Delphi, Jeremy and ‘coronavirus’

Last September I had been complaining that a ‘real’ holiday, not accompanied by work, had become, more and more, a ‘pipe dream’. ‘Well, just book something and I’ll fit in with it’, said John, as if he was batting away a mosquito. I had just got a brochure from ‘Travel Editions’. One of the trips was almost the same as our Greek odyssey in 1970, where six of us travelled in an old Land Rover across Europe, ending up in the Peloponnese, via the island of Skiathos and Athens.

One site we were disappointed to miss out on – because for some reason it was closed – was Delphi. This current tour took in Delphi, Olympia, Nafplio, Mycenae, Corinth, Mystras and Sparta, nearly all of which we did manage to visit – fifty years ago. John was hooked, I was excited and happy …

But in February ‘coronavirus’ was in the news more and more frequently, rearing its ugly and terrifyingly invisible head. It reminded me of Hercules trying to kill the Hydra – a serpent with numerous heads. If you cut one off, two or more would quickly grow out of the stump. This virus was stalking the world, creating chaos and in many cases, death. It had apparently arisen from wild animal markets in China, linked to bats and pangolins and had made the jump to humans. I was getting more and more anxious but when I rang ‘Travel Editions’, the tour was still up and running. We decided to risk it.

on our way …

Jeremy Paterson, our enthusiastic tour guide, who taught Ancient Greek and Roman history for over forty years at Newcastle University, collected us together at Athens airport and we were soon plunged into the Greek landscape with Nikos, our driver. I felt relaxed, footloose and ‘fancy free’. We had got here, Jeremy was in charge and I could sit back and enjoy a ‘real’ holiday, with somebody else doing all the organising. Bliss!

Arachova is a delightful mountain village near Delphi. Our room at the hotel Likoria had a balcony overlooking the mountains and the Delphi valley. We arrived in time to explore, Jeremy suggesting we visit the church, which was approached via 100+ steps …

Agios Georgios Byzantine church, Arachova
Church infiltrated by the evening sun

The sun was beginning to wane and there is that magical moment when it blazes for the last time before slipping behind the horizon. I’m not particularly religious in a formal way but I lit a candle and made an offering for being here.

sunset – shades of de Chirico …

We negotiated our way back to the main street via stray cats patrolling crooked alley ways. Jeremy had recommended a tea shop, which was easy to find, as the window was full of teapots. It not only sold tea but we bought dried apricots, mango, almonds, sesame biscuits and some kind of large citrus fruit which was dried, sliced and vivid green. I wish I had bought a huge bag of it – it was so very delicious.

This village has an alpine feel to it as there is skiing in the winter, which is very popular. But we were in a quiet time between that and summer tourists.

a basketful of pomegranates
Still Life …
vampire cat
chimney pot 1
chimney pots 3

I wonder why Greek chimney pots often resemble birds?

Time for supper at the hotel – the bed is comfortable and I’m looking forward to a good night’s sleep in the mountain air.

view from our balcony – remains of day 1

I’m more of a one-to-one than a ‘group’ person but Jeremy and Bianca make me feel at home, always ready to answer any questions and full of interesting stories. And I am absolved of all responsibility – they will sort things out. I didn’t realise then how much sorting out they would ultimately have to do.

It’s a glorious day, sunny and warm, bathed in that ‘special’ light of Greece. Greek myths tell us that Zeus sent two eagles out from the ends of the universe to find the navel of the world. They met in Delphi, which was for many centuries the cultural and religious centre and symbol of unity for the Hellenic world. (Jeremy’s notes). Its setting in the landscape is spectacular.

trees at Delphi

We pass by the Shining Cliffs and meet up with George, our Greek guide, who lives locally and is the son of a priest. He and Jeremy go back a long way. George points out the Castalian spring. This sacred fountain was used to purify people before entering Delphi. Byron apparently plunged in, hoping to enhance his poetic spirit. I held out my hand and drank the clear water, splashing it on my face. I’m open for anything good coming my way. … I hope the ‘Pythia’ was listening …

‘Shining Cliffs’ – Delphi
outside the entrance to Delphi

Behind the bespoke Land Rover you can see the tent like nests of the processionary moth, whose larvae attack pine trees throughout the Eastern Mediterranean. It’s a massive problem.

Delphi – healthy pine cones

Lots of birdsong. We walked under a bower of yellow, strongly scented flowers, which were buzzing with cohorts of bees …

bee flowers …
wall at entrance to Delphi
Serpent column at Delphi

This is a replica of the original 8 metre, bronze column, which is now in Istanbul. There used to be three serpent heads on the top – destroyed – although a small piece of one serpent’s jaw is in the museum in Istanbul.

Delphi – The Athenian Treasury
Delphi – Jeremy in full flow …

A lot of the stones are carved with inscriptions – in Greek, so I can’t translate them – but apparently many of them relate to the emancipation of slaves. The Greeks’ view of making slaves free men is interesting – different from the norm.

Delphi – inscriptions on stone

I don’t own a cat but I was rather taken by the one which followed us around the ruins …

guardian of the stones …
Delphi – keeper of secrets …
embodiment of the Pythia
Temple of Athena

Looking down from Delphi into the valley, you can just make the temple remains out on the left, shaded by trees. As the museum was closed, due to coronavirus, we got a chance to visit the temple instead. Next day the whole site was closed down – we managed to squeeze in with twenty four hours to spare. The ‘Pythia’ was benign on a perfect day. Luck was on our side.

Temple of Athena looking towards Delphi
Delphi – spring blossom
Delphi – purple vetch
Delphi – white throated nuthatch (?)
splendour in the grass
The Oracle keeps her secrets …

… as we leave for the monastery of Osios Loukás, which is quite close.

Time for a coffee break on the way in a quiet village. Old men playing the even more ancient game of backgammon. They were happy for me to take a photo. When I was in Fethiye in Turkey I asked some men if I could take their photo and they invited me to sit down with them and bought me tea in a glass – sadly, I didn’t have time to learn backgammon.

eye catching pickup truck
keep on trucking …

The site of the monastery on Mount Helikon dates from before AD 944. It exceeds all expectations. The location is secluded, the atmosphere is tranquil and the silence all embracing.

entrance to the Monastery of Osios Loukás
Osias Loukás basking in the sun
Osias Loukás – church
Church interior
votive beeswax candles
fountain with flowers and urn

While I was taking photos, George started to sing in Greek within the church. He has the most mellifluous voice – molten with the honeyed smell of beeswax candles …

trying to capture the ‘special’ light of Greece …
John at the Monastery of Osios Loukás

Coronavirus creeps closer. As we leave the hotel next morning the owners close it down. Our itinerary must change as many sites are now being closed too. However, Jeremy, George and Bianca are full of innovative ideas and we end up at the delightful town of Nafpaktos by the sea with its impressive looking castle on the top of the mountain.

Venetian castle of Nafpaktos overlooking the bay of Patras
Nafpaktos – harbour with Venetian ramparts
Nafpaktos – Bay of Patras
Nafpaktos harbour – fishing boats
under the ramparts to see …
…the view of the Rio-Antirio bridgewith bathers …

The Rio-Antirio bridge is the world’s longest multi-span, cable stayed bridge. It crosses the Gulf of Corinth, linking the town of Rio on the Peloponnese to Antirio on mainland Greece.

Nafpaktos was known as Lepanto during part of its history and by the harbour is a statue of Cervantes, who took part at the Battle of Lepanto. There is another statue on the harbour wall of Giorgos Anemogiannis, who lost his life defending his country. The two statues seem to be waving to one another …


Most shops are closed and although bakeries are open, only two customers are allowed in at a time.

no shoap or shampoo …

As we walked back to the bus along the shoreline I noticed a shower was set up on the beach with a large notice not to use soap or shampoo. Seeing spelling of ‘shoap’ on the notice made me think of the roots of words and language. If it’s shampoo, why not shoap …

Shampoo seems to have had Indian roots and was first noted in England in 1762. Its original meaning in Hindi was ‘a full body massage’. Soap seems to have German/Dutch roots. My most successful chemistry lesson at school was succeeding in making a bar of soap! Digression …

Next stop is at the bridge – we take the ferry across to get the best view of it.

view of Rio-Antirio bridge from the ferry
On the ferry
coming and going …
The ferryman
the way ahead …

This photo reminds me of the work of Richard Diebenkorn, a Californian artist, whose paintings are a mix of abstract and figurative. I especially like his colour palette.

He manages to be both geometrical and lyrical at once, which brings on a train of thought. How music and mathematics are in tandem… how poetry works lyrically, limited yet enhanced by lines of a sonnet or haiku … how a painting speaks to an audience in a more emotional way when constructed invisibly by the harmony set by ‘the Golden Mean’.

An example of this is in ‘The Baptism of Christ’ by Piero de la Francesca, who was also a mathematician and a pioneer in the field of perspective. I am always drawn to his paintings – the way he uses colour and light. And the invisibility of the ‘Golden Mean’ underlying it all.

If this photo appeals to you, it’s worth looking up more on Diebenkorn too. (1922 – 1993).

Back on the bus, I snap these weird looking cliffs. They remind me of Ursula Le Guin’s ‘The Wizard of Earthsea’ or a film set in ‘Lord of the Rings’. However, I think this is merely a quarry.

weird cliff formations

Maybe I’m flagging a bit – needing a siesta … I remember I bought something to eat in Nafpaktos so I rummage around in my bag to find it.

fig sticks

I’m sure one or two of these will raise my energy levels. The label mentions that they are ‘fumigated’. I don’t know what that means but I’m hungry so I’ll risk it…

The site at Corinth is already closed but we can look through the fence as various companionable dogs follow us.

village at Roman Corinth with dogs

You can just see the fortress of Acro-Corinth on top of the mountain in the right of the picture.

swan gates

This reminds me that when we get home John’s new book, his twentieth, will be published. It’s called ‘Green Swans’ – The Coming Boom in Regenerative Capitalism – and has already had some positive feedback from both business and environmental people.


I notice lots of shrines by the side of the roads as we pass. Bianca says that many of them commemorate people who have died in car accidents. One man even built a chapel of remembrance for his son on the spot. I am glad that Nikos is our driver, as he is excellent …

And the best is yet to come – we are driving up the mountain to Acro-Corinth.

fortress of Acro-Corinth

The fortress had its own water supply – the spring of Pereine – and a commanding view from the mountain top over the Isthmus of Corinth.

view from the fortress over the Isthmus of Corinth

Asphodel grows here – the sacred plant which is connected to the Elysian Fields, where knights and warriors who lost their lives defending their kingdoms entered – the equivalent of Paradise. I first came upon asphodel growing on the ramparts of the castle by the harbour in Kyrenia in Cyprus. It struck a chord – it is wonderful to see it growing here.


Asphodel is the pinky white flower – the other is euphorbia, which grows everywhere we have visited.

Acro-Corinth – time to leave

Nafplion. I’m so looking forward to seeing this town again fifty years on. It’s a small port and again, like Nafpaktos, has an impressive Venetian fortress, Palamídi, towering over it. There is also another fortress – Bourtzi – located on an islet in the middle of the bay.

But our first point of contact is the Hotel Amalia, a few minutes drive outside the town. It’s huge, spacious, full of light and our room has French doors onto the gardens and a small nature reserve, full of bees, birds and croaking frogs. I’d like to explore it but it’s cordoned off and I think the ground must be quite marshy, given frogs are in abundance.

Hotel Amalia – entrance
Hotel Amalia – doors to gardens
Hotel Amalia – gardens
Hotel Amalia

The hotel is silent and almost empty – except for us. I’m enjoying the breakfasts with oranges off the trees and delicious, thick cut quince jam. Add it to Greek yoghourt – fabulous … it’s alright to have seconds on holiday …

Jeremy, George and Bianca have sorted out interesting things for us to see, despite the castle being off limits. We drive right up to the entrance with the view of Nafplion spread out before us.

Palamidi castle/fortress at Nafplion
what is it?

I’ve fallen in love with this tree. I keep seeing them and wish I could grow one at home.

outside the castle walls
well used/ill used public phone box

Graffiti persists the whole world over – I suppose it did in Greek and Roman times too …

more interesting graffiti …

On the opposite side of the road is the ‘Lion of Bavaria’, carved out of the living rock. It dates from 1840. The sculptor was Christian Siegel, the first professor of sculpture at Athens Polytechnic. It was commissioned by Ludwig of Bavaria – father of Otto – who was the first king of Greece – in memory of Bavarian soldiers who died during the typhoid epidemic in Nafplion (1833/34).

Lion of Bavaria

He looks pretty exhausted but he was commemorating a grim typhoid epidemic. It is quite an extraordinary achievement.

As Nafplion was once the capital of Greece, there are many commemorative statues, where Jeremy and George can expand on our knowledge of Greek history.

Theodorus Kolokotronis (1770-1843)

TK was a Greek general and leader of the War of Independence (1821-29) against the Ottoman Empire.

Ioannis Kapodistrias (1776-1831)

Kapodistrias came from Corfu and studied philosophy, medicine and languages in Padua before going into politics. He established the first agricultural school and the first printing shop, when becoming the first governor of Greece. Sadly, he was assassinated in 1831. He is deservedly honoured in the country today. Statue now under renovation …

My favourite statue is of King Otto, who came from Bavaria and ruled as king in Greece from 1836 to 1862. He married the rather beautiful Amalia of Oldenburg. In 1862 there was an uprising, forcing the royal couple into exile. They spent the rest of their lives in Bavaria, deciding to speak Greek every day between 6 and 8 o’clock to remember their time in Greece.

King Otto in Greek national dress
elegant Syndagma square

This square is the heart of Nafplion and must usually be buzzing with people but now it is eerily quiet. I’m a bit behind the rest of the group as I came upon a Gelateria that was open and bought a lemon ice cream cone – later on, I sloped back for another. Greek and Turkish ice creams are the best.

Gelateria – Nafplion
floral balcony
a place to stay in Nafplion

I looked this up when I got home and it appealed. It’s always good to have recommendations of places to stay. Often best to book direct with the hotel.

Nafplion alley way

We are left free to roam around this afternoon. Hardly any shops are open and I can’t even find postcards. I don’t expect many people bother with writing them nowadays, finding stamps etc. – I always used to send them because I liked receiving them from others in far flung places. And I was excited to be abroad and exploring. This is a postcard odyssey of sorts I suppose … without stamps …

We walked along the shoreline. I’m fascinated by the tiny fortress of Bourtzi which takes up the whole of an islet in the bay. There’s more about its history on It holds a music festival in the summer.

There’s a slightly sinister side. Until 1930 the fortress was the home of the local executioner. It defended the only navigable channel in the bay, which could be closed off by a chain reaching between the fortress and the town. (info gleaned from Eyewitness Travel book on Greece, published by DK).

Bourtzi fortress, Nafplion
Nafplion – down by the shore
seascape – Nafplion

The streets are silent. The tavernas are closed. But the air is fresh with a sea breeze and it’s lovely to be here …

tarte au citron – bittersweet
deserted garden
little owls …

In Greek mythology the little owl was the messenger of Athene, goddess of wisdom. Fifty years ago, we bought a print from a gallery in the Plaka in Athens and the owner gave us a tiny print of a ‘little owl’ as a gift. I hadn’t thought about this for a long time until I saw these owls in a shop, which was also, sadly, closed. I have to say I am missing ‘the shops’ !

film ‘noir’
old Nafplion

This is an old photo, showing the fortress and the harbour of Nafplion – the fish is still fresh today but there was probably more to catch then …

Nafplion 2020 – time to go

I hope I may come back one day.

Back at the hotel, I now know where its name, Amalia, comes from. The wife of King Otto. Jeremy said Otto really tried hard to be a good king in Greece. I’m lying on my bed having a rest before supper and idly looking at the picture of a mimosa tree on the wall. Mimosa is one of my favourite blossoms – a yellow, fluffy harbinger of Spring, coming out to give cheer in February, with the most delicate, seductive fragrance.

mimosa tree

There are two life size ‘fake’ statues which we pass on the way to the dining room A woman holding a lute and a man who seems to be holding a giant ice cream. That ice cream in Nafplion was especially addictive …

lady with a lute
ice cream man

This may sound flippant but as all the museums have been closed from day 1, I don’t have much in the way of Hellenic sculpture to show.

Next morning is cool and cloudy. George had a word with some nuns last night, who offered to show us round their nunnery, two at a time. On arrival all is silent and after many attempts with the bell pull and his phone, George decides that they must have changed their minds. The small shrine at the entrance will have to suffice.

shrine at entrance to nunnery

We pass by the site of Tiryns and drive on to a small church where the caretaker arrives on his bicycle to let us in.

cypress at Tyrins
illuminating on a cloudy day …
capturing colours

We’re going on to Mycenae but will only get a superficial look as the site is now shut and we’ll miss seeing the Lion Gate and the tombs. This complex of buildings was discovered by Heinrich Schliemann in 1874. It spans the years 1700 – 1100 BC, when it was abandoned. John remarks on first view that it reminds him of a battleship. I expect it survived many battles before sinking into the earth. We’ll have to make a return visit.


The car park at the top is empty, except for our bus and a ‘pussy posse’ who explode out of the underbrush in the hopes of food. Bianca supplies this as they circle around her.

pussy posse
wild spring flowers of the Peloponnese

Petrol station alert – we stop for food and facilities and find there’s a shop attached. I did rather covet the head of Medusa and thought about buying an ‘icon’ of St. George and the Dragon’ and/or an octopus plate but ended up with six bars of orange blossom soap to give as gifts when we get home. I don’t yet realise how very welcome these gifts will be …

Medusa, the Gorgon killed by Hercules

Her hair was live snakes and if you looked at her you would be turned into stone. Hercules managed to kill her by looking at her reflection in his shield.

St George and the dragon
octopus plate

Outside there’s a reproduction of the ‘Jockey of Artemision’. This is a bronze statue of a young boy riding a horse, dated to around 150 – 140 BC. It was lost in an ancient shipwreck and found in the wreck in pieces only in 1926. Then it was reconstructed and can now be seen in the National Archaeological Museum in Athens.

the Jockey of Artemision

Coronavirus is now snapping at our heels and any other tourists seem to have evaporated. We are alone but in good company with our three guides and Nikos at the wheel. Our destination today is Epídavros but we stop off on the road from Tyrins to look at a famous (Arkadito) Mycenaean bridge, which is, astonishingly, still here – dating back to the Greek Bronze Age.

Mycenaean bridge

We stop in a small town to look at an exquisite little church that I feel I could hold in the palm of my hand. There’s an orchard of almond blossom behind it, sunlit orange and lemon trees … we have now been told that ‘Travel Editions’ has got us onto an earlier plane, so home tomorrow. It’s probably for the best.

What I will miss most is going to Mystras and Sparta, which I remember very clearly from fifty years ago. We walked up steep hills, baking in the hot sun, fragrant with oregano, thyme and rosemary beneath our feet. When you want something and know you can’t have it, then you want it even more – we are so near and yet so far. Even more of an incentive to try again next year …

an exquisite gem
interior 1
interior 2

George tells us that there are lots of different kinds of oranges grown in Greece. I’m not sure from this picture whether I’m photographing oranges or lemons – the latter, I think. But they are super large. If you’re interested to know more about the history of citrus fruits, the book ‘The Land Where Lemons Grow’ by Helena Attlee is a great read – but mainly based in Sicily. It also includes some recipes.


The skin is rough and knobbly but they look delicious. I desperately want to pick one and eat it – but they belong to someone else. I turn my attention to other things …

siesta with flowers

It’s so warm today – almost like summer now – Easter flowers – a perfect spot to enjoy sleeping in the sun.

I notice a tree that’s been cut down by the church, where a beetle has bored lots of holes through the stump.

Two years ago we stayed in a lovely hotel called ‘Es Moli’ in Deia, Mallorca. The gardens were beautiful but some of the pine trees had holes in the bark, just like this. It’s an attack by an evil looking beetle. One landed on my hat and I should have killed it at the time but then we didn’t know what it was. There are photos of it in my journal about our stay in Deia. Diseases of trees are very much on the increase, throughout the world.

massive attack by evil beetle …

George has devised a walk for us through olive and orange groves to the village which is near the site of Epídavros. It’s delightful to be by the sea again. And I love being off the beaten tourist track, despite missing some of the sites. I feel the pull of Greece and I want to come back.

a giant sized ‘Ali Baba’ pot amidst the orange groves
village view from orange groves
a man repairing his boat
I was enchanted by the fish … so much so that …
I had to take a close up …

Look how the patterns in the wood mimic patterns in water …

walking round to the village …
sitting on the sea wall with my sandwich
counting sea urchins

Greece has had such a battering over the past few years and now they are losing the tourist trade because of coronavirus. We’ve been welcomed and had a brilliant time here but I feel guilty leaving the Greeks to yet another uncertain future, just as they were getting back on their feet.

But they are a tough people and will keep going and we’ll be back. If Europe can’t get itself together a lot of us will be in the same boat. This is the first time I am querying whether we should stay in the U.K. I see myself as European and then British. But where are we now? We should be strengthening our bonds and making Europe a continent to be reckoned with. China and the U.S. are powerful but they also have huge problems – even more so in the present circumstances.

picture postcard
sun and shade
a suspicious look …
fishing nets

I’m aware that I’m teasing out this last day to make the most of it. We are now on our way to the site at Epídavros. It’s closed too but the location is magical.

graceful trees at Epídavros
pine tree cones
a sifting of daisies at Epídavros

Persephone is the goddess of Spring. Her Roman name is Proserpine. Khloris is the goddess of flowers. Her Roman name is Flora. I need to find a book which gives me all the Greek names of the gods and goddesses with the equivalent Roman ones. One book which sounds very good is ‘The Complete World of Greek Mythology’ by Richard Buxton.

Star of Bethlehem

This grows on many of the sites we have visited. It is part of the lily family and poisonous to eat. And beautiful …

at Epídavros – March 2020

Tomorrow we pack up and leave for the airport. The hotel waves us goodbye and closes down. Soon we will all be scattered to the four winds but there are still one or two treats to be had together.

I took a fast moving photo from the bus as we passed the ‘open’ prison on the other side of the road from the hotel. John and I realised that it was the same place where we had pulled off the road fifty years ago as it was getting dark and we had nowhere to stay the night. The others put up their tent in what we thought was a field, while John and I slept in the back of the Land Rover with the tailgate down. I was woken at dawn, having a dream that somebody had cut off my feet. When I lifted the canvas at the back of the Land Rover, a man with an axe was standing there.

Dreams like that don’t usually come true – and my feet were still attached. We worked out that the man had murdered his wife’s lover – and was here atoning for his sins by working at the prison in the olive groves. He seemed content and we enjoyed his company. I still wonder about it …

Nafplion – passing by the ‘open’ prison

We’re stopping to get a view of the Corinth canal. There’s an old photo of this in our album at home with a ship coming through.

Corinth canal – 18 March 2020
Corinth canal – summer 1970

John took this photo fifty years ago. Things don’t seem to have changed a lot – except there’s no poster today showing the ‘Regime of the Colonels’ – far right military juntas that ruled Greece from 1967 – 1974. But something isn’t quite right …

I took a photo of the bridge shown at the information kiosk. Having wondered how John managed to take his photo, I realise that the motorway, where we are standing today, wasn’t there. John’s photo was taken from the next bridge.

Planners of the Corinth Canal

Athens airport is fairly empty – all the staff and many people wearing masks. As John travels so much we are able to sit comfortably in the lounge and have some something to keep us going on the flight ahead. I’m really happy not to eat on planes at the best of times. This time coronavirus is stalking the aisles no doubt.

I can finish my book and look out of the window. I’d been watching Mark Kermode talking about films and he reminded me about how good ‘The Day of the Jackal’ (1973) was. Edward Fox played the jackal. I’d never read the book by Frederick Forsyth, so I bought a copy before we left. It’s a great thriller – you are on tenterhooks from the start and if you know Paris, that’s an extra bonus. It turns out to have been a perfect choice for this trip … and it is so filmic …

Rio-Antirio bridge from the air
flying home

I’m so glad we managed to get here despite having to come home early. Thank you to Jeremy, Bianca, George and Nikos for a wonderful Greek odyssey and for keeping us entertained and safe and to ‘Travel Editions’ for getting us home ‘in the time of coronavirus’.


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