Taking a break from Games to explore Athens proves to be an adventure
Posted: Thursday August 26, 2004 3:29PM; Updated: Thursday August 26, 2004 3:29PM
I found the ruins of Athens to be quite old and in a state of poor repair. So, when a road trip was suggested, in search of fresher and better preserved artifacts, I was all for it. That others in my group decided upon Delphi as a destination, with a possible visit to the Oracle himself. This was little concern to me. Wherever we went, it would be a day away from the Olympics, second-hand smoke, and the odd grinding sounds in the hotel room above mine.
Now Delphi, from what I've since read, was once known as the center of the world, attracting visitors going on three centuries now. I'm not sure about that. If it was truly the center of the world, we could have gotten much better directions. The car rental agent in Athens assured us we couldn't miss it and, assuming we found a way out of the city center parking lot, would take us three hours, tops.
Our wheelman, and fellow Sports Illustrated scribe Jack McCallum, felt he could whittle that time down considerably. He was reassured when he reached a speed of 140 on The National Road, but backed off his ETA when he realized that was only his metric rate. In any case, we should have paid more attention to details like East and West. But then again, signage in Greece is sparse and unpredictable. It is no complaint against Jack that we ended up going in the wrong direction and saw sea ports where olive groves should have been.
Instead of backtracking (which would have conceded any possibility of on-time arrival), we opted for a shortcut on The Old Mountain Road. Not for nothing was it named thus. Although it could also have been called the Old Winding Mountain Road, or even Red Asphalt. It was twisty, filled with truck traffic and impatient fellows who felt it was great sport to pass on blind curves. Alongside the roadside, perhaps every 10 yards, were small shrines, like elaborate mailboxes, to illustrate the penalty for a botched pass. Many would have preferred to pay a small fine.
We were on the Old Mountain Road for nearly three hours and did not reach Delphi, but only the ancient city of Thebes, where we stopped to have grilled chicken sandwiches at a fast-food joint. Another of our party, SI columnist Steve Rushin, suggested we continue on, if only to sock the Oracle in the puss, turn around cartoon-style and head home.
We drove a little further, through nice looking valleys where all the makings of Greek salads come. But no sign of Delphi. Literally, no signs whatsoever. Certainly none we could read. Panicking somewhat, we stopped to ask directions. We were assured we were indeed on the way, and it would take us no more than three hours to get there.
That lacked the proper encouragement we required at this point and we did a quick U-turn and headed back to Athens, which we couldn't find right away, either. The trip wasn't entirely a success; in fact it had been, by any account, a wasted day. Still, as Jack said upon handing over the rental car keys, we had made good time.