Musings of a morbid mind

The general ravings of Scott Baldwin

Tuesday, December 21, 2004


Our first experience of Thessaloniki was of peak hour mayhem as we dragged our luggage around the streets looking for our C grade hotel after being informed that we'd missed our bus stop. Speaking for myself, I very quickly started to dislike the city, and when we took a wrong turn down a side street that was obviously a red light area I think Niki had some reservations about the city as well. Not to mention that the traffic is worse here than in Athens. Here the footpaths aren't safe as motor scooters use them as extra lanes to get around congested traffic. They also have very creative parking practices, in Australia, you aren't supposed to park on corners, in Thessaloniki, it was not un-common to see cars double parked on corners. We also discovered that the green man on traffic lights doesn't mean 'walk' as in Australia, it means 'run for your life', and is merely an indication that your chances of surviving a road crossing at this moment is slightly better than when the red man is displayed, though no guarantees. After finally locating our hotel, we dumped our luggage and gathered enough courage to brave the city streets once more. Walking along the streets, and trying to avoid being run over at each intersection we crossed, every so often, amongst the shops, office buildings and cafes, we'd discover remnants of a bygone era - beautiful Byzantine churches with roadside chapels, an old Turkish bath house (Bei Haman), the arch of Galeious - and slowly this crazy, dangerous, frantic city started to show us its beautiful side.
We spent the next day exploring this amazing city, but we learned that the best way to survive the traffic was to make sure there were plenty of locals either side of us each time we crossed.


We traveled by train from Athens to Volos on Saturday the 11th of December, a 5 hour journey. We arrived at about 11pm & went straight to our cheap hotel. On Sunday morning we had breakfast by the sea, then walked along the peer past all the local fisherman. It was amazing to see all the little villages nestled up in the hills behind us. Just after midday we caught a bus up the mountain side to one of the villages called Portaria.

The scenery was absolutely spectacular as we wound our way up the mountain, and there was some really amazing looking houses built into the mountain, and jutting out into what seemed like mid air.

We found a Taverna and sat down to a magnificent meal. The kind of meal where every mouthful is a spectacular sensation, but you insist on not finishing the meal, because to finish would leave you feeling bloated and spoil the experience. They also had a really nice wine, made locally and poured from the barrel.

By the time we were leaving Volos the next day, I was wishing I could spend a couple of weeks there, the place had such a beautiful feel, and the mountains were just such a relaxing peaceful place.

Athens - Chaos 9th & 10th dec

Niki gave me some very sage advice the other day, 'Never drive in a country who's language you can't swear in'. I saw the full meaning of this when we arrived in Athens. The sheer volume & constancy of the traffic made Melbourne's peak hour seem like sunday afternoon driving, add to this the hundreds of motor scooters & tiny little cars and 3 wheeled mini trucks zipping in and around all the other traffic, and the unspocken road rule of 'motor scooter beats pedestrian, car beats motor scooter, truck beats car', and I didn't feel safe on the chaotic streets of Athens. Our objective in Athens (at least at this end of our journey) was to hunt down a milonga (tango social dance night). We found one not far from our hotel that started at 10:30pm and went til 4:30am. We're getting old, so we piked out at around 2am.
The next day we met up with Niki's cousin Andreas, then headed off for Volos.

Sunday 5-12-04

Today Niki's family decided to take a visit to the Turkish occupied north of Cyprus. For those that don't know, Turkey invaded the Northern third of Cyprus in 1974, and only recently (about 6 months ago) re-opened it to visitors from the south. (more on the ethno-political situation in another - longer - blog post).First stop was a visit to the village that niki's mother (Maria) is originally from, Kethrae. In 1974, Maria & Barnabas were engaged, and had just finished building the house they hoped to live in when war broke out & they had to flee to the south. We saw the house, and met the people who now own it. They were very welcoming, and I have to admit, I had to choke back a tear or two as I watched Barnabas embrace the Turkish-Cypriot couple and talk about peace & how their country was abused by foreign powers, and short sighted radicals on both sides of the Turkish/Greek equation. We walked around the village with Barnabas showing me where different members of the family used to live before the war. Next we visited the church of St Barnabas which has now been turned into a museum. Finally we drove out to a place called Famagusta to see some ancient Greek ruins kown as Salamina.


Due to the fact that Niki and I have been hopping all around Greece, I haven't had time to update this blog, I have been taking notes on my pocket pc though, and will now post a few of them.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Saturday 4-12-04

Barnabas (Niki's father) was working in the morning so Niki, Maria (Niki's mother), Elena (Niki's sister) and me went to the Arch bishops Palace. There's a huge statue of the Arch Bishop Makarios (circa 1970's, more about Makarios in another post).

There was an ancient Greek orthodox church there with an ornately decorated alter & a plethora of wall paintings depicting various biblical & other scenes (this was the church in which both my mother's sisters got married in - Niki). Of course we weren't allowed to take photos inside the church, but of course there was a stall just outside the church selling postcards with pictures from the church.
There was also a museum depicting the sacred art throughout the Byzantine era, the museum had works from as early as the 9th century, and I think the virgin with child has to be by far the most painted scene in all of history. After the museum, we decided to drop in on Andonia (one of Niki's aunties) initially for coffee, but after being forced to eat delicious Greek sweets (again), she convinced us to stay for lunch. Banos (Andonia's husband) had some wine that had been brewed in the mountains in the traditional way, it was quite sweet, and played with the tongue in an unusual way, but was still quite nice. In the evening we went out to a taverna for dinner. In the taverna's there is no set menu, the only choice you have is what you want to drink. Greek Taverna's in Melbourne use the no menu idea to enable them to practice creative pricing scheme's on the sound principle that if you don't have a menu you don't know how much you're meal should cost at the end of the night. Not so in the tavernas in Cyprus, it is a set price per person, £6 (AUD$18) which they were complaining was a little bit expensive. In comparison, there is no way in hell of getting out of a Greek taverna in Melbourne for under AUD$30 per person.The meal was fantastic, but I think the best thing about the meal was the wine brewed in Cyprus from old grape vines. I'm no longer worried about fitting into the economy class plane seat..... with all the weight we're putting on, it'll be an effort just to squeeze in the door of the plane.

Friday 3-12-04

Payed a quick visit to one of Niki's aunties for coffee and internet access. We were force fed all kinds of delicious sweets.
Went to the hair dressers (apparently this is a sibling bonding ritual that Niki & her sister do every time she visits, I just desperately needed a haircut). Booked flights to Athens for the 10th to the 19th. We decided to cook our red pepper beef for everyone. After dinner we were sitting around and Niki's auntie Evangalia called to say she was making golokopita (sweet pumpkin pies) and wanted us to come around not so much to help, but for the experience. We sat around drinking zivania (a very strong spirit traditional to Cyprus, otherwise known by the locals as fire water), eating sweets, talking politics, and eventually making golokopita, which of course we ate 15 minutes later when they were cooked. I'm starting to get worried about cramming myself into the economy class plane seat with all the weight I'm going to put on this trip.

Thursday 2-12-04

Yet another lazy day recovering, but we did do a bit of a trip looking for cheap flights to Athens. Niki's mum made us a Cypriot soup for dinner trahcona which consists of goats milk, goats cheese & Boughlgul rice, very nice.

Monday, December 06, 2004

Wed 1st Dec

The morning was pretty uneventful, and we needed some time to recuperate after the flights.

In the afternoon Niki and I took a leisurely stroll around the old part of Nicosia (capital of Cyprus). A cultural difference to be aware of in Cyprus is that on a Wednesday all the shops shut around 1:00pm, so the streets, although usually alive with all kinds of tourist shops were quite empty.

We stopped off at a cafe on the main street "Makarios Avenue" (named after the Arch bishop back in the 70's) at a cafe called "Da Capo". We had 1 coffee and 1 tea, and the cost came to 5 Cyprus pound which is AUD$15. It's going to be an expensive stay....


So much has happened in the 5 days since we arrived, but I guess I should go right back to the beginning.
We arrived at Cyprus at about 3:30pm (Cyprus time) and were met at the airport by Niki's parents and sister.
We drove from the Airport to their house which took a bit over half an hour.
Both Niki and I were quite tired from the trip, so we had a bit of a nap before dinner. At around 8:30pm her Niki's extended family came over for a family dinner. This consisted of about 18 people. Keep in mind this is only Niki's Mothers side of the family.
The meal was a typical Cypriot meal with all kinds of tasty treats.

Even though there were 18 of us, they still cooked enough so that we were eating leftovers for the next 3 days.

Friday, December 03, 2004


Finally made it to Cyprus after a shopping expedition in Singapore the likes of which have never been seen before..... And with our bank accounts the way they are, will never be seen again.

We were lucky enough to be upgraded to Business class not only From Sydney to Singapore, but also from Singapore to Bahrain. This included access to the Gulf Air Transfer lounge in Singapore, and a free breakfast in Bahrain. I could quite easily get used to this sort of treatment.

We have been busy meeting family, and so I haven't been able to update the bloc as often as I'd like, and even now, I don't have long.

I am finding it really frustrating not being able to understand Greek, but Niki is trying to encourage me.