I've had a change of plans.
Originally, I had planned to take an excursion to Olympia, site of the original Olympic Games. This ancient site is, after all, the major draw for the port of Katakolon. However, I've visited and written about Olympia a couple of times in the past, and though I know I've stated that nearly every visit reveals some bit of information previously unknown, today I went out on my balcony, felt the heat -- almost oppressive at 6:30 a.m. -- and checked out the layer of smog on the horizon. Looking shoreward I saw the port of Katakolon, itself. It was my favorite type of port: a small, non-industrial town, with a limited number of cruise ships, yachts and fishing boats at the piers, and a row of chock-a-block outdoor cafes right along the nicest stretch of the waterfront, one blending right into the next, differentiated solely by the shape of their chairs and the colors of their awnings or umbrellas.
That clinched it. I would swap another day touring crowded sites in inhospitable temperatures for my as-yet-unfulfilled craving for a leisurely day on my own in a laidback port, strolling the streets and shops, and finishing the day with that local al fresco seafood lunch I'd been jonesing for the whole trip.
I planned to schedule my visit to avoid the worst of the crowding, without lunching at too early an hour. 11 a.m. seemed about ideal. All the shore excursions from our ship and from CostaSerena (docked across from us) were off at Olympia. That would give me about an hour for exploration and shopping, and enough time to get a decent table before the tours returned and the lunch rush began.
The town is arranged in two parallel roads that loosely follow the shape of the shoreline. The one closest to the water accesses the small boat docks and the seaside cafes; the further one is shoppers' row, my first stop. Here I found a better selection of jewelry than I had seen in most of the jewelry stores in Athens or Rhodes, and, to my taste, much more pleasing than what I had seen in Turkey. There was also, of course, the usual passel of T-shirt and knickknack shops interspersed with a handful of stores selling dressier and more stylish clothing. I spotted a number of food and wine shops, and some that sold local olive oil-based soaps paired with natural sea sponges.
At about a 11:45 a.m. I made my way down the line of waterfront bistros, looking for one whose menu would call out to me. Most of the cafes had about the same menu ... local fish, lobster and octopus cooked, marinated or raw, Greek salads and various meat dishes. In style they were all very much alike, with wicker or plastic chairs and tables under billowing canopies or colorful umbrellas. Everyone seemed to be enjoying their food, but when I got to one particular restaurant called Mouragio near the middle of the promenade (note: the restaurant's name will look a bit different written in the Greek alphabet), the evidence was overwhelming that this was the place to go. Not only were most of the tables full, as opposed to an approximate 33 percent at the other restaurants, but two of the tables were occupied by senior officers from our ship, and other tables held cruise staff from the CostaSerena. I took a seat and checked out the menu.
The easiest choice was the assorted seafood platter, which I ordered. But wanting something a bit more exotic, I decided to start with an order of gavras, a sardine-like little fish marinated in garlic, basil and olive oil, and served raw. Sounds yucky, but it was really delicious. The fried seafood platter included shrimp, calamari, and two different types of fish. All told, with two glasses of wine, a bottle of water, and the two fish dishes, lunch came to 28 euros (about $35 U.S.).
After lunch I shopped a bit more, then made my way back to the ship, where I enjoyed a one-hour full-body massage in the ship's spa.
After dinner was the passenger talent show, but given the fact there were only four passenger acts signed up, the show was augmented with one of cruise director John Heald's patented, not to be missed, impossible to describe, audience participation extravaganzas. This one, dubbed "Fairy Tale," is similar to performances I've seen before. "Volunteers" picked from the audience play the parts in a fable narrated by the cruise director, and the rest of the audience provides sound effects. But nobody does it better than John Heald, whose years of experience and service to the fleet have brought every possible clever retort to the tip of his tongue.
Tomorrow is our final sea day, and it includes a cruise by the active volcanic island, Stromboli.