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A day to Thessaloniki and a lazy day

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Friday 10 June, a day to Thessaloniki and a lazy day

Today we leave our apartment not too late because we want to visit the city of Thessaloniki. It is about a 45 minutes drive from here to the center. We have looked up the address of the tourist information centre, but the nearest parking garage is 2 kilometers away. We decide to put the adres of the toruist information into the navigation and then look at the spot for a parking place. As in all southern European cities, it is hectic in traffic, but fine if you pay attention (I'm glad I can not drive!). It becomes more difficult when you are also looking for something, for example a parking space.
And parking garages are indicated here only at the entrance, not a few hundred meters before, so very inconvenient. Suddenly we see a big P on the left of the street in the middle of the center. But we are in the middle lane and can not just go to the left so we have to drive an extra round. But then we are right in the middle of the center.
Our car is literally being put away, ThessalonikiThe machine to get a ticket is covered and the gate is open. A little further a woman waves at us, drive on to the next machine. There we take a ticket and she sends us to a young man, 20 meters away. Where are the parking places, we wonder? There are a few cars about but there is no place at all! Then a barrier rises and we have to drive the car in a cage exactly over a kind of bridge. Is the car going to be towed? We have to park the car on the bridge, take out all our belongings and put the car on the parking brake. The ticket goes into a vending machine and a door opens, a bar is pushed under the car and the car disappears into the building. Just as if we were watching an SF movie. Awesome.
Now that the car has a nice spot, we can quietly enter the city. First to the tourist information centre and already within 100 meters we see a sign to the Tourist Information Office. But it turns out to be a very empty building. Behind it is a building with the inscription of the Ministry of Tourism, which is also completely empty.
It is always the same in Greece, I think, do not they realize that they can make a lot of money from tourists? Then we first search for a spot where we can have a cup of coffee with sea view near the white tower.
In the port of Thessaloniki The white tower in the port of ThessalonikiThe tower was built by the Ottomans in the 15th century as a defense tower on the site of a former Byzantine fort, but was later used as a prison and the place to carry out mass executions. That is why the tower was also called the tower of blood or red tower. After Thessaloniki became part of Greece in 1912, the tower was painted white as a symbolic gesture of cleansing it. But there is also a legend that a prisoner would have bought his freedom by painting the whole tower white. Now there is a museum in the tower with information about the history of the city.
With the help of googlemaps (almost every restaurant in Greece has free Wifi) we find the nearest bookstore and there we walk first to buy a map of the city. The salesman also tells us exactly what we definitely need to see and so we soon have a nice walking route in prospect.
Excavations in the center of Thessaloniki Excavations in the center of ThessalonikiWe had already read about the city in the travel guides, but we did not know that the center was literally scattered with excavations. We walk towards the arch of Galerius through a shopping street but in the middle the ground is excavated and we see a few meters lower the old parts of the city with Greek and Roman buildings. It is a bit unreal, the high buildings of today next to those of more than 2000 years ago. I'm not going to mention the names of all the ruins because I can not even remember and separate them myself. We have taken more than 100 photos today so we will not show them all.
Thessaloniki, after Athens now the largest city in Greece, was founded in 315 BC. and has a turbulent history. If you want to know more about the history of the last 5 centuries, then the book 'Salonica, City of Ghosts 1430-1950' is a must. It is a very readable book in which the combination of and the collisions between cultures are clearly described. It is impossible for us to tell everything about the history of Thessaloniki here, but occasionally tell something about a photo.
Arch of Galerius in Thessaloniki Detail on the Arch of Galerius, ThessalonikiFrom the sea we walk north to the triumph arch of Galerius, also called the Kamara. The Roman emperor Galerius had it built in the 4th century to commemorate his campaigns against the Persians. Only a part of the arch is still standing but that fact is already a miracle. Many of the foundations, which we have just walked past, have been underground for centuries and have been preserved that way, but the arch has remained visible through all those centuries.
The Rotonda Agios Georgios, ThessalonikiFrom the arch we also see the Rotunda, a circular building from 306 AD. that was part of the palace complex of Emperor Galerius and that, according to some historians, he wanted to use it as a mausoleum. But he died in Serbia and was buried there, after which the building, from around 400 AD., was used as a church (Agios Georgios). In the Ottoman times it became (of course) a mosque, hence the minaret in the background. The building can be visited and there are beautiful mosaics to see, but today we mainly want to walk around and see as much of the city as possible. Another time we will look at specific buildings from the inside.
The Agia Sofia square in Thessaloniki Monastery of St. TheodoraVia the Hagia Sofia square we walk slightly to the west and between the high flats and modern buildings along the Ermou we find a small but beautiful monastery, dedicated to St. Theodora, hidden away, we almost walk by without noticing it. Theodora was a female saint from the 9th century. Thessaloniki is a lively, busy city but as soon as you enter the gate of the monastery, you enter a different world and an oasis of peace. It is a colorful structure with many paintings and icons. Surely worth a visit!
Modiano market area in Thessaloniki Modiano market area in ThessalonikiA bit further to the west we reach the Mondiano market, an open market that looks a bit like an oriental bazar with a lot of food stalls with fragrant herbs, fresh fish, meat and delicacies. Although it is now also visited by tourists, there is still the authentic atmosphere of a folk market (except for all the cheap plastic products). This market was built in 1922 but a little further on we end up in Kapani, an area with narrow streets with many more stalls and shops that have been operating since the Ottoman era (so for at least 5 centuries). There are also many clothing and shoe stores here and I am still looking for good walking shoes, but unfortunately I do not find them.
Mural in ThessalonikiThere are also plenty of terraces in this area and our feet need a bit of rest. That is the disadvantage of a city: there is so much to see and do, but you also have to walk for hours. In itself not so bad but we are getting older and Teije often suffers from his feet and ankles, an old ailment, and I from my back. We often want much more than we can, so taking a break is important and we take a light lunch. But we find it absolutely no punishment to sit on a terrace and certainly there is also a lot to see from the terrace while the busy crowds walk past us.
As we continue, we see a beautiful mural on a high building on Tsimiski street, a woman holding the tail of a phoenix. It is made by two street artists, a Chinese and a South African couple and is about the theme of violence against women. We see even more street art in the city but this is one of the most beautiful.
Excavation along the road, Thessaloniki The old market or agora, ThessalonikiThe next part of the walk brings us to the old center where the Greeks had their market, the agora. The Romans expanded it and built their forum with a theater where gladiator fights were held as well as theater performances. Every time when there are construction works in Thessaloniki, or when buildings are being demolished, archaeologists first look for old remains and this area of city was uncovered in the 1960s. It would not surprise us if in 50 years an even larger part of the city center is exposed and remnants of other important remains can be seen. Most discoveries made here are in the archaeological museum but there is also an interesting underground museum with lots of information about the city under the forum.
Temple of Pammegiston TaxiarchonCrisscrossing through the new center we walk towards the old town which is obviously built up against the slope and before we start the last part, we sit down for an ice cream, but especially to give our feet some rest. We have been walking around for 4 hours now and we are starting to feel that now. We come across a lot of historic buildings, bathhouses from various eras, ruins and of course churches, there are a lot of them in Thessaloniki. We make a few photos of each, but we find the outside view of the church of the archangels one of the nicer ones.
View from the Heptapyrgion fortress in Thessaloniki Take a break at the Heptapyrgion fortThe last part of the climb to the north-east of the city is not easy but the view over the city from above is beautiful. We finally arrive at the Byzantine Heptapyrgion (which means 7 towers, although there are 10) that was later converted by the Ottomans into a garrison place and used as a prison in the 19th century. In the 20th century it was used to detain and torture political prisoners. Also, somewhere outside the fort, hundreds of prisoners were executed, not really a happy place. It was not until 1989 that the prison was closed.
The Heptapyrgion fortress, Thessaloniki View from the Heptapyrgion fortress in ThessalonikiThe fort lies at a height of almost 250 meters and part of it can be visited because archaeologists are still conducting research. We do not go inside today, we still have to make a long walk back to the sea. But next time we will put the car a bit closer or take the bus (line 23 we know now). As I puncture the blisters under my feet, Teije walks back and forth a bit to take some pictures before we go down again. From here, it is still more than 2.5 kilometers to the Whie Tower in the harbor.
I am a boy but like to play with dollsAnd then the climb down through the old town, but that is a bit disappointing. Most of the old buildings that are still there, are poorly maintained with lots of graffiti on them and the streets radiate little atmosphere, very different from many other 'old' city centers we have seen. Even in the much smaller Xanthi, where we were a few days ago, it was much nicer with many Byzantine buildings. But we do see a few funny graffiti drawings and this was the nicest. Later we find out that the text sys the following: 'I am a boy, I love to play with dolls and to wear dresses'. But the children will all be at school now, because we do not see them on the street.
The bustling center of ThessalonikiAs extinct as it was in the upper city, so lively it is in the modern center. Thessaloniki is a special city because of all the visible history and today we have got a good first impression but we would like to come back again. Usually we tell a bit more about the history of the place where we are, but that is almost impossible to do here. We should mention one fact: the great fire of 1917. A third of the city was destroyed and the government had a new, modern city plan developed during the reconstruction. And then there is the story about the Jews in Thessaloniki but that is for another time.
Statue of Alexander the Great in Thessaloniki A drone above the statue of Alexander the GreatAfter a last break on a terrace along the sea, we stroll along the boulevard to the statue of Alexander the Great, the world conqueror from Macedonia. Thessaloniki was only founded after his death, but in Macedonia one is proud of its Macedonian origin. Because of the historical value of the name, there is also a growing conflict between Greece and the former Yugoslavia region that calls itself Macedonia since it is an independent country. When we are standing at the statue a drone approaches that keeps circling around the statue. The way it moves looks pretty scary, as if such a drone can come at anyone any time or start shooting.
Then we find it enough for today and go in search of our parking garage. For the 8 hours that the car has been parked, we only have € 10 to pay, realy cheap for parking in the center of such a city, but for the average Greek this will be different. We pay and are referred to box B3. After a few minutes, our car suddenly appears on a turntable through a door. Unfortunately we can not make a movie with our camera because it is nice to see, very futuristic.
To leave the city seems to go a lot faster than entering it and 45 minutes later we are already arrive at our apartment in Paralia Dionysiou where our feet can recover from the long hiking day.
The last 8 days we have driven a lot and seen a lot of (cultural) things, also because it was a lot colder and wetter than normal but the coming time we will take it easy. Later in the evening we put our map of the region on the table and reserve apartments for the coming week.

Saturday 11 June 2016, relaxing on Sithonia and Kassandra

On the north side of Sithonia The coast near Nikiti, SithoniaThe day after we wake up quiet late and we make it a lazy day. First we head for Sithonia where we sit on a terrace in Nikiti for a while. The weather is nice, the sky is almost clear blue and the sea is calm. Then we drive to the beach with the goats where we were already were, over a week ago, and there we stay for hours in the sun, in the sea, with a book, with eyes closed, until we have enough of it. Our skin was already a bit darker but now we it is more red than brown. We have seen too little sun the last week, that must be it.
St. Nicholas church in Kallithea, Kassandra Statue in Kallithea, KassandraThen we drive to the island of Kassandra for something to eat in Kallithea, a cozy tourist town on the island. Usually we do not like crowded tourist spots but here it is relaxed and it is not very busy. But I do not think I want to be here in the busy season, from July to September, then it's full of young people who only need sun, beach and drinks because there is an active nightlife here.
After dinner we make a short walk along the boulevard and see from a square a ruin beow us. We have to go there to check it out, then we also have done at least something cultural today.
The temple of Zeus-Ammon in Kallithea, KassandraThey are the remains of the sanctuary of Zeus Ammon and Dionysus, one of the most important temples in Chalkidiki. Zeus Ammon is a god who during the ptolemaic period, when the successors of Alexander the Great ruled over Egypt, arose from the merging of the Greek supreme god Zeus and the Egyptian god Amon who were the same in the eyes of the Greeks. The Egyptian goddess Isis was also increasingly venerated by the Greeks at that time. A sign indicates that the EU donated half a million euros for repairs. Probably that was sufficient for some information signs that we see through the closed gate. Money for a cash register was certainly not there anymore since the place will be closed for a long time to come.
Tomorrow we leave here and we go 2 days to the peninsula Sithonia where we have been many times before but it is always a lot of driving from Paralia Dionisiou. And adter that we will visit the island of Thassos that we saw so often off the coast on our journey through the east. The more we read about it, the more enthusiastic we become. But that will come later.


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