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Day 14 - On the road again


Location: Olympia

It was with mixed feelings that we packed up our gear and boarded our 12:15 ferry back to the Peloponnese. Those five nights on Kefalonia were the longest stretch in one place, and it was starting to feel like home.

The ferries here are so casual it is almost unnerving. There’s no big corralling of cars or people, the men on the dock wear flip flops but no shirts, there are no lanes, no attendants on the docks, and the cars on the boat are packed like a game of Tetris, so only the driver can be present at its parking.

We grabbed inside seats by a full length window, boldly opened the curtains and ate our picnic lunch during our 90 minute ride.

The first half hour east of Killini were as we expected from before: fields and pumpkin stands.

We stopped for gas at a fairly major station, but they would not take a credit card, only cash. We passed by a couple smaller stations knowing it would be the same. We finally found one that would take our card, a combination gas station, car dealership, and personal home.

We have been paying cash for everything other than our pre-paid rooms, but as the summit talks and bank lines continue, we are getting more cautious with the cash. (There have been a number of times when people cannot break a bill larger than 20 … and once, even a ten)

As we moved inland, the landscape took a decidedly un-touristy and sad turn. We started seeing a lot more dilapidation, Roma beggars, so many buildings for sale, and mountains and mountains of trash bags piled up all along the highway. This is the face of suffering Greece. The Greece of massive unemployment, pension cuts, reduced government spending, trade and tourism slumps. We felt like we were at the back door. We suspect the road from Athens to Olympia is kept better (the front door, the one for the tour buses), but few must arrive from the West, from the alley.

And then oddly, but sadly not surprisingly, everything got green and pretty and clean as we entered the small one-trick town of Olympia. There are no Air BNBs here, so we are at the Europa Hotel, just up the hill from the site. It is the most tourist-centric place we have seen. When we pulled into the parking lots, a tour bus was pulling away. Inside was a small army of smiling servile staff and in the courtyard was a pool, with bar service, full of French and English speakers. It is lovely and clean and verdant, but it seems a little false. The Best Western recently bought it.

We went for a swim and a read by the pool and then dressed for dinner. Our guide book actually recommended this hotel as one of the best restaurants in town, and it is very charmingly situated. The tables and chairs sit on grass (grass is rare here) overlooking a lush valley, and the sun sets charmingly behind a distant hill. The fruit trees around the tables drip with candles, there are cloth napkins and multiple forks at every place setting, and the paths are lined with carefully placed roses bushes. The wait staff is charming, if a bit overly deferential. While it may be that Greece functions largely on tourist dollars, this feels a bit like those resorts in Mexico: a beautiful spot built solely to pamper non-natives. Oh well, this too is a very real side of Greece, and we are seeing them all. Tomorrow, like all good pilgrims to the Peloponnese, we are off to the Olympics.