Making our way back to Tripoli to collect our big backpacks, (which felt heavier because we hadn’t carried them in a while) we caught the bus to Athens. Staying in a different area of Athens this time, we noticed a darker side of the city in comparison to the first time we visited a few weeks earlier. We arrived at our hostel which seemed to have some random ladies just hanging around; only walking back later that evening did we realise we were now based in the red light district of Athens with the use of drugs also much more apparent as well!
Nevertheless we continued to enjoy the sites that Athens had to offer, walking around the surrounding streets of The Acropolis, and even fitting in a spot of shopping (much to my delight!!!) Dave found an open air cinema near the Acropolis, ‘Cine Thisio’ where we sat down and watched ‘Sully’, the new Tom Hanks film. One of the oldest open air cinemas in Athens,it was a really lovely and quaint setting to watch the film in. The warm evening scent of bougainvillea and jasmine filled the air together with the buzz of people in the small cinema area taking a romantic reprieve from the melee of Athenian urban life – such a charming atmosphere to be in.
The next day we left our dodgy hostel and returned to Sparta Hotel where we originally had stayed in Athens. Feeling safer about leaving our belongings there whilst we wandered around, we moved through the streets of Athens with no place in mind but just the need to wander, see and experience. Our evening walk that night took us to Anafiotika, a small historical neighbourhood at the base of The Acropolis called Plaka; built to resemble the Cyclades islands architecture: small stone cubic houses with stark white-washed walls, flat roofs and brightly painted shutters and doors, you truly feel like you are no longer in Athens but on an island village instead. Bright magenta bougainvillea spills over their walls, and the narrow alleyways often end in dead end terraces. Some of the houses have roof-top patios with gardens of potted yellow marigolds and crimson geraniums. This charming hidden gem of Athens is lined with restaurants and an infectious chatter of people talking, laughing, and enjoying themselves. Our seats for dinner gave us a brilliant view of the Acropolis above and the bustling shopping streets below; with fairy lights lighting the grape vine canopy above us, and the smell of food and sound of local music playing nearby, we sat for a while watching people pass us by.
From Athens, we caught a train to Larissa where we had arranged to meet Dave’s Greek friend, George. George met us at the train station with open arms and a loud happy shout. He drove us to his parents’ house to meet them and catch up. His mum Penelope welcomed us straight away with a warm hug, inviting smile, and plenty of homemade cakes and pastries, (it was like going to your grandma’s house where she spoils you rotten until you can’t eat anymore). It was truly heartwarming that she cared and wanted to look after us despite not knowing us or speaking a word of English! George’s dad Kostas, was just the same and just as passionate; we could see where George had inherited the passion and loudness from! After a long catch up with the odd translations from George, lots of cake, and settling in the spare room at Penelope’s and Kostas’, we freshened up for dinner. Sitting down to eat, we met George’s wife Maria, who was so lovely and funny as well! Eating more food than we could possibly imagine, we went out with George and Maria for drinks and a walk around their city; sitting at a rooftop bar we talked and laughed until the early hours of the morning.
The following day we took a bus to Meteora, a region not far from Larissa; a magical monastery complex located on extraordinary and breathtaking rock formations which dominate the landscape. We couldn’t believe Hermit monks first settled here in the 11th century, in caves within the rock initially and then eventually building monasteries high on top once the hermit monks had united. The immense vertical cliffs of Meteora show Nature’s grandeur and Christian history combined; we were in awe of the sheer beauty this place projects.
Visiting some of the monasteries which had been turned into museums for tourists and those who were making pilgrimages to Meteora, we saw the amazing brickwork of architecture, a room filled with what we assumed was monks skulls (slightly creepy), restoration of the painted frescos, and the churches where prayer took place.
A bus back to Larissa we stayed with George’s family this time; his cousins were visiting from Athens so after more cake (so much cake it was like a Greek afternoon tea but without the sandwiches and coffee instead of tea) and more chatter, we all headed to the fair for the evening. Such a great evening soaking up the atmosphere.
Our last stop in Greece was Thessaloniki, the second largest city in Greece. A major port, and a place that was very much student orientated with cheaper prices and many of the shops catered to younger people. Walking around it was clear Thessaloniki was a very modern city (due to most it being rebuilt after a Great Fire), we passed many bars and cafés on the waterfront. The White Tower, a prominent monument in Thessaloniki, stands out by far on the waterfront from its imposing structure; used not only as a fort to act as defences for the harbour, it was also used as a garrison and prison. Nowadays hundreds of tourists visit, (including us) to see a panoramic view of the city.
My love of arches took us around the city to seek out The Arch Of Galerius. It is impressive to see something still standing from the 3rd century that hasn’t been rebuilt or restored, but stands as it was, the detail of the reliefs on the structure still visible depicting wars, battles and victories. I could have sat looking at the detail on the arches for the rest of the evening, it was mesmerising! Such a distinctive Roman structure in Thessaloniki, I am glad we did not miss out before leaving Greece.