Day 6 (Sat, Sep 20): Nauplia / Olympia

I got up at 5:00 this morning and spent an enjoyable hour out on our balcony. Initially it was too foggy to see anything, but I could hear the fishermen with their boats, could hear their speech and laughter distinctly. We're not that far above the water, but there must've been something in the air to magnify the sound. When the fog lifted it was already very lively down there. By the time Karen got up at 6:00 the fishermen had left. We went to breakfast which I should mention was always provided by our hotels, but was strictly serve yourself continental: a freshly baked croissant, some soft cheese, delicious fruit and, of course, coffee. At breakfast this day everyone complained about the mosquitos last night. For once they didn't bother Karen but picked on me instead. I don't tend to react very much, so no biggie.

Got on the bus at 8:30. After a short ride along the Argolid Gulf, we drove inland, away from the Aegean and up into the mountains. We had the front seat and had a chance to talk with Christina. She does painting in the winter. I told her about Karen's sister Christine who also paints. It turns out that they are both Sagittarians -- the Greek Christina is December 6, the Seattle one is December 8. Quite a coincidence though neither Karen nor I give a hoot about astrology.

We drove through the town of Tripoli, population 21,000 and capital of the prefecture of Arcadia. It is Saturday ... market day in Greece, so the town was very busy. Our bus drove through the center of the public market, full of produce and live fowl. Farther on we stopped for a break at Megalopolis also in the prefecture of Arcadia, where the market was also in progress. The population of this megalopolis was only about 5,000 (this was 1980; it's only a few hundred more than that now). We stopped for a while. The air was full of the smell of grilled lamb and fresh fruit. We bought a kilo of peaches -- the biggest, juiciest and tastiest I've ever experienced -- for 27 (65¢). We really enjoyed the whole scene; it was very different and interesting. Farmers markets are now common in the U.S., but this was even more natural ... just set up tables (or not) out in the park, hang the scales and meat from the trees, and wait for customers.

We reached the Ionian Sea and went on to Olympia along a rather narrow road, through a village with incredibly tight corners which Christina called "the Dardanelles". We all applauded the bus driver. At one point I asked Christina if there was any anxiety about health, smoking, etc. in Greece. She said everybody did what they pleased. An exception was her father, who is 80, who does not smoke, drink, or use salt on his food. She thinks "this is terrible. If something happens to him, what's he going to quit?"

We arrived at the Amalia hotel and checked in. It is very nice, white stucco, very new, with a nice fresh country air about it. There are some very fine terra cotta vases in the lobby. We went back into Olympia for lunch. Were joined by the Reeves at a cafe, discovered all the food was microwaved -- ick -- went to another place and got some beer and no food, had the beer, went to another place for food, they were out. We finally went to a bakery and were served by the very sweet girl. We had Greek coffee. I had a custard cake and Karen had a hay bale with nuts and honey. Refreshed at last, we went to the site of the ancient Olympic games.

Virtual Olympia's historically accurate reconstruction of the ancient site as it appeared in 200 B.C.

Temple of Zeus, Olympia

Temple exterior

Pheideas' Zeus (40 ft tall)


Zanes (cheaters' row)

Philippeion ruins

Stadium entrance

Stadium entrance

Entrance and track

Olympic track (sat 45,000)

We went through the archaeological museum -- saw a lot of bronze work (armor, helmets, etc.) and the Praxiteles statue of Hermes holding the baby Dionysos. Then we went to the site of the ruins. The setting is very lovely among tall pine trees and wild olives. It is very park-like. Returned to the hotel about 6:00.

Archaeological Museum


West Pediment, Temple of Zeus

Apollo, West Pediment


Random observations --

  • I had been trying for years to contact a Greek researcher in my field (John Viriakis, search here). Christina said she'd find him for me [she kept her word; John and I communicated a little].
  • Christina thinks both Carter and Reagan are terrible and that with his smile, Carter would never get elected in Europe.
  • She made a special point of showing me the Philippeion and said that Alexander the Great is the greatest man who ever lived.
  • On the way to Olympia we saw two separate occasions in which a man was riding on a donkey while his wife walked behind (in one case carrying a huge load on her back). The whole bus roared.
  • In the museum, all the statues had removable heads.
  • Christina told us a lot of legends and stories -- like Kronos eating his children, how Arcadia got its name (αρκουδα means "bear" and other Greeks regarded the people who lived here as we would hillbillies, i.e. living like bears).
  • When we arrived at the bus this morning, there was the smell of jasmine in the air -- a lady in the tour referred to it as Spanish jasmine. "Oh, no!" said Christina, "That's Greek jasmine."

    We had dinner tonight with Kay and Donna Schneider from Colonna, B.C. We had a nice conversation with them. After dinner we went into the bar. Had a drink with the Reeves and Dottie and Spence Reynolds, from Pittsburgh. Spence, some kind of executive with a steel company, is an old nut who foams at the mouth when FDR is mentioned. He was ready to come to blows over the Federal Reserve Act of 1912 (?!) and, on sightseeing generally, growled "I suppose tomorrow we'll have to go look at another pile of rocks." In spite of all that, he seems to be good at heart.