Yasu apo Hellas

Trip Start Apr 30, 2008
Trip End Apr 17, 2009

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Flag of Greece  , Macedonia Region,
Thursday, October 23, 2008

We booked tickets to London from Thessaloniki, Greece earlier this summer. At the time, we weren't sure where we planned to travel in Turkey and Greece, but Thessaloniki seemed to be as centrally located as possible. After we decided to spend most of our time in Turkey, we decided to take to a short ferry to visit the Greek island, Chios, followed by an overnight ferry to Thessaloniki. Our plans almost fell apart when we found that Greek customs workers on Chios were on strike and the ferries (and planes) wouldn't run. We were told that these intermittent strikes happen frequently and that if we tried the next day we would likely be able to take our trip as planned. This advice worked and we made it to Greece!

The cafes, bars, and restaurants in Chios were strikingly more modern than what we were used to in Turkey. We were really excited by the food, but unfortunately, we both picked up a food borne illness. The illness lingered sufficiently for Ray that he finally decided to take a course of antibiotics. As a plus, we now have confidence in the prescriptions given to us by our travel doctors.

Due to the strike and illness, we didn't see as much of Chios as we hoped before we caught the 20 hour overnight ferry to Thessaloniki. The trip was quite pleasant as the boat was spacious and we had nice scenery as we stopped to pick up people at other islands. Candy made friends with a young woman from Mitilini, on the island of Lesvos, that was going to Thessaloniki, as well. So, we were able to practice a few Greek phrases and get recommendations for activities.

Our visit to Thessaloniki coincided with two major celebrations. The anniversary of Thessaloniki's return to Greek hands is October 26-- which is also the Feast Day of St. Dimetrius. (Thessaloniki quickly became the home of many of the resettled Greek persons from Turkey that we spoke of in our Turkey blog entry.) October 28 is a national holiday named after the Greek leader's one word response to Mussolini's demand for Greece to accept Italian troops on Greek soil in WWII--"Ohi" (or "No") Day.

We were both a bit "museumed-out" after Turkey, but are glad we made a visit to Thessaloniki's archaeological museum. Much of the collection is related to Alexander the Great. Thessaloniki is the capital of the Greek province called Macedonia. There seems to be significant disputes about who "owns" the legacy of Alexander. This dispute became even more pronounced when the former Yugoslavia Republic of Macedonia became an independent state a decade or so ago. (At that time, Ray recalls seeing bumper stickers in Cleveland, Ohio saying "Macedonia IS Greece"). Ray was also thrilled that the museum put his bachelor eating habits in their proper historical context. Candy was not only thrilled to read about the symposium, she was also comically chased and scolded by an elderly musuem docent.

We also learned at the museum that our hotel was located on a road originally built by the Romans over 2000 years ago to connect the Adriatic Sea to the Dardanelles (aka Hellespont). It seemed like any major construction project unearths significant ancient ruins right in the middle of the modern city. We can't say for certain, but we suspect the modern city was built very quickly to house the newly arrived population from Turkey so that many interesting archaeological sights are only found when new constructions requires someone to pull a building permit (We saw one sign that the town's Roman toilets were located under a particular apartment building. We wonder how Greek real estate agents spin that factoid in their sales pitches...) 

The brochures at Thessaloniki's very helpful tourist information booth describe the city as one that never sleeps. That turned out to be an understatement: most hotels seem to be concentrated on streets filled with roaring buses and motorcycles; most of the windows in the city seem to be singled-paned; Ray was still ill; and, jackhammers and pipe cutters were working all night on a major infrastructure project a couple of blocks away.

As you can guess from the above, we wanted to get out of the city for some of our stay in northern Greece. We took a bus to a lovely village about 90 minutes away called Litohoro at the base of Mount Olympus. We stayed in a lovely (and quiet) hotel with a balcony that overlooked the mountains. After an amazing hike up a steep river valley we enjoyed some of the (in)famous local wine, Retsina.

There are many stories about how Retsina came about. The one we like the most is that the Romans used to take all of the local Greek wines until the Greeks started to store the wine in pine barrels. That storage gives the wine either a hint or a lot of pine flavor, depending on the brand. Our limited experience suggests that if we see the wine on tap (served right out of the barrel), it's nice. Retsina sold in a 0.5 liter bottle with a metal cap is not as pleasant. But as the deposit on the bottle represents a large percentage of the purchase price, it was worth trying (and going back for another)! 

Despite our illness, we did enjoy Greek cuisine. We had a lovely meal at an outdoor market in Thessaloniki. Candy finally got to try mousakka after weeks of Ray suggesting in Turkey that she wait until Greece to try the dish. We both really enjoyed a local cheese, Mastella, that is grilled over a fire before being put in pita bread with slices of green pepper and tomato. After all the kebab sandwiches we've enjoyed across Europe (most of which are called by the Turkish name - Doner), it was nice to enjoy authentic gyros. We're not certain, but perhaps the sandwich now goes by the Turkish name instead of the Greek name after the Europeans decided to name their currency after the Greek sandwich.

Tune in (we won't promise soon) to hear about our second visit to England.

Candy and Ray
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