We are on the shore of Lake Kastoria in Northern Greece and this is our final call before heading off to Lake Ohrid in Macedonia via Albania. Before we got to Kastoria we spent a couple of days in Greece’s second city, Thessaloniki. We now plan to do a bit of an Eastern Europe pub crawl by visiting the countries whose citizens like to play the accordion on the London Underground while holding a baby and demanding money. Such musical talent, such athleticism, I want to see where these people acquire such skills. And as Christmas is approaching it could also be a fruitful area in which to source some unwanted presents for people, or failing that; cheap Vodka.
The first part of the trek took us from the ferry port of Piraeus to the coastal town of Volos. As time is not on our side we took the motorway from Athens to Volos. Like most motorway journeys the scenery was pretty bland, you got the occasional glimpse of the coast but not a lot else. Volos looks alright for a provincial town by the sea, a bit like Torquay in some respects, except for Jim Davidson is not in permanent residence at the end of the pier. We drove around but didn’t walk around and parked a couple of miles south in a deserted beach resort.
The next day we continued our drive north where the landscape improved dramatically around Mt Olympus. The highest mountain in Greece and coincidently home of the Gods was in perfect snow-capped splendour.
Soon after the getting the brief glimpses of Olympus the countryside flattens out to a massive coastal plain all the way to Thessaloniki. Our last part of the journey to Kastoria took up into the Southern Balkans close to the Albanian border. One thing I do not understand, apart for Chinese, is the pricing on Greek motorways. The 500 Km from Athens cost us about €80 whereas the 150Km from Thessaloniki to Kastoria cost €6. Like they say; it’s all Greek to me.
Thessaloniki 16/11 – 19/11/2016
We managed to find a piece of waste ground on the coast about 5Km from the city centre. All local amenities were within walking distance, including the frequent bus into the city centre.
On our first day into the city we decided to take in the major ancient sights by catching the bus No. 23 to the castle and then walking down through the layered history of ‘Thessey’ until reaching the restaurant area of Ladadika. Most of Thessaloniki was raised to the ground in a fire in 1917 and the only parts that survived were upper town, Ano Poli.
We started our walk from the Byzantine walls and headed in a spiral down through Ano Poli taking in the odd church as we descended. We were given a very informative talk by one Church Curator who gave us the history and differences between the Orthodox Church and Catholicism.
View from the Castle
The Colourful Houses of Ano Poli
After visiting the Monastery of Vlatadon with its Peacocks and the tiny church of St David with its ancient frescos we reached the daddy of Thessaloniki churches; St Dimitrios. We had a quick scoot around the church and crypt before heading for lunch completely cultured-out.
For lunch Tracy had some Prawn concoction and I had a lump of meat with gravy and chips. It was all very yummy and made a change from a Doner Kebab.
After lunch we strolled along the prom to look at the posers sitting around with a frappe, a cigarette and a pair of mirrored sunglasses. We were so encapsulated that we joined them and had the most expensive Frappe in Greece, it did come with a spoonful of Cheesecake to make it seem all worthwhile.
After this exorbitance we decided to call it a day and get the bus home. While waiting we saw a pack of dogs attack one those dull human statue things which was rather amusing.
Don’t mess with dogs in this town
For our second day we took in the White Tower, the church of St Sofia, the Roman bits and finished off with a walk around the modern part of the city with its branded clothing shops.
The White Tower is Thessaloniki’s most famous landmark and was built by the conquering Turks in the late 15th Century. It was then used as a prison and was used frequently to remove body parts of the natives and earning it the nickname of the Bloody Tower. In 1890 a convict painted the tower white in exchange for his freedom and since it has been known as The White Tower. The Tower has had a recent makeover courtesy of some lavish EU funds. Each of the six floors now has a multi-media display depicting the history of Thessaloniki. Unfortunately, despite using someone else’s money they thought fit to only detail the displays in Greek.
The White Tower
Tracy at the ‘Top ‘o’ The Tower’
The Castle from The Tower
Next stop for us was the Roman Arch and Rotunda. The arch was built in the 4th Century and consists of an Arch with a decorative panel to celebrate the victory of Galerius over the Persians, that’s Iran to you. From the Arch it is just a short walk to the Rotunda. Built by the Romans the Rotunda has been a temple, a church, a mosque and now a museum.
Arch, Rotunda and bloke in bad shorts
Lastly, we headed to St Sofia for a glimpse of Thessy’s finest. Not the greatest building from the outside but certainly its most atmospheric inside. It was just a relaxing place to sit compared to the noise of the city. Rumour has it that the church was modelled on its Istanbul namesake. Let me assure you it wasn’t.
Leaving the church we has a quick parade around Aristotle Square before heading off for some culinary delights.
Aristole Square: where you can feed the flying rats and get shat on if you are lucky
Baby food for Tracy, Men’s food for me.
So that is Thessaloniki. For us we would say it is probably a pleasant place to live if you have a few bob and can afford a place in Ano Poli or on the waterfront. There is not a lot for the tourist outside of a few old churches and an arch. They have made a wonderful job of the Esplanade with every amenity known to man made available and it makes a beautiful place to walk or play and watch the sun go down. There is enough here for a weekend away in the Spring or early Autumn.
Concert Hall and Promenade
Yacht Marina at Sunset
Kastoria 19/11 – 20/11/2016
Kastoria translates into English as beaver and this might be a clue as to the industry that made this place wealthy. Yep, dentistry. Not really, it was fur. Sadly the beavers have now all gone along with any other animal that had a furry coat. The factories and shops are still in abundance stitching together anything foreign with a saleable pelt to a never-ending stream of visitors with credit cards. I did consider a furry jock-strap but alas they didn’t have anything in extra-large.
We did what everybody else does here. Walk around the lake, look in the fur shops, walk out the fur shops and eat. One thing we did notice here are the people are much louder than in the rest of Greece. They seem to shout more and drink more. Perhaps it is the cold mountain air that does this.
From across the Lake
Us on the Prom
So that is a fond farewell from us to Greece. You are still our favourite country.
Love to All