Tuesday, 21st August, 2012.
We took the nine o’clock train from just across the car park from the quay to Olympia. The modern train with two carriages also had air conditioning left at 9 o’clock on the dot. There are no railings along the track or crossing gates. The train just blows its whistle at road crossings and just heads straight on. Health and safety is not too high on the Greek list of things to do.
The new cruise liner which arrived early in the morning has already had coaches collecting passengers and they have gone off on their trips. Olympia is roughly 25 miles from Katakolon and the train took 55 minutes.
We headed straight for the entrance to the ruins as it is some days anything between 33 and 41 degrees during the day time. As the Olympics have been in London this year we decided we did need to visit the grounds of the first Olympic Games. The first Games took place 776 BC and this was treated as the first event in Greek history. The first sport was men’s sprinting and competitors were local. From 720 BC athletes competed naked and women were excluded from spectating. The Temple of Zeus was constructed at Olympia during 470-456 BC. During the 8th and 7th centuries BC wrestling, boxing, equestrian events and boys competitions were added. The elite of many cities came to compete and they provided victory trophies until the Romans took charge in 146 BC when entry was restricted to Greeks only. Local cities disputed control of the games but a sacred truce guaranteed safe conduct to spectators and competitors. As part of a pagan festival the Christians did not approve of the games and they were banned by Theodosius I in AD 393.
551 AD the earthquake destroyed much of the site. 600 AD the river Alfeios overflowed and started to bury the site in silt. In 1875 a German excavation team began unearthing the ruins and the work continues today although very slowly. Several areas have had reconstruction work but although the EC have given a vast amount it will take many years for the work to be complete if ever.
The cruise liner passengers don’t have enough time for the museum but it is wonderful. The vast amount of time and money which has gone into the museum is a tribute to the staff that have obviously spent hundreds of hours on the research to make it such a museum to be proud of. Everything is displayed well and all the exhibits have at least three languages of explanations.
We found a taverna for lunch and enjoyed cold refreshments in the shade. We noticed the coaches arriving for Olympia and when we got back to the boat at around 4.30 a new cruiser had arrived but left soon after 6 pm. Apparently, 440 cruise boats come into Katakolon every year which provides harbour dues, coach driver jobs and may be a few visitors to the town for souvenirs but we actually didn’t see many people wandering around.
We did have a strange experience. The evening before a gentleman on a bike was giving out cards to all the boats regarding rooms or fresh fruit and vegetables so Jim thought we could go and get some fruit. We followed the directions and just happen to meet the chap on the way. On the card it showed some steps, up we went and I think there many have been 60 plus to a veranda where his Dad was sitting outside his front door under his marvellous grape vine in the shade. The house must have been original with another next door which was now turned into rooms with bathrooms for visitors. The view was out of this world across the bay and looking south.
In their garden they grow tomatoes, peppers, figs, grapes, olives, cucumber and many other vegetables. They also produce wine and olive oil which we had to taste before we brought. They were very proud of their garden and had up until the last couple of years made a living out of letting out their rooms with the view to die for and selling their garden produce to visitors. They blame the cruise liners reducing their prices and so less people are travelling by car to the area. A lovely couple with a son who is doing his best for his parents. Of course, we came away with two big bags of fresh items and it was great to experience such a simple way of life.
A 24 foot sailing boat with a German couple and two young children came and moored next to us the day before. Last night when the wind decided to blow into the harbour the little boat rolled back and forth and then see-sawed up to the wall and back and luckily they came back around midnight before any damage was done. They had travelled all the way from the foot of Italy in this boat which they had towed by car from Munich and we were worried about the way the 4 and 8 year olds just walked the ropes to get on the quay. Not a dinghy or life raft or life jackets in sight but they were just on their holiday adventure which they believed would make the girls more aware of the dangers if they experience them. We said goodbye this morning and wished them a safe journey as they are heading north into the NW winds. Rather them than me!