The Heart of Olympia
The last stop of our tour, Katakolon. The first impression I got was that it was a very small but scenic town. It had the typical waterfront, shops, and small beach that a small port would have, but the main attraction is that it serves as the cruise gateway to ancient Olympia, the origin of the first Olympic games.
You have the option to take a 40 minute taxi ride from Katakolon to Olympia, or you could do what we did and take the much cheaper route: the transit. Since the Greek economy took a hit, trains have not been running frequently... so you have to time it perfectly to see when the select trains arrive and depart. It was about a 15 minute walk from the port to get to the station.
Once we got off the Olympia train stop, we casually strolled through the scenic town that surrounded it. You really get a sense that you transported back a thousand years to get here because there was a major antique vibe everywhere you went. As usual, we didn't opt for the tour guide, so we were able to go to places that we wanted to and eat at the places we wanted to eat.
The site of Olympia is definitely a breeding ground for tourists. I think it was said that more than 4 million people visit Olympia regularly as well as its archaeological museum. The great thing about coming here around this time was that we actually got to enjoy the fair weather. I hear during the summer, this place is an oven. On the archaeological complex, they require you to pay admission to enter... so just have a few Euros handy.
All the buildings at Olympia were built for the early games or to celebrate Zeus and the other Greek gods. I recall it being one of the housing sites for the Statue of Zeus, one of the seven wonders of the world. We walked through several pillars, passageways, partial statues, steps, and stones. Some of the highlights we saw were the palaestra, where the wrestler and boxers trained. As I mentioned before, the Temple of Zeus was outlined by many footprints and stones. We didn't get to see the Temple of Hera where the Olympic flame is lit, but we got to see many other notable places.
We got to go into the stadium where the athletes competed. Just looking around at this place, you could imagine how tough it was to compete in this environment during the summer. If you could see in pictures what it looked like, the ground was very rocky and sandy.
It's amazing because the contests were usually foot races and all competitors were male and nude. The winner received an olive oil branch and a wreath from a tree planted by Hercules himself.
After we walked the entire grounds, we wandered outside the ancient site to eat at a local restaurant called Taverna Ambrosia. I can honestly say that I will never tire of Mediterranean food since it is so flavorful and robust. Not to mention, healthy! We sampled Greek specialties as pastitsio (minced lamb and macaroni), moussaka (minced meat cooked with vegetables and topped with cheese), Tzatziki (yogurt with cucumber and garlic), as well as some fried calamari.
We made the train back to Katakolon, and fortunately for us, we made it back before the rain started to pour down on us. Safe, sound, and dry.
To sum it all up, I truly enjoyed every minute of these last two weeks here. For those of you planning to take this trip, I recommend doing it around this time in the fall.