Tuesday, February 9, 2010

When in Greece

Well, here we sit on another form of transportation, the slow train to Athens. So far we have found train to be the most comfortable transportation to be on, wider, bigger seats and the ability to walk around a bit. The exception to this was the train to Chaing Mai, which we thought was going to leave the track at any moment! Greece has been a complete contrast to Istanbul for us. The people here seem to be much happier, they laugh more often, always smile when you ask for help and seem to be glad you are here. The street vendor pressure is gone and even though the streets are just as crowded it feels to us less tense. We had some negative events in Turkey, the shoe shine scam and the double charges on our food bills to name just two and these seemed to taint us a little but I really believe there is a significant difference.

Thessaloniki has had it's difficulties though. We were two days at the hostel without water. No way to wash or shower and no way to even flush the toilet. This caused some Greeks to have something to say to us about their country and government. How the building of the underground has been a project for twenty years but they only broke ground two years ago. Or how a position with the government can make a person wealthy at the people's expense but still the attitude is better.

The water was off because of the underground being built. Apparently the water main was broken in several places by the construction. We had a chance to look at the construction and saw an old wall running right down the middle of the proposed site. This wall will not be kept but Thessaloniki has taken great pains in preserving some very old sites. We looked at several very old churches, "Osios David" being our favourite. This church was build in the 5th century and the frescos added over the years were amazing. The door was removed by the Turks in the 14th century and carted off to Russia but the rest of the church is intact and original. Another amazing site was the Roman Agora, a market and administration centre that was in use from the 3rd century BC until the 13th century AD. The apostle Paul was denied permission to preach here and had to settle for bringing the Gospel to the Jewish Synagogue near by. The original shops are actually two stories below the current street level. The preservation of sites seemed to speak to us of the care that The Greeks have for their ancient culture. In Turkey the oldest site we saw was the 4th century AD cistern under the centre of Istanbul and the museums contained only Turkish and Islamic artifacts but I believe this is because Turkey was culturally centered in Islam and that effects the art that is preserved and displayed. This has been changing recently as we saw the old mosaics in Hagia Sophia are now uncovered and the beauty of the Blue Mosque is now proudly displayed. Greece seems to be open to its past and so the artifacts we saw were more ancient and open to its historical past. Having said all this I realize I may be looking through different lenses. We are looking forward to Athens and the history there also. Wes

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