Mulberries of Delphi

On Monday, Glen, Anna and I went on a roadtrip to Delphi. Rather than join a tour group or hire a driver, I rented a car and decided I’d drive us the 2.5 hours up there. I was a little anxious about driving in Greece, expecting the drivers to be as crazy as the Italians, but I put on my big boy pants and we went anyway.

Getting out of Athens was the hardest part. We left at about 9am, going through busy streets without a GPS. Glen had downloaded the map onto his phone which was lucky and we then took a tense 45 minutes to get out of Athens and on to the freeway. I was mostly worried about the (helmet-free) motorcyclists who zip in between the cars, concerned that I’d inexplicably turn into them and squash them between me and the next car. Thankfully, this did not happen.

Drivers mostly kept to their lanes so the traffic wasn’t like India or Bali where it’s just one big amorphous blob of cars. However, the space between one car and the next is fairly fluid so no one minded when I merged across three lanes of traffic so I could go down the correct exit. What surprised me was how infrequently people use their horns. There’s little impatient tooting going on and people seem generally relaxed (as long as you’re not slow in the fast lane).

It was smooth sailing once we left the city. The speed limit was 100–120kmh on the freeways, with an interesting feature being the two centre lanes at the highest speed and then the next two lanes being 20kmh slower. However, everyone regularly does 20kmh over the speed limit. It was quite something to be going 140.

Orchomenos

We made it to our first stop along the scenic – yet faster – route in a town called Orchomenos. Google made us go down a few back streets to get to where we wanted to go but we finally made it. We stopped at a monastery which has a famous icon of the Virgin Mary Who Stopped The Tanks. It was closed.

Over the road were the ruins of a theatre and tholos tomb, which we paid €2 to get into and look around. We located different sculpture body parts – a leg, a torso, a head – though I don’t think we found any arms or hands. After half an hour in Orchomenos we got back in the car and set off to our second stop.

Livadia

The guide-description I had for this town said:

At first glance Livadia doesn’t seem like much but if you go into the old town in the center, it’s one of the most beautiful town centers in Greece with its old water mills and waterfalls.

The section we drove into was definitely not beautiful but we managed to find a tight parking space and headed into what we hoped was the old town centre, following the route of the river upstream.

When we finally found the right spot, we weren’t disappointed. It was so picturesque with clear running water, water mills, stone bridges and green leafy trees. It was well worth the stop. We walked up to the top edge of town where the river is left natural, and then stopped for lunch in this idyllic setting.

There are also some archaeological ruins (another oracle was stationed here) and a castle but I was conscious of time and wanted to get to Delphi. We found the car – momentarily worried we couldn’t locate it again – and then picked our way through the narrow and scary streets of Livadia before we zoomed off along the freeway again.

We hit the mountains and the winding mountain roads which, for me, were fun. Glen did not share my enthusiasm for them. We also went through a town called Arahova which is built into the side of the mountain and is reminiscent of Cinqueterre. It’s a ski town…not a bad spot.

Delphi

I can’t believe I was considering not making the trip out here. What a waste of a trip to Greece that would have been. We arrived in Delphi at about 3, bought our tickets and went into the Museum of Delphi (which closed at 5). It displayed lots of archaeological findings from the Delphi site, displayed on plinths and in cabinets in various rooms. Sphinx, a statue of Antinous, a bronze charioteer and lots of gold offerings. I was worn out from the driving so my brain rebelled at taking in too much.

We then hit the site itself, walking up the side of the mountain and looking over the ruins. It’s a shame you can’t enter the Temple of Apollo – where the oracle is said to have been housed – but c’est la vie. We got our photos up and down the hill, a beautiful vista from the top looking down at the theatre, the temple and then the Sanctuary of Athena Pronaia in the distance.

One of the best parts of the climb up the hill was the raiding of the mulberry trees, first going up and then going down again. I’ve NEVER had mulberries that tasted that good before. The only downside was the we could only reach a few of them, meanwhile the branches out of reach were laden with ripe fruit. Our hands were stained by the end of it but we washed them in the drinking mountain. Mulberries, who knew?

Delphi: go for the oracle, stay for the mulberries.

After Delphi-proper, we got in the car and drove down to the ruins of the Sanctuary of Athena Pronaia. This one’s open to the public and free of charge. The ruins of the tholos in the centre is what I originally thought was the oracle of Delphi. Not so apparently. We wandered around in the heat, taking our photos and then got back in the car to drive home.

Back to Athens

The sun was still well and truly in the sky but it was about 6pm when we left and based on the last few night’s I figured I’d be asleep at the wheel by 8 so we needed to hurry. We took a slightly longer route on the way back to Athens, going along country roads and seeing a different part of the countryside. I also saw four police cars at various intervals, an unwelcome sight after speeding so much all day. They paid me no attention, however.

Traffic in Athens was bordering on the insane when we arrived back in the city. Some of the streets aren’t well marked so it looked like I was going to go down a one-way street (wouldn’t be the first time for the day) but eventually made it nearer our accommodation.

The concert at the stadium was due to start at 9 so every man and his dog was in the area (we’re a few doors down) and they were taking up all available parking space. In the end we parked in the 24-hour car park, expecting to be hit with an exorbitant fee but 24 hours only cost €15 so it was a bargain. They also parked the car for us.

Anna’s colleagues went to the stadium for the concert but we went for dinner at Macro Provato instead, which was just down the road. We had an enjoyable and simple meal – anchovies and meatballs to start, followed by salmon and salad for Anna and I, and chicken for Glen. Good food. We then head home and were in bed by 10. Exhausted but content.

2 Replies to “Mulberries of Delphi”

  1. It sounds as though, for the traffic, you should have put your big-boy underpants on as well . . .

    On the membra disjecta of Orchomenos, I seem to recall that at the chapel at the top of Mt Lycabettus in Athens (St George?) there were a number of votive offerings of various limbs in, I assumed, wax–the faithful not having sufficient trust in God and the saints to be able to recognise the proper body part when mentioned for healing in their prayers, I suppose.

    I notice the dismissive way both you and Glen referred to “a bronze charioteer,” as though there are myriads to be seen throughout Greece! No: this is THE Charioteer, and is an important milestone in the history of sculpture and art–the lifelike folds of his peplum, the reins gathered in his hands (there was probably a horse or two in the original grouping, but the equine element has either been stolen or has succumbed to the ravages of time), the glass eyes looking all realistic, and the self-supporting stance–all in bronze. (By contrast, compare the many kouroi, who stand with one leg forward, as though walking: this was the Greeks’ attempt to separate themselves from Egyptian statuary, from which the kouros evolved: in the Egyptian mode, the subject stands equally on both feet, and is often supported by a wall at the back, because the statue would be otherwise unstable.)

    I guess you didn’t stop in Arahova, look at the fabrics with the maeander (or Key of Dionysos), and try their liver in tomatoes dish? . . .

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    1. Yes, Glen told me the significance of the charioteer in that it is one of only a few bronze sculptures from that time period ever discovered because the rest were all pillaged and melted down for other things. This one only escaped that fate because it was buried by an earthquake. I didn’t know about all the other features though so thanks for that 🙂

      No stop in Arahova. Wasn’t aware it had the Key of Dionysus. We stopped just outside it for the view though.

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