9/11/10 - 16/11/10 21 °C
After only one night in Patras it was time to move, an early train trip to the home of the Olympics was in order. The worst part was the 5.30am wakeup as our train departed at 6.35am for Pyrgos, about 2 hours south of Patras, where we waited for an hour for our connection to Olympia. I must add that the Greek rail system reminds of their economy – very rocky!! The first train was very old and rattled and shook as well as giving you whiplash as it moved across tracks and around corners but the train to Olympia (30 minute trip) was on a new train which was clean and comfortable but still a bit bumpy, probably the track bed more than anything.
When we arrived in Olympia we realized that we were staying in a very quaint village and the weather was clearing with the sun having quite a bit of sting. We found a map of the city near the station and made our way to the hotel we had booked online and this was when things got interesting and Liz started to boil. Liz had spent a great deal of time researching for hotels that were close to the station and ancient ruins so when we arrived at reception and were told that we were being transferred to a partner hotel she wasn’t happy. The lady at the hotel was very nice and explained that the hotel we had booked had decided to close due to it being the ‘end of the season” and that we would be taken by taxi to the partner hotel up on the hill – she was at pains to explain that it was 4 Star! The problem was that we now had to walk 10 minutes to get to the centre of the village and about 20 minutes to ruins instead of having the restaurant strip next door and a 5 minute walk to the ruins. Liz was narky but showed grace by smiling and accepting that this is Greece in the off season. It appeared that we might be the only booking in this large hotel.
Once we had deposited our bags in the room we decided to walk to the ruins. We brought tickets to the ruins and the associated museum and took a couple of hours to walk through the ruins which were very interesting (they had a real thing about swimming pool and baths). Liz and I were both awed by the site, I was particularly taken by the stadium which was large and barren but the history of the place was obvious and to just walk upon the ground that ancient athlete’s had toiled over was moving.
The other area that was particularly moving was the place where every 4 years they light the Olympic torch and commence the relay to the hosting city. Even the local are affected by the Olympic touch with one shop owner, upon finding out we were Australian, showing us a photo of her son carrying the touch at the start of the touch relay for the Sydney Olympics.
A visit to the ancient ruins of Olympia and the museum are essential for any sport lover. While you need to use your imagination to visualize some of the structures the very essence of the place is consuming and at times you can almost hear the exertion of the athletes. The museum interesting but didn’t have the atmosphere of the ruins, it was like most museums containing random pieces that are ‘probably’ from a particular period – I will admit that the statue of Nike was very cool.
After the visit to museum we walked back to the village centre to have a late lunch /early dinner, as it was off season many places were closed but there was still a good choice. We decided on a small café that had a number of patrons eating at the sidewalk tables, the food was very good and cheap. My downfall was to consume some red wine with lunch when I should have had plenty of water in the warm conditions, woops!
We walked through the village and visited most tourist shops, making a few small purchases before walking back up the hill to the hotel. As the walk was uphill and the day was warm Liz decided to have a shower but alas no hot water. The resulting phone call I made to reception resulted in nothing (or so I thought because I got no response except “I’ll check into it!”) so Liz ran again 30 minutes later to be told that we should have hot water just keep the tap turned on. At long last hot water but very little pressure – you can’t have everything.
Thursday was moving day and it would be a long trip from Olympia to Athens which took most of the day. It was an early morning as the train left at 7.20am and we had to leave the hotel up the hill by 6.30am to walk with our entire luggage down the hill to the station – the lady at reception thought we should leave earlier because we were walking and she actually rang us at 6.00am to make sure we were up ready to go!! It actually only took us 12 minutes to walk to the station and when we arrived it was still dark and cold, and the station had no lights on the platform so it was not very pleasant.
The train arrived on time and we were pleased to be in the warm carriage for the 30 minutes ride to Pyrgos. Here we had to wait an hour before the train to Athens which involved a change in Patras after a 2 hour train trip. What we didn’t know was that no train was running between Patras and Kiatos so when we arrived at Patras we were told to reserve a seat on the bus and it was leaving in 5 minutes! So Liz reserved the seats while I put our luggage under the bus – we didn’t know how far the bus was taking us whether it was Athens or the next station. The day had turned out to be hot, the bus was stuffy and we hadn’t had a chance to buy any water so we were feeling a bit dehydrated.
The bus trip lasted and hour and a half when we arrived in Kiatos to rejoin the train, it was a new station with an electrified line (all the other trains had been diesel) with newer carriages and we needed to travel another couple of hours to reach Athens. Along the way our carriage was inundated by a pile of recent army recruits (they kept playing with their dog tags – Liz told me that in Greece everyone had to do time in the armed forces) who were loud and at times funny, slowly they left the train as we travelled closer to Athens. We almost missed the station at Athens as it looked like a small suburban platform and it wasn’t until we saw the sign that we quickly grabbed our stuff and jumped off.
The Athens metro was a revelation, it was clean, modern and efficient. We mastered the ticket machine (after changing the language to English) and caught the metro to Omonia Station where we managed find the right exit from underground to the street our hotel was on. The hotel was only a short walk downhill which was good, it was a Best Western but Liz managed to find a good deal online.
Once we had checked in it was time to go and explore the area around the hotel and in particular find a Vodafone (Liz’s phone wasn’t getting the internet, so no maps, weather, email or translator). We found the Vodafone about a 10 minute walk away and they supposedly fixed the issue but said it wouldn’t be activated until 4.00pm the next day. On the walk back to the hotel we grabbed an early dinner and, most importantly I found a shop that made fantastic chocolate frostycinos (iced chocolates).
Friday arrived with a solid overcast but the weather (Liz connected her iPhone to the hotel WiFi) was predicting 23oC so we dressed in shorts and left the hotel with no umbrella or wet weather jackets. We were going to DHL to send a box of stuff home and made it to their office with no problems. The girl at DHL was great and helped wrap the breakable stuff with bubble wrap and put other stuff into tuff bags so in case they did break the glass/ceramics would end up through everything. It took about an hour to itemise, check and pack the box and by the time we finished the weather had turned nasty – thunder, lightning and heavy rain! The girl at DHL managed to find an old umbrella which she gave to us but we still stayed put until the heavy rain became much lighter. We’d brought a day ticket for the metro (€3 per person for 24 hours) as we were going quite a bit of housekeeping stuff that day.
Back at the hotel, we changed into warmer clothes and grabbed our wet weather gear before heading our again. This time we travelled to a large book store to buy some English novels for the next few weeks (especially our time in the Greek Islands – lazing in the sun on the balcony overlooking the azure waters of the Aegean, that’s the plan anyway), the Public Store was huge and had a complete floor for books and the English section was excellent with most new releases available as well as books from most popular authors.
Next was a visit to the station to reserve our seats for the trip to Istanbul later in the month, this is a long trip with a change of train in northern Greece and an overnight trip involving booking sleeper berths. The lady at the station was helpful (we did manage to get the booking done) but, like many Greeks we have been in contact with, didn’t project a positive outlook but more an ambivalence towards to us, the job and everything. We were just leaving the station for the metro when a bus load of officer cadets from the air force arrived at the station and dispersed on the train and metro – I was wondering if they had to fly commercially would they need to check the small (ceremonial??) daggers that were connected to their belts?
Our next job was to check out the timing of the metro trip to the port (our next moving day involved a ferry to Naxos – one of the Islands – departing at 7.20am) and this would involve 2 changes of line. The trip would take 45 minutes but as it’s early in the morning the trains will probably not come as regularly so we’ll allow an hour plus we need to be checked in at least 30 minutes prior to departure which all equals an early start. At the port we came across a group of naval cadets (in full ceremonial uniforms – even the white gloves) who were obviously heading off for the weekend. By the time we had been to the port and back it was getting close to 4.00pm so we went back to the hotel for a breather before going out for dinner.
The past few days had been busy but we had not taken one photograph, as we kept forgetting it every time we left the hotel.
Saturday was a fine day (the weather reports varied raining to fine – anyone’s guess) so we decide to be the consummate tourists and visit the biggest and most obvious attraction – the Acropolis. We rode the metro to the station closest to the ancient site and then walked around the base until we reached the entry, the queue was a mere 4 people long (visiting in the off season certainly saves time in queues!). With ticket in hand we walked straight through and up the steps into the site and wandered around in amazement at the grandeur of the Parthenon, admiring the efforts at restoration, and soaking up the ambience – the crowd was small so we had plenty of opportunity to spend time taking photos and looking at things without the pressure to move.
Liz was very moved by this site as it was the very first place she wanted to visit when planning her dream trip many years ago – she had spent many years worried that it would collapse and/or close before she got the opportunity to visit. We were both happy to have finally made it to this place and the experience and memories will stay with us forever.
We wandered around the Acropolis ancient site for about 2 hours before moving on to The Temple of the Olympian Zeus, Hadrian’s Arch and the Panathinalkon Stadium. These sites were good but couldn’t live up to the atmosphere of the Acropolis. With great weather and small crowds we enjoyed our time at all the sites.
After a late lunch in one of the many cafes near the Acropolis metro station we did a little souvenir browsing and then made our way back one metro station to the Plaka area. We had been told this was a good shopping area, this proved to be the case as when we arrived there were people everywhere with many illegal stalls along the street selling poor quality handbags and so on, and plenty of expensive speciality shops. We wandered around these shops to the point that we actually ended up back near our hotel – we had purchased a daily metro pass and only used it twice which was unfortunate but OK as we enjoyed the experience of walking through the streets and observing the people.
Sunday turned out to be Election Day in Athens and with it most attractions were shut. We had a quiet day getting everything cleaned and packed for the ferry ride to Naxos the next day. However we had a great time meeting with an ex-colleague, Alex Douglas, who had moved to live in Greece in 2001. We had a nice couple of hours catching up with her and finding out what it was like to live in Athens.
Monday was a 5.00am start as we needed to be at Pireus (Athens Port) to catch the ferry to the Greek Island of Naxos. Up at 5.00am, onto the Metro at 5.30am and at the port by 6.45am ready for departure at 7.20am, this trip would only take about 5 hours so we chose to have deck seating only. The Aegean Sea was smooth and the ferry made good progress stopping at Paros Island first and then onto Naxos before continuing south to Santorini. The ferry ride was fun and the views wonderful. Liz as usual was highly excited.
Once we arrived in Naxos we made our way around the waterfront to our hotel, which we could see from the ferry when we docked. We checked in and had a bit of a nap (5am was an early start!). During our club sandwich lunch, at one of the many sideway cafes, the rain began to fall and looked settled in for a while so we took our time over lunch. We eventually had to return to our hotel to wait for the rain to clear, about mid afternoon the rain had stopped but it still looked threatening however we decided to take the rain gear and go exploring.
Our hotel is right on the port so we walked along the waterfront and then back along the tiny streets parallel to the main street, the walls and buildings were paint white with the azure blue trim typical of the paintings and photos of the Greek Isles – it was very attractive even in the gloomy overcast of the afternoon. We walked past many of the small streets near the waterfront ending up further up the beach than expected but it was interesting and fun until the rain started again. We made our way back to the hotel only getting a little wet and decided to call it a day as the sun was already starting to disappear – it’s dark by 5.30pm. Back on our hotel room balcony overlooking the port we can’t help but smile and feel highly satisfied about finally being in the Greek Islands. Tomorrow the weather forecast is for a fine day and we plan on hiking around as much of the island as we can manage.
Tuesday looked good from the hotel window when we woke, sunny and blue sky, however over breakfast we got a look back over the island and it didn’t look promising low black cloud. So after breakfast we ventured out (occasional drops of rain soon as we left the hotel) and firstly tried to find the tourist information centre but it, like most things had closed for the off season, so we visited the ancient site on the headland overlooking the harbour. We then decided to check the backstreets around the old part of the port area.
The sun had arrived but the cloud still hung about further inland so we walked south along the beach with Liz as usual testing the water. It was a pleasant walk although we were both amazed and concerned at the quantity of rubbish both on the beach and in the water. We watched a local fisherman calmly reel in a fish (don’t know what type) about 50cm long. We walked southward for about 1 ½ hours before returning to the hotel along the road, we may have taken the odd wrong turn but we did get a good idea of the Naxos Township as we wandered through the streets. It’s really impossible to get lost as you only have to turn left as you head north and sooner or later you come to the port.
Once we arrived back at the hotel we decided to be very Greece and visit a café for lunch and then sit around in the café talking or, in our case, reading a British newspaper or two. Once we tired of this we moved to our hotel balcony and sat in the sun reading – life is tough! The rest of the day was sent lazing around, watching the ferries come and go and basically watching life on Naxos walk past.