Visit of ancient Olympic site highlight of our three stops

Fontaine Foray into Europe Installment #4

There is no hiding it. After visiting London, Paris and Venice, our family knew that our first cruise stop in Bari, Italy [I know, you’ve probably never heard of it] located on the south eastern coast was bound to be a let down.

We most certainly tried to keep an open mind about Bari. After a bit of discussion we decided to disembark the MCS Poesia and headed into the village on foot. While we did find an interesting cathedral and a water-side boardwalk, sadly Bari was not much of a tourist town.

The owners of Magna Grecia farm and winery were amazing hosts for our pitstop

A few hundred yards outside the cruiseship terminal was a very popular bike rental shop. I could see dozens of people hanging out…perhaps there was hope after all. When we got closer, we came to realize the frenzy was all about the “free WiFi” sign which was a big hit with the under 20 crowd who were desperate to find a few bars.

After a quick pitstop, the ship left and made its way down to Katakalon, Greece. Once again, few people have probably heard of this place on the south-western coast of the country. It is really better known for being a 45 minute bus trip away from Olympia, the birthplace of the modern Olympic Games.

We took an excursion there and made our way through the Greek countryside on an excruciatingly hot sunny day. It was pointed out to us that the ancient summer Olympics in Greece not only started here, they also took place around this time under the blazing sun.

Ancient columns dot the landscape in Olympic, Greece

Our guide advised us that during the Games, all the women were kicked out of the main venues and only men – naked men at that – were allowed to wonder the Olympic grounds. My only comment to my wife was “that’s a lot of skin to be exposed to the hot sun before they invented sunscreen.”

In fact, up to 45,000 men would gather to witness the Games which took place over the course of five days. The ruins we visited were uncovered by archaeologists some time ago after they had been buried by over 20 feet of mud and sludge after a major earthquake.

It is truly awe-inspiring to be at the site that gave birth to the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. If you’re like me and have lived in a city that’s hosted the Games, it’s pretty hard to not make an instant connection. Making it all that more interesting are the restored ancient massive columns and stone formations which dot the entire landscape.

An historic cathedral in Bari, Italy was the highlight of this stop

Our excursion also included a thoroughly enjoyable stop at the Magna Grecia farm where we got to enjoy some amazing cuisine and witness some authentic Greek dancing. The bruschetta, olives and assortment of cheeses and wine we consumed were are all produced on site. The family-owned operators were thoroughly amazing hosts and this was most certainly one of the highlites of the cruise so far.

After an overnight trip, we finally arrived at our much-anticipated hotspot of Mykonos, Greece. I’ve read and heard so much about this island, it was perhaps for that reason I had set my expectations too high.

The ancient columns used to house a gymnasium for Olympic athletes before the historic site was destroyed by a major earthquake

Mykonos was nothing like I thought it would be. The mountainous landscape is similar to the desert conditions found just outside of Phoenix, Arizona. An afternoon excursion to the beach did little to endear me to this tiny island in the Agean Sea.

We were told by our tour guide that we were heading to a quiet and secluded beach on the other side of the island where there were fewer tourists. Yet upon our arrival the crowds and masses of people were more akin to what you’d find in Disneyland.

Our early afternoon arrival also meant that all the beach chairs, umbrellas and such were all spoken for resulting in us securing a shady spot under a nearby Olive tree a few hundred yards from the beach. Needless to say, it was less than ideal and put a bit of a damper on our enthusiasm.

The beaches in Mykonos were packed and the sandy beaches less than ideal

The best thing I can say about the beach was there was free Wifi at the local pub, however, the DJ had the music blasting so loud the accessibility to the Internet clearly had some major disadvantages.

Needless to say, I was a tad disappointed with Mykonos and what it had to offer.  In particular the very rocky beaches with only a few soft sandy spots.

If you enjoy extremely arid, noisy beaches with crazy drivers – then this Greek Island is a great vacation spot. However, on a scale of 1-10 my wife and I rated this stop very poorly. My son actually loved Mykonos and would give it a high rating! I know that will make some of my friends upset…as I know they gave this destination a high rating…but it just wasn’t for us.

The ship departed and off we go to Athens, Greece tomorrow for what I’m hoping will be an amazing and memorable stop at the Acropolis. The weather forecast is sunny and 39C, so better bring more sunscreen for this part of the trip.