Monday, November 23, 2009

Journey to the Center of the World

By Chuck

I have waited 35 years to return to Delphi. When I was last in Europe, there were initially only two things I really wanted to see: The cave where Socrates drank the hemlock and the site of the Oracle at Delphi. I never saw either. I got to the modern town of Delphi on that occasion, but was too tired to walk down to the site – even though I could see part of it from the edge of town. Today, we corrected that omission.

I agonized over where to park: spaces are small, Homer is large, shifting is challenging. Since this is off-season, we picked a spot in the middle of the sites along the (only) road, locked him up tight and ventured forth. We had the usual problems of figuring out where the actual start of the (book) guided tour began; but, we had fun trying to figure out which remains corresponded to our text. The lower ruins are not so interesting; but, I wanted to be thorough this time.

The Oracle at Delphi had a run of about a thousand years of having the great, mighty and small come to have their destinies predicted. Alexander the Great is reputed to have asked if he would be successful in conquering the world. He didn't like the unclear response; he grabbed the Oracle by the hair and demanded an answer. “You're unstoppable,” she replied. “I have my answer,” he grinned.

Sanctuary of Athena

We then moved up to the upper side of the road to the main sites. There were a number of treasuries in the site, each provided by various city-states, islands or countries to honor the Oracle for services rendered. I suppose this, clearly original, engraved stone was meant to keep looters away from those offerings.

The most imposing site is the Temple of Apollo, where they used to display all the booty from recent victories. But, the most interesting object, for me, was the Omphalos. This is a bullet shaped stone marking the navel (center) of the World. The legend is that Zeus released two eagles from the opposite ends of the world and noted that they met here.

Temple of Apollo

Omphalos--the center of the world

The Treasury

The outdoor theater near the top of the site was primarily built to host song contests every four years! If you didn't care for the hymns to Apollo, you could always enjoy the natural beauty of the place.

Singing and dancing at the theatre

The topmost area was the site of the Phygian Games, second only to the original Olympic Games in prestige. They were held for a week in the middle of a 3 month truce among warring cities in order to allow contestants to train, compete and safely travel. The grand prize was a wreath of laurel leaves – just like Apollo used to wear.


Even without the history, the view from here is stunning. Also, Claire was charmed by the resident cats.

View of the theater and temple

Greek kitties

At the encouragement of the ticket seller, we bought the combo-ticket – no discounts for age or status; she assured us that, even though they close at 1430 in the off-season, there was plenty of time to see both the upper sites and the museum. We were glad we saw the museum, despite a couple of tour groups who intruded upon our privacy. One of the disturbing sights there was the Melancholy Roman: You'd be melancholy, too, if you lost your arms and penis!

Melancholy Roman

Discovery of the Melancholy Roman

Sphinx of Naxos



On our way through town on our way back to the campground, we had two goals: ATM and shopping. But, first we had to park; finally, I just pulled over to the far left side of the street near the end of town and stopped; there is only so much patience I can bear. Shopping was a minor challenge; most stores were closed for the mid-day break and those open were poorly stocked. Claire got some items at one store, while I went to search for the ATM. I had to traverse the entire length of the town to find, on the lower street, the National Bank of Greece in modern Delphi; it was hidden inside the front entrance and I am used to finding ATMs facing the street directly. We finished our produce shopping by locating the mobile produce truck I had seen while searching for the bank. We got oranges, cucumbers, red and orange peppers, and an onion – all for 2,50 Euros.

The search for money and the ATMs which dispense it has been an ongoing challenge. You cannot withdraw an amount exceeding your daily limit until 24 hours have passed. So, we try to get the money early in the day so we have more access hours for the next time, and the next... But, the Bank of Sicily refused to accept our card on a number of occasions; the message indicated it was not authorized to permit international withdrawals. The message should have said, “We do not allow withdrawals of that amount; please specify a lower amount.” We now try for the max and then work our way down to an amount the ATM will allow. We were surprised, today, to find that the ancients also had these machines and, likely, the same kinds of problems that we had.

Ancient Bank of Sicily ATM

By now we were famished and we had seen a little Gyro shop on our spree; we hurried back and got two pork gyros with tzatsiki, tomatoes and onions, wrapped in pita bread and stuffed with french fries along with two soft drinks for a total of 7 Euros! This included the right to sit and rest at the same price as walking away with this treat. We both have very fond memories of this Greek dish and it was delicious. We were, then, glad we had refused to get the coffee freezes sold near the museum at the outrageous price of 3.50 Euros each! Lunch was a fitting ending to a lovely outing.

Gyro--we took the french fries out and started eating before we remembered to get a photo

We feel like we've fully acculturated now that we've had our first Greek salad for dinner. We picked up a couple of loaves of bread on our shopping spree and with that and Gino's bottomless box of wine it made a great dinner.

Claire's homemade Greek salad

Think not on what you lack as much as on what you have. ~ Greek Proverb

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