Monday, June 30, 2014

We ride antique funicular to best view of San Sebastian

The next morning we set off for a walk through the narrow, cobbled streets of the old town to the port. We passed by some picturesque three- and four-storey buildings faced with lovely blue ceramic tiles that peeked out from between the laundry hanging outside the windows. There were a few restaurants right on the quay that looked like they might be good for lunch.

At the end of the port we stopped to watch the people swimming their dogs down a large boat ramp. The Labradors were definitely the most enthusiastic picking up whatever was thrown for them, as well as for the other dogs. Moving along we came to a long, wide promenade around the promontory. Overlooking us on the hill was the giant statue of San Sebastián. The walk was lovely with no cars and not that many people. It led us right back to our hotel.

It was becoming quite warm so we decided to take the bus past the long stretches of beach to the other side of the bay and within walking distance of the 102-year-old wooden funicular. On the way up we shared a car with a Dutchman and his bike. He had biked all the way from Holland and was continuing on to Santiago before meeting up with his wife. Quite a trip.

At the top the views were stunning with long stretches of golden sand and the island of Santa Clara sitting in the middle of the bay with little boats plying to and fro and San Sebastian overlooking it all from his hilltop across the bay. Of course all this was set against a remarkable blue sky.

We wandered around the top of the hill, which is occupied by a hotel at one end and an old fashioned fun fair at the other. It seemed like an odd combination. Eventually, it was time to take the steep ride back down to the town. We thought we would catch the bus back but ended up taking a long walk around the promenade back to the port. Since it was 35 degrees, our progress was a bit slow. Our experience has been that restaurants right on ports are pretty good but this was not the case today with some mediocre service, stale bread and drowned salad.

Later that evening we made up for our disappointment having some lovely hake, called merluza in Spain, while watching the Spain football match on the restaurant television. Every restaurant in the old town was tuned in to the match. But the excited pre-game buzz eventually became quite muted - Spain, unbelievably was out of the World Cup.


San Sebastian, Basque country's colourful capital

We finally arrived in San Sebastián after a day's drive across France. In case you aren't sure, San Sebastián is located in Basque Country on the west coast of Spain, 20 kilometres from the French border. After driving round and round becoming tired of the one way streets, which constantly went in the wrong direction, we finally arrived at our pension perfectly located in the old town.

After a quick unpack, we set out to explore San Sebastián. It is quite charming with narrow streets lined with lots of restaurants and bars. San Sebastián is famous for its Michelin star restaurants, in fact more per square foot than anywhere else in the world, but we weren't looking for them. Adding to these cooking highlights are the pintxos or as they are known elsewhere in Spain, tapas. Every restaurant and bar had an area filled with pintxos, where you could help yourself. Mostly these are little open faced sandwiches with delicious mixes of food featuring, crab, shrimp, calamari, all kinds of hams, eggs and sausages just to name a few. We went to the restaurant part, where we could help ourselves to the pintxos as well as order a little meal. We ordered one of our favourites, morcilla, which is pieces of grilled blood sausage combined with lots of rice and accompanied by grilled mushrooms. It really is delicious, not too strong and has a lovely spicy flavour. Of course we washed this down with some local Basque cider.

After dinner we had a lovely long walk on the promenade before returning to our hotel to plan tomorrow's exploits.


Sunday, June 15, 2014

Classic cutter a delight to behold

Most of the week has been extremely hot with only faint whispers of wind. It has made for very nice swimming in warm, flat water. Today has been much different. It is still hot but incredibly windy with sand blowing everywhere. We sat on the beach for a short time but with the sand whipping around us we gave up.


The village is slightly busier with more tourists taking up residence. There have been a number of  boats anchoring in the bay. A few nights ago we had the good fortune to talk to the owner of the Alexander T, formerly the Eleanor Mary, a replica of a nineteenth century Bristol Channel pilot cutter. The boat was built in Nova Scotia at the Covey Island Boat Works. The owner told us that she had crossed the Atlantic three times and has participated in several tall ship races. Now the sleek blue cutter is used for family pleasure sailing and her home port is in France.

We spotted the Alexander T motoring to anchor in the bay yesterday. Unfortunately, we didn't see her leave this morning. Today was a wonderful day for sailing. She is quite a fascinating ship and if you want to read more go to http://www.bristolcutter.com

Friday, June 13, 2014

Charming church rewards drive to end of Kassandra spit

We decided to escape our resort and go for a drive to the end of the Kassandra Spit. It was quite unusual to go through small resort towns, where shops selling suntan lotion and beachy type things were next door to shops selling furs. Most of these small towns, with lots of restaurants and patisseries, were full of tourists, many from neighbouring Albania, Romania and Bulgaria as well as Russia and the UK.

Once again the roadsides were unkempt and overgrown; however it was lovely to see the water from both sides of the peninsula. As we drove further south it became much more rural. Finally, we stopped at a lovely spot with a few fishing boats and a tiny church atop a little hill. Another car drove up and its occupants went inside the church. We decided to have a look for ourselves. It was open but no one was around. A few candles were lit and money was overflowing from the offertory box. There were several brightly coloured icons on the walls. It seemed like this spot had many visitors. Back in the car we drove up the other side of the peninsula returning to our resort for lunch and an afternoon on the beach.

The rest of our stay was pretty uneventful. We normally would not stay at a place like this and we likened it to the 1970s TV show, The Prisoner, where everyone was super friendly almost to a fault. It was a little surreal and certainly was not reflective of the state of Greece beyond the boundaries of the resort. Of course this doesn't mean that the Greeks weren't friendly. Quite the contrary, they were very friendly. On our next Greek trip, we will visit some islands. People always speak favorably about them but where do they stay?

On our last night we had dinner at a small Greek restaurant, Tomata, at the marina. Once seated we were invited to make our own salad. There was a basin inset in the table filled with lovely, ripe tomatoes, arugula, lemons, limes and peppers. This was surrounded by a really good olive oil, balsamic vinegar, green and black olives, and jars with dried oregano and thyme. It was good fun mixing our own salad. Bread appeared with tzaziki and a pimento spread. Finally, they had moussaka on the menu. And it was delicious, topped with eggplant and an outstanding haloumi cheese sauce. It was worth the wait.

The next afternoon we left the beach, cleaned up in the spa, had our last lunch before returning to reality, joining the scrum at the much too small Thessaloniki airport.





The down side of a 'family-friendly' resort

We had quickly discovered that it was an English school holiday and our hotel was full of young children who loved recreational shrieking. They would shriek at meals, around the pools and basically everywhere. No parent seemed to say anything to them. They were oblivious. It was accepted. In fact many parents didn't appear to even realize that their kids were out of control, running around the restaurant, while everyone was eating or even lying practically in front of the door where the servers came and went from the kitchen. It was interesting to observe the Russian and German families. They had their meals as you would expect.

Now this sounds pretty horrible and it was but there were four hotels, a marina and many restaurants on the 1000 acres so we could work with it. On our second day the sea at the seven-kilometre beach was pretty rough and it was very windy so we decided to go to the beach on the other side near the hotel. We went to a quiet area and settled in. It was lovely. We had a nice swim and one of the beach assistants brought us some extra towels. Then someone came along with a big basket filled with stuff. He wanted to clean our sunglasses!  We thought this was quite funny but declined the offer. It was time for lunch. Someone had kindly delivered the beach menu for us. There was lots of choice. Great. We called over the fellow from the beach bar and suddenly our blissful world fell apart when we gave our room number. We were sitting on the wrong beach, the one from the super expensive beach suites not in front of our own hotel. Not only could we not get lunch but the embarrassment, we had to move to our own hotel's area, which was adjacent. All was not lost as we had a good lunch at the Beach Bar on the seven-kilometre beach, where we settled in for a quiet afternoon. Shriekers don't like rough water.


Thursday, June 12, 2014

From ancient icons to beach umbrellas

We had one task to complete before doing our last exploration of Veria, to find a post office. Yesterday we thought we had found one but it seemed like it was a postal bank. We did get instructions but our first stop seemed to be someone's office and it turned out he didn't know much about stamps. A stop at the tobacconist didn't help either, as in Greece  they don't carry stamps. Next we found a deathly quiet post office. There were lots of people sitting quietly in several rows of seats, each clutching their mail. Since only two people were serving, slowly, this was going to take longer than we wanted to wait. Some bookstores have stamps but we couldn't find one. It would have to wait until our next stop. Snail mail takes some patience in Greece.

We wandered around the streets heading for the Byzantine museum. It was another beautiful spot but didn't seem to be busy  when we arrived. In fact the lady had to come to each floor to turn on the lights for us. There were lots of colourful Byzantine icons. I found the colours somewhat different than other icons I had seen. There were signs telling people not to touch the icons. Those schoolchildren from yesterday would have great difficulty containing themselves by not kissing the hands of the saints. There were displays of clay pottery not even in cases and several displays of magnificent jewellery.

We walked once again through the stately old mansions to the shrine of St. Paul, the apostle, who came to Greece and Veria to spread Christianity. This marble shrine with frescoes and statues was very bright with lots of flowers surrounding it.

Back on the road again, on our way to a resort on the  Halkidiki peninsula. This involved a return trip on the very inexpensive toll road to Thessaloniki. Somehow instead of driving on the ring road around the city, we ended up with loads of trucks and cars going on a bypass that wasn't a highway. There was lots of construction and no lines on the road, making for a very interesting trip. Finally, we were on the road to our resort far away from busy Thessaloniki.

After moving rooms once because we didn't want to listen to a shrieking child, it was time to head for the beach. We bypassed the first beach and pools, again with lots of shrieking kids. Fortunately, we soon found the seven-kilometre-long beach, where we made ourselves at home. The water was warm enough for a good swim. However, it looked like a storm was coming.

Twenty minutes later back in the room the fast moving storm arrived. We had never seen anything like it. You couldn't see the ocean or even the next building. The wind howled and the rain poured down in giant sheets. Several forks of lightning appeared at the same time and the thunder roared. We watched as first one tree in front of us cracked and fell over and then another. Sheet lightning occasionally lit up the whole sky. There was no sign of the wind and rain letting up. Finally, things began to die down and we could see lightning off in the direction of Romania.

After exploring the hotel and eating in an adult-only restaurant with a lovely selection of fish, we ventured over to the marina, where some giant yachts were docked. They came from all over, from Australia to Delaware. But more importantly, in the shop in the marina they sold stamps. If a store sells cards it sells stamps. We hadn't exactly found that previously. This was good news. Our birthday card to Canada was on its way. Of course we don't know if it has arrived yet.




Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Mount Olympus, home of the gods

Our first visit was to Mount Olympus, the home of the Twelve Olympian gods of the Ancient Greek world. In myth, Olympus formed after the gods defeated the Titans. The Twelve Olympian gods lived in the gorges with Zeus as their leader. This certainly gave our drive a sense of mysticism, and the narrow road edged with rockfalls added a little drama. After a bumpy ride on a gravel road we finally reached our destination. Somehow you don't think of the gods having to travel over gravel.

Clouds were swirling around and we wondered if Zeus was about to unleash some thunderbolts. We had a look at the path higher up the mountain but it was definitely a path for hiking and not a leisurely stroll. After admiring the view from the first bridge we decided it was time for our salad lunch accompanied by bread and tzakiki, which we enjoyed surrounded by wild flowers, overlooking a lovely mountain stream.

Back in the car we headed down the mountain to visit the Orthodox chapel  built by Saint Dionysius of Olympus in the 16th century. The monastery was looted and burned by the Ottomans and in 1943 it was almost totally destroyed by the Germans, who suspected that it was a guerrilla den. The old church has now been restored. For me it was very interesting to watch an enthusiastic group of schoolchildren go around the church and cross themselves before each painting and then kiss the hand of whichever saint was portrayed. In fact one boy was ready to do some climbing to reach the hand of one saint before he thought better of it.

Outside the students gathered round a jolly looking Greek Orthodox priest and after a lot more hand kissing they sang a song for him. In the meantime we had a look around the refectory with its long wooden dining table, and the kitchen, where by the looks of it, lots of cooking was taking place.

There is still much renovation to be completed, which may take a long time as there seem to be only a handful of people working on it.

We continued down to the foot of  the mountain to the sacred Macedonian city of Dion, dedicated to Zeus and the twelve gods. It is estimated that the city flourished between 5 BC and 5 AD. Alexander the Great came here to make sacrifices and gather his armies before going off on his conquests.

We wandered through the ruins of temples dedicated to Zeus, Demeter and Isis. There were many statues and ancient columns around the sites. Remnants of the Romans were seen in the baths and Dionysius' house, which had a huge well preserved mosaic. The site is vast and excavations are ongoing. Sadly, much of the present excavations are not being maintained with mosaics left to the elements and grasses and weeds trying to reclaim the site. We did go in to the nearby town to visit the museum that houses more artifacts from Dion but since it was after 2 o'clock the museum was shut.

Back in Veria, we explored more lane ways ending up at a recommended restaurant called 12 Degrees. The ambience was lovely sitting outside but once again the food was a major disappointment with veal scallopini that was far too thick and majorly over cooked. Undeterred we went off for another walk around the town losing ourselves in the interesting, cobbled backstreets. What a pretty town!


Sunday, June 8, 2014

A great king's magnificent tomb

Back on the highway retracing some of yesterday's travels, we followed the signs to Vergina, the site of Phillip II's tomb. Archeologists have been interested in the site since the mid 1800s, when the first excavations uncovered Phillip II's palace. Threats of malaria caused this exploration to be abandoned. Further excavations were undertaken in the 1930s but then abandoned because of WWII.

The Greek archaeologist Manolis Andronikos became convinced that a hill called the Great Tumulus concealed the tombs of the Macedonian kings. In 1977 he undertook a six-week dig at the Great Tumulus and found four buried chambers that he identified as undisturbed tombs. Three more were found in 1980. Excavations continued through the 1980s and 1990s. Andronikos claimed that these were the burial sites of the kings of Macedon, including the tomb of Philip II, father of Alexander the Great (Tomb II). Andronikos maintained that another tomb (Tomb III) was that of Alexander IV of Macedon, son of Alexander the Great and Roxana.

It was somewhat unkempt outside the entrance so we weren't really sure what to expect. What a surprise, the museum was well laid out with beautiful displays. It was quite dark inside, which added to the air of mystery.

The museum, which was inaugurated in 1993, was built in a way to protect the tombs, exhibit the artifacts and show the tumulus as it was before the excavations. Inside the museum there are four tombs and one small temple, the heroon, built as the temple for the great tomb of Philip II of Macedon. The two most important graves had not been looted and contained the main treasures of the museum. Tomb II of Philip II, the father of Alexander was discovered in 1977 and was separated in two rooms. The main room included a marble sarcophagus, and in it was the larnax made of 24-carat gold and weighing 11 kilograms. Inside the golden larnax the bones of the dead were found and a golden wreath of 313 oak leaves and 68 acorns, weighing 717 grams. In the room were also found the golden and ivory panoply of the dead, the richly-carved burial bed on which he was laid and later burned and silver utensils for the funeral feast. In the antechamber, there was another sarcophagus with another smaller golden larnax containing the bones of a woman wrapped in a golden-purple cloth with a golden diadem decorated with flowers and enamel. There was one more partially destroyed burial bed and on it a golden wreath. Above the Doric order entrance of the tomb there is a well preserved fresco measuring 5.60 metres which represents a hunting scene.

In 1978 another burial site (Tomb III) was discovered near the tomb of Philip, which belongs to Alexander IV of Macedon son of Alexander the Great. It was slightly smaller than the previous and was also not sacked. It was also arranged in two parts, but only the main room contained a cremated body this time. On a stone pedestal was found a silver hydria which contained the bones and on it a golden oak wreath. There were also utensils and weaponry. A narrow frieze with a chariot race decorated the walls of the tomb.

The other two tombs were found to have been looted. Tomb I or the Tomb of Persephone was discovered in 1977 and although it contained no valuable artifacts, its walls were decorated with a marvelous wall painting showing the abduction of Persephone by Hades. The other tomb, discovered in 1980, is heavily damaged. It had an impressive entrance with four Doric columns, and may have contained valuable treasures.

As well as the tombs and magnificent frescoes there are displays showing the king's weapons, the utensils employed in his funerary ceremony, the symbols of his authority and the bronze eating utensils. I particularly like the sieve, to catch any sediment from the wine. In the tomb itself is a wonderful fresco with the royal hunt.

The next stop, and the heart of the exhibition, was a showcase with the remains of the funerary pyre. Here, among the gold chests and wreaths and the precious gold and ivory banquet couches stands a trophy to his memory, his gold and ivory armour. There were vases, weapons, and jewelry.

The ascent to the throne by Philip II marked Macedonia's finest hour. Philip embarked on an unprecedented building program in his capital, Aigai. Walls were rebuilt to ensure the city's safety, and the gods acquired new temples. A new palace was built, the largest building Greece had ever seen. Beside it stood the theatre, where Philip would one day be struck down by an assassin's dagger.

Unfortunately the palace site, which is huge, is closed for renovations and not scheduled to reopen until 2018.

Not far away was our final destination for the day, Veria. We were fortunate to be staying at the small  Kokkino Spiti Hotel, a beautifully renovated house in what was the old Jewish quarter of the city. Looking out the window, far below us through the greenery, we could see and hear the fast flowing river.

By now it was raining heavily but we needed dinner. We wended our way through narrow, cobbled streets to a restaurant that had been recommended to us. Once again the menu was limited but I had some lovely duck and Seamus a delicious wild boar steak. We were really full when the server and owner brought us some slices of lovely lamb sausage from the family farm. He brought some bougasta, a pastry filled with some mmmm mmmm custard, a fine ending to the day.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Lakeside Kastorias once centre of fur trade

Thankfully, it was time to leave Thessaloniki and head west in our rental car. On the roads we found more signs of austerity, plenty of potholes and the sides of the roads overgrown with broom and weeds, to the point of obscuring some road signs. On the plus side, tolls on the autoroute were minimal.

We passed fields of lovely red poppies and odd but pleasing combinations of broom and pink roses. Eventually we were surrounded by high limestone mountains. We found ourselves on a very modern piece of highway lined with tall metal fencing apparently to keep bears of the road. This went on until almost right to Kastoria. I wonder just how many bears there are on the other side of the fences?

As we drove into Kastoria, we passed building after building selling furs. Kastoria was probably originally named after the beaver as the town had a thriving European beaver trade before the animal became extinct. Today it is a centre for mink. The town has a very mixed history starting with the Romans in 200 BC. Subsequent rulers were the Bulgarians until 1018, Byzantines, Normans, Niceans, local rulers, Byzantines, Serbs and Albanians just to name a few. The Ottomans conquered Kastoria around 1385 and kept until the Greeks took it in the First Balkan War in 1912. Following the end of the First World War the bulk of the Muslim population was transferred to Turkey.

During both World War II and the Greek Civil War, the town was repeatedly fought over and heavily damaged. It was nearly captured by the Communist Democratic Army of Greece in 1948, and the final battles of the civil war took place on nearby Mount Gramos in 1949.

After checking into our hotel, which had a lovely view over Lake Kastorias, we headed into town for lunch. There were lots of little restaurants lining the lakefront. We settled on one and ordered moussaka but of course it was not to be. It was time for yet another Greek salad. By now I could recite almost any restaurant menu including all the things they would be out of. However, it was fun to sit and watch the grebes with their babies floating by as well as the pelicans, who seemed to be having a lovely time feeding on fish and water snakes.

We went for a drive around part of the lake, a little scary as the road was narrow and if you went off only slightly you would certainly end up in the drink. It was time to return to the hotel. We were very close to the Albanian border and contemplated a short trip there but as we couldn't take the rental car across the border we thought better of it. It was time to plan tomorrow's adventure and have some tapas at the hotel.

Centuries of history in Thessaloniki

With a promise that the hotel would call us within an hour about the lack of air conditioning, we set off to find the bus that would take us to the old Byzantine walls above the city. For the small price of eighty cents we were taken to our destination. A short walk took is to the viewpoints over the town and busy port. We decided to walk back to town, a  trip that took us through picturesque narrow, cobbled streets by houses lined with colourful window boxes and walls covered in hot pink and purple bougainvillea. After much walking we still hadn’t found the same neighbourhood that had looked so attractive from the taxi the day before. But we did find a bar where we had two refreshing beers that helped counteract the thirty-four degree heat.

A further walk took us to the old Greek market. Here, we took advantage of the stalls selling nuts and dried fruit and stocked up for some snacks. The market had clothing stalls but the best part was the busy food market with lots of butcher shops, fresh fruit and vegetable and fish stalls. There were all kinds of fish, some the cheaper kinds that we didn't know but lots of sea bream, cod, sea bass and swordfish.

Since it was lunchtime, we stopped at a restaurant in the market. I tried to order swordfish from the menu, after all we were in the market and had just seen some. No swordfish. In fact the number of things the restaurant actually had was limited. It was time for yet another salad.

Semi-fortified we walked further into the town, passing old Roman ruins that we couldn't get in to see but could look down on. There were some lovely Byzantine churches, always much lower than the main street level and surrounded by lovely gardens but they were closed.

After much more walking we ended up at the old port entrance, where there was a lively outdoor restaurant on the wharf, serving modern Greek food. We had some lovely sun dried tomatoes in a phyllo pastry accompanied by lemonade made with lemons and sparkling water. This tasted extra good in the heat of the day.

It was now time to return to the hotel. We knew from a phone call that someone was working on the air conditioning. When we arrived, we were told that the A/C had been working for four hours. Perhaps, but not in our room. After further conversation and asking us to wait for yet another half an hour, we moved to the hotel across the street, where the much needed air conditioning worked.

Somewhat refreshed we headed out to the cinema on the old wharf. In Greece movies are shown in their original language, so an opportunity for us to watch a movie in English, which we can’t do in Spain where all foreign movies are dubbed. Ten minutes early, we bought our tickets for the latest X-Men film (it was either that or Godzilla!). The ticket seller asked in an unbelieving way if we wanted to go in now. We said yes and were accompanied to the theatre by a lady who turned on the lights. We were the only people there. In fact on a Saturday night only eight of us eventually watched this movie. Perhaps this is another sign of Greece’s economic woes. There were certainly many young people milling about outside but no one going to any of the movies.

Now it was time to search for food again. We finally stopped at one of the restaurants in a large square, where they specialized in grilling chicken, lamb and meat. Sitting outside we had a very nice cabbage salad and chicken shish kebab while joining in the excitement of watching the Champions League Final before returning to our lovely, cool hotel room.


Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Thessaloniki provides colourful introduction to Northern Greece

It was an early 5 o'clock start for our drive to Girona and flight to Thessaloniki, Greece. We watched through the departure lounge window as some tweaks were made to one of our plane’s engines, and then we were off. We arrived and quickly found a taxi for the 30-minute ride into town. We may have been taken on the ‘scenic route’ through the charming old town, high up on a hill overlooking the city. Regardless, we were soon deposited at our hotel in the trendy Ladadika area. 
 
By now it was time for lunch. The lady at reception, who looked like she thoroughly enjoyed her food, suggested a couple of restaurants and marked them on a map for us. But our walk through narrow, congested streets in 34-degree heat was somewhat frustrating. Finally, we arrived at the suggested fish restaurant. It was a little different from what we were used to, with dogfish and other ‘cheap’ fish on the menu alongside anchovies and sardines. We opted for the tomato salad and red mullet but when it arrived we were a little disappointed since it was several small mullets; however, they were very tasty. The local Greek beer was so good.

The restaurant was located on a side street that became completely blocked off when someone came and parked their car between two others. This caused people to back up or abandon their cars because they were going nowhere. It was the first of several times we were going to see this. Now a little refreshed, it was easier to people-watch. Every woman bar none was wearing jeans, like a uniform. We could see that the quality of the clothes wasn't very good in a lot of cases. By now it was time for dessert and we were brought some very sweet cakes. Too sweet for my taste.

We decided to explore one of the main shopping areas and were soon surprised but happy to discover a decent sized Marks and Spencer's. Of course I made a line to the Food Hall only to be cruelly disappointed — No Battenburg cake! In fact the server had never heard of it but she did take a note of the name. Undaunted we had a look around the store and of course I left with some Mark's underwear. Unbeatable.
 
Now it was time to head towards the water. One side of the street was lined with restaurants and the other a wide promenade overlooking the bay. We walked around the old port entrance and had a look out at the ships waiting for their cargo. Modern Thessaloniki lies on top of four other cities. It was founded in 315 BC by King Cassander, Alexander the Great's brother-in-law. After the fall of the Macedonian kingdom, the city came into Roman hands. During that time, a port was built and the city became prosperous due to its strategic place on the Roman Via Egnatia, a road running through modern Albania, Macedonia, Greece and Turkey.

After the fall of the Roman empire in 476AD and numerous barbaric invasions, the city became depopulated. After a short-lived occupancy by Slavs, Saracens and Normans, the city became part of the Byzantine empire around 1204 AD. Around that time, despite intermittent invasion, Thessaloniki sustained a large population and flourishing commerce, resulting in intellectual and artistic endeavour that can be traced in the numerous churches and frescoes of the era.

The Byzantine empire was unable to keep Thessaloniki from the advancing Ottoman empire. The city was sold in 1423 to Venice and was later conquered by Sultan Murad II and became a part of the Ottoman empire. Around the 15th century, a large number of Sephardic Jews inhabited Thessaloniki. By then the city had become one of the most important in the Ottoman Empire, viable as the foremost trade and commercial center in the Balkans. The railway reached the city in 1888 and new modern port facilities were built in 1896-1904.

Following two Balkan wars in 1912 and 1913, Thessaloniki became part of Greece. The Great Fire of 1917 left 72,000 inhabitants homeless and changed the architecture of the city. A large part of the city was rebuilt under French architect and archeologist Ernest Herbrard, and transformed into the modern European metropolis it is today.

Thessaloniki fell to the forces of Nazi Germany April 1941 and remained under German occupation until October 1944. The city suffered considerable damage from Allied bombing and almost the entire remaining Jewish population was exterminated by the Nazis. After the war Thessaloniki was rebuilt and recovered quickly, with a rapid growth in its population and a large-scale development of new infrastructure and industry throughout the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. Unfortunately, the impression today is of a city in a sad state of repair. The sidewalks are falling apart, as are many buildings, and gardens in public places are totally overgrown. Austerity has severely hit modern Greece.

We spent most of our evening wandering about Ladadika, where the central market and bazaar used to be in Ottoman times and earlier. After the fire of 1917 the area went into a period of continuing decline and eventually total abandonment. In 1985 it was declared a historical monument by the Ministry of Culture, and building was prohibited in order to preserve its original style and character. Ladadika soon came back to life with small tavernas, bars and restaurants opening in newly renovated old buildings and welcoming locals and tourists of all ages.

Although the restaurants in the main square were quite busy, many down the side streets were not. We opted to eat in the main square but only certain things were available on the menu. Still full from lunch, I just had a salad and a big glass of lemonade from fresh lemons with sparkling water. Mmmmm. Busier restaurants usually included live entertainment in the form of a bazouki player and a guitarist. We wanted to go to a place well known for it's live music but it was not to be on this Friday night. It was dead quiet.
 
We took a long post-dinner walk up the very crowded promenade to the White Tower, the symbol of the city. It was whitewashed by the Greeks in 1912 but today has reverted to its original colour. The old Ottoman tower has been used as a fortification and a notorious prison before becoming a museum today.

Back at our hotel, a converted olive factory, it was time for bed. Unfortunately, the air conditioning was not working on this hot and humid night and all we could do was throw open all the windows. All I can tell you is that the Ladadika district was jumping with talking, yelling, laughing, very loud motorcycles and music until five in the morning. What a sleepless night!
 






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