Modern Greece: Thessaloniki & Mount Olympus

Thursday was an early morning — we packed up our bags and left Viterbo at 6:25 a.m. At the end of our two-hour train ride; followed by 49-minute bus ride; then one and a half hour plane ride; and finally, 30-minute bus ride, we were standing with satisfactory grins on our faces in front of our hotel in Thessaloniki, Greece.

We finally made it! After over six hours in transit, we made it to Greece. Oh how I love Greece and how we spent the day in the area. I had my first gyro in Greece and ate a very traditional Greek dessert that translates to Triangle Creme. It’s a phyllo pastry, similar to Baklava, but its filled with a sweet creme.

After filing our bellies and emptying our wallets, we made our way to the shore where the Aegean Sea looked as dirty as the Charles River in Boston. I mean seriously it was disgusting – that meant no quick swim for me.

In our sightline was the white tower, a tower built on the grounds of an old Byzantine tower area in the 15th century. The place used to be a prison and got its name in 1890 when a brave prisoner was tasked with white washing the entire outside of the tower in order to gain his freedom.

Near the tower, Rastafarians were pestering me about a reggae show they were having on the boat. After I told them I wasn’t interested, they kept talking. What nerve! Then one man gave me a Jamaican bracelet “out of the goodness of his heart,” which was supposedly free. Once he put it on though, he asked me for money and when I wouldn’t oblige he untied the bracelet off my wrist. What an odd thing to do. I thought and eventually said, “why did you offer this to me for free then ask me for money once you gave it to me?” He had no answer so I walked away from the phony and that was the end of that.

We walked around the city for just a bit more, looking at ancient ruins of castles and arches – they were nothing to take to the bank though. The nightlife, which supposedly is very good here was lackluster at best. I had a few drinks in my room with my roommate, that’s all. We did walk past a gentleman’s club on the main strip, instead of going in, we booked a boat cruise for Sunday to the islands of Poros, Hydra, and Aegina. And the cruise was a better allocation of our funds anyway. The next day, we took the train south to Litochoro, where we had a hostel on the beach and a prime spot to hike Mount Olympus. Bring it on!

I was determined to make our first full day in Greece a special one. So waking up before 8:00 a.m. wasn’t going to be a problem for me. Immediately after waking up, we rushed out the door to catch a train, only we missed that train so we hung out in the most American place possible, Starbucks. An hour after that, we worked our way to train The hour-long train ride breezed by and soon enough we were calling a cab in Litochoro to check into our hostel on the seaside, Summit Zero.

Summit Zero is by far the most comfortable and hospitable hostel I have stayed at since being across the pong. Peri and Phil were very nice and super fun. Shots of their homemade Raki (a type of alcohol made with farm grapes, thyme, and quince) were on tap later that night.

First, a three-euro cab ride took us to the hostel. Only it was closed, so we took to the restaurant for lunch across the street. I had mussels in red sauce with feta cheese. I also tried some Tzatziki, made in Greece. It should come as no surprise that the Greeks are big on this yogurt based sauce. It was the perfect meal, believe me. For dessert, we had complimentary pumpkin covered in honey. I was told it is very traditional.

We followed up lunch with a four and a half hour hike up Mount Olympus in the pouring rain on slippery, unmarked trails. Mount Olympus is the highest mountain in Greece. Mount Olympus had 52 peaks. The highest peak is Mytikas, meaning “nose,” and rises to 9,570 feet. Its also one of the highest peaks in Europe.

The views were incredible and the hike was rewarding. I saw this cool black and orange lizard, it looked poisonous, though so I stayed clear. But honestly, hiking up a mountain with as much history as this one was amazing. J really didn’t care that it was raining because I really enjoyed myself. I mentioned last week that I climbed Mount Vesuvius, remember? Well, thousands of people can say they hiked it. And thousands can say they hiked Mount Olympus, but how many can say they hiked both within ten days?

We took a cab, soaking wet back to Summit Zero where hot showers and hot food by the

fire was waiting for us. We carried the fun into the wee hours of the morning before retiring for the night.

Come back tomorrow for more thoughts on Greece. Also, see my pictures here. Enjoy!

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