Trip to Greece ends with visits to Meteora, Thessaloniki
A visit was made to the Treasury of Atrues (the inside shape of a 50 ft. high beehive) at Mycenae. Over the doorway tomb entrance was a stone slab 39 ft. x 17 ft. x 4 ft. estimated to weigh 120 tons and built around 1350 to 1250 BC
A short distance away was the fortified citadel of Mycenae from the 13th century. The main entrance to the city is called the Lions Gate (two lions posed over the entrance) and since I am a K-M Lion member that was pretty cool.
The city ruins had housing built of stone with shops, cisterns and warehouses. We stopped to eat at a restaurant in this area and photos on the wall of previous guests included George H. Bush, Jackie Kennedy plus other Greek political people. Located right next to the restaurant were fields of orange trees.
The next morning several of our group had finished their portion of the tour and were returning home so instead of 30 members it dropped to 11. We now switched from a bus to a large passenger van as we left Athens to head north.
It was interesting to see some of the crops being grown such as olive groves, various fruit trees, some corn, cotton, vegetables, small grain and hay crops.
We stopped at the location of the Battle of Thermopylae in 480 BC, during the Persian invasion of Greece. During that time this area had a large sea of water so they also used fleets of ships during the battle. That has changed as it has receded three miles from being silted in. This battle was also the inspiration for the 2006 movie (300) but our guide said there are several historical inaccuracies taken with this film.
In the area of Macedonia a fantastic tour of the tomb of King Phillip (the father of Alexander the Great) was our next adventure. Mounds of earth in an area were usually a sign it was likely man made, so tomb robbers were well aware of this to steal the treasures inside.
These tomb builders were clever as the tombs were located on the sides instead of in the middle like many tomb mounds so robbers did not find the treasures.
This tomb was discovered in 1977 and contained many treasures of gold, ivory carvings and paintings. We were able to take photos once inside and our guide said this was the first time he remembered a tour group being able to do this.
Our group continued on to the town of Meteora. During our travel time, our guide, James, would present a great deal of information, something like a college history lecture and how it related to the Bible.
During the first day on the bus, since Dennis and Betty were sitting in the seat across from him, I asked is he reading a script and Dennis replied no he just looks at his phone with some Biblical references, some historical facts and is just speaking from there.
We walked along the streets of Meteora and went into some of the shops before heading back to the very nice hotel to eat.
In the morning we drove to the towering rock formations and the monasteries clinging to the cones and massive pinnacles. These were built over 640 years ago with the first one built in 1380. At one time there were 21 monasteries (those made of wood are now gone) but now only six are occupied by the monks or nuns.
How could they get the materials up to build on these areas? Some of these locations could only be reached by rope ladders, or rope net hoists, until steps were carved into rocks centuries later and some finally had bridges built to access them.
The monastery we visited were for women so the dress code for women was skirts worn below the knee and long pants for men. They did have skirts hanging by the entrance that women could wrap around themselves in case they were not prepared.
Our guide said we were fortunate as we were the only tour group plus some other cars as he has been there during the summer months when there would might be a dozen tourist busses lined up along the road and would have to wait and take turns visiting the inside areas of the monastery so there was advantages being in Greece at this time of the year.
TV and movie companies have wanted to use this area for films and commercials but they have been denied access as the monasteries would not compromise their strict religious views with what might be presented.
We continued on to the city of Thessaloniki, founded in 315 BC, with over one million residents and the second largest city in Greece. Paul had also visited this city and we viewed mosaic tribute statues to him.
We next walked to the Jewish section, as up to World War II there were over 60,000 Jews living in the city and it was one of the largest Jewish populations in the world.
When Greece was occupied by Germany during World War II, Jews were rounded up and then deported to the death camps so now only about 1,000 remain in the city. A synagogue is in this section and now remains closed but local citizens tell the story of the cities Jewish history to visitors.
Before heading to our hotel for the night we saw an ancient Roman market area with an amphitheater and a basilica dedicated to a martyred Roman soldier who converted to Christianity.
Several days during the trip had forecasts of rain but it did not happen until the last day when we traveled to the ruins of Philippi.
Our guide said I am dressed in rain gear to walk through the ruins and except for one in our group, who was not feeling well that day, joined him carrying umbrellas and rain jackets
This was another city where Paul preached but also thrown into prison. An earthquake broke open the prison gates and the prison warden was ready to kill himself since he would be blamed for the prisoners escaping. Paul convinced this man it was not his fault and led to his conversion.
A site is marked that might be the prison location but others say that is unlikely. Paul later received a better reception mentioned in his Epistle to the Philippians.
A stop was made at the Baptistery of St. Lydia (the woman selling the rare purple cloth) who was baptized in the river flowing near the church. Because of the all day rain an area with a Roman tomb next to the church was completely submerged under water and our guide said he had never seen this happen on his tours before so he snapped a photo to show his friends and other guides.
A rest stop on the way to and from Thessaloniki had a wide variety of food, baked goods, candy and even had a table of books with a copy of the Mayo Clinic Health Guide written in Greek.
Our guide said this was his last tour of 2019 and he had conducted 45 groups during the season varying from one to five days and would be off for the winter.
When asked if he would go on vacation to other countries he said last year he only ventured a few miles from his home as he was gone enough from his family during the year. His mother is from Italy and his father is a Greek farmer, so he helped with the olive oil processing production instead.
James could speak Italian, Greek and English very well so he has led tour groups in these languages. He seemed to use many examples of USA history and events during his talks so we were as interested how he knew some of that.
When he was in his late 20’s he said he asked God if he was meant to remain single the rest of his life, and he would accept the choice if this was the case. During one of his guided tours a young woman from Ohio was with his group, they started talking in the evenings, which led to corresponding by emails and phone calls and were married a year later.
This trip was a great experience, with a lot of fun people to travel with and made the stories in the Bible become more real.
Even Char had a unique birthday surprise from family members when we were in Athens. Overall it was a good time to go as the temps were in the 50s and 60’s compared to the summer months when temperatures can be over 100 and it is much more crowded visiting the tourist sites.
It is amazing how much the Apostle Paul traveled and changed the lives of many people throughout our world. Our last day of the trip we again had the long flights and airport layovers coming back to Rochester so was also really nice to be back home to the quiet streets of Kasson.