Friday, September 28, 2007

Visit to Athens

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On Tuesday, we headed off to Athens on the train. It’s about a 5 hour ride, so we got to our hotel around 6 PM on Tuesday. That night, we walked around and found a nice little place where locals eat. They had delicious lamb chops!

On Wednesday, we headed out to do some sightseeing. Of course, the first stop had to be the Acropolis – that’s the one must-see in Athens. On the way, we walked through meat and fish market. It was quite a feast of sights and smells. (See the first photo.)

Then we stopped at Mars Hill (or, the Areopagus), where St Paul debated with the philosophers. (See Acts 17:16-34.)

The second photo shows my dad on top of Mars Hill, with the Acropolis behind him.

Finally, we made the climb up to the Acropolis. Unfortunately, the late morning is not the best time to visit these big sites. The cruise ships seem to invade about that time, and they come in droves. We sort of waited out the initial wave, however, and we were then able to move again. See all the photos from Athens here to see pictures from inside the Acropolis.

Afterwards, we made our way to another nice place for lunch, which was tucked in a shade-covered alley (see the third photo).

After lunch, we took the subway to the National Archaeological Museum, which was amazing (see bottom photo). We spent two hours there, and then headed back to the hotel to regroup.

That night, we took the subway over to Syntagma, and walked by the old palace (now the parliament building), the National Gardens, an old Roman baths complex, and the Arch of Hadrian, which once marked the edge of the city and was built around 132 AD.

Finally, we made it to yet another great restaurant for more Greek food.

Afterwards, we slowly made our way back to the hotel to prepare for our 3:30 AM trip to the airport. All went smoothly and my parents started the long journey back to the US.

As for me, I met up with our friend Costa around 10:30. He and his family hosted us when we first arrived in Greece just over a year ago. We strolled around Athens a bit, and he showed me a couple lovely small churches. We walked into one dedicated to a wonderworking icon of the Mother of God, where they were in the middle of a Paraklesis. Then we stopped at another small church where St Nicholas Planas (1851-1932) had served. We venerated his relics at the front of the church.

Finally, I took the train back to Thessaloniki around 1 PM. Of course, there was an adventure – they told me all the seats were sold and then finally a kindly cashier sold me a ticket at the last minute and I ran on.

Anyway, now it’s back to the old routine…at least for about a week. Next Friday, we are driving to Belgrade, Serbia for a week to meet with our bishop, Bishop Maxim.

My Parents in Thessaloniki

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On Saturday we took it easy. My dad and I polished and waxed the car, and it’s looking pretty spiffy now! ( ;

(What better way for my dad to spend his vacation than waxing our car? See top photo.)

On Sunday, we went to the ‘upper city’ of Thessaloniki and walked around for a couple hours in the afternoon. First, we stopped at Eptapyrgio, which was an old Byzantine fortress on the outskirts of the walled city. The Ottomans and, later, the modern Greek state, used it as a prison until 1988.

The second photo is of my mom standing just inside the entrance. The whole place was pretty grim. I think that’s about as close as I want to get to a Turkish prison.

Afterwards, we walked down to Moni Vlatadon, a monastery perched on the hill overlooking the city and, according to tradition, built on the location of the synagogue where St Paul preached for three successive Sabbaths. The third photo is of a portico inside the monastery.

That evening, Pelagia and my mom made pizza and we had people over for a little party. Another American couple, John and Marina Harper (and baby Emilia) moved into another apartment in our building on Sunday and we wanted to celebrate (it was also my birthday).

On Monday, we went back downtown so that my parents could see a little bit more of Thessaloniki They saw the two 5th-century churches, Panagia Ahiropiitou and St Demetrios, among other things. We then had a very nice meal on the end of Thessaloniki’s port (see bottom photo) before heading back to Panorama. before leaving.

Monday, September 24, 2007


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After Philippi, we drove about 10 miles south to Kavala (ancient Neapolis, the old port city of Philippi) to find something for lunch.

We parked near the Imaret hotel, an old 18-domed Ottoman building that has been transformed into a 300 Euro/night hotel in the old part of the city and found a nice, traditional Greek taverna for lunch.

Afterwards, we walked around the old part of the city and up to the castle on the acropolis.

The first taken as we approached the city (we stopped at an overview point). Kavala is in the background.

The second photo was taken from the top of the castle walls down onto Kavala.

The third photo is of the castle and the last photo is of us relaxing inside the castle.

On the way back to the car, we went inside the fancy Imaret hotel and had a coffee in their café overlooking the water and the city. It was a fantastic view. Fortified by the caffeine, we then made the 2-hour trek back home.

Saturday, September 22, 2007


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On Friday, we drove to ancient Philippi and Kavala, which was formerly Philippi’s port city of Neapolis (where St Paul first set foot in Europe). It’s about a two-hour drive east from here.

First, we went to Philippi and wandered around the ruins of the ancient city for a while.

The top photo is of the ancient theater. The two ant-like figures in the seats are my parents.

The second photo is of the prison where St Paul was held. According to Acts 16:9-40, Sts Paul and Silas visited Philippi and were thrown into this prison here. At midnight, as they prayed, an earthquake shook this prison, opening the cell and loosing their chains.

The city is split by a road – which is still used today as a main thoroughfare. In the third photo, Pelagia is looking from St Paul’s prison across the road to the ancient agora of the city. Also in the background you can see the remains of a 5th century Christian basilica.

The last photo is of my parents walking around through the old agora.

For all the photos from the day, click here.

Friday, September 21, 2007

The Royal Tombs of Vergina...and Gyros

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On Wednesday, we headed to Vergina, which is about an hour west of Thessaloniki, near Veria (where St Paul once was).

Vergina was a capital of ancient Macedonia and is famous now for the royal tombs buried underneath a large man-made mound. These are the tombs of Philip II, Alexander the Great’s father, and Alexander IV, Alexander the Great’s son.

The treasures found in the tombs are amazing – exquisite gold wreaths and silver utensils, all looking like they were made yesterday. The museum is built around the tombs – all underground. Unfortunately, we weren’t allowed to take any photos inside.

As for the tombs, they look like small stone houses (except the stones are enormous and about a yard thick). They are sealed with great big marble doors, which have still never been opened. The excavators entered the tombs by removing one stone from the roof and climbing in.

Visitors are allowed to approach the front of the tomb within about 10 feet. You can see the columns around the huge marble door and the frescoes above the door.

Anyway, that was the excitement for Wednesday.

The top photo has the mound in the background. Most of the tombs, and the museum, are under there.

The second and third photos are taken in front of the tomb of Philip II’s mother, Alexander the Great’s grandmother, Queen Eurydice. This tomb is located just outside the other tombs.

On Thursday, it was rainy and overcast, so we took it easy. We went to Carrefour, which is sort of our Walmart, and stocked up on groceries, etc. On the way back, we went to the best (in my opinion) gyro place in Thessaloniki, Prassas. The bottom photo was taken there.

For a couple more photos, click here.

Today, Friday, the plan is to drive over to Philippi, which was home to the first Christian community in Europe (see St Paul’s letter to the Philippians) and Kavala, which was ancient Neapolis (where St Paul first landed in Europe).

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

My Parents Visiting

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My parents are here visiting at the moment. They arrived Monday around 1 PM after a very long journey.

We walked around Panorama a little bit that day and oriented them. We also had some of Panorama’s famous trigonas (a sweet that was invented in Panorama).

The top photo is from Monday evening, taken near our apartment building. In the very distant background (blurred out by the light) is the city of Thessaloniki and the Thermaic Gulf.

On Tuesday we went downtown and explored a little bit of Thessaloniki. We saw the Kamara (built 297 by the Emperor Galerius), the ruins of Galerius’ palace, and the Rotunda, which was originally built as Galerius’ mausoleum. When Christianity became the state religion 80 years later, the Christians used it as a church. The Ottomans converted it into a mosque during their reign. Now it is once again being restored to a church.

You can see it in the background of the second photo, including the distinctive minaret, which still remains. The colorful umbrellas you see are from various coffee shops lining the sidewalk.

The third photo is from inside the Rotunda. My mom is pointing up to some of the original mosaic work, which restoration has recently uncovered.

The final photo is from the Monastery of St Theodora, located right in the heart of Thessaloniki. Pelagia is showing my mom some of the impressive new iconography.

After the sites, we had lunch in a traditional Greek taverna, tucked away in an alley. Then Pelagia and I headed to our Byzantine chant lesson while my parents explored a little bit on their own.

There are a few more pictures here.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

The Holy Cross and St Paraskevi

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Well, the car came in handy again today. We went with our neighbors to a church in Harilaou, which is hosting, for 9 days, a piece of the True Cross and the skull of St Paraskevi, from the Holy Monastery of Koutloumousiou on the Holy Mountain.

I’ve heard of several other monasteries from the Holy Mountain bringing some of their many, many treasures into town. In the little village of Petrokerasa (where Fr Peter Heers serves), the Holy Monastery of Xeropotamou has brought one of its treasures, the largest known piece of the True Cross. (Fr Joseph and I venerated it at the monastery back in July.)

Also, I heard that the Holy Monastery of Dochiariou brought its wonderworking icon of the Panagia Quick to Hear to a little village church in Sohos, about 45 minutes outside Thessaloniki.

Apparently, it is a tradition for the Athonite monks to bring some of their treasures to the faithful (and especially women, since they cannot go to the Holy Mountain) between the Feasts of the Dormition and the Elevation of the Holy Cross.

To the photos.

The top photo is unrelated. I just wanted everyone to see a bit of Pelagia’s handiwork. She painted this in our apartment.

The rest are from today.

The second photo is of Pelagia and our neighbor Margo (Ann Lillie’s mother) sitting in the courtyard just outside the church today.

The third photo is looking into the church from the courtyard and the fourth photo is of the entrance to the grounds.

The video is very short. It was too dark to take photos inside – video does a better job in these cases. The main focus in the video is the table with the relics.

Interestingly, there was an exorcism going on when we came in. You can hear the shouting in the last 10-15 seconds of the video.

It was off in a side chapel, which we happened to enter the church through by accident. A priest was standing over two people with his stole over them. He read prayers over them the whole time we were there, while they shouted at him in a very deep, disturbing voice. Someone told us that it was a woman!! The voice was saying things like “Leave, priest!” and “Aren’t you afraid? Don’t you know that we are many and powerful?”

It was very disconcerting. I’m not sure what to make of it, not knowing anything about the case, but it was certainly a different experience.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Byzantine Chant -- and Other Liturgical "Traditions"

This video is not really apropos to anything – Pelagia and I just think it’s hilarious. Our friend here, Philip, showed it to us yesterday. This is from an actual Roman Catholic mass. Keep an eye on the altar boy on the far left getting down.

This segues (somehow?) into the update I wanted to give (and, for which, unfortunately, I have no photos).

The main excitement this week is that Pelagia and I began private lessons in Byzantine chant. One of the priests here in Panorama arranged it for us. A very close friend of his is the Protopsaltis (head chanter) at one of the old churches downtown, and also a professor of Byzantine music at the University.

He is giving us weekly lessons, for a minimal fee.

We began yesterday with learning the basic differences between the Eastern and Western musical scales, and Byzantine notation. Byzantine notation is like a whole ‘nother language. Check out a sample here. (And this example is in English!)

Sunday, September 09, 2007

A Dog and a Hike

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Not too much exciting happening here. Both of us have been working a lot. I edited an English translation of a Greek work of fiction – actually the first two books of a trilogy. The translation was so bad that I told him it would be easier and cheaper if he just let me translate the third one myself. So, I’m working on that now. After that, then I have more theological essays on ecumenism to translate for Fr Peter.

The main event this week was the arrival of a dog! We have a neighbor who takes care of a whole flock of stray cats. We walk by the house every day and we started noticing two small puppies there, too. Pelagia really took to them, and eventually talked with the neighbor. They were just abandoned and he decided to take care of them until he could find them homes. Meanwhile, Pelagia named them and made a point of visiting with them every day. Eventually, one of the two got adopted and then the press was on to take the remaining puppy.

We finally agreed to take him on a trial basis on Thursday evening. Our neighbors, the Lillies, adopted a local stray a few weeks ago, and it has worked out pretty nicely for them. So we decided to give it a try. We’re not sure what kind of dog he is. A Greek said he was a “rabbit hound.” He’s VERY, VERY shy. It seems certain that he was very badly treated at one point, so he needs lots of love and patience. We decided to call him Argos. Click on the name for more info.

He’s worked out pretty well so far. Our cat is happy so long as the dog knows that the cat runs not only our house, but the whole apartment building and yard.

We hoped to take him for a hike with us today, but he’s so shy and so young that he won’t come when he’s called. Additionally, he’s deathly afraid of leashes (there was obviously some trauma), so we couldn’t really risk taking him yet.

The two of us, however, went to a place just outside Panorama – a few miles from our house. We hiked about an hour and half into the mountains and then sat beside a river and had a sandwich. It was very nice – a little cool and sunny. Our neighbor showed us this spot last week – apparently, a lot of people go swimming in the stream there. We wish we had known this a little earlier in the summer!

The first photo, obviously, is me and Argos.

The second photo is of Pelagia sitting at the swimming spot.

The third photo is of Pelagia climbing a big hill. You can barely make her out – you can see a little bit of her red backpack. We thought we saw a little chapel/shrine at the top of the hill, but it turned out to be a series of cisterns or something.

The bottom photo is of Pelagia and one of the turtles we came across. We also stumbled across a shepherd and his herd of goats.

For all the photos from today, click here.

Unfortunately, the weather turned really cold this week (high of 70-75), so we didn’t go swimming. It’s supposed to warm back up this week. I’m hoping we can use the car to finally go to the beaches of Halkidiki for a swim.

Anyway, the car is doing well. It’s been SUCH a blessing!! Thank you all again for your support!

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Our New Car and a Hike

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We got a car! Thank you all very much for putting up with my shameless ad on here for the last few weeks, and a VERY big thank-you to everyone who made this possible. This will be an enormous help!

(This does not mean, however, that we are refusing further donations. There are still plenty of expenses – maintenance, insurance and inspection, not to mention gas, which is exactly TWICE what it costs in the U.S. And you thought the prices there were bad!)

After searching through various classified ads and used car dealerships, we fell into a really good situation. We were talking to a local priest-monk, Fr Gregory, and he mentioned that his brother was selling a car. Fr Gregory took us to look at it and we really liked it. It was a little more expensive than we had hoped to spend, but we managed to negotiate the price down about 20% and we jumped at it.

His brother, Panayioti, has been extremely helpful. While we waited to collect enough money to get the car, he helped me take care of all the mountains of paperwork (Yes, here in Greece, if you can believe it. As a result, I now have my very own tax ID number in Greece, which means I’m now liable to them as well as to the IRS. Fortunately, though, you can’t get blood out of a stone, as they say.). We finally took possession of the car last night!

It’s a 1997 Peugeot 306. It’s a bit old, but only has 109,000 kilometers on it (about 65,000 miles), and it is in immaculate condition. (I do believe, by the way, that the odometer is unaltered. It is common practice in Greece to, hem, adjust the odometer, but I don’t think that’s happened here.) Panayioti is the most organized, thorough, and detail-oriented Greek I’ve ever met. This guy should run for public office here. He’s very attentive to regular maintenance – in fact, he’s going with me to the Peugeot garage in a couple weeks and then on to the final paperwork hurdle, passing inspection. (It won’t be a problem, but it helps to have a Greek with you in anything like this.)

As we paid Panayioti for the car, he wished us “Kalo Riziko,” which he told us was the traditional Greek wish when you buy something new. Literally, it means “good roots,” but in the sense of “may it have a good beginning.” However, it usually is only used for buying a house or a car. When you buy a new pair of pants, for example, he said, you say “Kalo Fortigo,” which means “Good wearing”!

The Greeks say “Kalo…” for everything. During the day, you have good day, good afternoon, good mid-day, good late afternoon, good evening, and good night. You have “good month” for the beginning of the month and “good week” for the beginning of the week. Today, Sept 1, we had “good ecclesiastical year.” When you eat or drink something, you say “Good appetite” and when you’re done, you say “Kali Honepsi,” which means “Good digestion”! All these “goods” could be a whole semester in a Modern Greek class!!

Our first trip in the new car was to Carrefour, sort of the French Walmart. It’s located outside the city, near the airport, making it very difficult to access without a car. They have everything there and good prices, so just being able to go there will save money on shopping.

Today, Saturday, after working for awhile (my latest project is editing the English translation of a Greek novel), we took a break and drove up to Hortiati, a mountain village overlooking Panorama. It’s about 20 minutes up the hill from Panorama, and one time, a several months ago, I took a really nice hike up a mountain with some friends. I’d been telling Pelagia about it ever since then, and we finally had the chance to go today, now that we have a car. Thank you!

Tomorrow, we will be able to drive to our monastery for Liturgy in the morning. (It’s about 2-3 miles away.)

The first three photos are from the hike today.

The bottom photo is of the car. ( :

A few more photos from today are available here.

Thank you again!!