Going Greek With Big George – Two Days In AthensEvery four years since 1936 a lighting of the Olympic flame ceremony has been held in Olympia, Greece, where the Olympic Games originated about 3,000 years ago. From the 8th century BC to the 4th century AD, the ancient games were held every four years in Olympia, located in the western Peloponnese peninsula, in honour of the god Zeus.
From Olympia the flame travels to the country that is set to host the Olympic Games via a torch relay, and eventually lights up the Olympic cauldron to mark the start of the games.
The flame burns for the duration of the Olympics and is extinguished at the closing.
Recently I had the opportunity to walk the hallowed grounds and ruins of Olympia where the ancient games were first held.
To get there we sailed into the Greek port of Katakolan aboard the magnificent five-masted ship, the Royal Clipper, as part of a seven-day Rome to Athens Amalfi Coast cruise, and from there it was just a short drive to Olympia.
There’s a real spiritual sense of history in seeing the ruins and some of the arenas where events were once held. You feel the energy and can only imagine what the atmosphere would’ve been like when the competitors of yesteryear competed butt-naked. God only knows how the fully nude and oiled up Greco/Roman wrestlers ended up, or how much sand ended up in the cracks of the competing long jumpers!
Unfortunately in the ancient games only men were able to compete and watch the games.
From Olympia we sailed into the port of Piraeus, Athens where our short two-day odyssey began. Time wasn’t on our side to discover this remarkable city fully, but fortunately we picked a taxi at the port that belonged to an extremely jovial large man named George, who had a personality that matched his girth. We fell in love with his warmth and humour, and for the next 48 hours he became our guide and friend.
After checking into our hotel, it wasn’t not long before George was taking us to the stadium where the first modern Olympic Games were held in 1896. After a quick walk around the arena and a few photos we headed just up the road to our next stop, the Greek parliament house, where we witnessed the changing of the guard.
The guards could best be described as a mix of the Village People blended with an Irish Lords of the Dance troupe, on Valium – unusual, captivating, and extremely colourful to say the least.
After witnessing the bizarre changing of the guard ceremony, we jumped back in the taxi and made our way to what George explained was his and Greece’s most popular tourist attraction, the gyros store!
While we were pretty certain that any food store would be a favourite with big George, we couldn’t fault Greek pita bread special stuffed with chips and a double dollop of garlic sauce, which we devoured while taking in the magnificent 360-degree city views from to the highest lookout in Athens, Mount Lycabettus.
Our large friend and guide couldn’t make it up to the top due to the many steps and searing heat, so he commandeered a seat in the shade and awaited our return.
From the lookout the views of the entire city all the way out to sea were dazzling, with the ancient and historical Acropolis site highlighted by the magnificent Pantheon standing out like the proverbial sore thumb.
That afternoon we perused all the major shopping areas and markets, ate more delicious Greek food, and marvelled at the many walkways and paths, which are paved with slabs of incredibly smooth marble. I can only imagine how much of a nightmare these would be to walk on after a bit of rain.
The next day we visited the Acropolis and the other ruins that are still standing on the site, and it was undoubtedly our Athens highlight. All across the city there are remnants of crumbling ruins and columns still standing, but the ancient and historical citadel, the Acropolis, along with the renowned Pantheon, are standouts. There’s also a classic ancient amphitheatre, and if the stone seats that lead down to the stage could talk, what a tale they’d tell. The amphitheatre is still used today for concerts and other cultural events.
Our Greek adventure was way too short, but with our newfound friend and guide, the behemoth George, the two days we spent in Athens will never be forgotten.
HOW TO GET THERE:
Vicki Gilden at Rose Bay Travel (02) 9371 8166
WHERE TO STAY:
Royal Olympic Hotel