I am impressed with the Greek women in the work force. They are educated. With the help of their parents and grandparents, they are trying to create a future. Their parents and grandparents lived through WWII and the war no one talks about: the Greek Civil War. Greece’s new manpower is women, who are leaving the kitchens. I met retired teachers cooking, cleaning, sewing, doing blue collar work. Teachers are working as cab drivers, harvesting the olives of Peloponnesus. Old attitudes must change with the realities of the summer of 2015.
The hotel staff at the Amalia Hotel in Kalambaka and Mediterranean Palace in Thessaloniki were from the respective region. Their hospitality and friendliness made me feel welcome. We visited St. Varlaam and the Holy Trinity of the Meteora monastic complex, shopping at Kalambaka. We drove through Trikala and Larissa, admiring Mount Olympus, the highest mountain in Greece and home of the 12 Gods, according to Greek Mythology.
We visited picturesque Edessa where we saw the town’s famous landmark, the waterfalls. In Naoussa, we visited Aristotle’s School, the picturesque site where the great philosopher taught “the doctrines of moral and politics” to Alexander the Great and the Macedonian youth. We drove to Vergina (ancient Aigai) to experience a visit to the unique museum, seeing the Great Tumulus covering the royal tombs of Macedonia. Amphipolis was created in the following style: build a unique tomb; put the dead and riches inside and then cover the tomb. We saw the astonishing findings from the tomb of King Phillip II, Alexander’s father. A few miles away was Veria (biblical Beroea). We followed in the footsteps of St. Paul, walked the old Jewish neighborhood and the colorful market. The excursion went to Pella, the capital of Alexander the Great. We saw the exquisite floor mosaics of the 4th century BC villas and the new museum.
We spent three days in Thessaloniki, visiting unique monuments. The Museum of Byzantine Culture was awarded with the Council of Europe’s Museum Prize for the year 2005. In our free afternoon, I visited the Museum of the Macedonian Struggle and the Archaeological Museum. On our final day, we visited the Archaeological Park of Dion (sacred city of Macedonians at the feet of Mt. Olympus), drove south, through Thessaly, Lamia, Thermopylae (Leonidas’ Monument), Thebes and arrived in Athens late in the afternoon.
The tourists were from the USA, Belgium and Australia, British of Indian and Japanese roots. Listening to their comments was amazing. When we were climbing up a steep incline in the Old Jewish quarter of Veria, I was helped by Pam of Melbourne, Australia, and her husband Kevin. The couple was environmentalists who described the natural surroundings of Dion. They loved Greece and were very expressive with emotion when the tour ended.
Sandy’s husband, an American, intensely reading a guide book, explained 1924 was a time when there was “an exchange of populations between Christians and Muslims. The governments agreed. The people were unhappy.” Leo, the Maltese/Australian was the self-appointed Captain or Bodyguard of our group. He wore a beige cap and found us when we were lost. Magdalena of Belgium won an icon from an icon factory in Kalambaka. Jack of Rochester, who stayed for two days, was impressed that I speak Greek. Christo of New South Wales, Australia, took his dream trip. His enthusiasm of the social scene made me constantly laugh. “I worked double shifts in a factory to pay for this trip.”
John, an Australian from Lefkada, was amazed by the Museum of the Macedonian Struggle. “I never knew about the Orthodox Bulgarians coming down to Thessaloniki, destroying the civilians. My family was from Izmir with priests and cantors. I am going on a trip to Western Anatolia after this tour ends to retrace my roots,” he said. Macedonia has always been the dream of Balkan countries. A young Australian came to Greece to visit her grandmother. “This was a once in a lifetime opportunity for me,” she explained. “Yiayia lived in Australia for fifty years and never learned English. I feel bad for her because she has difficulties communicating with me in English.”
An Australian couple who spent time in Malaysia was astonished by the affluence of Thessaloniki. “I read a Greek magazine in English that blames the affluent Thessaloniki families for the economic disaster because they did not invest properly.” 70% of the group was from Australia. Their warmth and enthusiasm made me feel welcome. The subject came around to “The Thorn Birds” and “Australia” movies, an American perception of their continent. “Who doesn’t remember the romance of a young woman with a handsome priest,” the Australian said. These are my memories of my “tour among the ruins.”
“Thank you for coming to Greece,” Matina said in her farewell. “Greece is not just food, islands and beaches. Support our monuments in the difficult years of our financial crisis. Mr. Kosta, our driver, G.O. Tours and myself thank you.” I saw our Australian tourists with tears in their eyes. See the movie “Kings of Mykonos” and “My Life in Ruins.” Experience travelling with a unique group. Forget the Eurozone crisis.
Marina Mpoya, Athens notary, tel. +302103616522