Sam Bowker: The Grand Tour Diary (2005 - 2006)

This is the archived journal of a 2005-2006 'Grand Tour' around the Eastern Mediterranean and along East Africa, written by Sam Bowker, whilst in search of his PhD topic.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Greece - Delphi and others

Dedicated to Katya and her well-travelled mates

I just lost my original post, due to weird issues with saving functions on the website. Here goes round two!

Today has really been a travelling day. I found myself in Lamia last night, which really has nothing going for it as a location. I know this because I spent an extra four hours there due to language difficulties with an amiable but unhelpful elderly Greek lady who sold the bus tickets. On the plus side, I did locate a good basic hotel with some local help (more on the quality of that in Greece later), which had a charming balcony the same size as the room. They even sent up takeaway tortellini to my room, so I could continue watching English-language movies, for no extra cost!

The highlight was reaching Delphi. The drive was spectacular, taking me through steep mountains with clouds streaming between their summits, and tiny red-tiled white villages surrounded by olive orchards a slightly more silver-grey shade of green than the encompassing wilderness. The visit to the museum and archaeological site was rushed, as I needed to catch the last bus to Athens three hours later, but I saw all I wanted.

The museum was ridiculously full of tour groups, mostly (when I was there) loud highschool boys who clearly weren't interested in the exhibitions. Yet it actually flowed quite smoothly once I entered - the designers clearly had the flushing of large groups in mind from the outset. During the gaps between groups the spaces were conspicuously large, well-lit and easy to navigate. It was possible to take most of my photos without including people's heads - quite a feat if you saw how packed it was! I loved the staturary and photographs of the items being excavated during the 1920s, surrounded lovingly by French archaeologists posing like Japanese tourists.

In the ruins, I actually had a lot of them to myself in the final half hour. I used this time to sit back and take in the extraordinary view out over the sheer valley, across the Temple of Apollo, from high above the ancient theatre. The Apollonian temple was where the Oracle of Delphi was based, although only the foundations and a few recontructed columns remain. It is nonetheless stunning, especially with that view, and the huge cliffs towering above the other side of the old city. I found an abandoned guidebook there, in my bag now, which reproduced the last known utterance from the Oracle after the Romans converted to Christianity and left the complex to rot and be looted. (I will reproduce it here when I have time to do some long-overdue retroeditting of posts.) It seemed such a sad, and apt, thing to have said when gazing out over the skeletal remains of a glorious city that once powered massive world-conquering empires.

Now I am in Athens, comfortably set up in a friendly youth hostel (with dodgy internet!). I shall explore the city on foot and make my plans for the next few days tomorrow. Local Greek concepts of directions are lousy - they love to help but get things so wrong. I ended up spending three hours on buses to the airport and back to the centre following advice from a charming but decidedly unhelpful African Athenian!

More tomorrow.


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