Thursday, August 31, 2006


Yesterday (Wednesday) we finally went to the beach at Halkidiki. Wow, it was beautiful! The water is SO clear and warm. It was a great day!

It's a bit of a process to get there -- a taxi or 2 buses to get to the right bus station, and then a coach bus for about 90 mins to the beach. We went to Kassandra, the first (or Western-most) arm of the Halkidiki peninsula. (Mt. Athos is the Eastern-most arm.) It was well worth it, though! It's finally starting to cool down here a little, but yesterday was sunny with the high in the low 90s. Plus, since the season is dying down, there was hardly anyone there.

The top photo is of some chairs and umbrellas that some of the psarotavernas (or Seafoood Restaurants) set up on the beach next to their restaurant. Waiters will come down and serve you coffee, beer, snacks, etc. We didn't go here, but rather we walked around to find a rather secluded beach/cove (behind the tower in the second photo).

On the hill, there is a tower and a little chapel next to it. We walked up there and took the third and fourth photos from up there. The fourth photo is of the beach where we swam.

There were just a couple people here -- a Greek man and a Serbian man who (curiously to us) communicated with each other in English. They were standing in a couple feet of water near the shore, talking, when suddenly there was some excitement and they started scooping the water up onto the shore. Apparently, a school of little sardine-like fish had swam around their legs. These are very popular to eat (especially at the Seafood Restaurants) and so they just scooped them right out of the sea. They collected them in a bag and -- I'm guessing -- went home and grilled them up. There were several snorkelers, and we saw little fish swimming by us and jumping in the water near us.

One interesting/disturbing element of the beach experience is the, um, freedom, people feel with their bodies. Clothing is kept to an absolute minimum -- men wear speedos and some women feel tops are optional.

Before we left, (in spite of that!) we had a little bite to eat at a psarotaverna -- fresh, lightly fried kalimari. It was really good!

As always, you can see more photos here:

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Liturgy for St. John the Baptist

This morning Panorama had Orthros and Liturgy for St. John the Baptist at the little chapel dedicated to him near our apartment.

Panorama is on a hill to the NE of Thessaloniki, and we live on the highest part of the hill. Our street, Analipseos, is a circle which circumscribes the top of the hill. In the middle of that circle is a public park, and in the middle of that park is this little chapel.

Tomorrow, we're planning on finally going to the beaches on Halkidiki!

Oh, and yes, Rdr. Moses, they did the canons this morning -- 2 or 3.

( ;

The Crypt of St. Demetrios

After we left the mosque, we realized that we were right next to Agios Demetrios, so we went in and visited the crypt, which is located underneath the sanctuary.

Originally, this was a Roman (or possibly even Hellenistic) public bath. St. Demetrios used to preach to his fellow Christians near the Ancient Agora. As punishment, one day he was dragged away from the Agora and down to the fountain, where he was speared to death in front of the public. It has been a site of Christian pilgrimmage ever since, with the first large temple constructed on it around 450.

After the 10th century, the site of the fountain (now underground) became associated with the myrrh which poured from his relics. In the middle photo, Pelagia is standing next to the fountain. Pipes from upstairs end here; the myrrh from the relics used to drain through the pipes down to the fountain. The faithful would then come to this fountain to take some of the myrrh. Now the relics are encased, and I hear it is opened up once a year on his feast day to retrieve the myrrh that has accumulated. One American reported being able to smell the myrrh from BLOCKS away when this happens. - Freed journalists forced at gunpoint to convert to Islam - Freed journalists forced at gunpoint to convert to Islam

Many of the martyrs here in Greece have similar stories...

PS - Am I crazy, or did this guy say: "Don't get me wrong here. I have the highest respect for Islam, and I learned a lot of good things about it, but it was something we felt we had to do because they had the guns...."?

Alatza Imaret Mosque

Since it was downhill, we decided to walk back to the center of Thessaloniki. As we were walking, we walked right by one of the few mosques that the Turks actually built (rather than just taking over churches). I was reading a book "Thessaloniki: The City and Its Monuments," so I looked up this mosque. It had quite a detailed history and architectural analysis, which in Thessaloniki usually consists of something like: It was built in X, damaged by earthquake/fire in X, repaired, damaged by earthquake/fire in X, repaired, damaged get the idea. Anyway, the description ended by saying: "Today it is in very good condition and is used for cultural events and particularly painting exhibitions." Well, it didn't look like it was in very good shape to us, and the only thing it seemed to be used for was kids playing soccer against it.

It's interesting that, whereas the Turks were only too happy to use Christian temples for their mosques, mosques are only used for "cultural events."

Pelagia took this photo of me sweating after we finally found Osios David. ( :

Osios David

So, as I was saying (sorry, I guess you have to read these posts from bottom to top), the sign pointed in the same direction as Vlatades, and that was only about 10 feet away. So, we figured Osios David had to be close (it's a small 5th century church). So we started walking in that direction, and walking, and walking. The streets in this part of the city are very narrow and winding, and houses just seem to appear in every nook and cranny. You can even see houses built into parts of the ancient walls (see top photo). I read that the reason for this was because, during the 1922 population exchange with Turkey, Greece was flooded with repatriated Christians, and the government decided to funnel many of them into this part of the city. The second photo is of a really neat, tiny house squeezed into this area.

So we're walking all over looking for what the tour books all say is a major attraction of historical Thessaloniki. But we can't find it anywhere. Well, after stopping to check a map a couple times, we finally stumbled on it. It is basically hidden in the midst of a bunch of modern houses and apartment complexes. You could be standing 20 feet from it and not see it. Of course, it was about 5 PM when we arrived, so it was closed (to open again from 6-8 PM, or so the travel books said). So anyway, we figured we should get a couple pictures from the gates. ( ;

Now at least we know where it is for the next time we come! And the lesson from all this is: Don't trust Greek road signs! There's one in downtown Thessaloniki with just a right arrow that says "Baths of Thermi." It's right next to other signs for nearby attractions, so we asked around about the Baths of Thermi. It turns out they're 40 miles away!

The Monastery of Vlatades

Mainly we wanted to see some of the church sites in the old city (aka Upper City, Ano Polis), as they themselves are -- well -- very old. We got off the bus right at the Monastery of Vlatades. Unfortunately, we got there around 2:30, so no one was around and the buildings were locked (afternoon rest time). But we did get to walk around the monastery. It turns out the Patriarchal Institute for Patristic Studies is attached to the monastery.

Now when we got off the bus, there was a sign for this monastery (which was actually only about 10 feet away from the sign) and another sign for the Temple of Osios David (Righteous David, King and Prophet), which was originally part of the Monastery of Latomou. (BTW, I finally got an answer on why some saints are called Righteous as opposed to just Saint -- as in this, case "Osios" means "Righteous." It turns out that traditionally only monks and martyrs are called Agios or Saint.) Anyway, the signs were right next to each other, and both pointed in the same direction.

These photos of Thessaloniki were taken from near Trigonion Tower.

Visit to Ano Polis

We went for quite an adventure in Thessaloniki on Monday. First, we took the bus downtown to run some errands. We found a nice bookstore with a GREAT selection of English books. They had a huge section on Byzantine history -- I really had to restrain myself. We only got one book -- Salonica: City of Ghosts -- a new book about Jews, Christians, and Moslems in Thessaloniki during Ottoman rule. I'm told it's a must-read. We will report on it after we finish it.

Anyway, after that, we took the bus that goes north to the Upper City (Ano Polis). This is an old part of the city, which is now primarily residential. Many of the city's walls, which were originally constructed under the Emperor St. Theodosios around 380, are still standing here. In the top photo, I climbed up some stairs soldiers would use to defend the city from attack.

In the middle photo, Pelagia is standing in front of the Tower of Trigonion, which marked the NE corner of the city's walls. The White Tower is the other corner tower still standing -- it marked the SE corner. Most of the walls around it, however, were knocked down by the Turks in the 1800s as part of a larger effort to make the city more modern and European.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

The Holy Monastery of the Dormition

This morning (Sunday) I went to the Monastery of Kimissios tis Theotokou (Dormition) for Divine Liturgy. They start Orthros at 6:30 and finish around 9:45. (In Greece, if you ask when a service is, they seem to always tell you the beginning AND end times. I guess so that you can judge just how late you're going to be.)

( ;

Anyway, it was a beautiful service -- the nuns' voices have an angelic quality. I was surprised to find that the monastery was packed, and that men actually comprised a decent 35-40% of the population. (Usually, it seems like we see a 98:2 ratio at most services.)

Of course, the monastery seems to attract the "pious" type of Greek, which also seems to mean that someone may get hurt trying to venerate an icon or receive the priest's blessing at the end of the service. An elderly woman blatantly cut me off without the slightest sense of shame.

Afterwards, the sisters go to the kitchen and prepare coffee for everyone. The people go and sit in a sort of reception room just off the kitchen to socialize and wait for coffee. I sort of sat back to try to get a feel of how things worked. Apparently, it's the same as the rest of Greece. The sisters bring out beautiful trays of coffee, each with a saucer and little cookie on it. As soon as someone smells coffee emerging from the kitchen and heading down the hallway, a pulsating mob instantly forms right at the entrance and attacks the person as soon as they enter.

I took the bus to the monastery on the way there, but I decided to walk back to get a sense of how long it would take. It probably took 25 minutes or so. We used to think we were lucky to ONLY have to drive 3 hours to get to a monastery!

I spent the afternoon putting together a side-by-side Greek/English service book for Vespers. I now have a draft ready. If anyone is interested, send me an email. I'll be glad to share. I'm looking for ANY Greek/English service texts you may know of. (Thanks to Rdr. Moses -- aka Anagnosti, Kenny Banya, etc. -- of Spokane for his help!)

The top photo is the south side of the monastery's katholikon. The second photo is also of the south side of the temple, but it also includes the courtyard. The third photo is the interior of the wall that runs around the monastery. The photo at bottom is of what I believe are some of the sisters' cells.

Friday, August 25, 2006

More on the Ruins

As we were exploring the palace ruins, we came across this little "gataki" (Greek for kitten). He was so cute that we wanted to take him home, but he went hiding (with the other 100 cats). At bottom, you can see an example of the concern for historical detail and accuracy that you will find in the explanations at these sites.

We went down to Thessaloniki today (Friday) to do some paperwork at the Theology School, and also to visit the Jewish Museum, which was very interesting. It's near where they think the synagogue was that St. Paul preached in "for three Saturdays" around 50 AD.

The Galerius Palace Complex

The Emperor Galerius chose Thessaloniki as his capital in 297 and began construction on a massive palace complex. The modern city is built all around the remains. In this top picture, we are down in the ruins (you can tell how old things are by how far below the normal street level they are). In the background, you can see the "Rotunda," which was originally built as a temple to the patron gods of Diocletian's imperial tetrarchy (of which Galerius was one). In the 5th century, it became a church filled with icons of saints martyred by Diocletian and Galerius, ironically. Today it is still used on occasional feast days. To the right of the Rotunda (St. George's) is the University.

This is a shot of the ruins of the palace from the current street level. The palace seems to be a hang-out for feral cats.

Going to the Market

There's a huge Farmer's Market in Thessaloniki every Thursday, and we went for the first time last week. The prices are GREAT, so we've decided to make this a regular Thursday morning outing. We went again this Thursday with both our backpacks to really load up for the week. I don't know for sure, but my impression is that the food is from small, local farmers. Durkas -- you would love it! They are probably "organic" without even knowing that it's something special. You get to pick out your own eggs (which are delicious, by the way) from a big table full and take them home in your own egg containers. On either side, some of the more entrepreneurial vendors are shouting out things like "three, three, three for a euro!", etc. It's quite an experience!

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

More Paperwork

This morning we got up and went downtown to meet Philip, who took us through some of the bureaucracy. First, we went to the Residence Permit office. The visa we applied for (and received) from the Greek Embassy in the US is just the first step. This gives you the right to apply for a residence permit for one year (which you then must renew every year). This application, of course, asks for pretty much the same documents that I just submitted to the Greek Embassy in the US. In some cases, it's just different enough so that you have to go get another one. For the documents that are the same, the problem is that they require originals. (Every office in Greece requires originals. They don't care that every other application requires originals -- each bureacrat thinks he is important and that he deserves the originals.) Now one may ask: If you just submitted the same documents to the Greek Embassy in the US, isn't it rather inefficient to repeat the whole process? Ah...

So we go into the office and Philip speaks to one of the surly-looking bureaucrats behind a thick window. (The window only has a small opening at the bottom, so that you have to kinda halfway lie down to speak. I guess it's something like the way servants had to prostrate themselves while speaking with the king.) Anyway, this guy looks over all our documents and talks to us for 10 minutes. First, he says that Pelagia needs to show that she has $60,000 Euros (about $75,000-$80,000) IN CASH in a bank somewhere to get a residence permit. This is the first any of us have heard of this, so he goes to discuss the matter with other bureacrats, who are sitting around smoking and drinking coffee. Finally, he comes back with a paper detailing the requirements (which we already have, but apparently he has just discovered). He gives us some different information, and then says casually that we might as well go to the other side of the office (about 8 feet away) and talk to the guy who is in charge of this kind of visa. (Why he didn't say this in the first place is a mystery.) So we turn around and walk a few feet to a different glass window, with an even angrier looking bureaucrat. Philip explains the situation, and he tells us we're in the wrong office -- he says they don't give out these kind of visas! So Philip shows him the paper (printed by his office, and given to us by someone in his office 8 feet away just 30 seconds ago) and this appears to be the first time he's ever heard of such a thing. So he walks BACK to the first people we talked with and speaks with them for awhile. Now he comes back to us and gives us a THIRD version of what papers we need. Of course, all the documents need to be originals. Before he brushes us off, I explain that the Greek Embassy in San Francisco, the scholarship office in Athens, and the School of Modern Greek all had to have the original documents in the applications I gave them. He says well, we'll just have to call them and have them sent to us. Ok, thanks.

Next, we try to go the hospital to get a certificate saying we are free of contagious diseases. We already have such a document from an American doctor, but that's no good. This document has to be from a Greek doctor in a Greek public hospital. So we try to find the way to the hospital. It's a good thing we asked, because it turns out that the correct hospital for this CHANGES depending on the day of the week. For example, if you have a heart problem, you go to hospital X if it's Monday, but you go the hospital Y if it's Tuesday, and hospital Z if it's Wednesday, etc. So we find out the correct hospital and walk over there.

There, at the Hospital of St. Demetrios, they tell us, of course, that they're full until the end of the month and we have to call this other hospital. So we get on the pay phone and call this other hospital. They say, "Call St. Demetrios." We say, "We're here right now; they told us to call you." They say, "Oh well, we're full." So we go back to the desk at St. Demetrios and try to make an appointment. They tell us they only make appointments at the beginning of the month, so we have to call then.

With all that unaccomplished, we called it a day. (But we're still smiling.)

( :

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Greek Plumbing

Last night (Monday), we had dinner next door at the Lillies with Fr. Seraphim Bell, from Walla Walla, WA. Small world! He and his family lived in Panorama 10 years ago. His daughter lived in our very apartment about 5 years ago. He comes back a couple times a year to visit the Holy Mountain and friends here in town.

Anyway, somehow we got to discussing the Greek plumbing system. This is BY FAR the strangest thing we've encountered over here: In Greece, you are not supposed to flush your toilet paper down the actual toilet. Instead, there is a special little waste basket next to every toilet.

We got to talking about this somehow, and both the Lillies and Fr. Seraphim told us that you COULD flush toilet paper. The Lillies have been doing it for 30-some years without incident, apparently. If you ask any Greek, however, they will tell you that doing so will clog up the sewer lines and then someone will have to go fix it. So this toilet paper thing is apparently some sort of cultural remnant from the past.

We were sort of wondering about the whole thing because if you walk into any American-type business establishment, such as Starbucks, Pizza Hut, McDonald's, etc -- they do not have the special little waste baskets and you can flush as much toilet paper as you want. But if you go NEXT DOOR to a Greek shop, there's a special little can.

Well, we are forever indebted to Fr. Seraphim for freeing us from these chains. We came home last night after dinner and immediately got rid of those cans! I told Philip about this today (he's lived here 4 years), and he was shocked. Now he's free, too. Maybe we'll start some sort of toilet paper revolution here.

Our Town -- Panorama

Here are a couple photos of the "center" of Panorama. In the top picture, you see "Masoutis" on the right -- this is the market. Our place is up the hill to the right -- about a 5 minute walk/climb. ( ;

This photo is from Masoutis looking back down toward the center. The stairs on the left lead up into the market. In the center of the photo is the bakery. Down the street to the right is the butcher we use (we're told he's the best in town; there are probably 3 or 4).

The View From Here

Here's a photo of the view of Thessaloniki (and the Thermaikos Gulf) from our place. Well, not exactly from OUR place, but from next door to our place. Our place is on the ground floor, with no view like this, hence the good price. But still, this is the view from here generally. That's why they call it "Panorama." When it's clear, you can see Mt. Olympus across the gulf. Mt. Olympus is a big national park with lots of hiking trails. We're planning on going some time -- I think it's about an hour bus ride. We think Makrina would really like doing that!


You may not believe this, but Pelagia and I didn't have our first gyros in Greece until Sunday night! They were different than we expected -- almost entirely meat (sliced from the spit you see in the window here). There's a distinct possibility that we didn't order correctly -- all we know how to say was "2 gyros." They were still delicious, though...

Museum of Byzantine Culture

Philip took me to the Museum of Byzantine Culture on Monday afternoon. It was GREAT! This is a must-see for anyone who visits.

In a display on women's lives (featuring craft items), Philip pointed out this funny explanation.

In Greece, gender roles are much more rigid than in the US. Women are expected to do all the cooking, cleaning, shopping, raising of children, as well as get educated and have jobs. Men, on the other hand, are expected -- well, men aren't really expected to do much of anything, it seems, at least until they're about 30 and move out of their parents' house. to get married.

I'm told that marriages of Greek men to American women have a low success rate, but the other way around works well.

The Arch of Galerius (Kamara)

On Monday, I took the bus downtown to Thessaloniki to meet my friend, Philip Navarro. This was the first time I met him in person -- he was SOOOO helpful in getting us through the mountains of Greek bureacracy to get over here. I met him here, at the Starbucks next to the Arch of Galerius. The Emperor Galerius built this triumphal arch in 297 after a victory over the Persians. He and his father-in-law, Diocletian, inflicted some of the cruelest persecutions of Christians (I am now reading all about it in Eusebius' Church History). Can you believe there is now a Starbucks next to an arch that was built in 297? Wild.

The Roman Agora

The old Roman Agora, or marketplace, was built some time around 100 BC, I believe. The Romans took over Thessaloniki around 168 BC, so it was built some time shortly thereafter. It seems logical to assume that the Apostle Paul would have been here during his stays in the city. I think you can walk through parts of the site, but again it was closed when we went. (This is probably going to be a reoccuring theme around here. Schedules, maps and the like are rare, and the ones that do exist are constantly changing.) Above is a photo of what we think was a pool located in one corner of the agora.

Sightseeing in Thessaloniki

On Sunday evening, we decided to stop working around the house and go down to Thessaloniki to be tourists. So we took the bus from Panorama (about 30-40 min ride) and got off at the White Tower, which is a famous landmark here. It was originally part of a 15th-century seawall. The Turks turned it into a prison -- actually Death Row -- where Janissaries (soldiers pulled from the Christian population) carried out brutal executions. It was said that you could see blood dripping down the walls of the tower, so it became known as "the Bloody Tower." In 1890, prisoners whitewashed the whole structure, hence the current name. You can go inside for a tour, but unfortunately it's closed until some time next year. After we stopped there, we walked down the sidewalk which runs along the Thermaikos Gulf and turned right into Aristotle Square. There we met a German man and his two kids who were also doing the sightseeing thing. We had met them on the train to Belgrad. They were very nice, so we went to see the old Roman Agora with them and then went for a drink along the seaside. I don't know if it was a language barrier, but we THINK they told us that when they visited Albania, the kids witnessed an Albanian child being killed right in the middle of the street -- his throat was cut and he was hung up in public. Lord have mercy.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Dinner on the Beach

After visiting St. Demetrios, Paris took us for a fresh seafood dinner on the beach in a suburb of Thessaloniki called Pirea. Here is a photo from the end of the dock there. All along the beach are psarotaverna's (Fish Restaurants). We had "to xtopadi" (octopus), kalimari (squid), mussels -- it was delicious. Even Pelagia liked them!! (By the way, I made fresh kalimari at home for us on Friday night, and Pelagia liked that, too!)

Relics of St. Demetrios

Here are the relics of St. Demetrios. As soon as you enter this little room, the smell of myrrh is quite powerful. It's amazing, what more can I say?

We've heard that they open up the relics on his feast day (Oct 26) and that you can smell the myrrh from BLOCKS away. It takes pillows of cotton to soak up all the myrrh that his relics have exuded. We definitely plan to be there this Oct 26!

The Fountain of St. Demetrios

Here Pelagia is drinking from the fountain that springs underneath the church. This is the fountain where St. Demetrios was martyred around 300. The fountain, the old Roman road, and the shell of the original church can be seen underneath the current church. Unfortunately, these catacombs had closed just before we arrived. Of course, we will be back many times. They serve Divine Liturgy in the temple every Friday night at 9:30 PM.

Icon of St. Demetrios

This is one of those pre-8th century (i.e. pre-iconoclasm) icons, considered rare because it survived iconoclasm. The Turks scratched out the face completely and you can see where they jabbed their swords.

Inside St. Demetrios'

This photo didn't come out that well, but this is the exo-narthex of the temple. They say that the columns here, and the few surviving icons nearby, are pre-8th century. You can see all our photos now by clicking on the link along the right-hand column of the page.

Visit to the Temple of St. Demetrios

On Saturday evening after Great Vespers (which they do in about 25-30 mins), our friend Paris took us to the Temple of St. Demetrios in downtown Thessaloniki. This is the oldest church in the city (I'm not sure of the date, but I think the original church was around 400?). Here is a photo of the outside. Pelagia and Paris are standing near the door.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Going to Mt Athos!

This picture was taken in 1992 in Thessaloniki. On the right is our priest, Fr. Alexios, with his friend, His Grace Bishop LONGIN of the Serbian Church in the US and Canada. Fr. Alexios was very excited to hear we knew his friend, Bp. LONGIN and asked me to email him this photo.

Anyway, Fr. Alexios is taking me to the Holy Mountain (Agion Oron) for 3 days on Sept. 5!!