Anat and Shai, whom we incidentally run into, the previous evening on Saloniki's street next to our hotel, decided, to our delight to accompany us for the days' excursion of Saloniki's older surrounding.
Venturing into the country's side, we were welcomed by colorful carpets of yellow daisies and red poppies, bursting against the backdrop of deep greenery and other lovely tree's bloom. The "good Friday" holiday's beautiful spring weather, also ejected many local drivers into the congested roads.
Véria - Pictourous old mountainous Town
An hour North of Saloniki the first quaint town we visited, is first mentioned in the writings of Thucydides in 432 BC. It was already populated as early as 1000 BC. It was an important possession for Philip II of Macedon (father of Alexander the Great) and later for the Romans. Apostle Paul famously preached in the city, and its inhabitants were among the first Christians in the Empire.
We were mainly interested in visiting the:
Jewish quarter of Barbouta (old fountain)
It dates back to the Roman years (50 AD) and is next to the dramatic Tripotamos River scenery, with its preserved charming cobblestone streets, attached houses, and imposing mansions.
On May 1st 1943, the Germans locked up some 300 Jews in the synagogue. For three days, they were denied food and water. Those who survived were deported , first to Saloniki, and then to Auschwitz. At the start of the war, Veria had a Jewish population of some 600 to 650, to whom were added about 200 refugees from other parts of the country. 460 Veria Jews died in the Holocaust, 448 of them at Auschwitz. 136 of the town’s Jews escaped deportation by fleeing to the mountains, 123 returned after the war. When they came back to Veria, however, the survivors found that their homes were occupied by newcomers and their possessions were all gone. Some left for Saloniki, but the majority for either Israel or the United States.
By 1970, Veria’s Jewish community was transferred to the Jewish Community of Salonike.
Veria's Jewish Synagogue, with its rich interior decoration, was built in 1850; and is the oldest in northern Greece and one of the oldest in Europe.
For the past few years it has been managed by most dedicated volonteer - Eva Mashka 030 6983880329 and used as a worship place for Jews who travel to Veria, and Christians who want to see the place where Paul preached the gospel 2000 years ago.
It is remarkably maintained and supported by only 3 Euro entrance fee per each visitor. We were stunned and ashamed when an Israel group's guide requested a free group entry to the synagogue, which was obviously declined her, while apparently the group had sufficient funds to enter any other site in the area .
Virgina - UNESCO World Herritage Tombs
15 minutes drive from Veria journyied us through time machine, to Vergina or the ancient Aigai- the first capital of Macedon, were the burial sites of many kings of Macedon were unearthed, including only in 1977, the ancient Royal Palace and the un-looted royal memorial tombs, of Philip II, father of Alexander the Great were found.
It was there when in 336 BC Philip II was assassinated in the theater and Alexander the Great was proclaimed king.
Pella- Ancient capital of Macedonia - Archaeological Site/Museum
(tickets for the archaeological site includes entry also to the museum)
This historical site, which crumbled into archaeological ruins, and captivating pebble-beach mosaic floors, was once the capital of the ancient Greek kingdom of Macedon, and the largest and richest city in the beginning of the 4th BC as well as the birthplace/seat of Philip II, in 382 BC and of Alexander the Great, his son, in 356 BC.
In Antiquity, Pella had a strategic port connected to the Thermaic Gulf by a navigable inlet, but as the sea had retreated, the harbour and gulf have since silted up, leaving the site landlocked further away from the sea.
The fertile agriculture lands, the sea port and the local gold mining, clearly explain the city's location choice, at the time and its success and prosperity in antiquity. The gold could get the armed forces going and was used lavishly as important burial artifacts.
The Athenian playwright Euripides worked here and staged his plays in about 408 BC.
In 168 BC, it was sacked by the Romans, and its treasury transported to Rome. In about 90 BC the city was destroyed by an earthquake; shops and workshops dating from the catastrophe have been found with remains of their merchandise.
Excavations there begun in 1957 and revealed large, well-built houses with colonnaded courts and rooms with mosaic floors portraying such scenes as a lion hunt and Dionysus riding a panther, which we enjoyed viewing on this extra sunny spring beautiful day.
Pella Archaeological Museum
We were amazed to discover this modern (2009) large building situated on the site of of the ancient Macedonian Pella Palace in this small remote location. It contains texts, photographs, maps, drawings a model of the archaeological site and a short video about Pella.
Pozar - Loutraki Hot Springs/Thermal Bath
David had to have a soak at 37⁰C natural water pool situated amidst steep rocks, captivating waterfalls, and wild vegetation, at the foot of Mount Kaimaktsalan located about 110 km from Saloniki and 45 minutes away from Pella.
Had it not been a Holiday and packed with people, the place definitely has its charm and appeal, which was ruined a bit for me this particular Friday afternoon, and had kept the rest of us three, out of the water, though David definitely enjoyed the dip.
Another hour an half drive brought us, quite late and after the "Good Friday Epitaph street procession" was over, back to Saloniki, were we had a short but excellent dinner, along with the many other celebrating locals, in this lively and packed restaurant area, right outside our hotel
Akron Restuarant - Katouni 12-14, Thessaloniki 546 25
The excellent freshest fish we were served in Akron had inspired David to add this note:
Seven Seas is considered a very good Fish restaurant, of an exorbitant Paris -like price .
Mourga (where we dined at the night before) is a recommended nouvelle cuisine Fish restaurant with menu items such as Dolmas stuffed with crayfish... which was good but not in our more classical preference style . We liked Akron the best.
David's Comments on ordering of fish in a restaurant :
Sole, Halibut, Cod, Grouper ( לוקוס) can not be cultured .
They stop spawning at high densities. So they are always “ wild “ . Sea-bass and , Sea-bream can be cultured .
Restaurant owners always claim “ our fish is from the sea “ . But fenced off sea like that used for salmon is not ‘ wild “.
Wild fish have more vascularized muscles and taste much much better and cost more $$. So how can one tell before tasting ? By size . Cultured ( sustainable) never exceeds 400 gram . If you insist on being served a fish of above 600 gram it will be a wild catch. This has to do mainly with the economics of culturing and line or net or spear catching . This rule of thumb holds 100% of the time . Anywhere in the world . So now , all you have to know is an objective measure of fish freshness not dependent on organoleptic (smell taste texture) evaluation . When standing ,even better in ice, the fish develops brown patches of texture , which you should try to scrape off before eating because this brown meat is “ fishy “ . Fishy off flavor is not spoiled . Spoiled has to do with bacterial growth which comes days than “ fishy ‘ off flavour . If the fish after skinning has more than small 2-3 mm deep brown meat , mainly above the vertebrae it’s fresh . If it’s all white the fish was swimming 12 hours before . The exception to “ wild is better “ is in smoked salmon where a high fat content coming from farming improves quality ( Nova) .
Regarding hotels : the first night we slept in a five star ultramodern hotel “ MET”, evaluated by the non reliable TripAdvisor as “ fabulous “. In the morning we checked out into a charming hotel “ Bristol “ .
It’s not opulent but really good - especially their suites with balconies .
An even better boutique hotel in the same style of the Bristol that had no availability is the Excelsior . For next time .
To be Continued....