Thessaloniki, Greece

Although there was some disappointment about not being able to take the ferry to Trieste, that evaporated once we arrived in Thessaloniki.  We used Hyatt points to stay four nights at the Hyatt Regency Resort at Thessaloniki.  Having left the hustle and bustle of Athens, the park like setting of Hyatt was a breath of fresh air.  It was also nice to have a climate controlled room without hearing the annoying buzz of mosquitos during the night.  For four nights in Athens, all five us would wake at different times and hear pesky mosquitos. It was not like the apartment was inundated with mosquitoes, there were just a few that were small and fast.  They left their mark on Rachel, Ella, and to a lesser degree Sarah. The mosquitoes seemed to have a preference for hands, feet, face, and whatever was sticking out from under the covers.  Marcia and I did not escape unscaded so we had to exercise self control to avoid making the bites worse.

Our goal at Thessaloniki was to relax, swim and do little sight seeing.  The hotel staff made life very pleasant.  The setting was beautiful.  There were indoor and outdoor pools.  Since it was early in the season, the outdoor pool was like jumping in the Atlantic off the coast of Maine or Lake Michigan in June. As is often said, it’s not bad once you get in. The outdoor was actually bigger than the below video would indicate.

The concierge on duty was also the one who helped with bags and parked cars. Over the four days we were in Thessaloniki, we talked with Mike and Marios numerous times.  They had multiple suggestions for beaches, museums, restaurants, and shopping. The kids had hit the upper limit of their tolerance for museums and car trips to ancient sites, so we let Marcia do a solo visit to the Jewish museum in Thessaloniki.  Sadly, the once thriving Thessalonikian Jewish community was decimated when almost they were put on trains to concentration camps and did not come back.

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We did make short trips to Mediterrean Cosmos Mall. It was the place to go for locals.  They claim to be the largest mall in Northen Greece.  I believe it because we walked by all of the 200 plus stores.  Here the girls are trying to avoid the camera. The food court had 15 or so restaurants.  Note Marcia and I did not go with the KFC option.
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The view from the outdoor seating for the food court.  Notice the Aegean Sea between the peninsula and the amusement park.
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Proof that Marcia and I ate the local option and not KFC.  2.8 Euros (about $3.15 USD) for each of our chicken gyros.  Absolutely delicious.  We will miss the many Greek salads, gyros, and lamb we enjoyed in Greece.

Our concierge, Marios asked about our travels, so I gave him our URL.  He mentioned his colleague, Mike kept a blog on his motorcycle travels with his wife and number of their friends.  http://moto-traveler.blogspot.rs/  The blog has great pictures, and there is a translate function to convert Greek to English.   Over and over again, the best part of traveling is meeting people and getting a glimpse into their worlds.

Sparta

 

 

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The theater at Sparta which held an audience of 16,000. It was built from 30 to 20 BCE.
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Another view of the theater at Sparta.  Between the ancient ruins and the modern city of Sparta is a grove of olive trees.  Notice the mountains in the background.  The mountains are actually closer than they look. A strategic advantage of Sparta was that it sat between two mountain ranges. 

At the conclusion of the almost three decade Peloponnesian War (404 BCE), Sparta was the most powerful Greek city-state. Sparta defeated Athens. Unlike other city-states that were known for producing musicians, poets, authors and philosophers, Sparta was known as a warrior society. Boys began military training at age 7. Life was brutal. Boys inflicted significant pain on their peers in violent competitions. At the hands of their older peers they learned to stoically endure pain. In their military training they learned obedience, duty, discipline, endurance, courage and self-control. They served as full-time soldiers from age 20 to 60. Even though marriage was encouraged, the men lived communally with their fellow soldiers until age 30.

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Remnants of the Agora at Sparta.
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Modern Sparta

 

I was interested in visiting Sparta as one of the most powerful Greek City-States, but also because my high school was the home of the Spartans. For two years, I was a sixth string running back for the Spartan football team.   I recall gruelling two-a-day practices during the two weeks prior to the start of school. In the sweltering heat and high humidity of August, I recall being encouraged to pop salt pills and drink water during practice breaks.   very popular Vince Lombardi approach to coaching during the late sixties.  Since I barely weighed 120 lbs, it was pure torture.  It hurt when big, fast and strong  kids tackled me or blocked me when I was playing defense.  When asked what position I played, I would joke, “left out.”   About 25 years after I graduated I walked in the high school with my oldest daughter, Megan.  Amost immediately I saw one of the assistant football coaches, Mr Malhorn. He glared and instantly said, “Mr. Outside…wow, Come  see Coach Kuklick, he’ll get a kick out of seeing you.”  Mr. Outside was my nickname based on my less than sterling skills as a running back.  I could not believe the coaches recognized me after the passage of so many years.

Above is picture of my high school stadium that was new when I was sitting on the bench, more than 45 years ago. The spartan image was ever present during those years.  At the lower right is head Coach Al Black who engineered a perfect season in fall of 1970.

DSCN2156Back to present day, the photo at the left is me at the Spartan statue that is by the entrance to the futbol stadium that is on the outskirts of present day Sparta.  As Marcia and I were taking this picture a Greek tourist asked us if knew what the inscription meant.  He said it translates as “Come and Take” and was a taunt that Spartans used. He explained it dared the enemy to die trying to take Sparta. My new Greek friend also posed next to the statue.  Eventually, I took a picture of him and his wife in front the statue. According to Wikipedia, Molon labe (Greek: μολὼν λαβέ molṑn labé), means “come and take [them]”, and is a classical expression of defiance. According to Herodotus, when the Persian armies demanded that the Greeks surrender their weapons at the Battle of Thermopylae, King Leonidas I responded with this phrase.DSCN2148

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Futbol players coming off the field in Sparta, Greece.

Plan B

Our original intent was to leave Athens, drive to Patras and board a ferry to Trieste, Italy. The ferry had numerous amenities; pool, hot tub, disco, dining room with white table clothes, etc.  We would have passed the coasts of Albania, Montenegro, and Croatia on the starboard side of the boat.  That was the plan until we received the below email.

From: Elisa Zoccolan
Date: May 6, 2016 at 6:11:39 PM GMT+3
To: Marcia J. Campbell
Subject: RE:  J7974 – booking confirmation Patras – Trieste – STRIKE – CANCELLATION – URGENT !

Dear Mrs Campbell,

We feel sorry to inform you that the hellenic seamen´s announce initially for 08.05. only has been extended to 06.-10.05. Therefore, your ferry on 09.05. won´t depart. You can travel on 16.05. to Trieste.

Please inform me asap which possibility you prefer.

Of course, also a cancellation with full refund is possible. I apologize for the inconvenience and look forward to your soon reply!

Best regards,

Elisa Zoccolan
Reservation Department

Greekferries Club S.A.

Direct:  +30 2810 529 001

Hence, Plan B. Since we could not delay a week due to reservations, we decided to drive. We knew there was a Hyatt in the northeastern part of Greece.  It was a little over a five hour drive, so Marcia called Hyatt reservations three times.  The first two times the reservation specialist said sorry, no availability.  Since Marcia is persistent and saw availability on Travelocity, she called for the third time.  The third time was a charm, Marcia booked two adjoining rooms for four nights.

The Thessaloniki Hyatt Regency turned out to be an exquisite Plan B.  Since we had received free breakfast at a high-end Park Hyatt in Paris, Marcia asked whether as Premier members we would have that benefit.  The clerk said she would check with the manager and let us know.  An hour later a typed letter arrived and said they would provide breakfasts.  Hurray for Marcia!  The pool was a bit chilly, no downright cold, but the kids were game.  Without the strong encouragement from the kids, I would have never considered taking the plunge.  Notice all the others in the pool!

Plan B turned out to be a wonderful respite from the hussle and bussle of Athens.  We arrived on Monday. It was immediately after the last weekend of two week Greek holiday. Hence we shared the large resort with very few others.

Athens Strike – Part 2

The previous post was uploaded on Sunday at about 10:00 am Athens time.  It was the morning of the major strike.  Who would have known that there was more to come below our balcony.  By about 12:30, loud music started and people started to gather.  Eventually, the street and side street were closed to traffic. News camera people arrived and were mostly taking background video.  I saw one woman being interviewed and a reporter positioned in front of the crowd, and speaking into his microphone.

As people began to stretch banners across the street, it became apparent that I was watching the start of another march.  Someone blew a whistle several times and then the music stopped and speeches started. Unfortunately, it was Greek to us and the meaning of the words were lost to us.  The emotion and passion came through clearly.

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The short video below shows the actual mood of the crowd.

The protesters marched (actually walked would be a better descriptor) and soon our street was empty and traffic was allowed to pass.  At about 2 pm we headed for the Acropolis. Amid the massive strike, we were somewhat surprised to learn the Acropolis was open to tourists.  There was no charge for kids, but adults were 2o Euros each.

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The Erechtheion with Ionic columns holding up the roof of the porch to the far, Ionic columns supporting the main structure and Caryatides (women) holding up the porch nearest to us.
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Reconstructed Theater of Dionysos – capacity 17,000

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The Parthenon – notice the new white marble pieces that are part of a multi-year project to right the errors made during a restoration effort made during the 1800’s.
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A view of the Parthenon from the side that is initially seen after climbing the steps.
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Rachel’s crepe with vanilla icecream, topped with the chocolate and the flag of Greece. We stopped for a snack after the visit to the Acropolis.
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This shot of police with gas masks and shin guards was taken at about 6 pm.  The protesters completely surrounded Syntagma Square while we were there.  There was friendly banter between the protesters and the police. Two hours later a couple of protesters who threw Molotov cocktails at these police.  Watching what made the news on the BBC, you would have the impression that the crowd was out of control.  To the contrary, most of the protesters were 50 or older.
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This shot was taken from the same place I was standing when I took the picture of the police in riot gear (see above).
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When we arrived back at our apartment there was a crowd in the street. There are two police riot buses blocking the street.  There was chain link wire fencing cover the bus windows. I’m not sure what was going on here or why most people were facing the buses. Again, the mood of the people was not at all what I would characterize as angry. Frustration, maybe.

Strike

U.S. Embassy Athens
Security Message for U.S. Citizens: Demonstrations and strikes
May 6, 2016
U.S. Embassy Athens informs U.S. citizens that the following demonstrations and strikes are going to take place today, Friday, May 6, tomorrow Saturday May 7 and on Sunday, May 8. 

The headlines read, “Strike Paralyzes Athens.”  Fortunately our apartment is in the heart of Athens and we did not need to use buses or the subway. Thus, we were able to walk to the Temple of Zeus, the Arch of Hadrian, and the Acropolis. Our first stop was the Temple of Zeus.  Surprise, gates locked and no one in the ticket booth.  Apparently, civil servants were out on strike too.

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Marcia talking with two women when flew in from Australia for a friend’s wedding.  They had hoped to visit the Temple of Zeus, but like us they were locked out.
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Temple of Zeus in Athens during the strike.  This was shot by Rachel as her dad steadier her reaching over the top of the fence.  It is unclear whether the woman on the shot was security or someone who jumped the fence.  At a number of Greek archaeological sites we visited we observed security guards wearing plain clothes. Ironically, this shot would have been filled with crowds of people had it not been for the strike.

Since the Temple of Zeus was closed we headed toward Plaka.  On the way, we came across the Arch of Hadrian.  Similar to Temples of Zeus, there are many Arches of Hadrian across the Roman world.

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Marcia at the Arch of Hadrian. I was not the only one who wanted to take her picture.
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Looking through the Arch of Hadrian, the Pantheon is on top of the wall.  It was also closed on this day
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We made our way to Plaka and had a pleasant lunch.  We ate around 12:30.  By the time we finished our meal every seat was full.  Everyone had a camera and a cell phone.

Below is a picture of our apartment, we are on the fifth floor (sixth floor-the we count in the US).  Our balcony is the second from the top.  To the right is a pedestrian walkway that bisects our street.

On Sunday morning we heard noise coming from our balcony doors.  It sounded like a matching band.  All five us went to the balcony and looked in the direction of the beating drums. There was no traffic on the street, and the police had blocked a side street, so no cars could enter our street.  We did not have to wait long till the demonstrators arrived complete with a band leading the march.

The following warning was at the US Embassy,

“Even demonstrations intended to be peaceful can turn confrontational and possibly escalate into violence.  You should avoid areas of demonstrations and exercise caution if in the vicinity of any large gatherings, protests, or demonstrations.”

What we saw was extremely peaceful.  If you looked at the video on a large screen, you see demonstrators nonchalantly talking to each other, as well as mothers and a few children.  It seemed more like a thanksgiving parade than an angry protest march.

Myntras

It started out a cool crisp morning with scattered cloud cover. I took a fifteen minute walk to a local mini-mart.  We have raved about the quality of the fruit and vegetables. Tomatoes have been plentiful, but the flavor and juiciness has been somewhere between a Florida tomato and an Indiana homegrown.  The tomatoes from the mini-mart would compete favorably with the those from the Bloomington Farmers’ Market in July.

When we arrived yesterday, we were told that few people actually come to the area to ancient Sparta.  Rather the tourists come to see Myntras.  About the time the kids starting coming down for breakfast, we had loud thunder and a downpour that last 20 minutes or so.  We almost cancelled the trip to Myntras. An hour or so later the sun came out and we opted to chance the rain.  We got caught in drizzling rain, but not enough significant.

“The Castle Town of Mystras was very strong in the Byzantine times and actually in the last decades of the Byzantine period, this was the second most important town after Constantinople. On top of the castle hill, there was the Palace of the Despots.” Source: www.greeka.com

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We had seen a fortress on top of a mountain in Corinth, but could see no way to get near it.  We were able to get pretty close to this one, but it was closed due to a national holiday. Although it was May 3, the Greek May 1 Labor Day was being celebrated.

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We had a snack in the modern town of Myntras.  Quaint small town with several restaurants and a couple of tourist shops.  Sarah liked the strawberry milkshake, while Marcia, Ella and Rachel had hot chocolate.  I went with the single dip of strawberry ice cream.  There were several acrobatic cats in the area.  This one leaped off the ground and scampered around branches with the greatest of ease.

Olympia, Greece

We thoroughly enjoyed our time in Loutraki and were a bit sad to depart.  Our next place to stay was near Sparta.  Although Olympia was a bit out of our way, we did not share the map with the kids.

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Who knew McDonald’s doesn’t have the market cornered on restaurants with arches?  There was a tour bus parking at this gas station/restaurant.  From past experiences we have found the food where the high end tour buses stop is good.  This stop was at the midway of our trek to Olympia.  When Rachel spotted the arches again, the kids knew Olympia was out of our way.
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The tour bus people must have purchased most of the pre made sandwiches. We did have a pleasant snack with popcorn, baked potato chips, and 1.5 liter bottle of Coke.  The weather was perfect, probably about 70 with no apparent humidity.  Sarah tried to run out of the picture but alas her dad was quick with the camera this time.
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The sole column at the Temple of Zeus that was built in the 5th century BCE.
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I wanted to take a picture of Marcia next to the column for the Temple of Zeus.  They had rope across the wood steps to get up to floor of the Temple.  The wood steps had clearly been built for tourists. I jumped the rope, but was quickly told to get off. Hence the above photo was taken in a legal area to walk.  It reveals the actual diameter of the massive columns.
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Marcia in front of the Temple of Hera, wife of Zeus. Notice the doric capitals on columns.

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Entrance to the original Olympic Stadium.

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The flat green area to the right of the dirt path is spot of the original Olympic track.
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While we saw mostly Doric capitals, Philippeion was the exception with classic Ionic capitals.  It is the only the only structure at Olympia that was not dedicated to a god. It was built in the fourth century BCE, later than the others at Olympia.

Unfortunately we had to rush through Olympia.  We left Loutraki an hour later than the plan, and I had thought it would be about an hour from Olympia to Sparta. It was over two hours.  Much to my dismay we missed the theater at Olympia.  It was not in the same location as the stadium and temples.  Similar to Argos we would have had to drive to a separate location to find the theater.  We left sooner than we wanted and headed to our next apartment outside of Sparta.  We arrived 45 minutes late, but fortunately the woman  stayed to meet us and show us the mini villa.