Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Moving on to Greece...first stop, Saloniki

I left Rome yesterday and am now in Greece!  I will go to Athens tomorrow, but because I wanted to see the northern part of the country as well as the south,  I decided to spend a couple of nights in Thessalonica.  It's the second largest city in Greece, and is also known as Thessaloniki, Salonica, and Saloniki.  Very confusing!  For the purposes of this blog, I'm going to use one of the shorter forms of the name: Saloniki. 

Saloniki was founded in 315BC and later became one of the largest cities in the Byzantine Empire.  It is still a large and vibrant city, with a mix of big modern buildings and old Byzantine structures.  And when I say a mix, I really mean it!  My pictures below will show ancient excavation sites right in the middle of town sandwiched between modern shops and apartment buildings.  The city sits on the edge of the Aegean Sea and has always been a major port for products coming from all over the world into eastern and central Europe.  The docks are still very busy and as you walk along the city's boardwalk you see ships lined up waiting to get into port and be unloaded.

So far, I really love Greece.  For one thing, Greek food is among my favorite cuisines.  While the food in Italy was absolutely delicious, it's also very heavy.  I love pizza and pasta, but you can only eat it so many times in a row before you begin to crave something a bit lighter.  Of course, every time I said that to Tanya, I could see her rolling her eyes on my Skype screen no matter how poor the connection.  She could exist on pasta alone and can't imagine how I could possibly tire of it.  In Italy, when you order dinner, pasta is always your first course no matter what else you get.  Try ordering just the "secondo" (entrée) without the "primo" (first course of pasta) and they look at you as if you're a little weird.  And the primo isn't just a small plate of pasta.  It's a large portion that in the US we would consider enough for an entire meal.  Also, if you order a salad with your meal, it doesn't come first. It either comes with your secondo or after it as a light course before dessert.  I had lost weight on this trip from doing so much walking, but I think I put in all back on in Italy.  Of course, the daily gelato didn't help, but it sure was good.  I never got tired of that!

The food in Greece has been equally spectacular.  And, way less expensive!  I ate lunch and dinner yesterday for less than what I typically paid in Rome for dinner alone.  I went to a little restaurant last night for dinner and decided to start with a plate that offered a variety of appetizers.  It had a basketful of bread, tzatziki (a yogurt dip made with garlic and cucumbers...it's the creamy sauce you get on gyros in the US), a sampling of cured meats, dolmades (a rice mixture wrapped in grape leaves), a variety of pickled veggies, a tomato and cucumber salad with egg, an anchovy, olives, and some pepperoncini.  I wish I had taken my camera with me to get some pics, but I had left it at the hotel.  The whole thing cost only 2 euros (about $2.60).  My entrée of 2 large pieces of cod (caught fresh that day) with a rice and herb pilaf cost only 6 euros. Greece is suffering through some terrible economic woes, but it is currently a foreign traveler's paradise in terms of prices.

Today I went out to see the sights, including a visit to the Museum of Byzantine Culture.  I had read online that it has won several awards for its collections, which include not only artifacts of the religious and noble classes, but also those of regular working folks.  It was a really great museum.  Not only is the collection interesting with lots of information, but the layout of the galleries is very well done.  It takes you through different time periods from the 2nd and 3rd centuries right up to the post-Byzantine periods of the 15th-18th centuries.  The displays are well organized and include everything from tombs to religious iconography to daily implements like tools, dishes, cooking vessels, combs, coins, jewelry, and much more.  The first few galleries I went into had signs indicating no photography was allowed, but as I got near the end of the museum I saw some people taking photos so I asked an attendant if it was ok.  Turns out it was only the first few galleries (of the oldest stuff) where cameras weren't allowed.  Unfortunately, I was almost at the end already, but I did get a few pics.

So, here is Saloniki in pictures....

As you can see from this pic (taken from my hotel balcony last night), Saloniki is a large, vibrant, modern city.
This is an old Byzantine church that sits in a park 2 blocks from my hotel.

On the other side of the park sits an old Roman bathhouse called the Paradiso Baths.  I wanted to look inside, but it's closed on Tuesdays.

I like the architecture here.  This modern building is a very pretty example, but fairly typical of the style...clean lines, symmetry, and light exterior colors. 

This is the White Tower, which sits right along the coastline.  It was a lookout tower to guard against attacks from the sea, but it has also been used as a prison and a museum.

This is a painting on wood from around the middle of the 14th century.  I was amazed at how vivid the colors remain after 650 years.  I asked one of the gallery attendants if it had been touched up and she said no.  She said the Byzantines developed a type of laminate that would seal the wood so the colors wouldn't absorb and then another that went on top to protect them from chipping and fading. 

This was a cabinet front from around the 15th century. 

I thought this display in a toy story window was amusing.  Get your child a toy car...attached to a tapered candle!

Old and new mix together all throughout Saloniki.

This is an excavation site right near the center of town.

The original city gate.

Some closer detail of carvings on the gate.

Looks like Greek to me.  Oh wait...it is Greek!  I now understand why, of all the languages in the world, this one was chosen for a cliché meaning incomprehensible.  Luckily, most restaurant menus include an English translation.

There are dogs and cats all over this town...and most don't seem to belong to anyone.  I saw small groups of dogs like these lying around sleeping all over the place.  The cats seemed to favor the ruins.  I saw several lying atop the warm bricks of an excavation site taking in the sun. 

This was the side salad that came with my lunch.  It was enough for a meal in itself...and absolutely delicious!



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