple of Athena, where a friendly guard warned us to stay on the path because of snakes. It was so sunny and hot we could barely move; a snake could have run us down in its sleep.
Up a steep slope from the "main" site of the Temple of Apollo and the Delphic Oracle lie the theater and the track—the ancient Greeks cherished their thespians almost as much as they lauded their athletes; there are theaters and athletic facilities everywhere you go.
The theater at Delphi, with the columns of the Temple of Apollo visible behind the tree towards the right
The beauty of this place has to be seen, and many aesthetes are drawn to it: here is a group of American artists happily sketching away.
We spent one night in Delphi, where we splurged on dinner at the fancy restaurant in the Europa Hotel. (It was one of the very few dinners we ate indoors: except for sleeping in hotel rooms and visiting museums, these were two weeks spent almost entirely outside.) I can still taste the deliciousness of the marinated octopus salad. The next morning it was back to Athens, where we ditched the car and climbed the Acropolis. No strike this time; the site was open for business all day, and up we went.
The Parthenon, complete with scaffolding
You can see all of Athens and environs from atop the Acropolis:
Athens, the Temple of Olympian Zeus, and beyond. From the Acropolis.
Continued in Part 5, in which we set sail for Santorini and Crete, see more unbelievable sights (and sites), and experience some disturbingly choppy seas…