Sterea Ellada or 'central Greece' covers most of Greece between Thessaly and the
Peloponnese. Crossing to the northern coast of the Gulf of Corinth, we spent much of
the morning driving along the water through the vacation resort towns of Nafpaktos and
Galaxidi. Most of the towns were situated along natural harbors with brilliant blue
water. The color of the water tended to approximate that of the flag, a color the
Greeks call 'galano'. Having no word for the much darker shade of water found elsewhere
in the world, they had to borrow the western European word for it as best as they could,
ending up with 'mple' (blay). We ate lunch along with a British boys' school at a
nameless stretch of waterfront beach.
Not far from the coast high up on the slopes of the massive Mount Parnassus is the ancient
site of Delphi. Called 'the navel of the world' by ancient Greeks, it was supposedly the
site where two eagles, released at either end of the world by Zeus, came to meet. A
tortuous switchback road leads up through the tourist-filled modern town and divides the
ancient site in half. Below the road, much of the site is still being uncovered although
the temple of Athena, and the Tholos temple (pictured here) are visitable. The Tholos
was originally a circle of columns and its original purpose is unknown. Perhaps most
affiliated with Delphi is the site of the oracle. The oracle was located at the mouth of
a cave from which various unhealthy subterranean gases would spew forth. A priestess
would breathe in these fumes and then respond to a question, usually in some sort of
gas-induced gibberish. A priest would then 'interpret' this into a more straightforward
sort of response. Despite learning how it all really worked we were willing to give it
a try because we wanted to ask the oracle an important question about our dog.
On the way to the main site lies the Castalian Spring where one was supposed to purify
oneself before entering the sanctuary. It's very cold so we only purified our hands.
Unfortunately this isn't good enough as we were denied admission to the temple of Apollo
and were unable to ask the oracle anything. (Actually, they mysteriously close at 2:15
on certain days.) In reality, no one can, as the actual location of the oracle is unknown
these days. It was theoretically located somewhere inside the temple of Apollo (shown
here). In the background is more of Mt. Parnassus, home of the muses. We tried to find
ourselves a muse but this was also unsuccessful. We did meet another dog, whom we started
calling the Delphic Dog. Perhaps he was in fact a dog muse sent by the oracle based on
our intent to ask a question, but alas, we don't speak dog so we'll never know.
Leaving Delphi we travelled around to the back of Mt. Parnassus which was still covered
in snow. There are a couple of ski resorts higher up the mountain though neither of them
seemed to be running while we were in town.
Not far away is the Monastery of Holy Luke. Luke was a 9th century hermit who was later
canonized for his healing abilities. The Byzantine style monastery grew around that with
the first church appearing in the 10th century. The inside is fabulously decorated
primarily with icon paintings surrounded by gold. We were considerably surprised to
discover that the body of Luke himself is viewable inside of a glass coffin in an alcove
of the main church. Dressed in a black robe and mask, only his skeletal hands are
The monastery sits on a small ridge in a larger valley and from the pleasant courtyard
area you can see out over the surrounding farms and olive groves.
After leaving the monastery we drove back towards Athens passing through Thiva (Thebes).
Presumably since we were just passing through we did not have to face the sphinx. Later
we ate dinner at an AutoGrille (see the Italy pages for more info on that). We also
discovered curious sinks in the public bathrooms there where you had to stand on a
sensitive panel in order to make the water come on. A nice idea but next time they
should place the panels a bit closer to the sink. We arrived back in Athens in time to
get lost in the night time traffic in Piraeus. After an hour or so of unintentional
sightseeing, we made it back to Glyfada (the airport area) where we found a hotel. Our
flight back the next day proceeded more or less uninterestingly.