Rick Steves thinks travellers to Greece would benefit from a lot of prior education about the art and history of the country because “most of the cool stuff is locked up behind glass.”
He’s right about that because without a degree in Ancient Columns and Pottery Remains, I found myself flagging after Athens. There just isn’t much of anything left in Greece and all of it requires so much reading and imagination.
Every guidebook entry sounds like this:
“Over here is the remains of a (temple/sanctuary) dedicated to (Apollo/Zeus/Athena). Back in the day there were (walls/floors/statues) which have been (removed/stolen/appropriated by colonial powers) and now live in (museums/rich people’s houses). What you see here is a (replica/picture/empty space) where once there was something glorious. Imagine how great it used to be. Also, there used to be colors. But now it’s just white stone. All over the ground.”
Will I sound shallow if I say that a couple afternoons of ruined rock and crashed out columns is enough? Maybe. But it’s still the truth.
Delos is where I hit the ruins wall. I wanted everything on this island to be more than it is.
I’m also willing to admit that I did the whole trip wrong.
What we should have done is packed some food, wine and a tent, gone over on the afternoon ferry, staked out a spot on the high point on the island and put up that tent.
Then we could have eaten a picnic under the Mediterranean sun, taken a dip in the sea, watched the sun set, eaten some cheese and drunk some wine under the stars, slept on a wild remote island in the middle of Greece and woken up to see these ruined sights before there were any tourists on the island. Then we could have hopped the first ferry back to Mykonos.
THAT would be a night worth having. And maybe I’m making that option up? It sounds a 1960s version of a Greek vacation, but it certainly seems delightful, doesn’t it?
What we actually did is we bought tickets to the 10am ferry – 20 euro – and then tickets to the site itself – 12 euro – and we wandered around for a couple hours and looked at things.
And some of the things there are beautiful.
Delos was a spiritual center of the ancient world and the birth place of Apollo and Athena. At various times over the centuries it’s been a giant shipping port and a place of religious pilgrimage. Under orders from the Oracle in Delphi (her again!) all dead bodies were purged from the island and it was decreed that no one could give birth or die there. They didn’t want anyone to be able to claim the island in any way so they could preserve it’s cultural neutrality.
I didn’t cut that straight from the guidebook but it sounds like it.
These lions are famous. They were built facing east towards the lake where Apollo was born and set to guard the temple.
They are, of course, replicas. sigh.
That’s probably why I got so excited about this floor. It’s original! That mosaic floor, the one right there in the picture, was laid over 1000 years ago.
Those tiles are minute. Probably an inch across. And all laid by hand. That kind of thing blows my mind.
So after wandering around in the hot sun we had a beer, made friends with the island cats and then we went back to Mykonos. Total time = 4 hours.
Now, on the ferry we did make friends with the Caldwells from Oregon who regaled us with tales of their 7 week tour of Greece and told us about spending Semana Santa in a remote part of Greece, driving through tiny towns that all had baby lambs spit roasted in front of their homes in celebration. Their stories made the whole trip worthwhile.
Delos itself I found hot, dusty, dry (in climate and content) and very very ruined. I needed something to make it come alive and I didn’t really find it. Perhaps next time, I’ll try for the 1960s vacation version.
Fortunately the final portion of the vacation was my favorite! Crete is next.