If you tell someone what you are going to Greece over Christmas, the response—without exception—is a look of complete bewilderment (perhaps I should clarify that no one in my family is Greek). About half of the time, people snap out of their stunned silence to ask, "Why?"
This started in mid-November. By mid-December, I found myself automatically justifying our decision. "Well... we don't know how long we'll live in Europe... we want to see as much as we can while we're here..."
It turns out that visiting Greece at Christmas was a brilliant idea (not mine, my husband suggested it). There are no lines, you can get around easily, and the pickpocketers are otherwise occupied spending the money they scored during the tourist season. Oh, and the food. Why, indeed? We did as the guidebooks (and the people we met in Athens) recommended: saw the sights and headed out of the capital city. My favorite day was the one we spent in Delphi.
I said no lines? We saw about six other people (and at least six times as many goats) the whole time we were at Delphi. For the most part, we had the mountainside to ourselves.
Note to Bostonians, Boston is not, in fact, the Hub of the Universe, as the Navel of the Universe (which seems pretty hub-like to me) is located at Delphi.
There it is. The Universe has an outie. Who knew? Well, the ancient Greeks, of course, but other than them? I was clueless until our up-close encounter with the giant navel. It's about a meter tall, but then, you would expect the universe to have a fairly sizable belly button. To what was it once connected, I wonder? The umbilicus of parallel universes? One of the great mysteries, and the Oracle is no longer there to fill us in in her famously ambiguous way.
Up the hill, we get nearer to the goats. Yes, I know you've been wondering, what's this about goats, anyway? Well, Apollo was apparently fond of them. Goats were used to determine whether Apollo wanted to answer people's questions (via the Oracle) on a given day. Apollo seemed to have a sense of humor: to see if he was willing to listen, people threw a bucket of cold water over their goat. If the goat shook the water off (as most of them did), Apollo's ears were open. If it just stood there and let the water drip off of its nose, Apollo wasn't interested. No sacrifices necessary.
So Delphi has a long history of good relationships with goats. And guess what? They're still there! Apparently, they enjoy spending time on the path that runs behind the Amphitheater (exhibit A: goat droppings everywhere).
As we made our way along the Sacred Way, we heard the first cow bell (goat bell?), far up the mountain above us. Much too far to actually spot the goat (or its bell). After a bit, it was joined by a second bell, then a third, and then a veritable waterfall of sound coming down the mountainside (literally—the goats were on the move). After a while, the waterfall (goatfall?) came close enough that we could spot them hopping from rock to rock. See them? They are coming downhill from upper right to lower left in this picture.
And then they were pouring over the rock wall onto the path before us... and right on over the next wall into the ancient ruins of the Amphitheater. Oops.
To be fair, there was no sign at the top of the Amphitheater warning against descent, only a sign at the bottom warning against ascent. Not that the goats could read any of the four languages on the sign.
The goat herder immediately gave chase, following them down the Amphitheater steps.They milled around a bit on the Temple of Apollo... perhaps they felt his presence that day... before the goat herder got them back on the path and on down the mountain. We heard he was chastised for losing control of his herd.
Our enjoyment of the spectacle was not Schadenfreude (truly!), it was merely delight in experiencing something rare in an ancient and mystical place, on a beautiful, warm winter day.