3 Glorious Days in Delphi, Greece

I’d always wanted to go to Delphi, so last September I took a bus from Athens and fed my soul on the majesty of the ancient site.

I spent three glorious days sweating on the slopes of Mount Parnassus, and hour after hour traversing the ancient sanctuaries.


I stayed at the Kastalia Boutique Hotel, which I recommend if you’re journeying to Dephi. It is the embodiment of Greek hospitality. When I arrived, the owner said:

“Ask me anything you please, and your wish will be granted.”

And she meant it.

Cheaply I had chosen a street-facing room, and naturally it was loud. I didn’t sleep well my first night, so the next day I asked to switch rooms. It was no problem at all, and the owner even went so far as to not charge me the higher price for a room with a breathtaking view of the valley.


She also gave me clear instructions on how to get to the ruins, and how to ensure blessings from the goddess Athena.

The Sanctuary of Athena Pronaia

The iconic ruins are a short walk east from Delphi Village.

Athena’s sanctuary is further from the village than Apollo’s temple, but the owner of the Kastalia said the best way to take it all in is to go to Athena first because she’s always held the gateway to the main sanctuary.

sanstuary of Athena at Delphi

There was a tour group wrapping up when I got there, and then I had the place to myself. I asked Athena for healing, and my month in Greece only got better from there.

The Castalian Spring

For millennia it’s been customary to make a stop at the Castalian Spring on your way from Athena to Apollo.

In ancient times, travelers purified themselves here, taking rest on benches that lined a beautiful fountain-house carved into the rock. The priests and priestess also used to bathe in the spring in preparation for divination.

Nowadays, you cleanse your feet under the modern fountain next to the ruins of the ancient bath. The water is said to be high in minerals and deeply healing, so I soaked my toes and filled my bottle up. From time to time, locals stopped by to fill 5-gallon jugs.

Castalian Spring

With blessings from Athena and purification from the fountain, I was ready for the main sanctuary.

The Temple of Apollo

It’s astounding enough to see the ruins of Apollo’s temple. To imagine the awe it must have commanded in its full glory is powerful when you’re standing among its foundations. (And in a weird way it’s less of a tease as a ruin, because Hephaestus’ temple is intact in Athens [as are others] — and I can’t tell you how much I wanted to go inside that one, though they rope that puppy off to protect it.) 

Above the Temple of Apollo is a horseshoe-shaped theater:


Between Apollo’s temple and the valley you can see a treasury… cuz everyone who was anyone had a treasury at Delphi.

And above this sweeping vision is the gymnasium:

gymnasium at Delphi
Left side of the gymnasium
gymnasium at Delphi
Right side of the gymnasium

It was here that athletes competed in the Pythian Games in honor of Apollo.

I had always thought of Apollo as god of sun like Helios (which he was, until Helios took over the chariot of the dawn), but I learned that Apollo is also god of archery (which makes sense given the games)… plus knowledge, healing, protection (which makes sense given the heavenly feeling of this sacred site)… and much more.

The entire sanctuary is infused with peace.

It feels like holy land — intrinsic holy land — and the ancients made it more so with the sacred geometry of their architecture.

It’s so otherworldly that this is where the Oracle of Delphi, or the Pythia, gave prophesies from the divine.

Nowadays it’s believed that the high priestess’s oracles were gibberish induced by vapors emanating from a chasm below her tripod. Some even say that the priests translated the gibberish into false prophesies for political gain.

I believe it could have come to that. But soaking up the soul of the place, I could feel that the oracles began as trance-connections with the divine. I suspect that even their translations began as authentic.

It was gloriously hot.

I was wearing a thin white cotton shirt, a thin light-colored skirt, and sandals, and I was sweating bullets as I basically did interval cardio up the slope, stopping from time to time to absorb the atmosphere. I found it staggering that other people were wearing long-sleeved black shirts and tight jeans and socks with trainers as they climbed up — and they didn’t seem to feel the heat or break a sweat. And yet it was 34°C (93°F).

One thing that people did do, though, really impressed me. See the pert buttocks on this sarcophagus? (Look left)


A group was walking by this sarcophagus and a lady said, “Nice ass.”

A gentleman said, “Thank you.”

Oh, those magnificent days of delight and discovery.

I also loved Delphi Village.

There’s nothing like good, hot, dry weather and a landscape like this:

Surprisingly, Delphi Village was built around 1891.

Before that, villagers lived in what was called Kastri, right on the site of the ruins.

French archeologists moved the village to its current locale at the end of the 19th century so they could excavate the sanctuary.

Here’s what the modern village looks like above the Kastalia:


Years before I came here, I’d had dreams of riding a motorcycle down a street like this.

In waking life, a little further up this street, I had a magnificent Greek salad and souvlaki.

Greek salad

What I love about Greek food is that, everywhere I’ve eaten throughout three month-long journeys in the country, the food is always fresh and never pompous.

Down the street from my lunch spot was a pomegranate tree.

As I write, longing for hot weather and pretending that 34°F is 34°C (93°F)…

… this pomegranate picture has particular significance for me now in December, with Persephone stationed in Hades for the winter.

pomegranate tree

You know the myth of Persephone and Demeter?

Persephone was off limits to the menfolk as far as her mother, Demeter, goddess of the harvest, was concerned. But all the gods wanted Persephone because she was a hot young slice who embodied beauty and fertility.

So Hades, god of the underworld, swooped up and pulled Persephone to his realm.

Demeter was so distraught that she forbade the earth to fruit, and winter came.

Eventually she got wind of Persephone’s whereabouts, and Zeus made Hades return Persephone to the upperworld, marking the season of spring and the rebirth of life.

But Persephone had tasted the fruit of the underworld in the form of six pomegranate seeds, and became Hades’ wife. She has co-reigned his realm ever since for six months every year.

Where I come from, winter is indeed six months long, and the climate is so fierce that we could never grow mild-region fruits. Thus for the novelty I longed to pick a pomegranate, but they weren’t mine to pick, so I headed back to my room for a nap.

By my second night in Delphi, the waiter at the Kastalia knew how much I loved their hummus, their salads, their wine, their view.

salad at Kastalia Boutique Hotel

When I was done with dinner on my second night, he said to me, “What is your little name?”

“My what?” 

“Your little name.”

“‘My little name? Erin.”

“Erin, do you like chocolate cake?” he asked.

“I do,” I said, even though I’ve been gluten-free for 17 years.

He said, “Erin, because I like you, I will bring you chocolate cake.”

chocolate cake
The cake was tasty.

Another thing I loved about Delphi

was a peaceful moment while I was waiting for the bus back to Athens. There was a lusty breeze blowing between what I believe are chestnut trees, enormous and ancient, soaring above wrought-iron balconies with painted wooden shutters.

It was then that I noticed a restaurant sign that had the most wonderful typo I’ve ever seen.

It said lamp chops.

I’m an editor as well as a writer, so you might think I’m a spelling snob. But this filled me with as much happiness as drinking an Alfa under the hot Grecian sun.

lamp chops

When we arrived in Athens, I grabbed a taxi and was off to the ferry port, headed to the Akrotiri excavations of ancient Thira.

But that’s another story for when it’s 28°F.

The Archetype of the Tiny House

Tiny houses can be magical dwellings.

In books and life, they’re places where people — unencumbered by excess space or distraction — retreat to deepen their relationships with themselves or others.

My enchantment with tiny houses began with The Smurfs because they lived in tiny houses like this:

As a kid, I loved the magic of the Smurfs’ forest, the conjury of Papa’s potions, the adventure of the journeys to visit sages and healers, and the earthiness of the medieval setting.

I loved the show so much, in fact, that when I spent weekends at my grandparents’ house, I would set the kitchen timer for an hour every hour on Friday nights all the way till 6 a.m. on Saturdays when the show came on. I would savor The Smurfs, and then go back to bed and sleep till Scooby-Doo came on at noon.

What I loved about The Smurfs was that they lived in a utopian village in the woods — and that each Smurf had his own mushroom. Or her own mushroom. Personal spaces of retreat where each Smurf worked at their own skill or nurtured their own nature.

  • Papa Smurf concocted magical brews in his own mushroom.
  • Greedy Smurf baked pies in his own mushroom.
  • Lazy Smurf slept and dreamed in his own mushroom.
  • Smurfette had a closetful of white dresses in her own mushroom.

I wished fervently for my own mushroom, because all the Smurfs lived so peacefully in those cozy self-governed cottages, but each was also part of the greater Smurf community.

Adolescent tiny houses

Later on, a book that captured my preteen attraction was V.C. Andrews’ Dark Angel.

I identified with the heroine, a girl who was sent to live in the mansion of her mysterious grandparents. My grandparents didn’t have a mansion, but their house was large to me when I was small and its size and contents were fascinating.

One day, while exploring the grounds of her forebears’ mansion, the girl discovered an English maze.

In its center she found a little cottage.

There lived a forbidden man who she fell in love with, and I was introduced to a contemporary take on the gothic romance.

I slight it here slightly, but it had a profound effect on my psyche. Like an enchanted mushroom, this cottage was a refuge for a character who was in the midst of growing up and developing her identity.

Speaking of which, that’s what Snow White was doing in the dwarves’ little house.

In The Uses of Enchantment (sometimes now spurned as outdated but still carrying interesting insight), child psychologist Bruno Bettelheim says that the plight of Snow White symbolizes her movement from childhood to pubescence, and eventually to love and marriage.

seven dwarves' tiny cottage
Sacred Art Murals

“The peaceful preadolescent period Snow White has while living with the dwarfs before the queen again disturbs her gives her the strength to move into adolescence,” Bettelheim wrote.

Taking refuge from the threat of having her childhood killed (symbolized by her stepmother’s orders that the hunter kill her), Snow White settles for a time in the tiny house of the dwarves.

What their cozy abode offers her is a bit like her ensuing sleep in the forest — a space for rest and pause. Once she leaves the dwarves’ little house, she’s more prepared to grow toward maturity.

The tiny house also promotes change for adults.

In Kate Chopin’s The Awakening, Victorian wife and mother Edna Pontellier is stifled by a lack of personhood. What she views as a “life of caretaking” impedes her desire to feel like a whole human being, someone who can be and do what feels right for herself.

This leads her to leave her husband’s mansion and move to her “pigeon house,” a small cottage that represents independence and liberation.

“The pigeon house pleased her,” Chopin wrote. “Every step which she took toward relieving herself from obligations added to her strength and expansion as an individual.”

Hugh Comstock fairy-tale cottage by the sea in Carmel
Linda Hartong

For quite a spell the little house appeared in every book I read. There was the gamekeeper’s cottage in Lady Chatterley’s Lover, where Connie, like Edna, discovers a world outside the one she had been bred for.

I think, though my memory is foggy, that there’s a little house, or maybe a gazebo, in The Age of Innocence too, where Newland Archer and the Countess Olenska meet to discuss their love.

Naturally, the characters in books with little houses fare differently as a result of their time in their diminutive dwellings, but a common theme is that the little houses serve as havens where the characters experience something different from the norm of, say, the mammoth mansions they usually reside in.

This makes sense because of the expanse of space in a mansion: All those rooms are filled with distractions and psychic or familial weight and deluded, confining customs.

The wise one’s tiny house

Often in ancient lore, a shaman, medicine man/woman, or wisdom keeper lives in a small hut or cottage on the edge of the village, navigating the edges of consciousness.

In The Journey of the Hero, Friedemann Wieland describes Merlin’s outsider abode as “a small house, totally overgrown with moss and ferns,” nestled in the clearing of a forest.

Say what you will about Disney, but they certainly captured the atmosphere of his cottage beautifully:


Wise ones like Merlin live in small sylvan spaces to focus their energies not on physical expansiveness, but on soul expansion as priests and priestesses of nature.

The magical creature’s tiny house

One of the coziest tiny houses has to be Mr. Tumnus’s faun cave in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.


In his tiny cave, Mr. Tumnus leads a quiet life, tending to a toasty fire that insulates him from the frost-bound tyranny of the White Witch’s spell. It’s his sanctuary, where he retreats to play his flute and dream of midnight dances with the dryads.

Of course there’s also the writer’s tiny house…

… the place where the writer finds the peace to create.

When I was in writing school (which is to say when I belatedly pursued my bachelor’s degree at a low-residency liberal arts college, which sadly no longer exists, and which helped me become what I always knew I was), I started my self-designed studies with a look at how other writers work.

I browsed a book called The Writer’s Desk with photos by Jill Krementz, Kurt Vonnegut’s wife, and became captivated by this image of E. B. White writing in his little boathouse in Maine:


That’s the tiny house, I thought, where the writer retreats in solitude to develop their work.

A couple years ago I attended a conference where writer Ann Handley talked about having built a tiny house to write in.

Ann Handley's tiny house
Ann Handley

She also mentioned having pursued as many pen pals as possible as a child, and talked about creating different lives for herself to write to each pen pal about, so the tiny house wasn’t the only writerly parallel that caught my ear. But it certainly grabbed me.

Many writers quest the tiny house. Thoreau, Roald Dahl, Mark Twain, Michael Pollan, Virginia Woolf… it seems that at one point or another, everyone whose heart is bound to words is compelled to seek a cabin, a mushroom, a boathouse, or a room of their own.

Virginia Woolf's Monk's House, Rodmell

Visiting tiny houses

For my part, I don’t think I’ve ever stayed in a little house I didn’t like.

I remember lodging in a cabin on a lake in Ontario for a week one summer when I was five and feeling that it was a sanctuary.

When I was 11 and 12 I went to camp and reveled in the coziness of cedar walls and bunk beds, the surprising sanctity of vespers, and the smell of sulfury well water, sweet-scented bug spray, and coconuty suntan lotion — in a little cabin.

I guess I went to a crappy camp when I was 10 and that cabin sucked, but when I was 23 I stayed in a cabin in Northern California that nourished me. For a period of years I used to sojourn in a peaceful cabin on Lake Erie on my way to school in Vermont. When I turned 30 we spent my birthday up north in Wisconsin in a soothing cabin, watching the stars and listening to the lake water lap against the pier.

And a couple years ago I went to a writers’ retreat in the redwoods, where I felt like my tiny writer’s cabin was my own private mushroom.

Soon after that I started reading a book called At Home in France by New Yorker and New York Times editor Ann Barry.

Barry owned a little stone house in the south of France called Pech Farguet, or “the hill of the little forge.”

Composed of a living room and a kitchen on the first floor and a bedroom and bath on the second floor, it is indeed a little house. One day I’ll visit it and feel an affinity with a writer who for many years spent a week or two escaping her American life and reveling in the magic of the little house.

I imagine it to have as much enticement as this fairy retreat in Tourrettes-Sur-Loup:

Recently, my soul has felt quenched in tiny cave houses in Greece:

tiny house in Greece

Dream little houses

Right now I live in an average-sized house, but I’ve always found myself craving the envelopment of a tiny house.

My tiny house doesn’t have to be in the woods per se, but it should be nestled among pine trees and willows. It should be made of wood and stone. And it should embody the repose of Owl’s little house, or Frog’s or Toad’s.

It should, by the nature of its size and the simplicity of its nature, do what Gaston Bachelard said of dream houses in The Poetics of Space. It should…

“be a cottage, a dove-cote, a nest, a chrysalis.”

Because that’s what the tiny house is for those of us who crave one: A burrow that connects us with the home inside of ourselves.