As per our usual, we rented a car to drive to the few places that we had on our itinerary. Greece has both large roads in pretty good condition (most of which you have to pay a toll) and small roads that wind up and down large mountains with exceptional scenery. Even though we would rather stay on a road with a view, we always have to take into consideration how much time we have as well, so we normally do both.
As far as driving goes, we were impressed that lane lines were obeyed and there was minimal jockeying for position. We did see a number of people speed through red lights, usually close to taking out a few pedestrians, and others honking for you to go at the end of a red light. Other than that, the drivers seemed pretty well trained.
The one oddity we noticed was on the highway. For some reason, parts of the toll road go down to two lanes for two directions. During these stretches, cars would drive on the shoulder in order to stay out of the way of faster traffic. I think the country should add a couple of lanes, but it was awfully considerate of the drivers, don’t you think?
We drove from Delphi to Thessaloniki and on the way we pulled off for a swim and lunch at a random beach. How did we choose where to stop? We pulled over to take a photo of an old fortress and followed the signs to the beach. It all worked out beautifully, and we found a beach where I think we were the only foreigners.
Thessaloniki is a sprawling city, founded in 315 BC and named after Alexander the Great’s half-sister. Thankfully the road takes you right down to the water’s edge and an ocean promenade. There are many cafes and bars, and a little inland the city plays host to many hotels and hostels. We stayed at a pricey three star hotel that really isn’t worth mentioning, except that we just couldn’t seem to find anything better without cutting off an arm or two to throw into the cash register.
There are two reasons that Thessaloniki was on our list. The first is that Ataturk, the father of Turkey, was born here. During Ottoman times, many Turks called Salonika their home. Unfortunately, we were unable to visit his home as it is located within the Turkish Consulate which was closed. After 1923, when Turkey won its independence, there was a migration of Greeks back to Greece, and Turks back to Turkey–I don’t know if there are many Turks left in the city today. The other reason was the abundance of Byzantine churces, which I will write about in my next post.
As we walked around town, we immediately recognized the White Tower, the current day symbol of the city. Built by the Ottomans in the early to mid-1400’s to help fortify the city, it was later used as a prison and was the scene of a bloody massacre. After the massacre, it was called the Red Tower, but after the Greeks had an independent state, they white-washed it and changed its name.
We walked around the city just like its inhabitants and had snacks and drinks. No one was having much else, because the people are still reeling from the horrible recession they have been living through. We did try a snack that basically was a Mille Feuille or Napolean in a waffle cone. It was a very sweet custard ladled into a cone, covered with a sugar glaze.