September 17, 2017 – When I was researching tours to the ruins of Delphi, I could not find one that was both high quality yet cost effective. In Greece, they have a problem with unlicensed tour guides. There might be a cheap tour that sounds great, but the guide might not be licensed. There are signs everywhere warning about fraudulent guides, so it’s definitely something to keep in mind when planning a trip to Greece. Anyway, I found a few tours that looked ok, but they either had a ton of people on them or they were extremely expensive.
You might be wondering how I knew about going the ruins of Delphi as a day trip from Athens. Well, I’ve been there before. So why would I go again? It was incredible, I wanted to see it again, and I wanted Eric to see it.
Through my research, I eventually found a tour that looked promising with JG Tours. We would have a private driver for the entire day (9 hours) to take us to Delphi and Hosios Loukas Monastery. The price of admission to the sites wasn’t included, but those were not expensive. Our driver wouldn’t be able to go into the ruins with us, but he could at the monastery. It was the best option I could find so we booked it.
Fast forward to the tour day: George, our driver, was waiting for us in the lobby of our hotel at 8:00 am ready to take us to the tiny town of Delphi. He was as nice as he could be and showed us to the car. We climbed into the Mercedes taxi where water bottles were waiting for us. We had brought waters with us, but we were glad to see those bottles since we were trying to drink as much water as possible.
George didn’t waste any time. The entire 2-hour ride to Delphi was filled with his vast knowledge of Greece and its incredible history. Everything we passed he made sure to tell us what we were looking at. He even showed us a video all about the ancient ruins of Delphi so we’d know what we were looking at when we walked through. The car ride alone was worth the money!
About 1.5 hours into the journey to Delphi, George asked if we would want to stop at a beautiful spot where we’d see a spectacular view of one of the little mountain towns. We said absolutely! He pulled the car over and I immediately recognized it; we stopped in this exact spot when I was there 10 years earlier! Proof below.
We arrived at the ruins of Delphi around 10:00 am passing several coach buses on the way. This clued us into the crowds that were on the way. George told us that we had about 1.5 hours to walk through the ruins and then go through the museum. He would meet us at the exit of the museum to take us into town for lunch.
We bought our tickets to the ruins and made our way through. Most people don’t know anything about Delphi, but it was a very significant place for the ancient Greeks. Delphi was home to the Pythia, the oracle at the Temple of Apollo in Delphi known for her prophecies. Greek leaders would consult her and she would go into a trance-like state (now thought to have been from natural gases bubbling through the rocks). She would utter some gibberish and the priests would interpret for the leaders seeking her wisdom. Wild stuff.
If that doesn’t impress you, Delphi was also considered the center of the world by the ancient Greeks. It is said that Zeus, in his quest to find the center of the world, released 2 eagles to fly around the world. Their paths crossed in Delphi, so that became the center of the world. Zeus then tossed a stone in the air. It landed in Delphi. This stone is now the Omphalos (navel of the earth) which can be seen in the museum at Delphi.
While the history of Delphi is incredible, its location is pretty spectacular too.
After the ruins, we made our way to the archaeological museum. I was glad we saved the museum for last not only because of the crowds but because it was hot as Hades outside (do you see what I did there?).
It was so amazing to see the items that they were able to recover from the ruins of Delphi. The history of Delphi dates back to 1600 BC, but most of the artifacts that can be seen today are from the 6th century BC. It’s incredible the statues and ruins of buildings have survived that long. It’s even more incredible to be able to stand nose to nose with 2,600-year-old Greek statues. I think about something I have in my possession right now being in a museum for someone to look at 2,600 years from now… it’s almost unbelievable. The world won’t even be around then, will it? Did the Greeks think the same thing that long ago? The things I ponder…
Once we got through the museum, we saw George waiting for us near his car. He welcomed us back and we were on our way to the modern day town of Delphi for lunch. He told us we were ahead of schedule and he would love to take us to the Temple of Athena if we were up for it. We said absolutely! When in Greece!
After the Temple of Athena, it was time for some more delicious Greek food. George asked us if we liked authentic Greek food. It was a unanimous and simultaneous YES so he told us he would bring us to his favorite family-run Greek restaurant in town. He explained that he would wait for us while we went and ate. We weren’t about to let George eat lunch alone, so Eric asked him if he would want to join us for lunch. He was delighted and said of course!
When we arrived at the restaurant, were warmly greeted and seated at the best table right on the edge of their patio overlooking the sea below the mountains. It could not have been more picture perfect.
George asked if we wouldn’t mind if he ordered for the table. While I’m a bit picky, I like to be adventurous when I travel, so I said sure! He explained to us that typically when Greeks eat together, everyone eats family style sharing everything. So we ordered 2 small plates, 1 salad, lamb lollipops, and lamb burgers. He told us he was going to order a different salad other than Greek because he wanted us to try one of their fresh salads with local fruits. I was so excited.
The food started coming out and I was yet again in Greek food heaven. Our first plates were zucchini balls (basically fritters made from zucchini, onion, and other things that I can’t remember), fried halloumi cheesecakes, and the salad. OH MY GOSH, IT WAS ALL AMAZING! You might scoff at me typing in all caps, but it’s completely necessary. Simple lower case words just wouldn’t do this meal justice.
This was by far my absolute favorite meal of our entire trip and I think Eric would agree. Yes, the food and the view were incredible, but having George there explaining everything we were eating and it’s significance in Greek culture just made the entire experience so much better.
We were bombarding poor George with so many questions about Greek culture because we were so curious. For instance, baklava: who invented it? The Greeks or the Turks? George told us depending on where you go, you’ll get a different answer. But the Turkish baklava is much different than the Greek baklava. So there you go! Also, on the subject of gyros, lamb was never a typical meat option for Greek gyros. Chicken and pork are the most authentic. Lamb was introduced when the Jewish population grew in Greece as another alternative to pork. Interesting, right?
Speaking of lamb, the lamb burger came out and let me tell you I think we all need to start making burgers out of lamb from now on. It was just so good. This was not a traditional burger, it was actually just a meat patty. But it was juicy and so flavorful. Eric ate most of the lamb lollipops because I don’t do bones. No pictures because we were too wrapped up in conversation.
After we were done with our food, we paid and then George called our waiter over. He said something to him in Greek and the guy nodded his head and walked away. We obviously had no idea what they were saying. A couple of minutes later, out came these lovely plates with baklava on them. They made their baklava different than the traditional squares. These were little roll-ups with honey drizzled on top. Best of all, it was on the house! It tasted incredible. The honey in Greece tasted almost like maple syrup. It was so good!
We were stuffed and so happy. After a quick bathroom break, we were on our way to our final stop of the day: Hosios Loukas Monastery.
We arrived at the monastery and George was confused. It looked like there were a lot of people there. It was typically a quiet place not consumed by hoards of tourists like many of the other sites in Greece. He decided to take us in through the back of the monastery rather than the front so we could avoid the big crowds. He was pretty sure it was a group of locals there for a baptism and not a bunch of tourists. It was Sunday after all.
We could tell how familiar George was with this monastery. He brought us through all the little buildings explaining the history along the way. We passed several monks and he knew them all. While it is very old, it is still an active and functioning monastery today.
The monastery was founded in the early 10th century AD by St. Luke (the hermit monk, not the evangelist), whose remains are still in the monastery to this day (see picture below). It is believed that his body exuded a healing oil called Myron. Those seeking miracles would sleep next to the tomb hoping to absorb the oil from his body. The church where St. Luke’s body resides is absolutely stunning. The architecture is unique and quite unlike any other churches we had visited so far on our journey through Europe.
Once we had seen most of the monastery, George told us a visit wouldn’t be complete without a proper blessing. He took us to another building where we were met with a locked door. George told us to wait just moment while he found someone. He came back a minute later with a monk and a key! The kind monk opened the door and welcomed us inside.
George brought us to a table where there was a glass carafe full of a clear liquid and a bowl of Turkish delight. He handed us small shot glasses and poured the clear liquid from the glass carafe. He explained that the monks at Hosios Loukas make raki (the Greek version of grappa). It’s an extremely strong liquor made from fermented grape skins left over from wine production. George said a quick blessing and we all took the shots (George had barely a taste). Then we had Turkish delight to chase the shots. I’ve never been a fan of Turkish delight and it was Eric’s first time having it (also not a fan). But it was welcomed after the extra strong “blessing”.
With our visit to the monastery complete, we made our way back to the car. But first, I had to get a picture of Eric with our new friend George!
Our ride back was a little quieter. We were so tired. As we neared Athens, George gave us a little more history. We asked him what the locals thought about all the graffiti around the city. It was everywhere and covered most buildings. George said the locals didn’t think much about it. None of it was gang related like in the US so it was more of an eyesore than anything.
We arrived back to the city a little early, so George took us the long way back to our hotel so he could show us some cool spots we could check out the next day. I can’t say enough how much we loved our tour with him!
It was 5:00 pm when we said our goodbye’s to George. Our dinner on the rooftop of our hotel wasn’t until 8:00 pm, so we went to our room to relax and take showers.
Around 7:00 pm, we were clean and ready for dinner so we decided to go wander the lobby of our hotel a bit. We hadn’t noticed the day before that the hotel was quite literally built on top of ancient ruins. They had them on display down some stairs by the concierge desk. What we could see was part of the ancient city walls built under the rule of Thermistocles around 479 BC. There was history everywhere we turned in Athens!
After checking out the old walls, we headed up to dinner. We rode the elevator up with an interesting American guy. He kinda looked like Channing Tatum; muscular, short brown hair. He was by himself and carrying a metal briefcase like you see in movies like Mission Impossible. He was very chatty.
Once we got up to the restaurant, he got out with us. We were greeted and asked if we had reservations. We said yes, Mr. Tatum said no. We were seated, and Channing was brought to his own table in a corner. He opened the briefcase and pulled out a laptop where he worked for probably an hour. Why am I telling you this? It was weird. This was not a “work friendly” restaurant. It was a very nice, white table cloth, tiny portions type of place with an insanely beautiful view of the Acropolis. I really wanted to know what he was doing. My colorful imagination says “spy” but my reasonable left-brain says he was just a friendly (and confident) guy traveling for work. For “work” *wink*.
This was definitely one of our splurge meals. We couldn’t stay in a hotel with a rooftop restaurant and not eat there! Our meal started with bread served with 2 dipping sauces, followed by a chilled mint soup to cleanse our pallets (see? fancy).
To start, we ordered zucchini balls to compare the ones we had at lunch and a bottle of local wine.
For the main meal, I ordered the lemon risotto with asparagus and Eric ordered the lamb chops. Everything was amazing!
We obviously had to get dessert to finish a wonderful meal, so we ordered a golden chocolate sphere filled with crème brulée and creme anglais. Yes, it was incredible.
Overall, we had an exhausting yet fantastic day. We would be waking up early to see all of Athens the next day so it was off to bed after our amazing dinner!
Continue reading the Travel Diary here: Day 20: Athens Sightseeing