I have always wanted to go back and revisit Athens as a grown up sans "Bar Street", however as I got lost in my research I decided on Halkidiki due to it's rich history as well as great beaches. The more I read about the city the more I wanted to explore it.
This post serves as a way to share some snaps of my trip with friends so alas I haven't kept any useful tips or tricks which led me to think that may have been a good idea especially as I got to grips with the bus timetable with relative ease.
I am drawn to anything about the Ottoman Turks and this region has a brutal past of mixed conquerors. I booked into a youth hostel, (yes, I know at my age etc), for 3 nights, packed very little and off I went at an ungodly hour even for me! The hostel was fantastic by the way, clean, modern with great staff, views and facilities.
The easiest arrival airport was Thessaloniki so duely booked my Easyjet return flight. I have to admit to loving a local bus where I can people watch and see them going about their business and start up stoccato conversations. My Greek language skills amount to zero so the phonecian alphabet was a challenge!
But I made it to Zeusisloose, great location close to bus stops around the city, to main hubs further afield, and the all important SKG airport transfer.
The city is based on the Roman grid system, (think New York), so relatively easy to navigate. The hostel was at the edge of the park so as long as I could make it back there I was fine plus the park was a short walk north through Aristotle Square and across the incredibly important Via Egnatia, both of which are unmissable.
I walked miles and miles stumbling across ancient buildings galore, miles of promenade, imposing statue of Alexander The Great, (Alexander III was born in Pella, the capital of the Kingdom of Macedon), endless coffee stops beneath the ever present Mount Olympus. Macedonia is a region that's now been separated into North Macedonia and central Macedonia now Greece. If you want to get really confused google Thrace, Ottomans, Greco Turk, Balkan War etc.
I was excited to vist Atatürk's House, that is to say the house that the father of Modern Turkey, Mustapha Kemal Atatürk was born in. I found it very tricky to find and when I did there were high security gates and guards at entry points reminding me of the historic lack of bonhomie between the two countries. I have spent a lot of time in both Turkey and Greece and so this was of great interest to me. The house is a museum with many beautiful old photographs that added to my understanding of what a great contribution this man made in an attempt to create a peaceful society.
A highlight of my trip was The Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki. It is one of the largest museums in Greece and the central museum of northern Greece and I spent 3 hours walking the exhibits. Many of the sites I visited did not have an English translation so a guide book of sorts is essential around this area. This museum very much catered for an international crowd.
Next stop Nea Plagia just before the knuckle of Kassandra, one of three peninsulas emerging from mainland Greece. An easy bus trip costing 6 Euros and took a little under an hour through rolling countryside to my left and you guessed it Mount Olympus across the gulf to my right.
I knew I was travelling here out of season which suits my "off-piste" approach to most things.
Basically, it was closed.
However, that suits me. I walked the shore in either direction peaking 35,000 steps one day, discovered the locals and their stories.
The bloody history of this region is unfathomable as I swim in clear sea and sip cold beer. The obscure and easily missable Byzantine Museum of Halkidiki – Monastic complex of Nea Flogita, was a gem of a find and presented the chronology of the region well. If you have a hire car, these things will be a whole lot easier.
I would love to visit the area again, with a car or camper to explore more widely. I would love to cycle The Via Egnatia Way through to Istanbul. It appears to be The Riviera for Bulgarians, Serbians, Greeks and Macedonians all with a historical input into the region. I didn't meet another Brit until I got back to the airport, (by bus of course). My airbandb, Navy Blue Studios, was perfect for me, family run apartments. Had an amazing time.