Prague/Dresden, Day 2 — Leigh’s contribution

Dan mentioned our hotel in downtown Prague. It had a lovely courtyard full of flowers that were just begging to have their picture taken. It couldn’t have been more impossibly quaint.

It also had an impossibly tiny door to our room. Picture includes me for scale (and remember that I’m not a giant):

Luggage stowed, we wandered around Prague, and I discovered the 360 Panoramic function on my phone’s camera.

We saw many things on our wander, including giant creepy baby sculptures.

I was really excited to have happened across these, because I’d read about them — they’re by an artist named David Cerny, and they had originally been installed on a television tower. And because they’re giant creepy babies, which quite honestly should be a good enough reason on its own.

We also came across the artistic inverse, which was a sculpture memorial to the victims of communism.

There was a plaque nearby that read: “The memorial to the victims of communism is dedicated to all victims, not only those who were jailed or executed but also those whose lives were ruined by totalitarian despotism.”

For the rest of the day we geocached, wandered around Prague, tried to take a funicular up a hill, abandoned that plan when it seemed as though everyone else had the same plan, and walked near the castle. (TO the castle will have to wait until we return after the conference in Dresden.) We also found the John Lennon wall.

Imagine all the graffiti.

Statistics:
Creepy baby sculptures: 3
Geocaches claiming to be the most-found geocaches in the world: 2
Train delay from Prague to Dresden: 45 minutes. No, 35. No, 30. No, 35. No, 40. Wait, it’s here.

Prague/Dresden – Day 2: Prague

Having survived jet lag and a really uncomfortable hotel mattress, we were ready to go out and see the Europe. Specifically the Czech Republic portion of the Europe. We set out relatively early to walk around the city before the crowds got too bad, and maybe find a few more geocaches. (As noted in our previous post, we had already cached our first Czech)

Leigh had found us a wonderful hotel just steps from both the main downtown square and the Charles Bridge. So we headed off to see the former when it wasn’t full of hippies, jugglers, mountebanks and ne’erdowells.

The number one touristy thing to look at in the main square is the astronomical clock. It’s a pretty amazing thing, and I’m resisting the urge to look it up on Wikipedia until I’ve written about it. Near as we can figure it has a Sun hand, a Moon hand, a Day of the Year hand with a dial that actually includes a spot for each day of the year, and other wackiness. We could not, however, figure out how to actually tell TIME by the silly thing.

There was also a small square with a fountain in it that we walked through about four times in our 20 hours in Prague. We eventually realized that it contained one of the two most visited geocaches in the world, with over 16,000 finds. The statue has an interesting back story as well.

After that we walked back over the Charles bridge. This is a bridge that was built approximately the same time that Isabella started bugging Ferdinand to get those boats out of the driveway. It’s an huge piece of masonry, and you can stand on it and picture the medieval oxcarts jostling their way across. Or at least, you can picture it for approximately 8 seconds, and then someone will try to get you to buy a souvenir, pay them to draw your picture, ask you to take their picture, or steal your camera.

Directly under the bridge is the OTHER of the two most found geocaches in the world.  Also over 16,000 finds.

From there we had a nice little wander around the west side of the river. We didn’t have time for any of the major sites, but we found some creepy baby sculptures in a park and generally goggled at things.

By 1 we had to return to our hotel to get our things for the trip to Dresden. Which was late. But we made it to our hotel without incident, where my conference reception was already underway. Leigh hadn’t paid for a ticket, but I gave her my beer and some sausages and she seemed happy.

Train Rides: 1
Tram Rides: 1
Subway Lines: 2
Geocaches Found: 5
John Lennon Images Found: At least 4

Prague/Dresden, Day 1: Prague

It hadn’t occurred to me when I booked our plane flights to Prague that we were leaving on a Friday the 13th. Dan is completely dismissive of such superstitions, and I generally don’t lend them very much credence myself. However, the lore surrounding that date may help explain the travel shenanigans we encountered on the outbound voyage.

For whatever reason, our Delta flight had us going from Flint -> Atlanta, Atlanta -> JFK, then JFK -> Prague. Whatever, airline gods — we can deal with your complete lack of direction as long as you are getting us to Prague eventually. Fine.

Except.

The actual sequence of events doesn’t much matter — suffice to say that the Atlanta to JFK leg of that trip did not go to plan. Needless to say, we missed our connection in JFK, and had to be rebooked via Amsterdam, which added six hours to our (already long) trip.

So we arrived into Prague around 4:30 pm, about six hours later than we intended, completely drained — and with all of our electronics also almost completely drained (of battery). But we wanted to stay up to try to defeat the jetlag, and to spend what time we had remaining in Prague, so we ventured out without cameras.

We went to a lovely sausage house / beer hall called Lokal, where you can have any beer you want as long as it’s Pilsner Urquell. But you can have a LOT of them. Seriously, there’s a guy whose job it is to walk around with a tray full of beers, and they just keep giving them to you unless you catch them and tell them not to. Then five minutes later they will try again, and look at you funny when you turn them down again. They obviously expect you to have a lot of beers, because they count how many you have had by marking off icons on a small sheet that they leave on your table. Here’s a picture of the sheet, which I stole er, borrowed for documentation purposes:

I feel slightly ashamed that I was only able to knock off one of those beer icons, since they clearly were expecting far more out of me.

We started walking back to our hotel, and happened to come across throngs of people milling about in a neighborhood. We realized that it was a huge special event called Museum Night — museums all across Prague were open from 7 pm until 1 am, and there were free buses shuttling you from one museum-ridden area to the next. We did a quick survey of the museums on offer and realized we were close to the Smetana museum, so we headed down there. There was a concert just about to start when we arrived, so it was packed and HOT. We looked at a few exhibits (I know nothing about Smetana, by the way) and decided it was too stuffy to stay for the concert. We pressed on, our next museum destination (the Czech Museum of Music) determined by a flyer Dan picked up with a picture of a quarter-tone piano built by August Förster, the company who made our (decidedly and disappointingly tonal) grand piano.

This museum also had live music in the atrium, which meant that we were free to walk through the exhibits. Lots of fabulous old instruments, including four things called sediphones, which Dan decided he wanted. The quarter-tone piano did not disappoint; it looked wacky (picture forthcoming from the brochure) and sounded even wackier; the museum had listening stations where you could listen to the different instruments being played. Dan had to pull me away from that one, as well as from the station with the recordings of the mechanical instruments.

More wandering ensued, and we wanted to go to more museums, but at that point we were exhausted. We walked back across the Charles Bridge (more about that in tomorrow’s post), returned to our hotel in Staré Mesto (old town), and collapsed. More Prague adventures tomorrow.

Statistics:
Flights: 4 (one more than intended)
Movies on flight: 1 (Muppets Most Wanted)
Sausages: 3
Beer: 1
Geocaches found: 4
Language fail: all of them. Czech is impenetrable.

Greece – Day 11: Vergina

Our last day in Greece was to be relatively uneventful.  We had a few possible stops planned, but decided in the morning to just go to one to save stress.  This is good, because I was in pain by this point.  Just stepping off a curb was making me wince, let alone walking down from our third floor hotel room.

We set out in the rental car and after about 2 hours drive came to Vergina.  (That’s pronounced “ver-GEE-na,” by the way.)  The archaeological site there was only discovered in 1977 to be the burial site of no less than Philip II of Macedon.  For those of you a bit fuzzy on your ancient history, that would be the father of Alexander the Great.  The tombs were under a large hill called “The Great Tumulus.”

The museum there now was constructed in a fairly ingenious way – the hill was left intact over the tombs, and the museum simply constructed in the empty space inside after the excavations.  So you’re wandering around looking at exhibits just feet from the actual mausoleums.  And the exhibits include, among other things, the actual box containing Philip II’s bones.  It’s quite the experience.  Sadly, no photography allowed.

Afterwards, we stopped of for lunch at a little taverna in the middle of nowhere.  It dawned on Leigh and I that in eleven days, neither of us had actually ordered a “Greek Salad” per se, so we did just that.  This was not the sort of place that normally gets foreign tourists, but the owners were just as friendly to us as everyone else had been, and yet another plate of free fruit appeared after the meal.

On returning to Thessaloniki, it was time for another bit of sheer terror, as we had to negotiate a non-trivial number of crowded, insane major streets, followed by a number of tiny, packed, one-way streets to get to our hotel.  But we made it, checked in, returned the rental car, and spent the rest of the day just bonking around the town.  We had dinner in a restaurant with carved figures over the windows.

The food was very good, but part of me suspects we may have eaten in the Greek equivalent of a T.G.I. Friday’s.  At least we didn’t eat in the ACTUAL T.G.I. Friday’s on Aristotle square.  We did walk back down to the waterfront and did some people-watching.  We also saw our final sunset in Greece.

Since nothing happened on day 12 but travel (over 24 solid hours of it), I’ll include our only picture from that day here, without comment.

Statistics:

  • Total means of transport employed: 10
  • Total mules ridden: 0
  • Total liters of water consumed: Approximately a billion
  • Average temperature: 98 F
  • Free fruit plates: 4
  • Meals with cheese: Most of them
  • Spectacular sunsets: All of them

Greece – Day 10: Meteora

We have actually not yet mentioned WHY, out of all the small Greek towns starting with a “K”, we chose to meet in Kalabaka. [Ed. by Leigh: You’ll notice Dan and I don’t agree on how to spell the name of the town. Neither does anyone else. Some say Kalabaka, some say Kalambaka, and our hosts, who live there, spelled it Kalampaka.]  Kalabaka is the site of some fairly exceptional geology.  It’s home to a series of enormous sandstone pillars, somewhat similar to Monument Valley in the US.

I’d recommend clicking for the full sized picture – it’s definitely worth it.

So imagine you are a Greek person in the Middle Ages, and you are confronted with these impossibly high piles of geology.  What would you naturally immediately decide to do?  Why, put a monastery on as many of them as possible, that’s what.

There were as many as twenty monasteries here at one time.  Over the years, most have returned to ruins, but there are still six in good shape. According to tradition, the first monk to found a monastery here was carried to the top of the rock by an eagle.  Seems as good an explanation as any.  Lord knows I wouldn’t want to try to climb one of these things without modern safety equipment.

The advantage, from the monks’ point of view, was not only spiritual seclusion, but also security from Ottoman and other intruders.  For most of their history, you could only reach the monasteries by being hauled up in a rope net.  On being asked how often they replaced the rope, a monk is reputed to have answered: “Only when it breaks.”

Note the lift tower on the right hand side.  Fortunately for us, this is no longer the only means of entry for visitors.  In the early 1900s, a bishop who was unhappy that his personal safety on visits was entirely in the hands of monks who may, or may not, have actually liked him, demanded that steps be cut in the rocks of the remaining 6 monasteries.  So stairs it was.

Lots and lots of stairs.  Nearly a thousand all told.  This is a big enough deal that when the owner of our hotel gave us a map and a guide the night before, he actually wrote the number of stairs at each monastery on our map, to allow us to plan our climbs.  Oh, and did I mention I climbed a mountain the day before?  And that it was roughly one hundred degrees out?  This was going to hurt.

But man, it was worth it.

Over the course of the day, we managed to visit four of the six monasteries.  We couldn’t find a good place to park for the fifth, and ran out of time on the sixth.  We also returned to town to get lunch, and then again later to stock up on water.

There are actually four monasteries visible in this panorama, the large one near the bottom, a smaller one right above it, and one on either side of the apparent notch on the right side.  At this point, you may be wondering why you haven’t seen many pictures of the inside of the monasteries. The problem is, they mostly didn’t allow photography.  Each one had a chapel in varying sizes, and all were beautifully decorated.  But no pictures, sorry.

This is a courtyard in the Grand Meteoro, the largest of the monasteries.  This is also the one where we glanced through the window in a random door and saw a room with rows and rows of skulls on shelves.  Yes, skulls.  It was quite disturbing.

Also, for you James Bond fans:

This one, the Monastery of the Holy Trinity was the site of the final scene of For Your Eyes Only, one of the least worst of the Roger Moore Bond films.

After we used up our stamina, (and by this point I could barely move my legs) we returned to the hotel for a bit to relax, and then went out to a little ouzeria on the outskirts of town that had been recommended by our guidebook.  We had wanted to go there for lunch, but the guidebook also completely biffed on which side of town it was on, so we couldn’t find it.  We happened across it randomly later on.  I suspect the handy number 23 bus may also go there.

At any rate, the folks there were once again so happy to have visitors that they brought us free of charge a fantastic plate of spicy feta spread and eggplant dip to go with the tzatziki sauce we ordered.

Statistics:

  • Means of Travel Employed: Car, stairs
  • Stairs climbed: 850 (each direction)
  • Maximum elevation: 550 meters
  • Meals involving cheese: 1
  • Free stuff: Cheese.  (Also eggplant.)
  • Soviet Plots Foiled: 0

Greece — Day 9: End of conference and a bus trip to nowhere.

Saturday morning was the end of the conference, marked as always by everyone carrying their luggage around with them at the session. (Side note to whoever stole my poster tube: Really? It was a cardboard tube. It wasn’t even a fancy hardshell poster tube. But anyway, I hope you’re enjoying my cardboard poster tube.)

The new new new new plan for the day was that I would take a bus down to Kalampaka and meet Dan there. This was a great plan, except that it involved me taking a bus to Kalampaka and meeting Dan there. (I’m kidding. Mostly the whole thing went pretty smoothly, with only one major hitch.)

After the conference-provided lunch (which of course involved feta cheese), I jumped on a local bus headed to the regional bus terminal. I had been warned about how the bus terminal worked, so I was mostly prepared for the madness, but not entirely. There were labyrinths of windows at which you could purchase a ticket, and each window had a sign above it listing the places that that particular window sold tickets to. I wasn’t sure if I needed to find the window for Kalampaka or for Trikala, as I knew I was going to have to change buses in Trikala. I wandered around until I found the correct sign — luckily, for both towns. I bought my ticket and settled into a seat to wait for the bus. As I waited, I inhaled at least two packs worth of cigarette smoke; it seemed like everyone around me was chain smoking in anticipation of (I hoped) not being able to smoke on the bus.

The bus was a modern coach bus, like the kind you would charter for a trip, complete with air conditioning and Greek pop music being blasted through the overhead speakers. The trip to Trikala was pretty, as we went through hills near the coast for part of the way. It was also mostly uneventful, except for the half an hour we sat on the highway because there was a car on fire in front of us. The only other odd thing was that while the bus driver had checked our tickets when we boarded, at one point he pulled over on the highway to pick up a woman standing by the side of the highway wearing an official-looking uniform. The woman got on the bus, the driver pulled back onto the highway, and the woman proceeded to check everyone’s ticket on the bus. When she finished, the driver pulled back off to the side of the highway, where she got off and stood there as the bus pulled away. Random ticket inspection? Normal? No idea.

We arrived at Trikala, a lovely modern facility in the middle of nowhere, about a half hour late. I was worried that I’d missed the bus to Kalampaka, and it turned out I had … but there was another one in 40 minutes. So 40 minutes later, I’m off on another coach bus. This one was a little different: unlike the first bus, which left point A and didn’t stop until we got to point B, this bus actually went through small towns and stopped at bus stops along the way, picking up people and dropping them off, so even though it was the same kind of coach/tour bus as the last, it was a lot more like a city bus. At one point we drove past a small park and there were two horses wandering around in the park. This did not appear to be an unusual thing.

It was at this point that I realized that I had NO idea where our hotel was in Kalampaka. The directions I had only indicated that it was on the street to the old Byzantine church. This, however, was not enough information. I ended up getting off the bus FAR too early, and walked across the entire town asking anyone and everyone on the way where I was going. I had the street name, but it was transliterated into English, so when I showed it to people they didn’t recognize what street I was looking for. I finally came across a very nice pharmacist who, through a mix of English and (his excellent, my horrifically substandard) French, understood what I was looking for and then walked me through a neighborhood until we came to a major street that intersected the street I needed. It turned out, of course, that the bus I had been on actually terminated about 150 meters away from where the hotel was, and if I’d just stayed on the bus longer (or, you know, looked at Google Maps for where the hotel was) I would have been fine.

Dan had already checked in and was waiting for me at the bus terminus, where I was supposed to have been arriving. Through the magic of public wi-fi, we found each other. Our plan was, in total, “Dan drives and Leigh takes a bus to Kalampaka, and we meet up somehow.” We’re still kind of amazed that worked.

Statistics:

  • Modes of transportation: coach bus
  • Cumulative total: 10
  • Creepy staring guy on bus: 1
  • Meals involving cheese: 3

 

Greece – Day 9: Mount Olympus

At six AM the lights in the refuge were unceremoniously turned on, so it was time to go climb a mountain!  After a quick breakfast, I left as fast as possible so as to have some time away from the students.

Mount Olympus is on the east coast of the Greek mainland, with the Adriatic to the east.  There were low clouds, so I couldn’t see the sunrise directly, but I still had some great views of the reflections on the water.

There will likely be a LOT of pictures in this post.  I’ll try to think of something interesting to say about all of them, but let’s be honest – they speak for themselves a lot better than I can.

As I got higher above the refuge, the clouds started to roll in.  Below me.  They were moving astonishingly quickly – it was almost like watching the surf come in.

Rounding a curve into the final valley, I was completely alone – I don’t know where the guy in the last picture went, but I didn’t see him for half an hour at least.

Well – not QUITE alone.

It’s hard to see, but that silhouette is a mountain goat.  Four of them started well above me, and crossed the path behind me to reach the bottom of the valley as I continued to climb.  This was the most demanding part of the ascent – I’d estimate the grade at thirty to forty percent.

When you reach the top, it actually comes as a bit of a shock – from below, it looks like the rest of the slope, but when you get there, you realize it’s a sheer drop off the other side, so you must have arrived!

A word about the geography.  Olympus is what is technically known as a massif, meaning that there are a number of different peaks.  The first one you reach, from which the view above was taken, is called Skala.  It’s the third highest peak.  On the left of the picture is Skolio, the second highest, and on the right is Mytikas, the highest.  Mytikas is a far more difficult climb than the other two, and many climbers opt to skip it.  Including me.

Instead, I turned left, and headed for Skolio.  By this time, the high school students had caught up with me.  It’s not JUST that they were in better shape – they also had a guide who managed to find a way around the 40 percent grade I mentioned earlier.

And here I am at the top of Skolio – 2912 meters, which is pretty darn high:

The bowl behind Olympus is apparently known as “Zeus’ Cauldron.”

At the top of Skolio, there’s a log book to sign.  I wrote “What an amazing trip.  I wish Leigh were here too.”

By this point, almost all of the high school students had made it to the top, and it was starting to feel a bit like rush hour.

Mindful that I had a five hour or so walk down to the car, it was all too soon time to head down.  The walk down was just as uneventful as one might hope, and just as beautiful as the way up.

After two hours or so, I reached the refuge and had lunch.  On resuming my descent, I passed the same mule train coming up that I had encountered on its way down yesterday.  Every ounce of gas that had powered my wifi the previous evening had been schlepped up to the refuge by one of these sturdy little critters.

Upon reaching the parking lot, it was time to meet up with Leigh – but not back in Thessaloniki.  In another hare-brained scheme, we had decided that she would take a bus and meet me in Kalimbaka.  So I got in the car and headed out.  Passing the ranger station on the way out, there was no sign of nice ranger lady.  There was, however, a flock of ten or so goats milling around and standing on the fence to reach leaves. I hope they didn’t eat her.

At this point, I made a fatal error – I trusted the GPS a bit too much, and ended up taking a route that was at least an hour longer than optimal.  Instead of spending most of the drive to Kalimbaka on a nice interstate-style highway, I first drove through crowded, twisty, narrow downtown streets in Katerini, and then spent three hours on twisty, switchbacky country roads.  Fun to drive on, but not “I’d sure like to do this for a whole extra hour!” fun.  Stupid GPS.

Also, I had to wait at one point for an enormous flock of goats to cross the road.  That was actually sort of awesome. Wish I had a picture.  I found our hotel in Kalimbaka, checked in, and settled down with the parrot in the town square to wait for Leigh’s arrival.

Statistics:

  • Means of Transportation Employed: Rental Car
  • Highest Point: Skolio, Mount Olympus – 2912 meters
  • Total water consumed during Olympus visit – 4.5 liters.
  • Awesome factor: 11

 

Greece — Day 8: Back at the conference.

I still had a conference to go to, so while Dan braved the untamed roads of Greece in a rental car, I went to more conference during the day.

Friday evening, though, was marked by the Gala Banquet, which was at a restaurant on a pier in downtown Thessaloniki. My sister from another mother, Vicky, and her partner Oscar and I went together and sat together, and were soon joined by another proud member of the redhead brigade, Erin Hannon, and her husband.

As far as banquets go, this was … well, it was one of them. My dinner was a piece of lasagna that was the size of a paperback book, and my dessert was a piece of chocolate cake that was not much smaller. The best part of the dinner was … well, let’s just say that Erin earned the nickname “The Wine Whisperer”. Any time our table ran low on wine, Erin found ways of rectifying that situation.

After the dinner came the socializing, which is, of course, the most important part of the banquet. Our whole party was seated outside, so everyone started wandering around on the pier. It was also the night of the Olympics opening ceremonies, which for some reason the restaurant was projecting on an outer wall without sound; this made for a very bizarre experience as everyone was trying to guess what was going on in the ceremony. (“Why are there miners? Why are there dancing nurses? What is Kenneth Branagh doing?”)

As the evening ran down, I found myself engaged in a fascinating conversation with a lovely Irish fellow about the finer points of the new Doctor Who up to the end of series 5. (He was wonderful and didn’t spoil any of series 6 for me.) The young crowd went out for karaoke, but this old girl went back to the hotel; probably just as well, since I heard from my wild Irish Whovian the next day that he didn’t get back to the hotel until about 6 am.

Statistics:

  • Means of transportation employed: bus, cab
  • Meals with cheese: 3
  • Wine: Yes, please.

Greece – Day 8: Mount Olympus

Leigh had to return to her conference, but I had an even MORE harebrained plan: I was going to climb Mount Olympus.  Yes, THAT Mount Olympus.  Home of Zeus and all that.  Incidentally, the ancient Olympic games were in Olympia, which is a completely different part of Greece.

The scariest part of the undertaking was the first part, namely renting a car.  The Greeks seem to regard driving as a competitive sport, and they’re very enthusiastic about it.  Add to that the fact that Thessaloniki has tiny streets and a lot of construction underway, and you’ve a recipe for a truly terrifying twenty minutes or so before I got out onto the interstate.

After that it was a very uneventful drive to the national park.  I stopped at the small tourist town at the foot of the mountain for lunch, and then started the drive in.  There’s two possible routes – you can park in the town and have an eight hour hike to the shelter, or drive partway up the mountain and hike for three hours.  I opted for the latter, given the time constraints, and the fact that I am getting older and out of shape.

Just a few kilometers up the road was an entrance station, where a nice ranger lady gave me a map, and made sure I had plenty of water.  The road up the mountain was switchbacky, but didn’t have a lot of sheer drops, so it was actually quite fun in the rental stickshift.  I stopped partway up to visit yet another monastery.

The final parking lot, Prionia, is at about 1100 meters elevation, and has a little taverna where I got more water.  After my experience on Athos, I was very worried about dehydration, but it turned out not to be a problem this time out. I stopped to sign the log on a small cache hidden near the parking lot, then started up the mountain.

I knew it was supposed to be a three hour climb from the parking lot to the refuge where I intended to spend the night, but it was a bit cooler than it had been at sea level, and the temperature mercifully continued to drop as I climbed.  It was quite steep in places, and I took a lot of breaks.  But it was hard NOT to keep stopping, as the view just got better and better.

At about the two hour mark, I started faintly hearing bells.  Bells?  I wasn’t completely sure at first – it was right on the edge of hearing.  But over time, it became more and more obvious that I was, indeed hearing bells.  I correctly inferred that I was probably being approached by a mule train.  And I was right.

I have video too, but it’s a bit larger than I can post here.  After allowing the mules to pass, I resumed my climb and finally made it to the hiking refuge at about 2,100 meters.  There were a number of other people there, including a group of about 20 American high school students.  They were just as noisy as you might expect, but nice kids, and it was good to have someone to talk to in English.  The refuge served tasty basic food, and got a fire going, which was appreciated, because I was absolutely soaked through with sweat.  I also bought a T-shirt, just so I had something dry to put on.

This was the view from the refuge as the sun was setting behind me.  They turned the power on for a few hours, and there was even WiFi, so I could let Leigh know I was still alive.  At 10 PM sharp, the lights went out, and we turned in to get ready for the final climb in the morning.

Statistics:

  • Means of Transportation Employed: Bus, Rental Car
  • Cumulative Total: 10
  • Highest Elevation Reached: 2,100 meters
  • Geocaches Found: 3
  • Number of dogs accompanying the mule train: 2
  • Size of spider just to the left of Prionia cache: Huge.

Greece – Day 7: Thessaloniki

Thursday found Leigh and I reunited in Thessaloniki, and ready to actually SEE some of the city that Leigh had been in for three days now. After a bit of conference in the morning, we hopped the bus into town from the hotel, and wandered around in search of things to look at. [Edited by Leigh: I should point out that I was not skipping out on the conference; there was a free afternoon scheduled in!]

Like Athens, Thessaloniki has these amazing juxtapositions of two thousand year old  ruins sandwiched in between modern buildings.  That’s a triumphal arch erected by the 4th century Roman emperor Galerius.  It’s about three feet from one of the busiest streets in downtown.  Nearby is the Rotunda:

This structure has, like many others in Greece, followed the pattern of ancient construction, followed by orthodox church, followed by Mosque, followed by an orthodox church again, followed by a museum.  Next week, it may be a yogurt factory, who knows?

We hadn’t seen enough cylindrical buildings yet, so we headed down to the waterfront to check out the best known landmark of Thessaloniki, the White Tower. Turns out, it’s beige.

There was a very nice little museum inside on the history of Thessaloniki, but because of the tiny rooms and stifling heat, we didn’t have the patience to look at every single exhibit all the way through.  We did pretty well, and were rewarded with a nice view from the top.

We spent the remainder of the afternoon not going to museums.  Each museum we reached had a closing time shortly after we reached it, so instead we continued bonking around the city.  We had a seat in Aristotle Square, which looked like this.

…and then startlingly, no more than five seconds later, like this:

One neighborhood we had considered visiting is the upper town, which our guidebook had told us could be reached by the “handy number 23 bus.”  We spent quite a bit of time trying to determine where we could find this allegedly handy bus.  However, we never saw the thing.  And since the museums were closed, we just sort of walked around the city, found the occasional geocache, and had more fun with panorama mode.

This was Thessaloniki’s version of the Roman forum, similar to the one we visited in Athens.  By this point, we were getting tired, so we decided to find one more cache, and then figure out where to have dinner.  We stumped over another street or two, found the cache, and then leaned against a wall near a municipal building we dubbed The Ministry of Silly Walks.  While I was trying to determine where some of the restaurants in our guidebook were located, Leigh piped up, “Hey look!  It’s a Number 23 bus!.” [Edited by Leigh: I’d like to point out that the handy number 23 bus was, at the time, going up an impossibly small street with cars parked on both sides. We’d been walking up and down major streets trying to find any trace of this purportedly handy bus for rather some time at that point, and it was pure serendipity that we happened to be on the right tiny street to find it.]

At least we found the silly thing. (Note: this photo was not taken with my cell phone)  And a good thing too, because it turns out the views from the upper town are stunning.  We went and had a gander at the old Byzantine wall.

There’s theoretically a cache next to the tower there, too, but we couldn’t find it, because an amorous couple had parked themselves on the observation platform, and made out continuously for the 20 minutes we were in the vicinity.  It was actually hilarious – other tourists kept walking up right next to them and checking out the view, and they didn’t even come up for air.  We managed with difficulty to restrain ourselves from doing the same [ed. by Leigh: walking up to them, not giving each other CPR for a half an hour][Speak for yourself – Dan], and settled for a picture.

We found a great little terrace restaurant nearby.  The funny thing about this place was that the restaurant was on one side of a busy street, and the terrace where we ate was on the other, so there was a constant flow of waiters dodging cars while bringing people their food.  Not a normal occupational hazard at Chili’s, one imagines.

The menu included a lamb special that sounded very tasty, and something our waiter described as “Octopus Burgers.”  Well – who could resist that?  Turns out octopus burgers are actually very much like crab cakes – breaded and fried, but with octopus instead of crab.

Food porn!

And of course, the obligatory sunset.  This was taken directly from the table where we were eating.

Statistics:

  • Means of transportation employed: Bus
  • Least handy bus line: 23
  • Liters of water consumed by two people: at least 9
  • Geocaches found: 4
  • Meals involving cheese: 2
  • Best place for watching old men watch football: Lamborghini
  • Free stuff: fruit plate for dessert