This time last week, when Western Europe was busy celebrating Easter, Mr. Mad Cow, two friends from Zurich and I were busy celebrating his birthday in Northern Greece. This year, as luck would have it, his big bad 2-9 fell over a four day weekend, so a trip just seemed like the obvious thing to do.
Mr. MC had talked about going to Thessaloniki, the second biggest city in Greece, for ages, and I must admit to being the reason why we had not yet visited the city. (Hey, if you were planning to go to Greece in the summer, you also would insist on going to the islands instead of the cities…) I got on the plane with little expectations, except for a strong craving for some yummy Greek food. Thessaloniki really won me over. In general, it was less chaotic than Athens, but it was still full of Greek charm. It felt like a happening cosmopolitan city with a thriving bar scene as well as a great cafe culture. And its location right on the Mediterranean! Unlike Piraeus (the main port of Athens which is filthy, polluted, and quite smelly), it was lovely to walk alongside to Mediterranean up the pedestrian walkway that lead to the White Tower. It was ever lovelier with an ice cream cone. The real highlight came from the Kastra neighborhood where we got to watch the sun set over Mt Olympus.
From Thessaloniki, we rented a car to take a side trip to Meteora, a complex of monasteries built on pillars of rock, that is now a UNESCO World Heritage site. Since the drive to Meteora was about four hours, we planned a stop at the ruins of Dion- an ancient town and religious sanctuary at the foot of Mt Olympus-on the way. The temples were built in the marshlands next to natural springs, which were really cool, because you can still see water bubble from the ground around the old columns and building rubble. The town ruins were equally interesting, since there were the remains of a public bath and public toilets. Gotta love those ancient Greeks.
Further down the highway, we stumbled upon some old Byzantine castle that towered over the sea. First we stopped for lunch at a restaurant right on the beach and then we went hiking through the wild flowers that were growing all around the castle. We got to Meteora just as it was getting dark, so we went for dinner and then went to bed early in order to make the most of our time the next day.
Well fed and well rested, we got up early to check out the cliffside monasteries. The view was pretty incredible. All I can say is Wow! The six (still functioning) monasteries were built in the late Middle Ages/Early Renaissance. It must have been one hell of an challenge to build such beautiful, but imposing structures on those rocks, and I bet it took a lot of people to do it. It often amazes me what these nameless people could do and how the fruits of their labor last to this day. We visited three of the monasteries, each one with beautifully frescoed Orthodox chapels. The largest monastery that we visited also held several small museums which were very interesting.
Needless to say, at the end of all this cultural exploration, we were hungry and promptly went out in search for one of my favorite things about Greece: a taverna!!!
Have I ever mentioned that I travel with my stomach?