Dave the motorhome isn’t sure what’s hit him, after basking in heat at the warm Greek coastal resort of Katakolo, he’s now being rained on in the cold, cloudy hill town of Lagkadia (N37.68266 E22.03191). His heating is on as it feels like there might even be snow in the air, although that could be us not being used to the cold – sorry folks at home!
Last night the waterfront tavernas lit up to welcome the punters in, a coach turned up and we mingled in with the crowd eyeing up the potential eateries for the night. We were a little disappointed as they could have been wine bars anywhere in the world. We also figured they would be on the expensive side as their main customers were straight off buses or the cruise ships which docked there so their passengers could visit Olympia. Seeking out the local souvlakia (kebab) shop we found it was closed, no cruise ship = no kebab, so we settled on grabbing a couple of local beers from the supermarket (23% tax on them!) and eating in Dave.
This morning we headed off to the birthplace of the Olympic games – Olympia. Fortunately it was very well signposted from our stopping place – I suspect they don’t want to lose those cruise ship passengers on their stop overs. We drove through the small town, which is basically restaurants and souvenir shops, and approaching the end of the one way street Jay spotted there was something wrong with the road ahead of us. That something was a police car and the start of a bike race. We pulled over onto the pavement and let them pass, then carried on and found a small car park to pop Dave in.
We figured the ancient Greeks wouldn’t take too kindly to Charlie stomping all over their ruins, so we took him for a stroll around the new town. This gave us chance to assess the level of tat on offer – it was quite decent. Of course there were the usual magnets etc, but most of it was Greekesque clothing (and t-shirts), decent jewellery with a Greek pattern influence, wooden stuff and lots of statues and pots. Dropping Charlie back in Dave we headed to the entrance to the site. Armed with our Rough Guide and a map given to us by the ticket office we still struggled a bit to work out what was what. But once we’d got a grasp of what we were looking at, it was very impressive.
The whole area was classed as a sanctuary, athletes and officials had to swear an oath and pledge a truce before taking part, and with so many warring factions the truce also gave businessmen the opportunity to do a bit of trading with otherwise unobtainable contacts. It was amazing to think just how long ago these buildings were put up, but of course they are ruins now, don’t go expecting anything more – earthquakes have made sure of that! A few of the sturdier columns still stand, surrounded by an Olympic sized jigsaw puzzle of mammoth stone pieces, which I suspect they’ll never put back together.
My favourite part was the Stadium, a large flat area surrounded by simple grass banks. As there was very little to fall down here, it looks a lot like it did all those years ago when Usainius Bolticus took the branch (no gold medals in those days). Although that didn’t stop Emperor Nero from moving the games forward by two years so he could compete in and win special singing and lyre playing events, in addition to the chariot race in which he was tactfully declared victor despite falling twice and failing to finish.
Above us the skies darkened and thunder rumbled. Zeus held onto his lightning bolts for today and we got away with a very light soaking, and it was t-shirt temperatures (just). After tracking down the area where they light the Olympic flame for each games (using a parabolic mirror and some sunshine – it wasn’t going to happen with today’s weather), we headed over to the archaeological museum.
I have to admit, Jay had to twist my arm to buy the combined ticket for the site and museum. We’ve been to so many museums we must have seen every single terracotta pot ever made by the Greeks and Romans. But once we were inside I’m glad my arm was twisted. We wandered through the rooms amazed by either the completeness, the detail, the sheer number of the huge size of the exhibits. Rooms were filled with pots (of course), bronze statues, marble statues, jewellery, armour and lots more. It complemented the site visit perfectly as we had already seen where the things used to stand, and now we could view them in close detail.
Back at Dave we grabbed a spot of lunch before heading off to find a place to sleep for the night. We set course for the village of Lagkadia, situated at about 1000m elevation on a mountain slope. Our map showed it as a nice wide, easy drive on the national road and after a few u-turns we found the right road and followed it. As we climbed the road narrowed and wound along the edge of a cliff, fresh earth on the slopes to our left and cones wrapped in tape around missing bits of road told of recent land slips. For the first time ever we saw fallen rocks, but no falling rocks warning signs!
Entering a small village a lady whose weathered face was surrounded by a headscarf held up a bucket to show us the eggs she had for sale. She had been sitting on a chair by the roadside in the rain waiting for traffic to pass. Our fridge already had a full box of eggs in it, we felt guilty for not stopping but we really didn’t need any. It took a couple of hours to reach the village and as we entered it a flat-bed truck approached us flashing its lights, followed by a flock of sheep in three across formation. The Greeks really seem to have mastered motorised sheep herding.
We found a place to park up for the night in the middle of the town and while it was still light (and not raining too heavily) we went for a quick walk. We’re spotted a potential restaurant for our first Greek meal, there are quite a few of them in the village, but one has a wood fire going, its smell is drifting across the road reminding me of a ski resort. Hopefully the clock tower behind us will stop ringing at a reasonable hour as it’s very loud, but with a bit of Ouzo or wine in our bellies I think we’ll sleep well tonight – after all we’ve just done the Olympic games in a day!