Carolina: Cruising Past 70: Our Lifestyle Adventures: My First Taste of Greece Wasn't Athens!

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Our Lifestyle Adventures: My First Taste of Greece Wasn't Athens!

Arch of Galerius
We had a day left for a day trip and, even if Jingjing had been to Greece, I have not so I relished the opportunity finally to step on Greek soil even if it is Thessaloniki, three hours from Razlog, Bulgaria. Besides, it is the second-largest city in Greece, after Athens, and the capital of Greek Macedonia, the part of Greece that is still in dispute with the Republic of Macedonia over the use of the name. Macedonia covers the Republic of Macedonia, this northern part of Greece, as well as parts of Bulgaria, Albania, Kosovo, and Serbia. Another name for the region is Macedon, the Kingdom of Alexander the Great.

lines of container vans through the night
Thessaloniki is a vast port city and transportation hub for southeastern Europe. Both our entry and exit from the city saw the longest lines of container vans waiting to use the port, 24x7. Its historical status is that of a "co-capital" or "co-reigning" city of the Byzantine Empire, alongside Constantinople. The city is also considered to be Greece's cultural capital and has the best beaches. Aristotle University is the largest in Greece and the Balkans. The Metropolitan area has a population of over 1.1 million.

White Tower

The first attraction we needed to cross out from the list is the symbol of the city, the White Tower. It is a monument on the waterfront which replaced an old Byzantine fortification around the 12th century that the Ottoman Empire reconstructed to fortify the city's harbor. At the time, it was also used as a notorious prison and scene of mass executions. The current Tower was remodeled, and its exterior whitewashed after Greece gained control of Thessaloniki in 1912.


But, like other Greek cities, Thessaloniki is home to numerous notable monuments, about fifteen constitute a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The city played a significant role in Christianity during the Middle Ages and was thus decorated by impressive buildings. We had time to see some: the City Walls, Adthe Arch of Galerius, the Rotunda of Saint George, and the palace ruins.

The 4th-century Roman Emperor Galerius commissioned the Rotunda and the Arch of Galerius as parts of a line that linked to his Thessaloniki palace, substantial remains of which remain to the southwest, embedded in the modern city and surrounded by modern buildings. A road that ran through the three is now a major pedestrian road in the middle of the city.

the Rotunda
The Arch was composed of a masonry core with marble panels celebrating victory over the Persians. About two-thirds the arch is preserved. The Rotunda, on the other hand, was a massive circular structure with a masonry core like the Pantheon in Rome. It has gone through multiple periods of use as a Christian, Muslim, and again a Christian church. It was undergoing renovation when we were there.

a friendly and helpful Greek
a Greek Feast

It was around this time as we were walking on the pedestrian road among the palace remains when a gracious, handsome, elderly Greek came to our help. Jingjing and I were wondering aloud where we could possibly get a good dose of fabled Greek cuisine. He graciously showed us how to get to the side roads to a group or restaurants. And that is where we found our corner, rested from all the walking, and feasted on classic Greek food.

Aristotle's left foot

After lunch we proceeded to the Aristotelous Square, the central square of Thessaloniki, located on Nikis Avenue on the waterfront. Most of the Square was built in the 1950s but many buildings surrounding it have since been renovated. It is named after the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle (384 BC – 322 BC), a Greek philosopher, student of Plato and teacher of Alexander the Great.  The Master sits there, in bronze, wearing a simple Greek chiton, sitting on marble bench with papyrus scroll in his hand. It is believed that if you touch his left foot, some wisdom will rub into your life. We are officially wise now!

Now I know why Thessaloniki is a popular tourist destination in Greece. In 2013, National Geographic Magazine included Thessaloniki in its top tourist destinations worldwide. In 2014 Financial Times FDI magazine (Foreign Direct Investments) said Thessaloniki is the best mid-sized European city of the future for human capital and lifestyle. For me, it was a great first taste of Greece. But I need to see Athens, too!
the Thessaloniki Walls

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