Walking for 10 hours
Tourist Info in a tourist country
Following the wall
Walking down funky streets and graffiti
Intermittent Churches and ruins
This is our first proper day in Greece. Yesterday does not really count, as it was travelling.
We were up pretty early to check out the town. Having looked on line there seems to be plenty of things to see in town, and we are looking forward to it.
However our first job is to find tourist information. Having had a few problems elsewhere, we had even tracked down the address online and were all set. We just needed a map to find the right street. Hopefully we can get one from tourist info 😉
Our street is almost smack down town, and at night a multi coloured neon glow lights everything from all the hotel signs and shop fronts. During the day it is a busy place with people and cars everywhere. We had been shielded from a lot of this as our hotel room is on the rear of the building and very quiet, but opening the front door we were blasted with the sound, sight and smells of a big city. We must have been lucky with other places that it was tourist season, and everyone was on holidays. Now Uni and work is back in there are people everywhere. Jostled backwards and forwards until we could take the first street off towards the water. Here it got a little quieter. Probably similar to the main street in Sofia! And it is only a little side street! It was only a few blocks to the ocean front. These are big blocks with many one way streets within them, so you could say that Thessaloniki is made up of very large blocks of buildings, if you use bigger roads as the markers, or lots and lots of small blocks if you use all the little alley ways. We found a nice place to have a morning coffee,and realised that I may have to cut my caffeine addiction in Greece. True, this place roasted their own coffee, and were in an old dock building that is quite small at only two stories. It has been well renovated and tastefully decorated, but it was only a little more expensive than anywhere else we had seen. The coffee was good though.
My addiction fixed for the time being, we went down to get our first proper look at the Agean Sea. There is no beach. Oh well. There is a pedestrian strip to walk along though. Then a busy road, although in this city I think all roads are busy, and 6+ story buildings. It is an interesting look as you gaze down along the water, but not what I would call appealing. Still, we walked along this for a while, marvelling at the cleanliness of the water. It was not until we were passed by a modified tug boat that had a garbage collector attached at the bow that we worked out how the water was so clean. They trawl backwards and forwards all day collecting the garbage that has made it into the water. Anything that misses its gaping maw is picked up by men with nets on the side. I almost felt like I had to tell them they missed a bit when I saw a piece of paper floating just past their wake.
In this way we made it to the White tower. This marks the western point on the ocean of the old town fortifications. Now a small museum. The tower has had an interesting past and a lot of names. It got its current name from when it was a prison, and one of the inmates whitewashed it to gain his freedom. He didn’t do the best of jobs, as it is now back to the original stonework. Either that, or another convict needs to redo it.
We are lucky to see this, as at one stage they wanted to demolish the tower to have a few more waterfront buildings, but some bright person stood up and said that it was not a good idea to do this, as the city would have no history left. Considering other parts of the ancient city that have been systematically destroyed in the name of progress it was a brave move.
It is an impressive structure, and although dwarfed now by the buildings around it, it would have made a good vantage point out over the water.
After looking at the tower, and the waterfront a bit more, we moved on. Stumbling over the street that tourist information is located was a bit of luck. There are street signs occasionally, and even numbers rarely so we could work out the direction to go in. It turned out to be pretty close. It was closed. Indefinitely! Apparently due to the Austerity measures they have decided to close the office. This is an interesting thing for us, as I thought Greece’s number one industry was tourism, and any way to convince tourists to stay longer and spend more money would be welcome. We do have a slightly sinister thought about this though. Greece has closed tourist information in its second biggest city, stopped all inter country rail links and closed a lot of sites. Possibly because they are costing too much money, but to us it seems to be making a point for foreign tourists. (They have borrowed over 720 BILLION Euros. Hence the Austerity measures. Oh, Woe is us, we cannot even afford to tell you about our fine country…).
So, it could be a very short stay in Greece before we go to Turkey. We had planned on staying here until a few days before our flight, but might just skip through instead. Mostly because we cannot find out what to see in the area and eastern part of the country.
So, we are relying now on a pathetic sketch map that has three streets listed, and a few bits to see from an old brochure we picked up in the hotel! Great.
Still, we can at least find the archaeological museum. We hope.
Find it we did. The museum is well set out, and traces the history of the city and Macedonia fairly well in a concise way. Not over doing the pottery and without the masses and masses of artefacts that make you want to fall asleep. Guiding you through the different periods from Macedon to Roman to Byzantine and stopping. No Ottoman history is mentioned unfortunately. Still, we got to learn a little about the region and its importance.
Spending a long while wandering through the exhibitions looking at recreated sections of the old city, and where they are located under the new. It gave us an idea on what we want to see here, but most of these areas have either been destroyed in the expansion of the city, or are still underground.
From the museum, we went to Galerius’s Arch. This is interesting to us, having seen his retirement home/villa/mansion/palace/town in Serbia. It is no Triumphal arch, but made mostly from brick with a marble facade. This is still very impressive, even considering the amount of damage to it. We had passed the remains of the Eastern Gate to get to it. When I say remains, I mean the spot where it used to exist, but is now a very large round about for traffic. Progress. Cars are more important than history.
One of the wide streets from the arch revealed an older looking building to the north, so we headed towards it. This is the Rotunda. There are a few things about this place. Firstly it is large and round. It was probably built as a temple to Zeus, but some think it could have been built by Galerius as his mausoleum. We had seen his burial mound, so think the former is likely. They think it was constructed in around 306 AD. It has served many purposes. Mostly religious from church to mosque to church again. Now it is being restored. The main entrance was closed, but a side entrance was open with a truck parked in it. Asking if we could walk around, we were waved in. It is a beautiful building, and the only thing marring its simplicity is a latter addition of a naive added when it was converted to a church. There is also a minaret to one side. Lots of old pillars are stacked behind it.
We were even allowed inside. OK, so the site is still open to the public, and the door was open. Inside it is covered with scaffolding, but if you look through it… You see brickwork. Until you look up. Then you can see the most detailed and intricate mosaics. These have been cleaned in places and show geometric patterns, fruit and animals. The central dome had buildings and city scapes. What was left of it. Nothing overtly Christian that we could make out, and could be part of the original structure (but what do we know)
Back outside, we started making our way up the hill. This is a fair climb, and took a while. Stopping in for a detour through one of the graveyards, we could compare how the Thessalonikians revere their dead compared to other places. The graves are all white marble. Well made and forgotten. Similar to the rest of the city, the place is well maintained, but there are no wreaths, flowers or candles for the deceased, and it seems that after they are buried they can be forgotten about for most of the year. In stark contrast to the Balkans. We started following the old city wall after this (In the past it was illegal to have graves within the city walls, so it was located just outside). A steep climb through a small park area and we made it to Trigoniou Tower. This had been built in the 15th century by the Ottomans, around an old Byzantine tower that was built over an old Roman tower. It marks the eastern end of the Acropolis. In the 1920’s this was in the middle of nowhere, but now the city completely surrounds it. Apparently it is UNESCO listed, and when we found this out, we were worried on what the bill would be. Its FREE! So, wandering inside we were faced with small narrow tunnels with fluoro blue lighting. The tower is pretty solid with rooms riddled throughout. Only two sections come out from the tower itself. One is a gun emplacement and the other is a latrine with squat toilet still installed. Small rooms within for storage and troops. On reaching the roof, we were greeted with views out over the city. Above us we could see the fortress, and although it was too late to try and make it there, we were happy to at least see it. Below was the wall we had followed, the city built up all around it. The east provided a view out over the city again, and how far it had expanded, and the west was a wall that separated the old Agora from the original city. Again it is all totally consumed by buildings. Non of the big sites were visible except the Rotunda. And that was only because we knew where to look.
The sun was creeping towards the horizon by now, so we decided to call it a day and head back to the hotel. We knew it would take a while, as we could see approximately where it was. A long way away.
Following the wall that separated the Agora from town through another nice park, we stopped off for a couple of take away beers to enjoy at the walls. Contemplating how the city has expanded from the twenties to now. OK, it is almost 100 years, but still. The population has boomed for sure. Then we went down the hill. This was a lot steeper. Through small winding roads with cars flying around blind corners and no footpaths. It is a different side of the city to the lower flat streets. One thing of particular note is the Graffiti. There are some very talented artists here. There is not as much tagging as Serbia and Macedonia, but still quite a lot,yet in more than a few places are actual artworks. Intermixed with stencilling and political statements. It is almost refreshing to see. If you are going to splash paint all over a wall, at least make it look good!
That’s about it for the day. It was a lot of walking, and although we have not mentioned the churches we have gone into, they are very different to the Serbian and Bulgarian Orthodox churches, almost seeming to be a mix of Catholic and Orthodox. They are plain on the outside and the inside can range from plain to extravagant.