Taking public transportation in Europe is a bit like hopping into the clown car at the circus. If you’re even a little claustrophobic (like me) or averse to having any part of your body touch a strange, sweaty person (like me), then each trip on the bus or metro becomes a test of whether you can make it to your stop without having a meltdown. For this reason, I tend to plan out my days so that I use public transport as little as possible and hoof-it wherever I need to go. Of course, that means I do a great deal of walking. On one day I must have walked 10 miles just getting from here-to-there in my planned-out itinerary. It all started on my walk to Filippapos Hill, which is the closest hill to the Acropolis and rewards those who ascend with a view of the Acropolis that’s even better than the one you’ll get from the top of Lycabettus Hill (the one I huffed-and-puffed over yesterday just to get to the cable car). Filippapos is also where some important monuments and tombs were found that date back to the 4th and 5th centuries B.C. I spent a few hours wandering all over that hill—to Pnyx on its north side, which was once an important meeting place in ancient Athens, to the west side of the hill with its views of Attica and the sea port, and all around looking at various tombs that can be found here-and-there.
Then, when I finally descended Filippapos, I strolled along the west road that lies between the Acropolis and Filippapos. Along this road are various ancient sanctuaries, which were built to pay tribute to various pagan gods. As I passed the Sanctuary of Pan (who, if you recall your Greek mythology, is the son of Hermes, part-man and part-goat, and known for being a wonderful musician), I heard the soft sound of a flute in the air. For a brief moment, I was captivated by the sound and imagined it was coming from Pan himself. Then, I recognized the tune: Blowin’ in the Wind. Somehow, I doubted that Pan had that one in his repertoire. Must be a street performer being cute, especially considering a meltemi was blowing furiously for the third day in a row. (A ‘meltemi’ is a blustery north wind that occurs here in the months of July and August.)
After a full week of exploration in Athens, I spent my last day on the mainland in Delphi. It’s a three-hour bus ride to the village of Delphi, whose ancient site is nestled into the side of Mt. Parnassos (3,280 feet up) and overlooks the Gulf of Corinth. There are several archaeological sites that date back to the 4th century B.C., the two most notable of which are the Sanctuary of Apollo and the Sanctuary of Athena. The former is where you can find the ruins of the Temple of Apollo, which is where the actual ‘oracle’ at Delphi could be found. The ‘oracle’ was actually a priestess at the sanctuary who, after a cleansing ritual, inhaled intoxicating fumes from a chasm, then spoke in what was believed to have been the voice of Apollo himself. (As I write this, I can’t get the image of a woman inhaling helium gases and prophesying with the voice of a munchkin out of my mind.) In true god-like fashion, all of Apollo’s ‘prophecies’ were purposely vague and could be interpreted in a variety of ways; this ensured that the god’s words could never be erroneous.
Anyhoo, that chasm has never been found.
The Sanctuary of Athena, on the other hand, is a striking ruin of a tholos, which is a circular structure surrounded by columns. Despite the fact that Delphi is most known for the oracle at the Temple of Apollo, it is the Sanctuary of Athena that is the most photographed image associated with Delphi.
I should mention that since all of these ruins were built into the side of Mt. Parnassos, this means there’s a fair amount of climbing involved to see them. Considering the fact that some of the best ruins in Athens are found atop hills, I would say that the ancient Greeks liked high places, much to the chagrin of travelers around the world.