10 October 2013

From Thessaloniki to Pella
Archaeological site
Dyonisus House
Helen’s House
Museum Shop
Bus to Edessa
Pretty town?

We are going to try and do an overnighter.  Leaving our bags at the hotel in Thessaloniki, before we went to the bus station.  Last night was spent looking up Pella and Regina. The two old capitals of the Macedon Kingdom.  Having heard so much about this kingdom from FYROM (Macedonia the country) we wanted to see where all the action happened in Macedonia the Province.  Without your own car it is not possible to do both as a day trip, but we found one person that had done Pella, stayed in the beautiful town of Edessa and then gone to Vergina the next day by bus.  Sounded good and simple.  Nothing is what it seems though.

At the bus station we worked out why Greece is in dire straights.  K.T.E.L. is the major bus company here, and their ticketing system is all computerised.  Sounds good?  Well, at the station every three destinations has their own counter and ticket person!  There are at least 20 different counters.  As a tourist this is very confusing.  Sure, a lot of people are using this station to go all over the country, but with so many counters, which one do we go to?  Asking at the first, we were sent to the last, then one a couple of numbers before that.  As it is all done by computer, why not just have a bank of five or so, rather than a lot of people sitting around playing on facebook?  They were nice enough however, and we got our tickets.  The bus time was only slightly different to that posted online, so we didn’t have too long to wait.
Within the circular bus station we could admire the building, whilst choking on all the fumes.

On the bus, we drove out of the city. It is a bit strange, as you cannot tell where one city or town ends and the next starts, as most of it is built up along the road.  Houses gave way eventually to industry, which in turn gave way to cotton fields.  An hour or so later the bus pulled off the highway to an intersection and dropped us off.  The driver was pretty cool, and for the last few minutes we had been chatting.  He had a relative in Australia, as have a lot of others we have met, but instead of it being Sydney or Melbourne, his were in Coober Pedy of all places.  Pretty close to where we last worked.
His parting words were to see Greek history of Macedonia and not FYROM’s!
The intersection we had been dropped at went to the town of Pella in one direction and the old city in another.  Skipping town for now we wandered straight to the archaeological site.  Getting our tickets (6 Euro each including museum) we wandered in.  There are no columns of columns, other than a small group of about 5 pillars.  Most of the site was levelled in a massive earthquake in the 1st century BC.  So all that is left are the foundations.  It is an archaeologists dream however due to this.  Most houses were simply abandoned with everything in place.  No fires, pillaging or similar destruction to change the site.  The city is laid out in a simple grid pattern and is apparently the oldest uncovered to have this style.  Each block was a couple of houses.  The size of these is pretty big ranging from a couple of hundred square metres to a couple of thousand.  In the centre is the Agora at about 70,000m2!  Being close to the centre of town, these houses are for the richer people and were full of mosaics.  Most of these have been removed and are in museums over the place, but a few have been left in situ.  Being from around 300BC, the mosaics are made from river stones, selected for their smoothness and colour.  Well done, although the first that we saw were geometric patterns.  Looking around, we got to see ancient drainage systems (does not sound that interesting, but when you look at how modern cities deal with rain water, fresh and grey water you can see how important it is) roads and house sizes.  The old bath house with its individual bathtubs set out in a circular pattern and much more.  Towards the bottom of the complex we saw a group of buildings and headed over thinking it is the museum.  It turns out not to be.  I think it is the old entrance from before they moved the highway, and all that is now used is the museum shop.  They have directions to the museum at the other end of the complex, so we made our way up past the Agora, where there is still a lot of work going on.  Sections of this have been reconstructed to about a metre high, showing the thick double stone outer walls, and the wells that nearly every store ringing the complex had.  We learnt later that these have been a trove of finds.  Originally used for fresh water into the shops, they ended up being used as garbage dumps, so a lot of small bits and pieces ended up at the bottom of these wells giving a good idea on daily life.

At the back, we found no way to get to the museum, but got to see all the work that was going on.  From cutting stone for the reconstructions to digging new trenches and sifting the rubble.  Massive collections of old stones and new pipes.  Apart from clay shards everywhere, there was little of interest for us here though.  Going back to the entrance, we found out that you have to leave the site and walk up through town to get to the museum, which we duly did.  It is a fair hike, and although not steep, buy the time you get there, you appreciate the walk!
The people at the museum were pretty cool.  There were at least 5 people hanging around waiting for interested tourists to turn up (and more that we didn’t see).  The first checked our tickets, the second took our bags and told us we could take photos without flash, and the third guided us to watch a video about the history of Pella.  The others ran to take their places as room security.  To make sure we don’t do something stupid, like break of a finger of a stature when comparing palm size!  Personally, with Greek statues, I would be worried about Americans breaking off a different part..

Pella was the second capital of Macedonia and inhabited for a long time.  Brought to its peak under Phillip II.  He moved here from Vergina as it was on the waters edge at the time.  With the earthquake, Roman and barbarian invasions, coupled with the bay silting up, it lost its importance and became deserted and forgotten.  There were small towns on either side that survived, but overall it was left to be covered up for people to unearth now.  Even though only a small section of the city has been excavated, they have been able to work out a lot.
After the movie we walked through the exhibits.  This is well done, and the building is set up in such a way so as to guide you through the rooms.  We got to see some of the mosaics that have been taken from the houses of Dionisus and Helen, as well as seeing what one of the potters workshops looked like when it was excavated.  All the wares around the corners of the room, and a lot still in perfect condition.  On top of this, due to the sudden emptying of the city, we got to see all the household goods from children’s toys to the statues of gods kept in household shrines.  This is remarkably similar to today.  Even though we do not have the symphony of gods that the Macedonians had, most houses here still have a small imitation church shrine somewhere around the house, with the icons of their favourite saint stuck inside.  As much as Christianity may have wanted to stamp it out, it only changed the names!  One thing that was an overall theme for us though was a child riding a rooster.  They had a lot of these little statues, ranging from rough clay to fine bronze.  We have no idea why it was important, we just thought it was a bit of fun.

Having had our fill of the museum, we went back through town to catch a bus to Edessa.  All that we know of this place is that it is a pretty town with waterfalls.  Catching the bus was fairly easy, but time consuming.  we had to go to the intersection we had been dropped off at, then go to the highway, as the bus is direct.  Sitting at the traffic lights, flagging down every bus that went past to see if it was the right one (In the few hours we were there, only three buses went past anyway).  They do stop for you, and most drivers are pretty helpful.  Two girls went past as we were waiting.  They were trying to hitch-hike back to Thessaloniki, and were still trying when our bus finally came.  This confirmed our suspicions that it is not an easy country to hitch in.

At Edessa the driver showed his skills, as he negotiated the small crowded streets within the town to take the bus to the station.  Getting out and looking around, we were wondering where the pretty town was, as it could be almost anywhere.  Walking on, we did find channels of water flowing through the city and off over the edge of the mountain the town is perched on.  The lookout points were under reconstruction though, and you could not see anything, but with the amount of water it would not have been that impressive anyway.  Finding a hotel, we checked the prices, and then moved on.  Following the stream to a few terraced cafes and a man made waterfall all of a metre high, we were very unimpressed.  This was not worth the effort.  Still needing a place to stay we continued walking.  Eventually ending up in the old section of town.  This is much more to our liking, as the buildings are more Ottoman style (or Bulgarian Revival, depending on who you listen to) with a lot of them done up, but others peacefully turning back into the earth they were made from.  I hate to see this happening to old houses, but what can you do about it?  From here, we saw some signs with waterfall written on them, and as it happens,we were not too far away.  There is a larger stream here, and the waterfall is pretty impressive.  Flowing rapidly towards the cliff and disappearing over the edge. Taking the stairs down, you can see it in its glory.  There is even a path behind it.  There is a cave here, although it is now locked tight, and a carved section that we could have explored if we had a torch.  As we had no light, I would like to think it ends about a metre into the dark!

Back up the hill and on  the other side is another stream that splits in two before suffering the same churning fate.  We could not see this from below though without a long walk, and night was falling.  Taking the time to appreciate a beer, before we have to walk back to the first hotel (we had checked others but they were more expensive or closed).  After dark, we took a last look at the water, only to find out that the streams had been lit by coloured lights.  The effect is great, so we even went back down the hill to look at the waterfall again.  Blue, yellow, pink and orange as the light cycled through its colours.  Even strobe effects were used.  It is a pretty good thing to see, and did make it worth while to come here.

So back to our first hotel.  The guy was not surprised to see us,and probably knows he is the cheapest in town.  The room was not even that bad.



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