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Cruise Diary: Olympia, Greece

HAL guest George Labecki and his family sailed aboard Nieuw Amsterdam’s Mediterranean Tapestry cruise throughout Europe this past July and documented his experience in a journal. Below is an entry from their call at Olympia, Greece. Enjoy!

July 14th: Olympia, Greece
Showcasing the Background

Today was a pretty big day. We sailed from the southeast part of Greece around to the west, the Ionian Sea, and to the port of Katakolon. And much like the guide told us yesterday, the scenery has changed. The mountains are not so high, the temperatures are not so extreme, and the colors are back to a verdant green.

Today we reached out and touched history. Today lived up to our hopes that it would be a highlight day. Today we went to Olympia, the site of the ancient Olympic games.

Olympia

Olympia

Katakolon, to begin with, is a pretty little town of shops. Our guide told us that ten years ago you couldn’t even find it on a map. But the cruise lines discovered that it had a deep port and was a short distance to Olympia, so a town was born. This town is so reliant on cruise ships that the shops shut down 30 minutes before the last cruise ship leaves for the day.

Again, we had blue, cloudless skies. The color of the hills is the same color as the trees along the road — rich green. We passed by several farms, including a watermelon farm that leaves the unsellable melons in the field for the goats to eat. Our driver spun our coach through a number of tiny villages, each of which had an orthodox church as it’s centerpiece and quickly we pulled into Olympia, or at least the bus drop-off area of the gods. From there we walked.

Olympia

Olympia is a place where you bathe in history. You become saturated with the past. Today you may be surrounded by amazing ruins, the stone “tinker toys” of the past shaken by time, but there is so much left of the amazing bones of this place that it is easy to see the buildings as they once were. You can feel the presence of the crowds, the spectators, the workers, the athletes… I recalled a story that I had taught my sophomore classes. It was a story of an Athenian and Spartan boy: representatives of two very different cultures who became fast friends at the games. Now I could see the remains of the training areas about which my classes had read.

We were surrounded by outlines of houses, temples and training areas. We walked past columns that once held up the roofs of some of the greatest monuments in the ancient world. We saw footprints in stone, the remains of the bronze statues of the Olympic champions after the bronze athletes had been removed. We walked along the grass banks of the original Olympic stadium. No hard marble seats, the grassy area was meant for the comfort of the 40,000 men (and it was only men) who came to lounge with friends and fellow citizens of the great Greek city-states and cheer for their athletes. We walked through the arch where the athletes entered the stadium. We stood on those grassy banks and looked at the course below us and at the marble blocks where the races would begin. We were shown the spot, seemingly insignificant beside so many large-scale remains, where the first flames of each modern Olympic Games began. We actually walked through the temple of Hera, the only temple in Greece where you can truly do a complete walk-through.

It was pretty darn neat.

Olympia

Olympia

Next we were taken into the Olympic museum to see some of the ancient artifacts that still remain. What is left of the frieze from the east and west ends of the temple of Zeus took up the main room. They housed bronze helmets, the remains of the statue of Nike who towered over the temple and a wonderful idyllic sculpture of Hermes, among other things.

Olympia museum

statue

And of course our last stop was at the local souvenir stand. If you want to buy a cheap t-shirt with a vulgar saying on it, Olympia is for you. Or if you want to spend $300 on a Greek Urn, Olympia is for you. Just like the days of the ancient games, there is something for everyone’s tastes. We settled on a book that overlays today’s pictures of the ruins with artist renderings of what they would have looked like in ancient times. For 15 euros, that was for us.

I popped my ear buds in and had the 30-minute nap I had been hoping for. We were quickly back at the harbor in plenty of time for lunch on the Lido Deck. If you eat lunch soon after noon, you can still squeeze a 4:30 p.m. snack in so that you can make it until dinner at 8:15 p.m. Life on a cruise ship sure is tough. I’m just afraid that Nick is going to think he should have soft tacos filled with fajita meat and covered with cheese as an everyday snack.

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