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Olympia with Seabourn:
Up early, with breakfast in my suite at 7.00am, I can make the stretch class before I need to leave for Olympia at 8.15. Who said there was anything lazy about cruising? I guess it is very much about what you choose to do. This trip with Seabourn is my first proper cruise and I’m definitely still learning!
This time the Seabourn Odyssey is docked in harbour and we can simply walk on-shore, something I haven’t experienced before as a cruise novice. It’s perfect for anyone with mobility issues and, since all the passport details are taken care of by the ship, we don’t have to wait to disembark. We’re ushered to waiting coaches and I’m delighted that my group of 15 or so has the redoubtable Elsa as our guide again. It turns out that leaving early is an excellent idea – we are the first ship to dock and leave – and she tells us that the other two cruise-liners are considerably larger.
Elsa obviously knows the score and her aim is to get us round the Unesco site of Ancient Olympia before what she refers to as ‘The Barbarians’ appear. It turns out that the word Barbarian does actually mean ‘people who speak another language’ – she demonstrates with spirited renditions of ‘barbarbar’ – the babbling that the ancient Greeks heard when foreigners spoke.
Olympia is nothing like I imagined – it’s in a green and fertile valley with a river running alongside the ancient ruins. The Palaestra, in the image below, was a training hall for wrestlers and other athletes and dates back to the 3rd century BC. Elsewhere we find temples, baths and what Elsa enthusiastically describes as the ancient ‘olympic village’.
I’m fascinated by Elsa’s stories – she tells us that the original games were solely for men and that the competitors were always naked. And, she tells us of one woman whose husband and son were both champions. Apparently, this lady managed to sneak into the games in disguise and was happily watching until she stood up to cheer on her son. At that point, her robe fell off and the disguise was well and truly blown. Only the status of her family saved her!
Elsa also tells us how to distinguish Greek from later Roman additions (the Greeks never used bricks). And, she explains the meaning of ‘stadium’ – simply the length which athletes had to run. At the stadium, I stifle sniggers at the ‘barbarians’ posing on the start line or ‘running’ in slow motion while their companions film.
It isn’t what I thought it would be. There’s a grassy mound around the track – spectators sat on the ground, not on the kind of stepped seating you see in a Greek theatre. And, it’s really not that large. As Elsa is at pains to explain, it isn’t a hippodrome, the chariot racing took place elsewhere – and that part isn’t excavated yet.
‘Don’t mingle with the barbarians’ she exclaims, as she leads us at some pace, on to look at the The Philippeion, a temple built to celebrate Philip’s victory at the battle of Chaeronea (338 BC) and at the ‘fake’ place where the Olympic torch is lit. She tells us that, although something of that sort DID happen in the original Olympic games, the current ritual starting in the 1920s and isn’t necessarily even where the original flame was kept burning. Then on to the museum, which now houses some of the most precious statues and carvings from Olympia.
There’s just time for a coffee in a local café before it’s back to the coach. We’ve succeeded in avoiding most of the barbarians – once we return to Katakolon the true extent of the threat is evident – the Odyssey is sandwiched in-between two colossal liners and there’s a third moored out at sea. Elsa advises us to make for lunch sooner rather than later if we are planning on staying on shore – these small ports are overwhelmed when the large cruise-liners dock.
I make my way to the café she’s recommended and call a couple of friends who haven’t been on the day trip. Wine, tzatziki, garlic prawns, meatballs and bread in the sun looking out to sea. I can’t think of a better way to enjoy lunch.
Back on the ship I shower and change into my costume. Though it’s early October the temperature is in the upper 20s – and the pool areas of the Seabourn Odyssey are sheltered from any wind. I’m curious about the ‘Caviar’ I’ve heard being ordered and ask for more information at the bar.
With Seabourn, you just need to ask and you will receive
I’m told. So, poolside caviar and champagne it is!
An experience I’d really be happy to repeat over and over again, the caviar comes perfectly presented in a mother of pearl bowl with spoon and all the appropriate trimmings. And, at the shallow end of pool, there’s a small concrete table where you can sit, with your feet in the water and your champagne and caviar on hand. Bliss!
By the time I’ve finished my caviar service, the main pool is getting a little busy. Probably more down to the fact that everyone is getting back on board than to jealousy, since the whole thing is complimentary. Nevertheless, I fancy a bit of peace and quiet and, it’s probably a good idea to move away from the bars if I want to stay sober till supper time. I end up on deck 6 where there’s a hot tub and sunbeds but no bar; it’s almost deserted so I read, sunbathe and use the hot tub on a kind of cyclical basis till the light starts to fade.
Up to deck 10, where there’s a fabulous observation bar and viewing deck at the front of the ship. It’s the perfect place to take that perfect sunset shot, but by now, as we sail away, it’s VERY windy. The pictures really don’t show just how much of a gale there is – though of course, by the main pool it’s quite sheltered from the wind and still full of happy sun-seekers.
Dinner tonight is a Thomas Keller special in the colonnade restaurant. I’m surprised to hear that a number of Brits haven’t heard of Thomas Keller – he IS one of the leading US chefs and probably the only truly American chef to have gained multiple Michelin three-star ratings.
I’m impressed, as I have been throughout the trip so far, with the meal – a family style feast of Waldorf Salad, Grilled RR Ranch Rib Chop,
Humbold Fog Cheese and Chocolate Silk Pie.
Afterwards, I’m good for nothing except bed and so I retire, to a nicely turned down bed, a complimentary chocolate and a good night’s sleep.
If you are thinking of trying a cruise, why not pin this post for later. And, keep an eye out for more in my cruise diary.
Disclosure: I travelled as a guest of Seabourn Cruises