Postcard from Delphi, Greece.
At 7.00am, after siting through numbing cold at the foyer of Melia Hotel (Athens) for about 10 minutes, the call from the travel agent finally came through. Our bus, a black Mercedes coach was waiting outside the hotel. It was our first morning in Athens and I loved everything about the city. Well not exactly everything given that I was not happy with the room that they had booked us in (it was the size of my campus cubicle, quite disappointing for a five-star hotel) and the biting cold at the foyer. However, the breakfast made up for the hotel’s delinquencies.
The drive from the airport the previous night was wondrous, a 35-minute journey through immaculate roads and lit tunnels; gazillions of street lights and clustered houses in the horizon with their lights on that seemed like shiny specs of gemstones scattered along the coast. We got to the city centre at about half past eleven and it surprised us how busy Athens was. The roads were infested with cars and human traffic ruled the sidewalks. By the time we were settled in bed and nodding off at 1.00am, I was for the first time in a long while not worried about sleeping late but praying that daylight would come sooner. I could not wait to take in the grandeur of Athens at daytime.
We dragged our travel bags (and ourselves) out of the freezing lobby, only to be slapped with brutal summer heat that rendered our bomber jackets and scarfs useless. The driver, a tall Caucasian guy dressed in formal wear and donning a red & navy blue stripped tie and black Ray Ban sunglasses walked towards us to help with the luggage. He flashed a warm smile accompanied with a nod and then proceeded to haul our bags into the cargo storage. His taciturn nature (and expensive sunglasses, black nonetheless) had him oozing this macho aura that got me convinced that he doubled up as a hitman. Or James Bond. All of a sudden, I was not worried about The Cyclops coming alive, or any other spine-tingling Greek legends for that matter!
We got into the bus and found a number of tourists already settled in. Luckily, they had all refrained from taking the front seats right behind the driver which we gladly took up. We had approximately 180km to cover before we got to Delphi, an archaeological site which in medieval times was considered the place where heaven and earth met, where man was closest to God.
To fully immerse myself in Greece’s splendour, I needed an uninterrupted view, one that I could only get from the wide front window. I was more excited about the expected changing scenery and views along the way more than the promise of our final destination, given that the ancient world and history in general have never been up my alley. On the other hand, the mister wished that we had taken a plane to Delphi. Being a self-proclaimed historian, he could not wait to experience the archaeological site’s magic as he visualised the many oracles from their place of origin.
Right after we settled into our seats, a slender lady with blond hair styled in a bob cut and attired in a yellow knee-length dress walked into the bus. She grabbed a mic from the dashboard and introduced herself as Mika, our guide for the day. Her high-pitched voice seemed to conflict with the wrinkles on her face which gave the impression that she was in her late fifties. At exactly half past seven, we were on our way out of Athens.
I remember noticing how unkempt the streets in Athens appeared in the few minutes we had stood outside the hotel, which made me wonder whether we were staying in the downtown area. As we drove within the city before hitting the freeway, we were met with the same unsightly views, trash scattered all over the roads, buildings that looked dull and dilapidated and electric buses that looked like distant cousins to our old Kenya Busses. The impact of the country’s bankruptcy was evident. Mika promptly informed us that the city council workers had been on strike for a while, hence the tacky streets.
However, as we drove out of the city, one would have thought we were suddenly in a new colony. My jaw dropped at the sight of mountains covered in white akin to the alps, something I have always wanted to see. Shortly after, my eyes were treated to rolling hills of greenery and large tracts of land on which grew an array of plants; from olive trees to rice fields and various nuts including pistachios and almonds. There were plenty of sunflower farms too stretching from the road into the yonder where the land met the hills, the yellow and green backdrop offering one of the most arresting views I had witnessed in a while.
Mica explained the unfolding scenary as we drove along. At some point, about two hours into the journey, the jet lag took a toll on me, and the fact that we had only had four and a half hours of sleep the previous night made it worse. I reclined my seat and succumbed to the force of nature, but not before waking up my travel partner who had blacked out right after the bus engine came to life! It was his turn to take notes hehe.
After about three hours, we stopped for some refreshments at a quaint convenience store. I woke up to Mica’s shrieking voice explaining that the store had the best ice-cream in Greece and that we should try their signature ice cream, Kaimaki. This was apparently made out of mastic gum (also used for bubble gum) whose trees were grown in Greece.
The mister, always playing it safe, went for Vanilla ice cream which was ok. I heeded Mika’s advice and gladly so because the Kaimaki was piquantly mind-blowing! I found myself going for two more scoops, this time mixing it with pistachio. The explosion of flavours in my mouth was too much to handle, but the dreamy view from the back of the store where we stood while licking our ice creams was what stole the moment. After about half an hour, we were back in the coach headed to the home of the oracle of Apollo.
We drove uphill through narrow roads in the middle of this whimsical town with cute little cottages that had pots of flowers hanging from their tiny balconies. By the time we got to Delphi at the top of the hill overlooking a valley of Olive grooves, I was sure that I had witnessed every possible magnificence that the countryside of Greece had to offer. But like a gorgeous witty woman, she kept surprising me.