Monday, December 3, 2007
Strange but nice in Thessaloniki
We spent the day today in yet another gorgeous seaside town, the ancient city of Thessaloniki. It is strange to so suddenly be back in the Christian world, after being gone for two months. Suddenly we see Christmas wreaths, Santa signs, and Christmas carols all around when we have gotten used to Arabic calls to prayers 5 times a day. Of course we missed out on Halloween and Thanksgiving as well, so it is quite a change.
A nice surprise: as we were riding on the road yesterday trying to look at roadsigns in Greek and try and translate them into English, I suddenly remembered my Physics background and pledge training in my fraternity and realised that I do know the Greek alphabet and even the pronunciations. It was an "aha!" moment, when suddenly you see the hidden figure in the dots. Of course I don't remember it perfectly, and I started trying to say the alphabet to myself: "alpha, beta, gamma, delta, epsilon..." but I am now pretty well able to read the signs. Funny how the mind works.
Thessaloniki is pretty, clean, whitewashed city thousands of years old about the size of Boston. It has a beautiful sidewalk promenade along the harbor (no railing between you and the sea, oh no where are the plaintiff lawyers!) with a lively bar and cafe scene across the street. It is a University town, filled with hip, attractive youngsters, and tons of motorcycles and scooters, some of them doing interesting burnouts from streetlight to streetlight. We went to the excellent Byzantine museum today, and also to the very good Archaeology museum. Funny how when you go to a museum in Istanbul it says "the times were stunted due to the oppressive Christian regime", and when you go to a Greek museum it says "the times were stunted due to the oppressive Ottoman regime." Happily, however it seems at least these two cultures are starting to appreciate each other more in a peaceful way. Maybe in my lifetime Cyprus will be sorted out.
Amazing what a relief it is to only pay $7 or $8 dollars a gallon for gas. Weather permitting we will head to Mount Olympus tomorrow. I must be getting weak in my old age, as the first hotel we stopped at in town had mold on the walls and ceilings, and I rejected it without any input from Clara! We are staying in a nice place and had a delicious friendly meal at a local corner tavern, mushrooms, salad, mixed grill, one of the best meals we've had, and they even gave us some ice cream on the house.
So far Greece has been quite friendly in a reserved way, very clean and neat, although there is air pollution over a couple of the industrial areas. Clear blue skies, beautiful sunsets over the Aegean, and crisp 50 degree or so weather.