Feb 12, 2006

Greece Day #2

The second day of our trip to Greece back in December was quite a day. We woke up early so that we could take a turn bus to the ruins of the Oracle at Delphi which is on Mt. Parnassus.

Our tour guide, I think her name was Vicki, always referred to herself in the third person. She spoke with a funny syntax: "The mountain is very old it is. Listen to Vicki because the mountain is very old is the mountain." (or something like that.) Her version of history was very Grecocentric. She may have been right, but I was often given the feeling that her claims would not stand up to rigorous investigation. Anyways...the day got a slow start because of a nationwide strike. It was better to be on a private tour bus than trying to get places without the metro...which we did the next day.

The drive to Delphi was many hours long under ominous clouds. The scenery was quite pretty once we left the city. The rock that the mountains are made up of is different than in Israel so despite many similarities, I felt like I was in a foreign terrain. We stopped in a tourist trap gift shop along the way where a donut cost eighty million euros and you could buy a Greek samurai sword or a musket.

Delphi was amazing. The location is high up on Mt. Parnassus near a ski village and overlooking a giant forest of olive trees. Most of the remains of Delphi of any delicacy were in the museum built on the spot. The structures are still outside exposed to the elements. I should say here that the clouds opened up and we were freezing and soaked when we were not in the museum.

Basically, Delphi was a temple dedicated to Apollo where they had an old, ugly, stupid woman eat laurel leaves, get high and scream in tongues. The priests would 'interpret' the ravings of the old bat and these interpretations were used by the 'consultants' who came to ask for advice. This place was one of the centers of the ancient world.

Anyways, the three outdoor highlights were:
1) Being told that walking with shoes on the main path to the temple was an affront to the gods...while we continued to stomp our way along on the path, led by Vicki.

2) Being told that there was an actual stone called the Omphalos- navel of the world- which the old bat had to be touching on order to get her visions. There were more accurately 2 stones. One Greek one and one Roman one. (The period that Delphi was used as a place of worship ranged for almost 3 thousand years...spanning both empires.) The Greek one was preserved in the climate controlled museum. The Roman one was left to erode in the elements... I thought it quite interesting the implicit slap being given to the Roman conquerors.

3) Learning about and seeing the "Wall of Liberty". Apparently, when a slave did a good deed, he might be freed by his master if the master came to Delphi, made a sacrifice and etched the deed and the slave's name in the wall.

Indoors, we saw many beautiful statues. The indoor highlights were:
1) Noting the constant theme: "There used to be even greater treasures here, but the British stole them and put them into the British Museum." This is the theme that will continue the rest of the trip...these Greeks are really not happy about their heritage on display in London!

2) Hearing about the statue of the 'best friend' of a king that was so beautiful that it was legendary. The statue made in tribute to this friend is truly beautiful...and led some to believe they were more than friends...

3) Learning that there was a recent discovery that one of the stone etchings found contains an ancient music notation system...with possibility of hearing for the first time what the music of the ancient Greeks sounded like. The researchers aren't ready yet to put on a concert.

Later, we had a nice lunch at an inn where Hillary Clinton stayed and where a Japanese government minister was visiting. A table with about 20 Japanese including the minister was about 15 feet from us.

On the way back, we stopped at a single store in the skiiing village. It was a tourist trap, but it was filled with things that we actually considered buying. We bought a woven wall hanging depicting a seaport. Elana picked it out. I negotiated a 20 euro drop in price. He agreed too easily...we probably got ripped off anyway.

Oh yeah, it started snowing while we were in the village. First snow of the year. Very beautiful and cold. It was fun to watch it stick on the ground...we didn't have time to stop and make snowballs or snowmen. Besides, my fingers were cold.

On a final note, all along the roads in the rural areas there were little shrines. They looked like birdhouses from the crudest materials to miniature Taj Mahals. It's a Greek Orthodox thing to do. Vicki said that the locals place shrine wherever they are in an accident and survive or even if they are almost in an accident. The Greeks are not the best drivers apparently because these little boxes were EVERYWHERE.

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