Our day in Piraeus/Athens was amazing and we were looking forward to visiting Katakolon. The main reason for this port is to provide a jumping off point for tours to Olympia, about 20 miles to the east.
We enjoyed our later than normal arrival time, 10 am, giving us a chance to sleep in a bit and still get off the ship as soon as they cleared the ship. Our plan for today was to visit Olympia on our own with our tablemates, Kelvin and Linda.
A little after 10 am we were off the ship, heading down the pier toward the waiting scrum of taxi drivers. Taking a cab was our original plan, but after the driver quoted us 25 Euros Each ONE WAY – we took a pass. He gave us a weak counter of 20 Euros Per Person as we were walking away, but realized that it was still too early and the drivers were all still waiting for the “Golden Ticket” passenger who would pay their initial asking price.
Once on the main street, we encountered 3 or 4 people waving signs for buses to Olympia – 8 Euros each ROUND TRIP and they give you 2 hours to explore Olympia before they return. We were tempted by this, but there is also a train option for 10 euros (round trip) that would be leaving at 11 am. We decided to check out the train option and walked down to the “station” which was nothing more than a small ticket booth next to the train parked on open track. The train is about ¼ to ½ mile down the street – all level – if you don’t want to walk that far, the bus is your best choice.
NOTE: We learned later that the bus and the train both take about 45 minutes to get to Olympia. The train gives you more space to spread out and takes you thru something other than the roads but cost 10 Euros (RT) instead of 8 Euros (RT).
The train is a dedicated tourist train totally driven by cruise ship schedules. Today’s schedule was written on a white board with a erasable marker. The trains leave 1 hour after the ships arrival and return 2 ½ hours later. With our arrival being 10 AM, the white board showed the departure being 11 am (arriving Olympia at 11:45) with the return train leaving Olympia at 2:15pm getting us back to the port at 3pm. If there are more cruise ships they run more trains – so check the schedule as they are totally timed to support cruise ship schedules.
As we were getting ready to leave, Linda (who speaks Greek fluently) started to chat up the operator who invited her to ride in the jump seat next to him up in the Cab. Once we were moving, the driver would tell Linda some interesting facts about Greece or the train and then Linda would come into the main car and translate for the rest of the passengers. Pretty neat.
We learned that this part of Greece was impacted by a trash collectors strike and the train had a gauge of 1 meter with standard trains having a gauge of 1.5 meters.
There was one stop on the way to Olympia at a town called Pyrgos, where one person got on. We traveled thru some small family farms but most of the land we passed was overgrown with weeds and not obviously under cultivation.
The train operator advised us to visit the museum first and then go to the historic site. As you leave the train or the bus parking lots, look for a path heading off to the Archaeological Museum of Olympia. As an alternative you could go to the Museum of the Olympic Games which is off in a different direction. You could go to either museum first, see the ruins, and then return to the bus or train via the other museum. We went straight to the Archaeological Museum, and I am not sure if you would have time to see both. I suggest you research them both before your trip and choose the one of most interest.
The Archaeological Museum was a 10 minute walk over level ground. Admission to the museum is 12 euros which also includes admission to the Olympia site. The ticket has two small tear off tabs, one for the museum and the other for the site. We spent about ½ hour speed walking thru the museum. You could easily spend an hour here, but you need to budget your time according to your interests. I enjoyed the sculpture – Hermes of Praxiteles, the messenger of the gods, found in 1877, that was impressive and on display in its own room.
The Olympia site is about 1/3 of a mile away over level, but uneven terrain – a hard gravely type road/path. Once inside the site, we discovered that most of the ruins are little more than foundations. There are a few structures left, but they are not that interesting to look at as compared to the Parthenon in Athens. The interest here is more in the terrain and the history of what took place here centuries ago. I am sure aficionados of ancient Greek architecture will enjoy every inch, but we found the Acropolis far more interesting.
NOTE: If I were to do it over again, I would probably go to the Olympic museum first, spend less time on the site and see the Archaeological museum on the way out. Spend a little time online first and you will learn more and be better able to plan your visit.
The Summer Olympics are this year and on April 21st they will start the Olympic Torch relay here in Olympia. While we were walking around the ruins we came across a group of dancers rehearsing for this ceremony. We will probably be unable to watch this since we will be Portugal that day, but we may be able to find a rerun of the ceremony online.
We spent about 1 hour walking around the various ruins and again, they aren’t that impressive by themselves as compared to Acropolis or Petra. It is still worth the trip, but set your expectations accordingly and if you find this type of ruins interesting, then you are probably already fully informed about what to see and will find it fascinating.
After a 15 minute walk, we were back in the town of Olympia which looked like a nice place that would merit further exploration on its own, but we were getting pressed for time. We chose a nice looking restaurant and ordered a quick bite to eat.
The train was scheduled to leave at 2:15 pm and we got there exactly on time. I was surprised to learn that the train company counted the number of guests riding up to Olympia and we were missing 2 guests so they waited 5 minutes before leaving the station. We certainly didn’t expect them to wait at all for anyone, and I suspect the missing guests decided to take taxis back to Katakolon and that they didn’t expect anyone to wait for them either.
The train arrived back in Katakolon around 3 pm. We had time to browse the shops as we walked back toward the ship. The town is totally dedicated to cruise ship passengers, the shops along the only main street are those that you would expect – art galleries, souvenir shops, clothing shops and the like. There are also a few grocery stores if you want to pick up any snacks unavailable on the ship.
We came across a couple we know from the ship sitting in a “Beer Bike” which is a large contraption where people sit around a picnic table on a wagon that is powered by the guests pedaling normal looking bicycle pedals connected to gears connected to the wheels. We didn’t spend much time looking at how it worked, but for only 5 Euros (which included 2 beers) it looked like could be a lot of fun. As we passed by they were trying to entice people to join them as they couldn’t leave with less than 6 guests. We learned later that they finally did get enough guests and had a wonderful time and their trip included a drive to the beach with an informal Tai Chi lesson thrown into the mix.
Before we headed back to the ship we walked down to the “beach” which was more gravel than sand. As we were making our way back I heard the distinctive roar of jet engines fairly close and was surprised to see a flight of 6 Greek Airforce F-4E Phantoms (not flown in the US for years) heading off toward Olympia at about 3000 feet in a loose formation. I suspect that they will be part of the torch lighting ceremony on April 21st and perform a flyby during the ceremony.
Way back in January our entire table of 7 people signed up for one of the Murder Mystery Dinners in the Pinnacle Grill. These events sell out quickly, so if you are interested I suggest you sign up for one early on in your cruise. Tonight was our night for the Murder Mystery which started at 6:30 pm. The menu is fixed and posted HERE. Price $79 pp includes wine.
The dinner starts with various characters introducing themselves (near the entrance to the Pinnacle Grill) and discussing their lot in life and their relationship to one another. Along the way they are establishing their hatred for the ultimate murder victim played by Cruise Director Gene Young. The other characters were played by the HAL singers and the Manager of the Microsoft computer classes.
After the opening speeches they served the initial course and while you are enjoying the food, the characters stop by or sit at your table and offer “inside” information about past and future events. You are encouraged to banter with all the characters and shout at them while they speak and participate in all the fun. Gene made one appearance establishing in a rambling speech why everyone hates his character and everyone would have a motive for murder.
During the next course, Mark the event manager, playing the detective, announces the discovery of the body and the basic facts of the case. For the remainder of the evening, the characters engage with the audience and each other as they elaborate on motive, methods and opportunity for the murder.
As the evening comes to a close, we are asked to answer a questionnaire about who we think did it any why. We learned later that Mark sorts thru these and reads them aloud along with appropriate commentary – so if you participate in this, be sure to complete your form with your best humor and wit.
It turned out that half the guests correctly identified the murderer and cheered as the Head of Amsterdam Security led her off in handcuffs. The dinner was wonderful and the event exceeded our expectations – don’t miss it!
After the show, we all met in the Neptune suite of one of our tablemates to enjoy some fresh Baklava purchased in town. It was fun to see the inside of such a luxurious cabin and would certainly be a nice upgrade if your budget allows.
Tonight’s entertainment was provided by Aaron and Guy Lomax aka the Lomax Brothers, and was billed as “Four hands, two brothers and one piano”. They both sat at the same piano and one played the melody while the other played the chords. We enjoyed their high energy show of a variety of great hits. Their rendition of “Piano Man” by Billy Joel was especially good.
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