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A Great Taxi Tour with George …

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Joe and Linda (Oceania NAUTICA) describe their taxi tour with George Letsios Olympia. Monday 22nd September 2008:

Woke up at 0700 as our ship approached Katakolon. This is the port for passengers to go to visit Olympia, the site of the original Olympic games. The skies were partially sunny. This small town built near very low hills, and located on the east side of a small peninsula on the central west coast of the Peloponnese.

George Letsios Olympia tour started outside the gate to the dock. Because used a large sheet of paper with my name on the windshield of his taxi. A very nice guy with a comfortable VW Passat V6. Charlotte, who was very sweet (and trim), kept insisting on sitting in the middle of the back seat. Our tour for the day was to include two destinations – Olympia, the site of the ancient Olympic Games, and the Domaine Mercouri (Κτήμα Μερκούρη) winery.

Information about George and his services we found at his web site. George suggested we first go to the winery. He said that if we went to Olympia first, we might have to wait around until the museum there opened.

The winery

The winery and vineyards of Domaine Mercouri are located very close to the village of Korakochori (Κορακοχώρι) about 1.5 miles north of Katakolon above the west side of the peninsula. The drive only took a few minutes.

Another taxi, by a colleague of George’s (Takis), was also at the winery.

There were two large St. Bernard-like dogs outside. The older one Lara, the younger one was only 6 months old. She walked up to me and slobbered on my slacks. There were several large peacocks walking around. George found the winery host – Chris with the two couples he was guiding. They were in the two-story winery museum, where we joined them.

Chris was a young Canadian astrophysicist who had come to the winery several months earlier from Los Alamos, New Mexico for a change of life. He was very pleasant, and informative, and he had what sounded like a strong Scottish accent.

The 1864 estate

The estate founded in 1864 by a member of the Mercouri family who worked for the Cunard Lines. Now run by the fourth generation of the family. Grows the Greek grapes Mavrodaphne, Agiorgitiko, Avgoustiatis, Assyrtiko, Robola, and the international varieties Merlot, Syrah, Mourvedre, Grenache, Sangiovese, Negroamaro, Viognier, Pinot Gris, and Malvasia. Produces 10 types of wine and one type of olive oil. In one of its old two-story buildings, the winery has a very interesting museum with all sorts of antique farming, winery, and other equipment that had been used on the estate.

Chris then took us to an area where foreign workers were pressing down on grape skins on juice. Chris said the Albanians came to Greece because they could earn so much more money than in Albania.

Then he took us inside the main building of the winery and showed us wine making areas and additional interesting antique items. We then sat at a table and tasted the following wines:
– 2007 Foloi – a white wine made with Roditis and Viognier grapes – very nice
– 2007 Foloi Fume – an oaked white wine made with Roditis – nice
– 2005 Domaine Mercouri – a dry red wine made with Refosco and Mavrodaphne grapes – nice
– 2003 Domaine Mercouri Cava – a dry red wine made with Refosco del pedunculo rosso, and Mavrodaphne grapes – Very nice

I purchased a bottle of the Cava for €16 (US$22.72), and the tasting cost us each €4 (US$5.68).

To Ancient Olympia

From the Mercouri estate, George took us to Olympia, about 20 miles east of Katakolon. I think he took Expressway Nr. 9 – European Union designation E45 most of the way. En route, we passed near the town of Pyrgos (Πύργος) where George and his family lived. When fires ravaged Greece during the summer of 2007, there were terrible fires in his area, and a fire burned to within about 130 feet of his house. Fortunately, it was spared. He showed us several areas where we could still see the effects of the fires.

At Olympia, George drove us to the entrance and showed us where to purchase the entrance tickets. We purchased the €9 (US$12.78) combination tickets to visit the archeological site and the museum. Purchased separately, each was €6. Olympia was the site of the ancient Olympic games and was sacred to Zeus. The games were held here for nearly 1,200 years (and perhaps longer) from at least 776 B.C. until they were abolished by the Emperor Theodosius in 394 A.D. because he considered them pagan.

The ancient games held every 4 years, like the modern games. The participants from all over Greece. Only men allowed to participate and to attend. Originally, the only contest was a race, but gradually, many other sports added. The first monumental buildings constructed there in the 7th-6th centuries B.C. Many large buildings and facilities here, including temples to Zeus and Hera, the stadium where the games were held, a gymnasium, a palaestra, various stoas, a hippodrome, and treasuries of various city states. The temple of Zeus held a huge 40-ft high gold and ivory statue of Zeus that was considered one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. The stadium was 697 feet long and 93.5 feet wide.

Olympia archaeological museum

What remains today are primarily the bases of buildings, with walls and columns here and there. Therefore, this gives the visitor a sense for the size and complexity of the site. The site is heavily damaged by an earthquake and invading foreign tribes. Then it was buried by alluvial deposits of two rivers. It was rediscovered in the 18th Century.

The Olympia archaeological museum was very interesting – with statues, helmets, shields, friezes, and pottery, etc.

After leaving the museum

After leaving the museum, George took us to a modern replica of a Greek theater. It is located at the village of Floka, less than a kilometer east northeast of the site of Ancient Olympia. This theater, high up on a hill, hosts performances by singers such as Nana Mouskouri. While we were with George, he asked where else we were going.

Because we mentioned that Rhodes was on our itinerary, he asked if we have a guide for Rhodes. I told him we did not. He recommended a good guide. We consulted with Paul and Charlotte and then answered ok. George immediately used his cell phone to call his friend in Rhodes, Themis Gounaris. George asked Themis if he was available on the day we would be in Rhodes. Since he was available, George handed the phone to me, and I talked to Themis. We agreed on a price and time. George gave my cell phone nr. to Themis and provided me with Themis’ number. That turned out to be a stroke of good luck because Themis was fantastic. George gave me some of his business cards to take to Themis.

Lunch time

Then George took us to lunch at a nice local restaurant just off the main road near Pirgos. It was called Restaurant Aigli (Αιγλή – which means, “glitter.”). Because, took us to the kitchen area where one of the restaurant staff showed us various dishes and explained them to us. I chose stuffed tomatoes (ντομάτες γεμιστές) and cheese pies (τυρόπιτες). Linda had stuffed tomatoes. We also had water.

We sat in an outer area open to the outside. The temperatures were very comfortable and the meal was very tasty. The total came to €35.60 (US$50.55). That may have been the total for all of us, because the handwritten receipt I have has enough items for all of us.

George Letsios Olympia tour was over and he let us off in Katakolon, as we requested, at 1500. We spent a few minutes looking in the tourist shops that lined three blocks or so of the main street. We found nothing of interest, and were back at the ship by 1515.