If you didn’t start reading on Day 1, you might want to start from the beginning …
Patience Warren. I believe that is what Zeus tried to teach me as we visited what his followers considered his most sacred sanctuary. This hill was the birthplace of Zeus and where is father, Kronos tried to eat him and prevent him from taking over the family God business. By visiting, I unwittingly subjected myself three trials that he administered by using my willing teenage daughter, as you shall soon see.
I always understood the high priority the ancient Greeks placed on spiritual and mental development (hence the temples, shrines, and Greek schools of philosophy). What I never realized is that the Olympic games weren’t anything like sporting events we have today. It was the Romans who changed and commercialized the Olympics. To the Greeks, the games were a deeply ritualistic, highly spiritual event held to honor the Father of the Olympian Gods, Zeus. Ancient Olympia is where the games were held and one of the most sacred, spiritual locations in Greek Mythology.
Knowing this (and that we had a long drive ahead of us after we explored the ruins), I was quite anxious to get started. Zeus saw this as a perfect opportunity and teamed up with Mikayla to try my patience a bit. In Mikayla’s defense (and as anyone who knows me well can verify), I can be quite stubborn and bullheaded (yes, I’m sure you are shocked). Especially when I have a plan. And today I had a very detailed plan and the timeline to support it.
The first trial of Zeus involved me (with my luggage packed) tapping my foot and looking anxiously at my watch while Mikayla straightened her hair in the bathroom (we were already an hour behind my scheshdual – notice the European pronunciation). In the second trial of Zeus, I ended up leaning against our parked car looking helplessly at the hill leading to the ancient site while MIkayla sat in the car finishing a chapter in her book, “Wicked.” The third trial was when she had her nose in her book walking aimlessly around the Sanctuary, her mind far away in the land of Oz rather than in Ancient Greece where I thought it should be. I don’t think I completely failed the tests, but I fell far from acing them. I had to remind myself several times that this is Mikayla’s vacation, “Relax Warren!” I mean, after all. She willingly went every day to every historical location on my agenda without ever complaining.
Eventually, she put her book away and the extra time didn’t make us miss anything or ruin my objectives for the day. We explored the ancient training grounds where athletes would assemble a month before the games to prepare and compete in the ancient Olympic Games. A few interesting notes about the games:
- Only males were allowed to compete in or watch the games.
- Athletes would compete naked, body coated in olive oil and dust.
- Athletes took an oath before Zeus to compete honestly.
- Cheaters names were engraved on plaques and they lived the rest of their lives in shame.
The ancient site had training areas, a 400 room five star hotel (for dignitaries, not athletes), bathhouses, temples, a stadium, and more. When the Romans came in they added their own ideas and a few more buildings. Today it is in ruins. The Greeks built some amazing buildings and obviously took a great deal of pride in their structures but it was the Romans that invented concrete. Marble was expensive and difficult to transport so many of the Greek marble structures were whatever stone was handy and then coated in marble (look close and you can sometimes see seashells in the building blocks). Earthquakes and wars were just too much for the buildings and today most of the locations look a lot like my old Lego houses did once my little sister crawled through them.
One reconstructed column stands to give visitors an idea of the what the Temple of Zeus must have looked like. It housed the statue of Zeus (one of the 7 wonders of the ancient world). The 43 foot tall statue of Zeus adorned in gold and ivory vanished over 1500 years ago. As of today (and most likely the day you are reading this), it is still missing.
Every ten or so minutes at the stadium (where events were held) some idiot would line up at the starting line and bolt across the dusty ground for the finish line. I imagine they must have got a kick out of pretending they were leading the pack of naked olive oil covered bodies (I don’t suggest you actually imagine this, sprinting naked has it’s complications) while the crowd roared in approval. Lame. It sounded corny when Rick Steve’s suggested it in his video as I prepared for the trip, it sounded corny when I read it in his guidebook, and it looked corny when other people did it…but it felt great when I did it.
I think Mikayla got tired of the various factoids I kept spitting out as we walked around and I had my nose in the Rick Steve’s book (don’t you dare call me a hypocrite!). But she’d humor me by raising her eyebrows, nodding her head, and frowning slightly. I couldn’t help it. It just amazed me to try and wrap my head around the fact that I was walking through an area that full of mythology, history, and the building blocks of western civilization. I tried really hard not to come across as giddy but I couldn’t help it. It was too exciting to imagine, feel, and ponder the magnitude of events that transpired here 2,500 years ago.
After we explored the archeological site, we went back into town to do some shopping until the museum opened. Last night we found some really cute shops and tons of cool things to buy for ourselves, friends, and family. I had been telling Mikayla all along to wait until we got to Athens because prices were a lot better, but she had fallen in love with one shop in particular. Over the two days we spent at least an hour, maybe two, looking at the cool stuff they were selling. At one point the owner told Mikayla she should come and work there next summer because they could use her English. I’m not sure how serious she actually was, but that would sure be a cool experience. I know Mikayla would love working in such a cute artsy shop and town. We wished we had thousands of dollars to spend because their stuff was so cool. I almost spent way more money than I had budgeted for there, instead, I just spent a little more.
TRAVEL TIP: If you are about to go over budget and are feeling guilty, almost buy a few things that will take you WAY over budget. Then when you put the big things back, going over budget in a smaller amount actually feels like a success.
The museum contained many of the statues that had once embellished the temples and Olympic grounds. They generally honor the Gods and tell various stories that came from their religious beliefs (like this picture that depicts the Centaurs War with the Lapiths).
We finished exploring, had lunch, and hit the road for another long drive through the mountains. As usual, this involved many windy roads, scenic views, charming towns, and a few scratches of the head while I compared my map to what the GPS was telling me to do. At one point I got very frustrated with myself for, once again, taking the scenic route and adding hours upon hours to the drive. I wanted to see the gorge but hadn’t realized it would add so much driving. I was actively cursing myself in silent dialogue when we came across a small team of dogs ushering a herd of goats across the road.
We turned off the car and watched for 20 minutes or more. Several hundred goats passed from right to left, climbing up the mountain trail that curved up through the jutting rocks. The only sounds came from the random, gentle ring, ding, clang, and tink of the various bells around the necks of some of the goats. Adventurous ones (as I imagine I would have been, had I been a goat) veered off the path for some sport climbing and ascended the face of the cliff. The dogs were quiet, watching intently, sometimes walking back and forth across the road to check the progress of the slower goats and once one came up to my window, looked me in the eye for a few seconds, and then went quietly back to the herd. I guess I checked out okay.
I’m guessing that the idea of this simple life in the quiet mountains coupled with the idea that I was watching a process that also dated back thousands of years hit a spot inside me and nearly brought me to tears. It slowed down the gears in my head that work and churn to push my agenda and I told Mikayla that seeing these goats made the hours of extra driving completely worth it. She seemed to enjoy it just as much as I did.
We eventually made it over the mountains and, just before dusk, wound down the roads to the small coastal town of Kardamyli. The room we found was inexpensive, had a fridge and kitchen area, a balcony, and was decent sized. We both instantly loved the town and our room and decided to change our plans and stay two nights instead of one. We walked down by the rocky beach and watched the waves crash and splash, strolled through the narrow road that cut through town, and had dinner in a nice little pub. The sandwich I ordered was as good as any I’ve ever had and I vowed to return for another tomorrow. Like Olympia, the shops were open late and people were outside enjoying the evening until past 10:00. Like most nights, I turned in earlier than Mikayla and she stayed up late chatting with her friends on the Internet.
Continue to day 9…