Saturday morning was bright and beautiful in peaceful Olympia. All around us lay the charming town, quiet in the morning stillness. Our plan for the day was to finish breakfast at the hotel, walk back to the Olympia site and explore its two museums. We had planned to meet Makis at the museum parking lot around 10:30 am. He was staying at the same hotel as us, so he would pick up our luggage on the way.
From Olympia, we would travel to Kourouta Beach on the Ionian sea and then onwards across the northern Peloponnese on the newly opened highway towards Corinth, see the canal and then to Athens.
We first went downstairs to enjoy a good breakfast at the Hotel Pelops. It is housed within a modified home and the owners/ staff were cordial. Breakfast included milk, juice, cereals, homemade jams, fruits and coffee. After bidding goodbye to the owners, we set off around 8 am walking about 15 mins to the archeological site. We saw a newly opened Archimedes museum on the way but didn’t have adequate time to look it up. Walking further, we stopped to enjoy the Museum of Ancient Olympic Games. We were the first visitors at that early hour. Located on a slight rise, and surrounded by tall trees, we had the whole museum to ourselves and enjoyed it.
The ancient Greeks enjoyed the Pythian, Nemean and Isthmian Games, in addition to the Olympics every 4 years, (some were every 2 years). This museum details the start of these time-honored games, the rituals behind them, the prizes for the winners, commemorative inscriptions, artifacts, etc. The museum is not very elaborate and after about 40 mins, we walked over to the main attraction, the Archeological Museum of Olympia where interesting artifacts are housed.
This Museum is more extensive and needs at least a couple of hours to do justice. Since we were amongst the first few visitors, we were able to take our time perusing the various collections. In particular, the statue of Hermes, the helmet of Miltiades, the pediments from the Temple of Zeus artifacts were all very exciting to explore. Of course, we went with the audio guide which made it easy for us to follow, but the museum, in general, is well laid out and easy to maneuver through.
Shortly before 10:30, we left the museum and made our way to the back where a small pathway leads to a connecting parking site on the town side of the museum. Makis greeted us with the car and luggage and we set off again, this time eager to hit another beach.
We reached Kourouta Beach about an hour later. There are several beach bars in this area, we went to one called Destino’s Cafe and availed ourselves of a couple of their palapas, and the beach chairs. While there, we spent time in the water, enjoyed drinks and cocktails with light snacks and generally experienced a laid early afternoon. A pleasant way to spend time with Greek locals!
After showering at the beach and a swift change, we headed back to the main road to meet Makis. We then drove to Corinth where Makis took us to a small restaurant called Marino’s Taverna for lunch. I particularly enjoyed the good use of the small space in this restaurant. Family run, this tavern has nice views looking out over Corinth rooftops into the Gulf of Corinth in the distance. We saw a lot of Greek families filling the other tables and there was a convivial atmosphere. The food itself was fulfilling and delicious. The waitress told us that the chefs were her mother and brother and that they had been at this for several years.
Well satisfied with the meal, we headed out to see the Corinth canal. En route, not far from the tavern, we made a quick stop at the Temple of Apollo. Now there is a real archeological site with the ruins of the Temple of Apollo in ancient Corinth. The one we visited, however, was a ceramic workshop, again family run, that makes high quality replicas of ancient Greek pottery and statues and other decorative articles in bronze and marble. Since they make replicas of ancient pieces preserved in various Greek museums, the workmanship is regulated and authenticated before the pieces are sold to the public. We spent about half an hour at the store and the owner showed us how he follows the original design and the eventual creation of each piece. He, along with his wife and sister, is fully engaged in this profession, keeping alive Greek pottery creation, its techniques and intricacies. We bought a few pieces from the store, including a Corinthian column for Missy JJ and a Poseidon statue for Sonny JJ, an exact replica of the one at the Athens Museum.
Makis waited patiently for us to finish shopping, then drove us to the Corinth Canal. This Canal was dug to connect the Gulf of Corinth with the Saronic Gulf and thus save time and money by avoiding a longer trip around the Peloponnese. The Canal itself has a depth of about 8-10 meters (24-30 feet) under water, about 100 m ( 300 ft) deep from the bridge above to the water, 63 m wide (190 ft) and 7 km long. Although the traffic in the canal moves slowly, its nail-biting to see the bigger ones pass through the narrow part of the canal.
By then, we were tired from the time at the beach, the food and the Greek sun. We headed back to Athens, an hour’s drive away from Corinth. Again, Makis kept us entertained the whole way, chatting about Greek life and stories from other trips he had taken. Very soon, we were back at Skoufou, alighting from his car for the very last time. There was a feeling of wistfulness around us, as we stood on the narrow one way lane, blocking all oncoming traffic, finishing up our payments to Makis.
Good naturedly, Makis drove the car around the block, allowing the other cars to pass and once again pulled up at our doorstep. This time as we bid adieu, Makis hugged Mr. JJ whom he had come to like immensely, shook hands with all of us and urged us to keep traveling and spending time as a family. We may have known Makis for all of five days, but it felt then as if we were separating from a beloved family member.
Pensively, we climbed the steps to the apartment. We had more bags to pack, a taxi to hire for the following day and a quick trip to Monastiraki square for one last look at Athens and souvenir hunting.
A half hour later, we were back at Syntagma square station, buying tickets for the subway and emerged onto Monastiraki Square. The place was bustling with vendors, shops, diners, tourists and locals. We admired the square with the mosque as pigeons flew all around. There is a certain vibrancy to this place, this amalgam of cultures and history and ethnicities. We stopped by a stall on Adrianou to grab freshly squeezed juice. Ah so refreshing! then it was time to get small souvenirs, soaps and pastes and Meraki. Sonny JJ and Mr. JJ got T-shirts with Greek logos. Everywhere, worry beads and articles made out of olive wood were on display. I got a wooden mortar and pestle.
The Metro station at Monastiraki was excavated prior to the station construction. There are ancient artifacts on display from the excavation. The station at Syntagma Square had a similar excavation site to view. These sites make these Metro stations unique! A good way to spend some time, if you have nothing else to do.
As the day turned to dusk, we reached the apartment. The next couple of hours were spent packing for the Portugal stopover on the way home. The children had enjoyed Athens immensely and there was a mood of sadness, coupled with excitement at going home, meeting friends, lazing the summer afternoons away.