The Games and a Famous Battle

August 15, 2011

Or at least where they kicked off.  Olympia, the site of the ancient Pan Hellenic games, lies inland from the port of Katakolon.  The port is essentially in two parts: a shallower, northern sector, given over to local fishing boats and visiting yachts and a deep water port which hosts anything up to 4 cruise liners a day. 

The cruise ships come in and are met by a fleet of coaches which then depart for Olympia.  The coaches return about 3 – 4 hours later complete with bemused passengers and depart from the port with much hooting of sirens.  Whilst one has to admire the ship-handling skills of the crews of these vessels, there is no doubt that they are amongst the ugliest ships to grace the oceans.  Tall, slab sided and designed to cram as many people on board within the limits of draft and beam (so that they can come into the smaller ports such as Katakolon,) they are truly one of those cases where appearance has been sacrificed on the altar of functionality.  Pity, when you think of ships like the QE2 and Canberra, which managed to combine the two so well.  OK. Rant over.

An unlovely cruise ship - note wind scoop atempting to bring cooling breeze down into 'Rampage's' forward cabin.

As far as the yachtie side of the harbour is concerned, we had no complaints at all.  For the princely sum of €10 per night (which we almost had to tie the harbour master down before he’d take it), we got electricity and water laid on to the berth, nice shops and bars a short stroll away and a secure place to leave the boats.  Yes, we’re still in the company of Curly Sue.

After arriving, we questioned a few other yachties about visiting Olympia and the consensus was to use the train.  Apparently, one would leave at 9am for Olympia and a return train would depart at 3.30pm.  If we wanted to leave earlier, there were trains but they would only take us half way and we’d have to catch a bus from there.  The train times suited us well, as it would give us lots of time to explore the ancient site and cost less than hiring a car in the port, where rates were silly, being based on people from cruise ships with no time and loadsa money.

Julia, Sue, Andy and Duncan find some shade at Olympia.

The next challenge was to spot the train station.  Oh dear, what a culture shock.  We were all looking for the standard northern European model; little booking office, platforms, fenced in rail track, notice board (possibly vandalized) with timetables.  You know what I mean.  No.  What we found was more like something from a western; a shack (now converted to a café) with train line adjacent to it, no information on trains, no fencing and the track really had seen much better days.

The following morning, we sorted ourselves out into some semblance of order and prepared for a day of ruin bashing.  At 8.30am, a train pulled into the station to the accompaniment of much hooting of the whistle and grinding of wheels.  A pleasant young woman had set up a table on the trackside and sold us return tickets after checking we were content to remain in Olympia until the 3.30 train and away we went.

The journey took about 45 minutes and meandered through the countryside to the small town that has built up around the ancient site since its initial excavation by the French in the late 19th century.  We then spent a happy few hours wandering round, taking in the ruins and speculating about what it must have been like in its heyday.  Afterwards, we went round the museum which did a pretty good job of explaining the history of the site and displaying some of the myriad of finds that have been made there.  We then adjourned to an ice cream café near the station until the train was due to depart, which it duly did, right on time!  (It is worth mentioning as an aside that we paid €10 per head for the return train journey plus a further €9 combined entrance to the ancient site and museum.  We learned next day that the passengers from one particular cruise ship at least were charged $140 per head for the trip to Olympia – quite a mark up and we were much amused to notice that one of the cruise liners was appropriately named “Costa Fortuna!”)

The stadium at Olympia. Just the one stadium that was used for the Games every four years for getting on for 1,200 years, thus avoiding the requirement to build a new one every 4 years. Perhaps we could learn something from the ancient Greeks?

We then spent the next couple of days just sort of lurking in Katakolon, as the winds were a bit interesting; force 6 – 7  from the north.  We had all decided that we didn’t need to be anywhere, so we might as well stay put.  On Thursday 11 August, the winds had abated to manageable proportions so we left Katakolon and sailed for our next destination of Kyparissia.  The harbour doesn’t get a good write up in the pilot books, as it is open to any northerly swell, but we’d been told by someone who had come from there that the new northern breakwater had been completed and it now provided safe shelter in all winds.  After checking Google maps, which showed work in progress on the breakwater, we decided to chance it.  Once we cleared the shelter of the little peninsula of Katakolon, we hit the result of the last few days’ winds in a long, rolling swell which made the passage a bit uncomfortable but as the wind built we were able to hoist the genoa, which settled the boat down and we had a good sail.  As we approached Kyparissia, we could see the swell breaking on the harbour wall, often appearing to go right over the top of the wall – slightly worrying to say the least.

Anyhow, Curly Sue had motored most of the way down and got there about 45minutes before us, so a quick radio call reassured us that they were in and alongside and the harbour was OK.  Andy also told us to the route to use to enter the place, so we didn’t have too much trouble getting in and safely berthed.  Whilst it was calm inside, there was quite a surge from the swell, so care had to be taken to get the fenders and lines right so as to minimize movement and the chance of damage.

Waves coming over the top of the breakwater at Kyprissia. It's not always easy sailing out here....

Just as we’d got in and sorted things out, J came down with a tummy bug of some breed, which promptly laid her low for the next 36 hours, to the extent that she didn’t really eat much or do more than lie round in the cockpit looking pale and wan…… 

The harbour at Kyparissia is big, mostly empty and, now, well sheltered; there is water and electricity laid on to the quay and no one bothered to come and take any money off us! Result.  We also enjoyed an open air rock concert on our last evening there which ended at the very reasonable hour of about half past midnight!  The town itself is pleasant enough with lots of shops for resupplies and dominated by a castle on the hill above.  We were told that it was a good place to visit in the evening to watch the sunset over the sea but by then we had decided that it was time to move on.  Maybe another time.

We are now in Pylos, a little marina on the southern side of the bay of Navarino.  The bay is a sheltered deep water anchorage which is about 5km long by about 3 km wide and is one of the few sheltered places on the western coast of the Peloponnese.  The town is quite nice and has an old Ottoman era fortress in quite a good state of preservation (paid for by a grant of €1.4m from the EU – aren’t you glad that your money is being so well spent!), which we spent today going round.  What a change from a similar site in UK – no nice little boards telling you what you’re looking at, no guard rails, no prohibition from wandering just about anywhere you want.  We walked all round the extensive walls, which would doubtless would have been fenced off in the UK as representing a ‘Health and Safety’ hazard.  Bah humbug.

A view of the marina at Pylos from the fortress wall, with the town in the foreground.

Navarino Bay is famous in modern Greek history as the site of the naval battle between the Ottoman navy and an allied fleet of British, French and Russian vessels on 20 October 1827.  At the time, the Greeks were in open rebellion against the Ottoman forces occupying the country and the allies were attempting to broker a deal which would give the Greeks autonomy but leave them as part of the Ottoman Empire.  The allies inflicted a devastating defeat on the Ottoman’s navy, leading in due course to Greek independence.  If you’re really interested in the whole thing, then follow this link http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Navarino to the Wikipedia page.

Not the three wise monkey; perhaps three foolish humans? Duncan, Sue and Andy in the grounds of Pylos castle.

We’re remaining here tomorrow before setting off again heading south, when we will be parting company with Curly Sue, as she has to return north to meet up with visitors arriving in Levkas at the end of the month.  We must also get a bit of a wriggle on as we now have visitors arriving in Athens in mid September and it would never do, not to be there to meet them.  Anyhow, enough for now, we must select photos and get this posted for all our avid readers.


The citadel at Pylos castle.




  1. Aha!! Olympia was one of the places I paused on my drive from RheinD’ to Cyprus, I was chatted up by a greek just like the seducer in Shirley Valentine!! Happy Days!!

  2. I particularly like the height order picture of you all at Olympia. xxx

    • And I’ve found the ‘subscribe’ button! 🙂

      • In fact, this proves that photos can lie – we were standing on a slope! Susan is actually a couple of inches smaller than me! J

  3. Fun, nice commentary, nice pictures – again.

    Thank-you Mike

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