Thessaloniki – sightseeing and shopping
Thessaloniki is the second largest city of Greece and the capital of the Greek region Macedonia. It got its name after the sister of Alexander the Great. Residents of Athens and Thessaloniki have small local “disagreements” as to what city is more beautiful and important. The city was founded 3000 years ago and is replete with features of interest, shops and restaurants. There is something for everyone’s taste in Thessaloniki. Take a walk by the White Tower, a symbol of the city, or a fair, university area, Art Gallery, the Rotonda monument, Citadel and city walls, which offers a magnificent view of Thessaloniki. Take a walk to the biggest church in Greece, St. Demetrios Church which boasts of many medieval mosaics. If you come to Greece in the summer, do not go sightseeing Thessaloniki at weekends, because the traffic is so dense that you could easily find yourself “stuck” in traffic jam. Use your time to have a coffee by the sea or go shopping. Because Thessaloniki has everything…clothes, various spices, leather articles, china, etc. At the end of the day you can enjoy in a tavern eating fresh fish and top quality wine.
Waterland – aqapark
In the biggest aquapark in this part of Europe you can try wave pools, massages, including the Lazy river. There are also pools for small children and a pirate island with water cannons. You can have your meals on sunny terraces and in cafes. Working hours: it opens at 10h and closes at 18h/19h/20h, depending on the season (check on the web-site). Other information: ticket includes one locker per family and refreshment for children. Don’t forget to bring a sun lotion, towels, a bottle of water, and of course camera.
Petralona cave is located approximately on the 40th kilometer from Thessaloniki to the south and close to Nea Moudania. It sits at 300 meters above sea level, at the foot of mount Katsika in Chalkidiki. It is very interesting for tourists since the remains of cave people were found there. Just like most other caves, this one is also embellished with stalagmites and stalactites. In the labyrinth of underground canyons and arcades speleologists discovered bones of different animals such as bears and lions, early types of rhinos, wild boars, horses, turtles. There is a parking lot at the foot of the hill for people who come here by car to visit the cave. There is a museum at the entrance into the cave, and a ticket office in front of it where tickets are sold at 7€ (including museum). Once you bought a ticket, wait for a guide who leads a group of tourists on a walking tour round the cave. The cave is open for visitors every day from 9hrs. Taking photograps or recoding is not allowed in the cave (whereas it is allowed in the musem).
Monasteries and visiting Athos
Mount Athos (Holy Mountain) is the oldest existing monastic region in the world, dating back to more than 1000 years ago. It is an authonomous, self-governing region taking up the major part of the Athos peninsula. Mount Athos has around 20 big monasteries, 12 hermitages and around 200 cells and sanctuaries, and thanks to its isolation it is considered one of the best preserved settings in Greece. Monasteries are hidden on woody cliffs and appear inaccessible to observers. Ancient pieces of art made by monks are excellent, thus making the monasteries living museums. Most of them possess comprehensive collections of manuscripts, icons, and gold and silver objects. Religious rules are strict and women are not permitted to enter the Holy Mountain. Only men are allowed to visit the Holy Mountain if they are granted a permission which is hard to obtain, and they can stay overnight only if it is pre-arranged with a monastery. Most of the tourists find a way to visit the Holy Mountain by looking at it through cameras and from boats. It is not easy to arrange a visit to mount Athos, as it takes preparation and struggle with Greek bureaucracy. Only 100 Orthodox and 10 non-Orthodox visitors a day are allowed. First you need to contact the Pilgrim’s Bureau, up to six months in advance. Monasteries are probably packed with pilgrims in summer, whereas in the off-season there is no such crowd.
Siviri – Sani hiking tour
With the incredible view of the sea, this is one of the most beautiful parts of Chalkidiki for hiking. Depending on the part of the season, the woods abound with rabbits, lizards, turtles and butterflies. On a half way between Sani and Siviri (around 5km) there is an area with ancient excavated objects nice for having a walk. Because of the bumps and few cliffs, care must be taken, particularly with people who may suffer from vertigo and very young children.
Everybody who takes a glimpse of Meteora wants to come back. As its name says, the setting looks as if the rocks fell down from the sky. Wishing to get closer to the God, monks built monasteries on the tops of the rock pillars and have lived there as proper hermits for over 600 years. Each monastery has many frescoes, icons and complicated carvings. Today, there are six monasteries: 1 women and 5 men monasteries are included on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Since all monasteries are built on high, polished rocks, they can be reached by walking up a couple hundred steps. The only monastery out of those six, also built on the rock, with easier access that does not require climbing, but only crossing over a small bridge is the Saint Stephen monastery for women. There is an icon workshop in a small town under Meteora. There, you can watch the process of making icons and buy one or something else from souvenir shops. Entry ticket for one monastery is 2€ per person, but you need to check working hours before your arrival. Weekend is the best time for visiting Meteora. It is probably the most crowded then, but it is the only time when the monasteries are open for visitors. Important information: you need to be properly dressed to enter monasteries. Women are not allowed to wear short skirts and must wear long sleeves. Men are not allowed to wear shorts.