Writings Index

Profiles of Greece

A Fading Art

The Golden Age of Sifnos

Have you written anything factual or fictional about Greece that you'd like to contribute?
Contact David

Profiles of Greece
Nicholas Econopouly

May 29, 1964

For several month we have been planning to take one of the tours to Delphi and the Mt. Parnassos country. A short time ago we decided to rent an automobile instead, take along three of the children -- this would give us more mobility to explore some of the places less frequented by tourists. As it turned out, it was a good decision and the expense was only slightly more than it would have been for a tour for two. We also had a large trunk in which we could store any colored rugs and artifacts we might pick up along the way.

The road from Athens, lightly traveled during the week, passes through some historic old places on its 3-4 hour journey to Delphi. It passes Daphni, then Eleusis, Erythrai and Thebes. The latter today is generally uninteresting town of about 12,000 its historic places destroyed by the waves of conquerors who swept through it during the many centuries. It is situated, however, on a rich and fertile plain on a road which leads straight across to Livadia, almost with a turn. Along the road we saw numerous gypsies, dressed in colorful clothing and sitting in their horse and mule-drawn wagons. We found Livadia also uninteresting, although there are some ruins there, including a Frankish castle. We stopped only long enough to walk through the small outdoor vegetable market on one side of its side-streets and to fill the children up on souvlakia and orange soda.

From Livadia, the mountains begin in earnest. We caught our first view of Parnassos from there, a great mammoth with lines of snow along its desolate crest. The road, a good one, two lanes and paved, winds its way along the base of the mountain, occasionally moving a short way up its side. We followed it for a time, then turned off on a side road to visit the monastery of Hosios Loukas. We stopped there only for a few minutes, long enough to admire the magnificent mosaics in the interior of the church and to wander through the peaceful grounds and under the archways around it.

The village of Arachova, only seven miles from Delphi, was our first real treat. We caught a first glimpse of it from several miles away; it is perched impossible on a slope of Parnassos, its buildings in layers one above the other. The road curve around the side of the mountain to it, then suddenly narrows down to a single lane as it comes into the town. Leading up and down from this are tiny lanes and steps and the only place to park is a small platea drying in the sun. On the other side of the platea were lines of shops, their fronts and exterior walls decorated with magnificently colored - (rich reds, blues, oranges, greens) and patterned shoulder bags, blankets, rugs, bedspreads, dresses, and skirts, tablecloths. We went into one, got an idea of the price scale (about half of that in New York), moved into another and began the process of bargaining, into another and got more serious and finally into the final shops to make purchases at one-quarter of the New York prices. We got a couple of 6 x 9 brightly-patterned rugs ($6.00 each) and a few shoulder bags, then began thinking about the serious business of eating. And there, as far as we are concerned, we found another reason for Arachova's fame and glory: its food and superb red wine. We went into a small restaurant and were immediately led to the kitchen by the owner. There he pointed out the pots and trays of food cooking, delmathakia (meat in grape leaves, with lemon sauce), rich stews, trays of baked potatoes and eggplants, lamb, macaroni. We made our choices, watched as he brought out plate after plate of food, saw it disappear as we and the children assaulted it, ordered more, ate warm, fresh bread, washed it down with red wine -- magnificent!! After about an hour of this, plus some yogurt made from goat's milk, we paid our bill ($2.00) and made our way back to the car, fully satisfied that we had taken Arachova by storm.

Delphi. The myth is that Zeus had two eagles, that one started flying from the sunrise, the other from the sunset and where they met is Delphi, the center of the earth, its navel. As you look around, you understand the reason for the myth. It is wild, dramatic, awe-inspiring country, wave after wave of mountain range moving out from the deep valley, the sides rising suddenly and abruptly. It's a place of sharp crags, of desolate peaks with eagles soaring around them, of sudden tiny waterfalls. The valley is deep and incredibly still and peaceful and there is an abundance of trees and rich green vegetation. As you wander among the ruins, it is the setting which most impressed you; the ancient Greeks chose well in selecting their holiest of places. We visited the ancient theater, found it impressive but we were awed and inspired by the setting. We walked down the Sacred Way, past the Temple of Apollo, stood by the ancient treasury of Athens -- and everywhere it was the same thing, those mountains, that valley, the eagles soaring. After some time of searching, we found the stadium, a long one situated on one of the few level places on the side of a mountain; it is in remarkable state of preservation. We visited the round Temple of Athena, of which only three columns stand erect, explored the ruins of the gymnasium, wandered along the quiet, tree-shaded paths and sat and enjoyed the contrasting wild beauty and tranquility of the place around the sacred spring. We ended our trip tot he ruins of Delphi with a visit to the museum, a totally inappropriate modern building which nevertheless succeeds in displaying its treasures well. Here we saw the impressive charioteer, the only display in a large well-lit room. It is smaller than we expected, of bronze, robes flowing, living and calm, with eyes that are piercing and catch your attention.

The children enjoyed Delhi, too. They liked the theater. They enjoyed the stadium and we clocked Matthew as he ran from one end to the other. But most of all they enjoyed the wonderful foot-long lizards, which ran from rocks and into the undergrowth as you approached. And the small snakes and the giant frogs in the hidden little pools and those eagles soaring.

The modern village of Delphi has little to commend it. There are hotels, inexpensive and with magnificent view but it is essentially a tourist town and there is much that is phony about it, including the jazz blaring out of juke boxes at night. We did wander through the tourist shops, however, talked with inhabitants who were finding sudden wealth and we ate and slept well.

The second day was one of exploring the off-tourist roads and villages. During the time at Delphi, we had been greatly impressed by the view to the south. The valley, flat and curving around the base of the dramatic mountains, stretched to the Gulf of Corinth; we could see thousands of neat rows of olive trees, occasional little villages, the seaport town of Itea and the Gulf and across the blue and purple mountains of Peleponessus. We took that direction, followed the good but winding road down the mountain and moved into the Amphissa olive grove country. A few brief stops to look around and we were in Itea, the ferry point for cars going across the Gulf. Instead we chose to move along the Gulf toward the village of Desphina; we checked and were told beforehand that the road was good. Finding little of particular interest in Itea, we drove on.

The road base was good -- asphalt as far as Desphina. The difficulty, though, was that it is a one-lane road, climbs at a sharp angle, has practically no shoulder but does have sheer drops of hundreds of feet and the hairpin turns are numerous. We made our way up slowly and carefully. Except for one truck moving down, there was no traffic and in this case the driver backed to a place where he could pull partly off the road and we carefully made our way around him. We were a little tense most of the way but the view, again, was well worth the uneasiness and once on the crest, the drive was comfortable. There were few signs of habitation, only a shepherd with his flock, an old woman leading some donkeys. Vegetation was sparse, except for bright red poppies which lined the road and worked their way out into the fields. And then we were in Desphina.

Desphina is a small agricultural town which supplements its income by manufacturing those colored fabrics we saw in Arachova. It also has a fine platea with a huge plane tree shading the cafenion tables and chairs under it. It was a good place to stop. We ordered feta cheese, retsina, village bread and the children go their regular orange drink. It was a quiet and pleasant place; villagers sat at other tables, occasionally looked at us with curiosity. Finally, one villager came over, this curiosity more than he could suppress and then there were a few others. We answered a few of their questions, they told us about a factory being constructed in Andikira. Then there was the sudden "hello, boy!" of the inevitable villager who had spent 10 or 20 or 30 years in America, returned to Greece in his final years to live in magnificent luxury on his monthly social security check … and to serve as an enthusiastic public relations representative for America. We sat, ate and chatted for about an hour, were about to leave when we heard chanting. It was a funeral procession, led by three priests. The men on the platea rose from their chairs in respect. Four men carried the fragile-looking coffin which was partly open. Behind walked the relatives and friends of the deceased, dressed in their best clothing of ill-matched coats and jackets for the men, black dresses and shawls for the women. It was an old person and there was little wailing. The procession passed and the platea crowd sat down and resumed its conversation.

We left, heading for Andikira. It was a pleasant feeling having 15-20 people waving and shouting "Kalo taxithee" ("Good trip") as we drove off.

It was a dirt road from Desphina to Andikira but as far as dirt roads go in Greece, it was a good one. We stopped at one point near a canyon and the children were introduced to their first live echo. I barked like a dog; the echo barked back. Cindy looked disturbed -- what was a dog doing in the canyon? We explained somewhat. And then we took turns barking, howling, growling, shouting, yipping and screeching, and the echo did its work faithfully. Second treat for the children was a sheltered little cove, surrounded by pleasant fields and with mountains as a backdrop, where they swam for a half-hour. Matthew also found an assortment of strange fish, a crab, several starfish and a wide assortment of other denizens of the deep.

Andikira is a strange combination of old and new. It's a seaport village. The old section consists of ancient-looking stone houses, dirt roads and paths, donkeys tied to trees, goats and sheep. The new section has automobiles and trucks, paved roads and curbs under construction, sidewalks. A private aluminum company is establishing a plant there; it will employ three thousand workers, far more than presently live in the area and a village to house, supply, and entertain them is being constructed. Dust flies high as huge trucks, bulldozers, cranes and cement mixers do their work. No wonder the villagers at Desphina talked excitedly about the new factory. It will be a strange sight, a strange new way of life for the people, what with sidewalks, paved streets, automobiles, movie theaters, electricity and jobs there. It is especially strange because the old and new are side-by-side, so close together. It is the kind of place that sociologists should spend time watching.

The road to Distomon, and then on to the main road, was paved and excellent.

We made one more foray into Arachova, for more food, more good wine and more bargaining. We came away victorious. The children wandered through the town making friends; at one point there was a shout from the back of a truck as Cindy and David rode by. It seems a man had gotten a new truck, took the American children for a short spin. He never dreamed that they would d have appreciate a ride on a plodding old donkey far more.

It was a full two days and we drove back to Athens, where we stuffed ourselves and the children with souvlakia and headed for bed.

Back to Index  


Rosetta Stone Greek Language Courses

Travel Insurance

Flight Information

Greece Information

Not finding what you're looking for?....
Try a Search!

Email us: Info@GlobeMerchant.com
copyright © 1999 GreeceWorld