Monday, September 20, 2010


I know I promised that there would be just one more travel post, but before I write that one, I have to offer a few pictures of the ubiquitous Athens graffiti, seen here on just one street in the Plaka (the tourist area surrounding the Acropolis):

I love the riot of color--it seems appropriate for the riotous act of graffiti. Even its density is somewhat pleasing to the eye, more so than the slogans and sometimes crude drawings we get in California.

Athens has a LOT of graffiti, which is no surprise since the word comes from the Greek root graphi, which means "to write." However, it seems to be confined to places like this--homes, shops, abandoned buildings. The Acropolis and other monuments were graffiti-free (and I don't remember any security guards patrolling the sites with their guns, as we had seen in some of the Black Sea countries). Maybe, just maybe, the Greeks truly do respect their heritage.

Friday, September 17, 2010

BLACK SEA TRIP: PART 16, The Oracle of Delphi

ORACLE -noun
1. an utterance, often ambiguous or obscure, given by a priest or priestess at a shrine as the response of a god to an inquiry, or the agent giving such a response.
2. A shrine or place at which such utterances are given: the oracle of Apollo at Delphi.
3. a divine communication or revelation.
4. a person who delivers authoritative, wise, or highly regarded and influential pronouncements.

After gorging ourselves on Greek pastries (See Part 15 post), we finally made our way to Delphi. I don't know if it was the Nirvana created by the food in our satisfied tummies or just the day, but Delphi seemed to have a mysterious, other-worldly aura about it. It is located far away from any large city in the middle of a Grecian Nowhere at the base of Mt. Parnassus.

Friendly words welcomed us to our destination:

Man-made walls try (and fail) to reflect the glorious structures created by the gods:

There was something familiar about this stone wall and arch:

On closer inspection . . .

I realized I had seen something similar in a drawing Andrew did his senior year in high school:

Greeks believed that Delphi was the literal center of the universe and that this very stone was the navel of the earth:
(It's a major "out-y," don't you think?)

Of course, one of the best-preserved buildings is the Treasury:

Note the ugly, malformed rock on the left of this photo (no, NOT the woman in the center):

THIS is the Rock of Sybil--the woman who could foretell the future--from which she delivered her prophecies:
("You will eat a fine meal at the end of the day...You will gain five pounds on this trip...You will bore all your family and friends with your photos...")

Columns of the Temple of Apollo, 4th century B.C. :
It was at his temple that Apollo spoke through his oracle or Sybil. Chosen from among the local peasant women, she had to be an older woman who had lived a blameless life. She would sit on a seat over an opening in the floor of this temple and inhale the fumes arising from below (thought to be the decomposing body of Apollo's slain rival Python). High on the gases, she would fall into a trance and prophesy, which was really babbling, deranged raving. The local priests would "translate" her words into prophetic poetry. The oracle was taken very seriously and consulted before all major undertakings. Not a bad system, eh? It actually sounds a bit like our parenting style. I'll let you guess who is the oracle and who is the interpreter.
The Christian emperor Theodosius destroyed this temple in 390 A.D. to silence the oracle. Some men will do anything to get a woman to be quiet.

The amphitheater, built up the mountain from Apollo's Temple and able to seat 5,000 spectators:

The stadium, site of the Pythian Games, forerunner of the modern Olympics:

Just below all the main ruins of Delphi is this magnificent structure, the Tholos of Delphi, believed to be the sanctuary of Athena. Perhaps before approaching the oracle, visitors first stopped here to offer a sacrifice to Athena:

There were other wonderful sights at Delphi. Take this modern Greek toga, for example:

We did love the flora of the area, which reminded us somewhat of home. Here, a loaded mulberry tree:
...which Bob enjoyed perhaps a little too much:

Wonderful ancient trees:

. . . and beautiful poppies, not orange like ours in California, but crimson red:

Delphi has a spectacular Archaeological Museum that is full of treasures from excavations:
Sphinx of Naxos

The Charioteer

"The Philosopher of Delphi," circa 270 BC

Whew. All that heavy Greek history and mythology made us HUNGRY. Should we head here?


OH MY GOODNESS. GREEK DINING AT ITS FINEST:Greek salad with feta, Greek olives, cucumbers, tomatoes, onions, olive oil, and spices

Cheese pie

Lamb chops

Of course, there were cats here too. We really grew to love that cats all over the place.
One of our souvenirs, purchased in a small town near Delphi:

Bob and Makis, our awesome, friendly, knowledgeable, palate-pleasing guide:


Friday, September 10, 2010

BLACK SEA TRIP: PART 15, Eating Our Way to Delphi

We were really very lucky in our selection of guides on our trip. We booked a few of them on the internet and had to trust that all would all turn out well. We found that we were pretty happy with what are called "taxi guides"-- taxi drivers that don't have a license to be tour guides and so could not legally accompany us into a site, but that still know an awful lot about everything, could drive us anywhere we wanted to go, and could drop us off at the entrance to a site. In fact, the problem with having "official" tour guides is that they like to spend a lot of time in places we'd like to move quickly through, or not enough time in places we really enjoyed.

We had a GREAT unofficial taxi guide in Greece named Makis. He drove us all over Athens on the first day we were there, talking non-stop while he had us in the car, and then letting us roam free in the various sites as long as we liked. He picked up right away that we are adventurous eaters and love to sample the local cuisine, so on our second day, a trip to Delphi (a two- or three-hour drive each way), he literally went out of his way to give us some unique culinary experiences.

Makis picked us up early so that our first stop could be at the Athens Meat Market. Wow. It was set up in a huge warehouse divided in sections according to the type of meat being sold. This is the place where all the restaurants come in the mornings to get their meat, as well as where many of the locals shop. We didn't really see any other tourists (for example, no one else was taking photos), so it felt like a real authentic experience.

The bunnies still had their fluffy tails and furry feet so that there was no question what you were buying (Apparently some unscrupulous butchers sometimes substitute inferior meat, such as cat, of which there is no shortage in Greece):

These lambs reminded us of Andrew's sacrificial offering for his graduation party:

More lamb, the primary red meat in Greece:

Chicken and chicken parts (nothing wasted):

Beautiful blue crabs:


Fish of every size and shape:

Next, rather than driving to Delphi via the main highway, Makis took scenic backroads that wound through fields and olive tree forests and small towns. We stopped in two villages to visit his favorite bakeries. Again, these were definitely not tourist sites, but places the locals bought their daily bread. The first one had a HUGE olive wood-burning oven that could hold 80 loaves of bread at one time. The bakers used very long-handled paddles to place the loaves on the far side of the oven. This operation could have existed in its same state 100 years ago:

Their specialty was feta cheese-stuffed bread. We had a chunk that was hot out of the oven, moist, fragrant, and absolutely delicious:

Interesting scenery along the way:

We didn't get to eat any of this lamb that we saw roasting on a spit during another stop, but it sure looked tasty:

We visited another bakery with shelves full of many different kinds of bread:

Our treat here was fresh spinach-stuffed bread in a very flaky phyllo-like dough. Oh. My. Goodness. We have since tried to duplicate the taste at home using recipes for spanakopita, and we've had some success, but nothing has come close to what we had in a tiny bakery in a tiny town somewhere in the middle of nowhere in Greece:
We look happy, don't we? That's how you look after eating the food of the Greek gods.

This was BEFORE we had eaten an actual meal. We had just snacked our way to Delphi. Is that a good guide or what?