Wednesday morning dawned fresh and sunny again, the weather perfect for a day trip to Delphi. It was also the first of our trips arranged through George’s Taxi. Nicholas from the taxi company and George’s son, assured us that he would send us the best driver available. And boy, did he deliver on that promise!
Makis was the promised driver and he was waiting with his yellow Mercedes-Benz taxi a few minutes before 7:30 am. We met Makis downstairs and he welcomed us with cooling water in the trunk of his car. The Benz he drove was very comfortable for the long drive to Delphi and back.
Makis has been a taxi driver for several years, is friends with George Kokkotos and works with his group as well. He is well versed with travels within Greece. What we enjoyed most about Makis was his willingness to make the trip an authentic experience for us. What could have been a very “touristy trip taking” became a more localised version, thanks to him. He enjoyed talking about Greece and gave us a lot of insight into daily Greek life, its economy and history. An enterprising individual, he has outfitted his car dashboard with a TV screen and has taken the time to download programs that detail the history of the various places he takes travelers to. He played a couple of programs on Delphi and its origins and importance. What a great way to pass the time and learn about your intended destination!!
As we headed out of Athens, Makis asked us questions about ourselves, our family, what we had seen until then, what our future plans for that week were. He was of the opinion that we had spent our hard-earned money on “touristy Greek food” and promised to take us to “Mama’s home cooking”. At first we thought it was a particular restaurant, but realized over time that it meant “hole in the wall places” frequented by locals.
Delphi was once considered the center of the Earth, the “Omphalos”, the umbilicus that is represented by the stone of the same name at this ancient site. Originally guarded by the snake Pythos as the sacred ground of Mother Earth or Ge, Delphi has been inhabited in one form or another since nearly 14th century BC. Around 11th century, Apollo the Sun God, according to legend, fought and killed Pythos and made Delphi his sanctuary.
The Oracle powers of the Pythia, the high priestess at Delphi is legendary. And thus for nearly five centuries, as the Temple of Apollo, this site held enormous sway over all people, patrician and plebian alike. People traveled from far and wide, to consult the Oracle on important matters. Learn more about the history of this storied site, here and here.
En route to Delphi, in what became classic Makis fashion, he took us to the small town of Arachova, a mountain town close to the Mount Parnassos ski resort. Covered by gently undulating hills, the small houses on the slopes formed a colorful backdrop to the dark green vegetation. We stopped at an overview to take pictures of the area and breathe in lungful of fresh air. There was a slight nip to the air and in the early morning sun, everything looked fresh and just right with the world!
Makis then drove us through the small town, stopping at a local bakery, O Fournos tou Kefala. He ordered spinakopitas (spinach pies), cheese bread, cheese pies and sesame bread for us to breakfast on. A family run bakery and very popular with locals who came walking or by bike or car, Makis told us the pies were made with fresh homemade phyllo dough and hence tasted very good.
We enjoyed this tasty breakfast and set out in search of coffee. Makis took us to a small coffeehouse where he had Freddo Cappuccino made for us. After asking Mr. JJ to go in and pick up the coffee, he went about making a U-turn on that narrow street, positioning the car to head to Delphi. The kids and I took advantage of a few minutes to explore the street where a large guesthouse was located. As I admired the sloping street ahead of me and the beautiful architecture around me, I heard a sudden thud. Looking around, I found, to my dismay, Sonny JJ had dashed around the front of the car and slipped on the cobblestone street, abrading his knees. Luckily for him and us, once again, he did not injure much except his pride and the skin on his knees. In tears after a second near-miss in two days, he sat on the street, stunned, as a couple of kind passers-by appeared, having seen the fall and concerned about him. At Makis’s request, one of them ran to get two bags of ice, while the others kindly reassured Sonny JJ, in earnest Greek, that he would be okay. Compassion like music, traverses all barriers, and we could comprehend their message, loud and clear. It was touching to feel their empathy and kindness to complete strangers like us. They also made it clear, pointing to his footwear that he needed to wear shoes instead of the sandals he had been wearing.
Makis then inspected all of our footwear and declared that for the next few days, we could wear only shoes and not sandals. He said the ancient sites had stones that were worn and smooth and posed a fall risk, if one weren’t wearing the correct kind of footwear. In fact, we had noticed that this was true at the Parthenon the previous afternoon, where some stones along the walk path had been slippery. I am not certain why we chose to wear sandals when we had packed our comfortable shoes. But this was a great lesson for us.
We piled back into the car, the children excitedly talking about the concerned passers-by, and Sonny JJ holding two big bags of ice to his knees. He was already in a better mood and was in good spirits by the time we reached Delphi, a short fifteen minute drive from Arachova. The cold Freddo cappuccino was a delight.
Having read about Delphi before we left home and watched the video Makis played for us, we were excited about visiting the sacred site. We used the Rick Steves’ guidebook for further information as we explored the area. The day was warm and the entire tour took nearly two hours. We were thirsty, sweaty and tired after the climb to the top of the mountain to see the site of the Pythian games. But the views around us were magnificent and the surrounding tranquility made it possible to keep pushing on. Despite the fame that Delphi has, it remains incredibly beautiful, tucked away in the lap of nature, surrounded by hills and in a lush green valley. What also helped us was the fact that we were at Delphi by 11 am. Which meant we could avoid the huge crowds that flooded the place by tourist buses past noon.
We were supposed to meet Makis outside the Delphi Museum (on site) for lunch. He had promised to find a local restaurant that would accommodate vegetarian options for us. Shortly before 1 pm, we found ourselves reaching the Delphi museum entrance and spent the next half hour exploring the museum, a small but delightful one. And well worth the time spent there.
Hungry and thirsty, we found our way back to the main road and located Makis and his shining yellow taxi. He then took us into the Delphi area to a restaurant called Epikouros. Another family owned and run restaurant, the ambience was simple and stunning with a large terrace in the back of the restaurant opening to the sloping hillside and a view of the Gulf of Corinth in the distance. We were seated right in the middle of the terrace overlooking this beautiful view, a warm breeze lightly stirring. After admiring the natural beauty of the place, we settled down to the more serious business of ordering food.
Our lunch consisted of soup, salad, spaghetti for Sonny JJ and briam, a roasted mixed vegetable dish that was flavorful and moist. Makis asked us to taste Formylea cheese that is native to Arachova/ Delphi and the Fokida state to which this area belongs. That cheese was slightly salty and spicy and I enjoyed it much. Sated, we left and drove some more in Delphi, stopping at a couple of overlooks to enjoy the view of the surrounding hillside and valley down below. Makis pointed out the aqueducts that crisscross the countryside, carrying potable water over hundreds of kilometers through a network of channels to Lake Mornos that supplies water to Athens.
While Makis drove us back to Athens, we succumbed to the temptation of an afternoon siesta. About an hour and a half later, the we made a short pit stop to enjoy Rizogalo, a thick creamy rice pudding. It was just lightly sweetened and cool for a summer afternoon.
By 5 pm, Makis had us deposited at the entrance to the Acropolis Museum, which was open until 8 pm on Wednesdays. After ensuring we knew our way back to the apartment, he left.
The Acropolis Museum opened in 2009 and is a must see sight in Athens. Airy and large, constructed of steel and glass, it’s designed to give a fantastic view of the Acropolis and indeed, a good part of Athens from the top floor. Home to a large collection of the Parthenon’s artifacts, the top floor mirrors the Parthenon in layout and its inner structure coincides with the inner sella of the Parthenon temple. The frieze is laid out in the exact manner as on the temple structure in the days of yore and is a visual treat for all visitors. The beauty and complexity of the pieces are on full display and makes one wonder about the creativity and talent of the original sculptors and artists.
One of the intermediary floors on the lower level is home to four of the Caryatids from the Erechtheion temple on the Acropolis. The flow and form of these ancient maidens are being lovingly restored and maintained here.
The lowermost level has glass floors that open onto an ancient Athenian excavation site and it’s inventive to watch the site unfold under one’s feet. In fact, at the entrance to the Museum, there is a large open balcony from which to take in the excavation site in greater depth. I found this aspect very cool, preserving antiquity and exposing it in a unique and functional manner. Overall, this museum blends modern technology with the serious business of protecting artifacts and succeeds well at this.
Interestingly, the entrance fee to the Museum is only 5 Euros per adult and 3 Euros for children under 18 years! The open air terrace cafe is a great location to sip coffee and savor the views of the Acropolis and the Parthenon close by. Which is what we did!
Close to 8 pm we left the Museum and headed back to the apartment, which was about a 20 min walk. Lucky for us, Sonny JJ’s ankle held and he was able to walk the whole distance, albeit with multiple stops.
Our original plan had been to visit the Ancient Agora and the National Archaeological Museum and do some other local sightseeing the following day. But Makis suggested a bolder plan that included both of these with a quick trip to the Athenian Riviera. A plan we had not even conceived of! Of course, the children were all agog as it meant spending time at the beach! And thus it came to be, that we had to get ready for another fun day under the Aegean sun!