Pretty much the only thing worth doing from Katakolon is to go to Ancient Olympia. The question boiled down to whether to do it on your own or as part of a guided tour. We waffled back and forth on that question and in the end decided on taking a guided tour. As with all tours, the particular guide could make or break the tour but on balance we thought we'd get more out of the experience if we had a good guide to lead the way.
The process to get assigned a to a tour group went quickly and in short time we were off the ship and meeting up with our guide on the pier next to Azamara Journey. We immediately felt comfortable with this guide, so we figured we'd done quite well on the tour guide lottery. Once our group was assembled we walked to our bus to make the trip from Katakolon to Olympia. As we left the port one thing that was clearly evident was the amount of garbage piled at the sides of the streets. It was mostly assembled at intersections and some of those looked like full blown garbage dumps. The reason was a protracted labour dispute in which the garbage in the region wasn’t being collected. The residents were getting sick of have the garbage pile up on their own property so they started taking it to the main street away from the residential streets as a statement just as much as getting it away from their homes. It would appear that everyone followed suit based on the amount of garbage piled up either side of the street we travelled. Unsightly, to say the least.
Buses are unable to get too close to Ancient Olympia, so the last portion of the trip has to be made on foot. There was something really quite special about walking towards the entrance of the site. It was a hot and sunny day - shade at anytime would be welcome sight indeed. That was something that did surprise us a bit - we had the notion that Olympia would be completely devoid of shade but that turned out to not be true. We were thankful for that reality. Ancient Olympia is a wonderful place to visit and experience. It is amazing to stand on the site among the ruins and imagine the ancient games that took place in honour of Greek god Zeus every 4 years from the 776 BC until they were abolished by Roman Emperor Theodosius in 393 AD. Historians say that there was a massive 13m tall statue of a seated Zeus located at the Temple of Zeus at Olympia but it was destroyed in the 5th century AD. That would have been an awesome sight, no doubt. Incidentally, our guide for the day was excellent - knowledgeable & personable. Our choice to take a guided tour paid off. His love of Greek history and art was so evident as was his disdain for what happened in Greece under Roman rule. His description of Greek sculpture & architecture was passionate - "simple, realistic & discreet" as was his dislike for the Roman equivalent - "hey, look at me, I'm important". With true Greek flair he dismissed the Roman built structures in Ancient Olympia.
Something that can be seen at Ancient Olympia is the location used for the ceremonial lighting of the torch for each of the modern Olympic Games since 1936. That location is on the remains of the Alter of Hera located separately on the eastern side of the Temple of Hera. The long ancient Olympic Stadium is the highlight of the site. It is not the original location of the Stadium, though, with the one we see today dating back to the 5th century BC. At the same time this Stadium was built a long vaulted tunnel called the Crypt was also constructed. Today, only one small section is fully intact, but it gives one an awesome sense of what it must have been like to enter the Stadium through this tunnel. It was impressive to see the Stadium and consider the crowd of up to 50,000 people on the sloped sides of the track watching the sporting events. The running events in the ancient games were back and forth in a straight line rather than the oblong track we know today. At either end of the ancient Stadium there is a stone line in the ground for the runners to use. We thoroughly enjoyed our time at Ancient Olympia - it will provide a lasting memory.
We walked from Ancient Olympia to the Archaeological Museum of Olympia. The museum is quite small but does have some fascinating artifacts. The highlight for us would be the remains of the east & west pediments of the Temple of Zeus - particularly the west pediment with its depiction of the battle of the Lapiths and Centaurs. At the centre of the pediment stands a calm looking god Apollo at a height of 3.09m. The museum is certainly worth the visit. From Ancient Olympia we did make a short stop in nearby Olympia Town. It seemed quite nice with some cafés and shops, although we didn’t buy anything here. On our way back to Katakolon we stopped once more at what was billed as a "shopping mall" but was really just a collection of junk souvenir shops in one building. We could have skipped that easily, but it wasn’t a long stop so we didn’t have to wait long to get back on the road and back to the port.
We returned directly to Azamara Journey one we did return to the port. It didn’t appear there was any to do in the port area had we had the time to explore. That wasn’t much of an option anyway with this being the shortest stay in any port of call on this cruise. If we had been at this port of call longer we would have opted for extended time in Ancient Olympia over anything else. No doubt.
We watched our sail away from Katakolon from the open Deck 10 and then enjoyed some wine near the pool before we went back to our room to get ready for dinner. We went to the main Discoveries Restaurant for dinner at about 8:00pm and opted for relaxing back in our room after dinner rather than any of the other options for the late evening onboard. It had been a good day even if it was a shorter stay than we had liked. We were, though, looking forward to the next day being a relaxing day at sea as Azamara Journey left Greece on its way to Kotor, Montenegro.
WHITEonline is the digital home of Gary & Linda White. We’ve been married since 1980 and live just outside Toronto in Ontario, Canada. Linda was born and raised in Toronto while Gary was born in London, England and moved to Canada at the age of 11. We enjoy travelling and taking photos while we travel. WHITEonline provides the opportunity to share some of our photos & experiences.