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.


  • 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.


  • 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.


  • 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.


  • 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

Greece — Day 6: Still at the conference.

While Dan was on his way back to Thessaloniki, I continued being a dutiful conference attendee. In fact, this was the day when I had to give my presentation and my poster. In a format new to me (and to many others), the conference had scheduled the vast majority of papers to be presented as posters and given the researchers a “speed-poster presentation” time, in which we were to present the general idea of our paper in 5 minutes. Some people were more successful at this than others. (Here’s a general hint: if you have 27 slides, you’re probably not going to get through them all in 5 minutes.)

My speed presentation went well, I thought, and then I had good turnout and feedback at the poster session itself, where I stood by the poster and chatted with interested people. My poster ended up being on the wing closest to the coffee break area, so I got a mix of genuinely interested people and people who were just bored enough to come wandering over.

Dan made it back from Athos in the afternoon (and if you haven’t read his recap of the day, be sure to read the next post!), and we went out to dinner with my friend Rich Randall, who recommended a wonderful little place in a tiny alley in downtown Thessaloniki. He’d been there the night before, so we felt bad making him go back to the same place, but it was worth it! We shared some fantastic roasted peppers and some delicious spicy cheese dip to start, and I had steamed mussels that were amazing. We also had a lovely after dinner surprise when the waiter offered us an ice cream crepe for free.


  • Total presentation time: 5 minutes
  • Meals involving cheese: 3
  • Free stuff: crepe filled with ice cream

Greece – Day 6: Mount Athos

If I had chosen to join the monks for their entire morning service the next morning, I would have needed to be at the church at 4AM, and remained there until 8 or 9.  I’m sure it would have been a unique experience, but I suspect I would have nodded off, and that probably would not have been respectful.  Instead, I got up at about 6:30 and started walking towards the next monastery.

I’m sure you’re bored of sunset pictures by now, so here’s a sunrise picture for you:

This is the view looking back towards Gregoriou from the path to the next monastery, Simonas Petra.  This path was much better maintained than yesterday’s, and didn’t involve nearly as much of what the French refer to as “deleveling,” and what normal people refer to as “oh crap, more hills.”  Which is not to say there weren’t some spectacular hills, just that they weren’t QUITE as strenuous.  Plus, it wasn’t midday, which helped.

My destination:

Now here’s a bit of geocaching geekery.  I won’t go into gruesome detail here, but geocaching is basically a hobby where people hide small packages all over the world, and then post their location online for others to try and find.  On the path up to this particular monastery, there actually IS a geocache.  Given the difficulty of reaching the spot, I suppose it’s not surprising that the cache had been there for two years, and I was the first person to actually find it.  So, yeah – first to find.  On a two-year-old cache.  In Greece.  Here’s the view from near the spot where I found it.

That’s a pretty amazing building.  There’s a little bit of scaffolding visible for some renovations going on, but the key point is that when the scaffolding isn’t there – those balconies still are.  In fact, that’s the ONLY way to access some of the rooms, via the balconies over the sheer drop.  How’s that fear of heights working out for you?

One note about all these pictures.  I brought a camera with me to Greece, really I did.  But the fact of the matter is that my phone is now a much better camera than my camera.  So the poor actual camera never came out of the case.  Instead, every picture on this blog was taken with my phone, which had features I was still discovering as the trip progressed.  Like, for instance, panorama mode:

This is a view from slightly above the monastery.  My original plan had been to continue walking up the coast to Daphni, but after the previous day’s experience, and a report that the path to Daphni was pretty much a dusty road the whole way, I opted instead to walk down to Simonas Petra’s boat dock and wait for the ferry.  It was a little worrisome, because the buildings around the dock are all unoccupied, and the cement dock itself has some big holes in it, so you can’t help but worry if you’re in the right place until the boat actually comes.  Here’s the view from the dock back up to the monastery:

I should mention that while I was staying in Gregoriou, I met Andreas, a young Greek boy, probably about eleven, who was traveling with his father. Andreas attends an English-speaking school, and was very keen to practice his language skills by chatting with me.  I saw him again on the ferry from Simonas Petras to Daphi, and we ended up talking the whole way back.  And then again for the 2 hour ferry ride from Daphni to Oranoupolis.  His father didn’t speak English, but his son would translate for him.  For the most part we just talked to each other.  In typically eleven-year-old fashion, he was all over the place, but a really bright kid.

And we share a common interest in Doctor Who, so that was a topic of conversation.

As I was preparing to get off the ferry in Oranoupolis, I asked Andreas’ father where I needed to wait to catch my bus, and he said, “Oh, I’ll be happy to give you a ride back to Thessaloniki.”  So that’s how I found myself in a private van, with Andreas, his dad, another person whose name I didn’t catch, and two monks for the ride back to Thessaloniki.  They dropped me, other guy, and the monks off on the outskirts, and we all took the bus back into town.

The bus stopped at the train station.  This time, I took a cab.


  • Means of Transportation Employed: Boat, Private Vehicle, Bus, Cab
  • Cumulative Total: 9
  • Geocaches Found: 1
  • First Song Played on Van Radio: James Brown, “I Got You (I Feel Good)”

Greece – Day 5: Stuck at a conference.

While Dan was traipsing around Mount Athos (see below post), I was being a good academic and attending my conference. I’ll refrain from blogging about the individual papers; if you want to read a recap of some of the papers you can go to Vicky’s excellent Music Psychology blog where she summarizes the papers she attended (which were most often not the ones I attended), except when she accidentally oversleeps.

In the evening, I tagged along with a large group of folks who were affiliated with Goldsmith’s Music, Mind and Brain group; one of their students had lived in Thessaloniki, and took us to one of her favorite haunts. So at least thirty people descended upon this poor, empty, hapless taverna all at once; it was quite entertaining to watch their faces as the two fellows behind the bar realized that there was no way they were going to be able to handle us themselves. Out came the cell phones, and ten minutes later there were two more people frantically working behind the bar.

Vicky and I shared some delicious fried cheese (not a surprise) and a plate of mushrooms. There was lots of beer and lots of chatting with old and new friends. At some point in the evening, one of the bar staff offered me a drink; I told him I hadn’t ordered it, and he said, “I know, just take it. No charge.” So I did, and it turned out to be tsipouro — the anise-flavored kind that is similar to ouzo. Now, I am fully expecting to incur the wrath of quite a few of my college friends here, but I do not like ouzo. (It’s not one of those “bad experiences” stories; it’s the “I just can’t stand the flavor of anise” story. Confession: I never drank it back then, either, guys — I just got really creative about how I would dump it out.) So instead I offered the drink to Daniel Müllensiefen, who had an empty glass and looked as though he was unhappy about that situation. Everyone’s problem solved.

When Vicky finished salsa dancing (oh, did I not mention the loud salsa music they were playing all night?) she and I headed back to the hotel at what would have been a decent hour to go to bed, if my brain hadn’t decided that now was the perfect time for me to have insomnia. And of course, why wouldn’t it be? I only had to give a presentation in the morning, so of course it was the best time for my brain to keep me awake until 3 am watching Lethal Weapon subtitled in Greek.


  • Meals with cheese: 3
  • Free stuff: tsipouro


Greece – Day 5: Mount Athos

For Tuesday and Wednesday, Leigh and I shall have to write separate entries, because I went off on my own.  In fact, I went somewhere that Leigh couldn’t have come even if she wanted to: Mount Athos.

Mount Athos is an essentially independent country within Greece composed entirely of Orthodox monks.  It’s a peninsula southeast of Thessaloniki that has been consecrated as a holy place in the Orthodox religion for over a thousand years.  Also, no women have been allowed there since 1060.

In order to visit the peninsula, you need a special permit, called a diamonētērion, for which you must apply in advance, and only ten per day are issued to non-orthodox visitors.  I was told that three years ago, to visit in the middle of July you would need to apply for a permit in February.  I applied only two weeks before the trip and was issued one.  Tourism is down due to the perceptions of the financial crisis.

Getting there was an adventure in itself.  I left the hotel at 4:30 in the morning by taxi, to reach the regional bus terminal east of Thessaloniki.  There’s hilarity there too: there are a number of different bus regions in Greece, all theoretically run by the same company, but they won’t coordinate with each other, and each have their own website and schedule.  By bus I reached Ouranoupolis, the last stop in secular Greece.

The bus was full of other pilgrims, so we all trooped off the bus and into the pilgrims’ bureau to pick up our letters.  It’s a great piece of paper – colored seals, and the facsimile signatures of the four top monks on Athos.  You can’t tell from the picture, but Oranoupolis is actually a bit of a tourist trap of a beach town.  So you have this odd mix of beach goers, souvenier shops, religious pilgrims, and a higher than usual number of bearded, black-clad orthodox clergy.

The only access to the peninsula is by boat, so the whole herd of us left the pilgrims’ office, and wandered down to the boat dock to buy tickets and catch the ferry to Daphni, the primary port.

The ferry proceeds down the coast, stopping at a number of monasteries before reaching Daphni.  At each one, a few pilgrims and clergy got off, but the majority were waiting for the main port.

While the majority of the monasteries on Athos are Greek Orthodox, there are also individual ones for several other branches.  This is the Russian Orthodox one, which has been seeing a lot of reconstruction funding lately.  Construction seemed to be a big theme everywhere I went, actually – there has apparently been a bit of a resurgence of interest in the peninsula in the last decade or so.

I didn’t take a picture of Daphni itself – it’s just a dinky little collection of buildings with a cafe, a customs station, and a gift shop full of icons, incense, walking sticks, and trail maps.  Also cats.

My plan was actually to do some hiking, so I caught yet another boat heading farther down the coast.  I intended to go one monastery past the one where I would be spending the night, and then walk back.

This is the view from the water of Grigoriou, where I would spend the evening. Note the largish hill-type things surrounding it.

And this is Dionysiou, where I got off the boat.  Note all the other men walking right up the hill to the monastery.  I turned left, and discovered that the trail I had selected, a 500 year old footpath, had not been groomed recently, and by “recently,” I mean “for at least a decade.”  I was wearing jeans, because it’s not considered respectful to visit the monasteries in shorts.  Good thing, because I would have been cut to ribbons.

It was also an extremely grueling climb – according to the GPS, I went up about 500 feet in the first ascent, and it was very steep.  It was also in the high 90s. The views were quite spectacular, however:

The Aegean was also stunningly beautiful.

However, it was about at this point that it dawned on me that no one knew where I was, that my cell phone didn’t work in this hemisphere, and that if I passed out from heat exhaustion, no one was likely to find me for weeks.  The GPS kept me appraised of my location, but it was still a scary realization.  (Spoiler Alert: I made it back safely.)

About two-thirds of the way along, I found a gate.  A gate?  What the hell? I’m certainly not going to turn around and go back at THIS point!  Fortunately, the sign merely said, “Please Close The Gate Behind You.”  ?!?  I have no idea what the point of this gate is.

I had started the walk with a liter and a half of water, and by the time I was 80% of the way there it was already gone.  This was a welcome sight, when I finally reached it:

I dragged myself to the guesthouse, and discovered – no one there!  And no one answering the phone number I was supposed to dial, either.  So I just sat on a bench for an hour and tried to stop shivering – heat exhaustion, I’m pretty sure.

Unfortunately, no photography is allowed in the monastery, so I couldn’t take any pictures of the beautiful church or refectory.  Eventually I was collected, and sent up to the church for the pre-dinner service.  I had never attended an Orthodox service before.  The church has three rooms – the outer one where non-orthodox sit, the middle one, for orthodox worshipers, and an inner one where only the monks go.

The service lasted about an hour and was very confusing – monks were constantly coming and going, not just between the rooms, but out of the church entirely.  Every now and then someone would wander out into the outer room with a brazier of incense or a rattle, and we’d all stand up.  Arriving monks would venerate the icons in the outer room before continuing, except when they didn’t.  People would come and light candles, or put them out, seemingly at random.  Younger adepts would come out and prostrate themselves repeatedly in front of the icons.

The one truly memorable thing was the chanting.  Orthodox polyphony is definitely more interesting to listen to than Gregorian chant, in my opinion.  And since my Greek is even worse than my Latin, it’s a good thing the chanting was pleasant to listen to.

After the service ended, we all proceeded across the hall to the refectory for an excellent meal.  Eating at the monastery is very quick – there’s no talking at all, because a monk is reading from scripture during the entire meal.  You have about ten minutes to eat everything in front of you, because when the bell rings, whether you’ve finished or not, everyone gets up and leaves.

At the same time as I had arrived, an Irish visitor turned up who had hiked in over the much better path from the opposite direction.  After dinner, the two of us were introduced to Father Damien, a London native who had spent the last twenty years at the monastery.  We had a very interesting conversation in the refectory about the history and nature of the Orthodox religion.  I tried to be respectful and ask neutral questions, despite not sharing his faith.

I was going to combine Day 5 and 6 into one post, but seeing as how this is already the longest post so far, I’ll break here with yet another beautiful sunset.


  • Means of Transportation Employed: Cab, Bus, Boat
  • Cumulative Total: 8
  • Highest point: 173 meters
  • Most difficult food to eat politely with silverware: Seeded Watermelon

Greece – Day 4: Thessaloniki

This is going to be a short post, as we didn’t take any pictures on day 4, which was primarily concerned with getting from point A (Athens) to point Θ (Thessaloniki). Got up, went to train station, got on train, sat.  Also sat.  The train left an hour late, but apparently this is not at all unusual.  The trip across Greece was pretty, but uneventful.

When we arrived at Thessaloniki, we made the mistake of walking from the train station to our hotel.  It seemed like a good idea on paper, but Google Maps doesn’t tell you things like – “There’s no way to get out of the train station on foot,” or “It’s 100 degrees, dumbass, wouldn’t you rather take a cab?” (Ed. by Leigh: Or, things like, “It will be obvious that nobody ever walks on this sidewalk when you have to dodge a small tree growing out of the middle of the pavement surrounded by weeds on one side and a watermelon on the other.”)

Leigh checked in for her conference, and then we took a bus downtown with Vicky Williamson, a friend of ours from the UK, where we had a very nice dinner of various fried Greek items, including cheese and cheese. At the end of the meal, the waiter brought us free drinks (ed. by Leigh: luckily not Ouzo), which meant that Leigh and Vicky each got half of mine.


  • Means of Transportation Employed: Train, Bus
  • Cumulative Total: 7
  • Geocaches Found: 1
  • Likelihood of mispronouncing “Thessaloniki”: ~50%
  • Meals with cheese: 2
  • Free stuff: after-dinner drinks

Greece – Day 3: Athens

On our first day in Athens we did a walking tour of the city, so today we decided to concentrate on three specific sites – the National Archaeological Museum, the Roman Agora, and the Acropolis Museum.

The Archaeological Museum was fascinating.  With so MUCH history accumulated in this city, it’s hard to imagine you could plant a tomato bush in your backyard without unearthing the ruins of Atlantis or the like.

Also, apparently Matt Groening was around in ancient Macedonia.

After a tasty lunch on a little street known as “souvlaki row,” we headed to the Roman Agora, where you can just wander about and poke things, which is a bit staggering to Americans used to the hands-off approach of museums and archaeological sites in this country.

At this point, the heat started getting to us again, so we headed to the Acropolis Museum.  They didn’t allow photography, so we don’t have any pictures from there, but it’s a stunning building.  It was built expressly to convince the British Museum to return the enormous hunk of the Parthenon they stole in the early 1800s.  To date, it hasn’t worked.

For our last trick, we hiked up yet ANOTHER hill in the Athens area, this one just south of the Acropolis.  The view from the top was again amazing.

Just to the right of the Parthenon, you can see the hill we hiked up at sunset on the first day.  For dinner, we walked down a long street just north of the Agora which is lined with outdoor tavernas.  Every restaurant in Athens has a tout whose job it is to stand outside and hassle you to stop and eat in their establishment.  It’s quite annoying.  We eventually settled on a restaurant that had an attractive sans-serif sign, and a less intrusive tout than most.

Good choice.  For twenty euros we got feta and spearmint dumplings in pomegranate sauce, salad with Mykonian cheese, chicken with figs, 12-hour-cooked pork with lime and basil cream, and a lovely chocolate mousse with mastiha.  And a view of the Parthenon.


  • Modes of Transportation: Subway
  • Percentage of Athens Subway Lines Used: 100%
  • Number of Geocaches Found: 2
  • Highest Altitude: 147 m
  • Moose Deployed: 1