• To the oracle

    by  • 6 January, 2003 • Travel • 0 Comments

    I decided to get off at the first village that would have a place to stay for the night. By now it was past 6 o’clock, light was fading quickly, when I came to a crossroads in Itía. To the right was the main road to Athens, left pointed to Delphi, 9 kilometers away. I had been in Delphi once, more than thirty years ago. I hadn’t even realised it was in this part of Greece and that I was so close. I decided to go and see the Oracle, and leave Athens and the ferry boat to Iraklio for the next day. Now, Delphi is on a really steep and serpentine climb into the mountains. It was past 7 when I got there, and pitch dark. I drove through the streets of Delphi and was disappointed that I didn’t recognise anything, unrealistically as if time would have passed unnoticed here. Driving through Delphi was like driving through Valkenburg, only much bigger. I looked out for a small hotel, but those that I passed all looked too posh and expensive to me. I’m a rather cheap guy when I travel at my own expenses. Then I found a shabby looking 2 storey building, housing a hotel the name of which I don’t even remember. It had an empty parking spot in front. I parked the car and went in. The interior was in sharp contrast with the outside cheap looks. This was pretty decent. There were very few tourists at this time of the year so I had no trouble getting a room. When the clerk — who spoke perfect French — handed me the keys to room 706, he explained I had to go down one floor, since we were on the 8th floor. I gave him a puzzled look. He smiled and said I would understand when I got to the room. As it turned out, the whole hotel was gigantic, built on the base of a steep rock some 30 meters below and against its slopes. Only the 2 upper floors where at street level. The view from the room would be amazing by daylight, but of course it was dark now. It must have been the biggest hotel in town, still room rates were pretty reasonable at this time of the year.

    I took a quick shower, changed into something a bit warmer as it was pretty cold up here, and walked into the dark, poorly lit streets of Delphi, curious what the Oracle would bring me. After close to an hour all I had found were loud bars and ditto souvenir shops. I was really tired and hungry but had lost the appetite in seeing any Oracle. I decided that an authentic Greek restaurant, preferably with live music, would be a viable alternative. You don’t find any authenticity in the main streets, so I meandered off into the smaller side streets, got completely lost and was finally drawn into an alley where music was emanating from. It was a restaurant alright and although the music came from a CD player, the patronage was pretty cheerful, obviously having a good time. I was the only “xenos”, stranger in the place. I sat down at a table in a corner, warming myself at the atmosphere and the welcoming ouzo. The meal was excellent, not the grilled stuff they usually offer to tourists, but real home made cooking, in pans and ovens and all that. I was served extraordinarily tender lamb “stifado”, cooked with lots of sweet onions, and “fasolia”, haricots which actually taste like haricots, complemented with patatos from the oven, in plenty of olive oil. It was delicious. To go with that I had ordered a locally produced red whine from the barrel, the likes of which you cannot buy. It’s not the industrial red color, rather rosé or amber and very strong. They call it “sjimó” or “sjimá”, the meaning of which I haven’t figured out yet. It could either refer to the barrel (like “in bulk”) or to the artisanal production, I don’t know.

    It took me quite a while to find my way back to the hotel but I somehow managed. The strong wine hadn’t done any good to my orientations skills. I wished the hotel clerk goodnight in a unstable voice, slightly swaggering, looking for the stairs. He understood and smiled. “Kaliníchta! Kalo ípno!” Good night, sleep well.

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