Here lie the remains of the Temple of Aphrodite, where Greeks once paid homage to the goddess of love by romping with "sacred" prostitutes, male and female.
It outraged the Apostle Paul, who spent 18 months here encouraging the Christians and condemning the sinners, writing so many letters to the citizenry that they take up two books of the New Testament -- Corinthians I and II.
By Greek standards, that's modern history. Earlier still by 600 years or so, Corinth was one of ancient Greece's wealthiest cities, the gateway to the Peloponnesian area famed by two long-running wars. According to legend, it was here that Zeus condemned Sisyphus, the king of Corinth, to spend his life rolling a boulder up a mountain.
But we spend our limited time in Corinth choosing colorful barrettes and ponytail holders, and having lunch.
This, after all, is a family trip, and concessions must be made to the 11-year-old in our party. We've just come from ruins, and are on our way to more ruins, and if the kid needs a break from history, she needs a break.
We are testing whether a family trip centered on the interests of adults can survive without revolt or meltdowns; no need to push the limits.
My husband and I began taking our daughter around the world well before she could walk -- but until now, we've dedicated major chunks of time to her entertainment. All trips have involved compromise: Be quiet while we're in the museum and then we can go feed the ducks, or visit the amusement park, or whatever, depending on her age. All previous trips have involved parental swapping: You watch Maddie while I visit the cathedrals; I'll take her swimming while you see a show.
This time, we've planned nothing but togetherness tours of ancient ruins and museums in Athens, the Peloponnesian peninsula and Delphi, home of the oracle of Apollo. So what if we miss the bema in Corinth where Roman rulers used to issue edicts?
Still, I feel a little negligent, and while in Corinth, insist that Maddie listen while I read aloud about how Nero brought 6,000 Jewish slaves here to dig a giant shipping canal. But we don't take the time to look for the remains of that failed effort, or visit the 290-foot-deep canal accomplished in the late 19th century.
Children, you see, are a wonderful excuse to skip or skimp on some of your itinerary's "must-sees."
If it's really you who needs the break but you don't want to appear to be a Philistine, blame it on the child.
Lessons Before Leaving
A friend prepares elaborate but kid-friendly history and culture lessons for every family trip. I plan to emulate that. I gather books and announce that I'll be reading aloud Greek myths before bed each night until the trip.
"But we just spent three months studying ancient Greece. I know that stuff already," Maddie complains. So I test her. Turns out Mr. Fourney in Social Studies has beat me to the punch. She recites the major facts of Greek history I've just dug up, corrects my pronunciation of Mycenaean and tells me all about Odysseus and Homer and Pericles. Of course she's no expert. But she does know what I was going to teach her, and I'm not going to study even harder in order to drill a reluctant pupil.
That's my first tip: If you want to play teacher, pick a place your kid hasn't already studied.
Our itinerary, however, designed with the help of a Greek friend raised in Corinth, turned out to be worth copying: overnights in Athens, Nafplion and Galaxidi, with visits to Delphi, Corinth, Epidavros, Mycenae, Delphi and the small mountain town of Arahova, famed for woolens, especially distinctive Greek Flokati rugs, about six miles from Delphi.
We would have needed a few more days on the seven-night trip to avoid pushing it. An extra week or two for some of the 1,400 Greek islands would have topped it off about right. But if it's history, scenery and authenticity you seek, this itinerary should delight.
Any reasonably behaved child should be able to endure even a long plane ride if you've brought books, games, perhaps some new wrapped toys and lots of snacks. It's the long layovers that are the killers, especially on overnight flights. In Europe, Amsterdam has to be the worst -- the airport was filled with cigarette smoke that had Maddie coughing and holding wet towels to her reddened eyes.
Nonstop flights are the first best option. When that's not possible, my husband always recommends we stay one night in the stopover city. I always argue that's a waste of time and money. To his credit, when we find ourselves suffering exhaustion and tedium in the layover airport, he never says "I told you so."
We arrive in Athens ready to collapse, but as usual, the excitement of a new place revives us all. We can see the Acropolis and Parthenon from our hotel window, and head there.
For Maddie's benefit, I repeatedly marvel about standing in the footsteps of people such as Socrates, Aristotle and Plato. She knows about Pericles's fabulous building projects. I add editorial content about how war destroyed in seconds what it took artisans years to create.
I think she most enjoys climbing the slippery rocks in the shadow of the Parthenon. We are all rewarded with a stellar view of the city. Maddie shoots a lot of pictures -- a new interest that has exponentially increased the amount of time we can spend at adult-centered locations. She was, incidentally, at least 9 before she showed the slightest appreciation of even the most dramatic scenery -- that's the lower range, I'd guess, that you can expect beauty to occupy a child's mind.
Athens is filled with renowned museums. But with only two days to spend in the city, the only glass cases we stand before are in the new subway stations. Antiquities discovered during excavations for new subway lines built for the Summer Olympics are exhibited at the stations where they were found. The displays, far short of what you'd see in, say, the Louvre, are just about the right size for a kid.
We spend both of our days in Athens walking in search of ruins. A new project, the Unification of the Archaeological Sites of Athens, links ruins with signs and pedestrian walkways, so you can meander from the Parthenon to Hadrian's Arch, the Temple of Zeus, an ancient stadium and other important sites.
Maddie doesn't parrot any of my exclamations of wonder at what we are seeing. She is sufficiently engaged not to complain, whatever that's worth. Several weeks after the trip, though, I realize from her laughter that seeing the ruins of the Parthenon probably helped her understand a Jay Leno joke I shared: When the president of Greece shows President Bush a picture of the Parthenon, our president growls, "Don't worry, we'll help you get the scum who did this."
Epidavros on a Dime
Maddie has been looking forward to our getting a car for the drive to the Peloponnesian peninsula because she'll finally be able to fire up her Game Boy. Unfortunately, the car's cigarette lighter is broken, so the Game Boy remains dead for the duration of the trip. That just means, though, that we have to talk and play more old-fashioned car games.
Yes, we give short shrift to Corinth. But if you do stop there for an archeological tour, look for the signs for the local woodworking shop. They have some awesome hair ornaments, made of olive wood and silver.
About an hour after our stop in Corinth we arrive in Epidavros, a definite highlight. The archeological site includes a lovely small museum and the ruins of a healing sanctuary. Tiers of seating climb the mountainside, offering a view not only of the stage but also of mountains and splendid green plains studded with wildflowers, olive trees and tall, fragrant pines.
The theater, built in the fourth and second centuries B.C., holds 15,000 spectators. Corinthian pilasters flank the entrance to one of the best preserved buildings of Classical Greece. The natural acoustics are renowned: It's said that from the highest seat you can hear a coin dropped on the stage, or the lighting of a match. Maddie hikes up the stone stairs to the top of the theater; I'm the coin dropper in the test. Turns out even a dime creates a racket.
Fortresses and Shopping
So far, our only major concession to childhood has been that my husband and I take turns having dinner alone, since our jet-lagged child gives out well before what is considered a respectable dinner hour in Greece. (One restaurant we visited at 9 p.m. graciously offered to seat us while we waited for the cook to arrive.) By the time we reach Nafplion, our third night in Greece, she's back on track.
The suggestion that we make Nafplion our base for seeing the remains of Mycenaean civilization was a great one. Once the capital of Greece, the port town begins along the Argolic Gulf and spreads up the mountainside. It is presided over by a massive Venetian fortress, the Palamidi, whose walls stretch atop a rock that hovers more than 700 feet above the town.
We climb narrow winding streets to find our hotel perched on the mountainside, overlooking the sea and the red-tiled roofs of neo-classical mansions and Venetian houses built by conquerors of old. The hotel is simple and cheap, but overlooks an idyllic scene so like what you'd expect from the balcony of an expensive Italian villa that I'm constantly reminded of the movie, "A Room With a View." We spend two evenings and a day wandering around this lovely town without boredom or complaint. You must know your child in these situations. If I had a rambunctious child, I would have encouraged a climb up the 999 steps to the Palamidi fortress. (We instead drove the winding road to the top.) Or we'd have taken the short ferry ride to the Bourtzi fortress to see where officials used to execute prisoners before throwing their bodies into the sea. (Maddie found that gross.)
We instead shop. When allotted a certain agreed-upon-in-advance stipend, Maddie tends to be very judicious in her purchases, which means we need to see most everything in town before deciding. One of the great joys of foreign travel is the odd things you can buy that you'd never find in a mall. I'm glad I've trained my child to agree.
Many scholars didn't believe Homer's accounts of the mighty kingdom of Mycenae. But in the 1870s, amateur archeologist Heinrich Schliemann discovered a grand citadel made of stone 23 feet wide and 42 feet high. Homer's Cyclops giants might not have been around to lift the stones, as the ancient Greeks believed, but nonetheless, there they were.
According to Homer, it was here that Agamemnon lived before rushing to Troy to rescue his sister-in-law, Helen. While he was gone, his wife took a lover. On his return, the disloyal wife and her boyfriend murdered Agamemnon in his bathtub. Agamemnon's son then avenged his father by killing his mother.
And here we are at the entrance, before a gate embossed with the relief of two lionesses likely carved more than 1,400 years before the birth of Christ.
It's an immense ruin, with tombs, a treasury house, a fort overlooking the plains and sea below, and a palace that includes the room believed to be the chamber where Agamemnon was murdered.
You can also think of it as a hiking spot, where kids can clamber all over the stones.
We spend that night several hours away by car and ferry in the magically lovely seaside town of Galaxidi. The town of a few thousand souls barely rates a mention in most tour books, but I'm grateful to my friend for recommending it as a base for exploring Delphi. It has a small naval museum, but the real draw is its simple, authentic beauty.
The next day, we head to Delphi -- tired from our ambitious itinerary but enjoying spectacular views of mountain and coast. We stop repeatedly to allow shepherds to guide their flocks across the road.
Delphi is perhaps the granddaddy of Greek ruins -- a massive site that could easily take an entire day to explore. It was once considered the center of the world. Pilgrims and even great rulers came from faraway lands to seek the advice of a famed oracle.
The Temple of Apollo is here, along with a theater, a stadium, monuments, a treasury, a council house, a Castalian spring, a sanctuary and the chapels of Dionysus.
We pull up to the entrance and Maddie asks if she can stay in the car. "All the ruins are starting to look alike," she says.
Oddly enough, at this moment, these are my sentiments exactly. My husband goes inside while I pretend to make a great sacrifice and stay with Maddie. After we play a couple of card games, we go into the Delphi museum. It turns out to be closed for renovations, set to open before the Olympics. We content ourselves looking at postcards showing the museum's treasures and the archeological ruins we might have seen, had we not shoehorned too much into a too-short trip.
Despite our two lapses, at the beginning in Corinth and at the end in Delphi, I like to think that the trip contributed to Maddie's education. That it made history come alive for her. That it sparked an interest that could one day lead to great things.
But really, I have no idea what she got out of it, or what she'll even remember. I do know we had a rollicking good time.
Greece Details, Page P12.