Greece turned this time into a series of things that didn't quite work out. And a fair amount of go-karting.
I haven't been in Thessaloniki for a long time.
I was there for a short time, way back when I still was a student, to spend a night there and catch a plane the next morning. I don't think I ever even walked to the coast and or visited the White Tower.
So, essentially, I have visited Thessaloniki for the first time now.
Although I remember that I have visited a cave in Thessaloniki.
There was one in the city itself and I wanted to see it. (After two or three weeks in Greece, I was happy to be anywhere that was not out in the sun - I was badly sunburned at that time.
But the cave was closed that day, but for some reason, someone opened it for us and showed us around anywhere.
I haven't the slightest idea where it was - there is no tourist cave in Thessaloniki anymore (and it was a small one anyway). And it all happened way before Google, so I can't even find a reference to it.
But it seemed somewhat fitting to start this trip to Thessaloniki with a cave visit. And while there isn't one in the city, I had rented a car, so I could go to the closest one available.
So I drove to Kilkis, where the Cave of Agios Georgios (or St. George's Cave) is located. It is one of the five showcaves in the Greek region of Macedonia, the part that includes Thessaloniki.
That is Greek Macedonia and not former Yugoslav Republic Macedonia. Which is, confusingly, right next to it. The week that I was in Thessaloniki, there was some public protest by some rather reactionary group. They were complaining about the use of the name "Macedonia" by the country of the same name, claiming that it should be exclusive to the region of Greek. And to confuse things even more, they call the airport in Thessaloniki "Makedonia". But the short form for the airport is SKG, which is not that far from the airport in Skopje (in Macedonia, the country), which is SKP (at least the code SKP for Skopy makes sense - I couldn't find an explanation why Thessaloniki has SKG).
When I just looked the situation up on Wikipedia, I noticed that today (when I am writing this), the Greek and Macedonians (the one from the country of Macedonia, not the Greek region) signed a treaty that the country should now be "North Macedonia" and the Greek region should be "Macedonia" (which will, presumably, not be helping much). But already the president of (possibly soon) "North Macedonia" has declared that he will not ratify this treaty. In any case, Kilkis, where I was heading, is in Greece and not another country north of it - whatever any of these places are called.
Unfortunately the local tourist office web site is not very helpful. It has a page on the Cave of St. George, but it fails to mention such things as opening times or entrance fees.
It also is a bit weak in its promotion of the place.
The description mentions that the cave is "ranked among the most remarkable caves in Greece", but doesn't mention where. Depending on where you look it up and what definition of cave you use, there are about 8500 to 25000 caves in Greece (most of them in Crete). So the one in Kilkis might be ranked on position 13765 among them.
But in any case, when I got there on Sunday, the cave was closed (it's closed on Sundays and Mondays).
Note: I checked the web site for Kilkis again - if you look at the Greek version of the page, it tells you some opening times (they are just not on the English page). But they are also not really helpful, as, according to that info, the cave is open on weekends. It doesn't mention that the definition of 'weekend' seems to be 'Saturday', as the sign outside the cave itself states that Sunday and Monday are closing days.
As a result, I drove to the cave, took a look at the sign, turned around and drove back to Thessaloniki.
So much for starting the visit to Thessaloniki the way I ended the last visit. (Well, at least the cave being closed matched. But this time nobody came around and opened it for me.)
The next destination was the science/technology museum in Thessaloniki, named Noesis.
It's a small museum, but interesting.
(Actually, it's a large building, but most of it is taken by a planetarium, a large screen movie theatre and a motion simulator. So there's not much space for the museum itself.)
And that part is split into three equal sections - automobiles, ancient Greek technology and interactive experiments.
The car part is straightforward.
They have a number of old cars on display.
Some are somewhat the "default classic cars", a Ford Model T, a VW Beetle, a Porsche 911, a Corvette and a Citroen DS. But they also had some more unusual things, like BMW Isetta with additional doors at the side, which I didn't know existed.
There was also an old Mercedes where they only restored one side to show the difference between the original and the restored state (or maybe they wanted to build a car for Harvey Dent).
They also had a Trojan car on display, which was doubly weird. I hadn't heard of a car with that name before. I assumed it was made by a Greek company (as, according to the story, the Trojan Horse was built by Greeks). But it seemed an odd to name a car after that, since the name now implies deception. It's a bit like building a car and naming it "Overrated" - noticeable, but probably not good business.
I assumed that local pride ("It's a great feat of engineering, it's Greek, it's world famous and ten people fit inside!") overruled common sense when they named the car.
Only to find out that "Trojan Limited" was an English company and had nothing to do with Greece at all.
An oddity that was built in Greece was the ELBO Aletis (or ELVO Aletis). The company usually builds military vehicles, trucks and busses, but suddenly decided that it might be a good idea to bring out a a light sports car. So they built some prototypes, decided it was a silly idea and never brought them to market.
So while the car part of the museum wasn't large, it had some unexpected and interesting exhibits.
The "Ancient Greek Technology" section was a bit hard to figure out. The main problem is that it is not clear how much of this really existed.
And the exhibit itself is not very helpful about it.
Not much is known about how much technology existed in ancient Greece.
There are some mentions of devices in old writings and the finding of the Antikythera mechanism triggered speculations that Greek technology was more advanced than assumed. But there's no real evidence for most of it. It might be the equivalent of 'reconstructing' 1890's technology in England from H.G. Wells "Time Machine" and the "Invisible Man".
A bit like the Trojan Horse (which, admittedly, was not among the "Ancient Greek Technology" exhibits). It's a great literary device, but it seems unlikely that it ever existed.
The exhibits in the museum were nicely crafted and conceptually sound, but there was no indication how "likely" they really were.
I am willing to accept that many wooden constructs might have left no traces. But, for example, the infamous temple doors that open automatically would have needed vast underground machinery. And temples that remained standing don't seem to have underground chambers.
And if the moveable theatrical background had been in use, it would not have survived, but the shape of amphitheaters would been different to accommodate it.
The whole exhibit is an interesting "what might have been". But it lacks any serious scientific background information.
There are some texts, but they don't help.
Statements like "Studying the ancient calculating machine has required the use of the most advanced digital technology of the 21st century." don't mean anything. Of course scientists use modern tool. They also use NMR scanners to look at Egyptian cat mummies - that doesn't mean that cat mummies are advanced technology. Also "we see technological inventions which remained in every day use until recent times" - so what? Axes have been around for a million of years and people still use axes. Wheels have been around for 5000 years and are still used. If at all, mentioning that something is still in use after a long time shows that it's a very primitive, basic technology. Anything complex is more likely to get replaced. We still use stairs and ladders. LED watches are outdated.
Supposedly it's "no accident that the works of Hero continued to be published until the 18th century, when one remembers that prove that his famous aeolipile was for a thousand years the sole precursor of the steam engine". Besides the fact that there seems to be no indication that the inventor of the steam engine based it on historic documents, you might as well say that a simple tea kettle was a "precursor of the steam engine".
And it's not as if they stopeed publishing Hero's work afterwards.
The descriptions seem to be more suggestive than scientific and more the "Can you prove it isn't true?" style of bad pseudo-scientific documentaries.
But that's just the science around the exhibits.
The things themselves were well made, good looking and, as far as I could tell, technologically plausible constructions.
Surely technically possible in Ancient Greece. (But so was a telephone, steam ship, Ferris wheel or bowler hat - possible isn't proven or even plausible.)
In any case - on to the next section, the interactive exhibits.
Those were fun.
There's a bit like a default set of 'science experiments' in museums, but the ones they had were all nicely done.
It's one thing to have some weights on one end of a long lever and then have ropes on the other side to demonstrate that it gets easier to lift the weights the longer the lever is. But it is a more impressive effect if it's not a set of arbitrary weights, but when you can lift a car.
And instead of some simple wheel you can turn by hand to create kinetic energy (and then electric energy from that), they had a human sized hamster wheel. Which is much more fun.
The "How much do you weigh on different planets?" part was great as well. They used images of the planets themselves for scales. Instead of having regular scales there and just showing the adjusted weights.
Lots of other things that were well made and interesting looking.
So, ignoring the vague background of the "Ancient Greek Technology" section, I liked that museum a lot!
Next thing I did was to go karting. There's a cart track not far from the science center, I had nothing much to do, so why not go for a few laps?
It was fun, the prices were reasonable and it was well organized. You drive in 10 minute sections and they upload the times to a web page, so you can check them out later. There were some people around, but it wasn't crowded, so they made good job of having ten minutes of 'kids driving' followed by ten minutes of 'adults driving' (i.e. me). So the fun drivers and the fast drivers didn't get into each other's way.
After some karting fun, it was time to walk around for a bit, so I went up to the hills north-east of Thessaloniki and followed one of the hiking trails there.
I didn't go far - there were thunderstorms coming up and the air was hot and humid and I was soon drenched in sweat. But the path was good for wildlife spotting - especially as the main form wildlife was one that wouldn't dash out of sight quickly - turtles. (Or tortoises, depending on where your dictionary is from.)
In case, I did see about half a dozen of them within roughly an hour of walking. And, since they're turtles, I am fairly sure they were all different ones (and not a single one that dashed ahead of me and crossed my path multiple times. If there's something I learned from ancient fables - it's more than one tortoise that beats the hare. (Unless you go for the sanitized version of the story, where the hare rests too long and gets beaten fair and square by the tortoise. All tied to the dull moral that slow and steady wins the race and being overconfident makes you lose. Sure...)
Next day I headed a bit south-east from the city, to Potamos Beach for some sea kayaking and some snorkeling.
The place is great for those activities.
That the weather had changed from the previous day helped, of course.
I was a bit early for the tour, so I watched some "touch-and-go" exercises by a Greek Air Force Canadair CL-415 seaplane. (At least I think that was what it was doing - there didn't seem to be any forest fires that day and it didn't look as if the plane was taking in water. So it was probably not refilling its water tanks.)
But then it was time for the kayaking.
Potamos Beach is located along a peninsula stretching into Thessaloniki Bay. The street ends about 4 km from the tip of the peninsula. There are some beach bars, food places and a camping/hotel site close to the street, but the beach from there along the peninsula is just beach.
With light winds, the peninsula itself serves as a bit of a windbreaker, so kayaking along the shore was easy. There was not much wind in the morning and the Mediterranean Sea was calm. We went for about 3 km and stopped there for some snacks and I did some snorkeling.
The reason for stopping there is a ship wreck close to the shore (on the near side, it's about 20 meters from the shore and flat enough to walk there).
There weren't many fishes around (not much in for them on a sand beach) and the wreck provided something to look at, making it feel like an exciting wreck dive without the need to acquire basic diving skills, much less a wreck diver certification.
After that, it was on to the tip of the peninsula for a short walk along the extension of the beach into the water.
From there, it was 4 km back to the starting point near the road. As the guide had predicted, the wind had become a bit stronger during the day, but it was blowing east, so going back turned out to be easier than going out.
After the tour I drove around a bit on the sand tracks and had some lunch in one of the cantinas.
Later I headed back to Thessaloniki for a nice dinner close to the main landmark of Thessaloniki, the White Tower.
As my plan for the next weekend involved the area near Mount Olympus National Park, I decided to move to a hotel that was a bit closer to that, instead of driving the more than 100 km to it and back again from Thessaloniki twice.
I didn't drive there the direct way - I went via Kilkis to have another go for the cave there. The weather was turning worse again, with some thunderstorms in the distance, even at noon. And when I arrived at the cave, it was 'out of order'. The electricity had failed due to some lightning hitting somewhere, so the cave was dark. As this is a 'showcave' (and not an 'expedition cave'), no helmets with headlamps were available, so there was no tour.
But was told that the electrician was on the way already and the cave would soon be re-opened (as far as I could tell, there wasn't anything wrong with the lights system in the cave itself, but after the local power outage, the lights couldn't be simply switched on again, but had to be 'rebooted' somehow).
So I waited a bit and ultimately got my cave tour.
I am not sure where I would put it on the "most remarkable caves in Greece" list - it's not like I am an expert on those - but the visit was fun.
The cave has no obviously exciting features. There aren't any large and interesting stalactites. ('Collectors' have been taking care of those decades ago - but if you interested in looking at cross-sections of stalactite bases, it's a great place to visit.) And there are no vast halls, long passages, natural bridges or underground rivers.
But it is interestingly 'oddly shaped' with various 'cuts' in the rocks in odd angles to each other, so it looks less like an odd underground building, but more like walking through giant rifts in the rock. It's not overly dramatic or Escher-y, but it makes the place look interesting and the visit enjoyable. Due to the complex shape, the cave tour covers two 'floors' with a spiral staircase in between.
As the big stalactites are gone (there are only a few smaller 'stalactite curtains at some spots), the main geological features are 'coral rock formations' along most of the walls. They have nothing to do with actual corals (the name comes from the look) and they are the result from falling water drops hitting a sloping wall, bouncing off and leaving a bit of calcium carbonate behind.
In any case, after some initial difficulties I finally managed to visit the cave at Kilkis.
On to Litochoro, near Mount Olympus National Park.
The hotel I stayed in was a bit fancier than the ones I normally go to. I sometimes spend money on hotels that are strange or unusual, but I don't often go for elegance and designer hotels.
As I was spending most of my time on some trails outside the hotel (as opposed to sitting at the hotel pool or the hotel beach and drinking cocktails), it felt a bit awkward sometimes to come back all sweaty and covered with dust, while everyone else looked like they were dressed for some social event. But the place was nice and the food was good and nobody complained about me. Even though it feels strange when you park your battered rental Nissan Micra next to somebodies shiny Ferrari.
Next day I did some hiking along Enipeus Gorge.
At first I went the easy way and walked to the 'Bath of Zeus' a small natural pool with a waterfall (from an artificial weir) feeding into it.
There's a wide concrete and level walkway going to a place from where you can see and photograph the pool, but it ends there. (With various warnings not to go on, that bathing is forbidden, and so on.)
So I took some pictures and went back to the start of the walkway, where a trail heads further up.
That trail goes all the way along the gorge, until it reaches Prionia (depending on where you look, the trail is about 10 to 12 km long, depending on whether you take a detour to the waterfall close to Monastery of Agios Dionisios).
I did follow that trail for only about two kilometers. The main reason was that the path goes rather steeply up the side of the gorge at the beginning, so I walked up nearly 300 meters on that first bit, with not much to show for it (the sides of the gorge have many trees growing there, so most of the time there is not much of a view).
So I continued until I reached a point after which the path went steeply down again for a bit, There is a bit of bare rock, so there is a good view along the gorge.
Then I decided to turn around. (Mostly because I hadn't arranged any transport back from Prionia. If I had continued, the path would have taken me back down to river level, where the path becomes easier and more interesting. But that would have meant going all the way up again on the return path. Probably the wrong decision - it turned out to be easy to order a taxi from the tavern in Prionia - but I walked back to the car and drove to Prionia instead.)
The road to Prionia was fun to drive - all winding and bendy and I would have loved to drive that in a Mini or Fiat 500. The Nissan Micra was, however, a bit underpowered for the task and I found myself driving a lot in first gear. Still, a fun road and mostly new and well maintained - even if the picture tells a different story. But that was just a short section (pretty much only the part that is covered by the picture). And I mostly took the picture as this bit looked so much different than the rest of the road.
At the end of the road (Prionia) there was a large parking spot. Weather had turned more humid and, ultimately, rainy again.
I headed for a small waterfall a short distance down the trail for some quick pictures and a quick dip.
On the way I passed a (probably) counter-productive warning sign.
Due to the risk of falling rocks, there's a sign encouraging people not to linger and to pass that part of the trail quickly, which, predictably, leads to people stopping there to take a picture of the sign.
Back to the car afterwards to drive back down the road to the Monastery of Agios Dionisios.
I wasn't interested in the monastery itself, but there's a nice waterfall not far from it.
There I wanted to take a few pictures and possibly have a short swim there, assuming that I would have the place more or less to myself (pre-season, late afternoon, clouded skies, chance of rain).
Unfortunately others were operating under the same assumption and gone to that waterfall for some photoshoot.
As far as I can tell, it was some kind of local sports team that did some promotional shots for their sponsor or something like that. At least they were wearing identical t-shirts when out of the water and between the 'scenic pictures' they did some posing holding some kind of orange coloured drink in their hand.
In any case, it was some serious undertaking, with two photographers, eight sports models, one drone operator and a couple of other support people, so I didn't want to go into the pool and spoil their pictures.
So I waited in some distance (as the drone kept flying around and I didn't want to ruin their wide-angle aerial shots either) until the activity seemed to be winding down. I asked whether they were done and they told me they were finished and packing up.
So I went across the pool, put down my bag, undressed to my swimming trunk and got into the water and under the waterfall.
The water was quite cold and I did only a short swim, dip, waterfall splash before getting out again. (And with a lot of respect for the group that had been posing in the water, as they had to stand there, smile and look enthusiastic, while standing in freezing cold water for five minutes or more, before they rushed out and wrapped in a towel, while the next ones went into the pool.)
But when I tried to get back to my stuff, they told me that they just wanted to do one final group picture and that they would strongly prefer that I go out of the pool right now. So I went out and stood a bit behind the photographers. Then the group picture was followed by individual pictures of people standing on a rock, then of all the boys standing there, then all the girls, then various groupings, all with more drone flying and more pictures with orange juice or whatever the drink was.
Unfortunately, my clothes were on the other side of the pool, so I was standing around, cold and wet for about half an hour, until they were finally done and I could get dressed again.
All in all it's a nice waterfall and a cool place to be, but not an ideal location when there's a photo shoot going on.
When I was back at the hotel, there was some bad news.
I had booked a canyoning tour for the next day. That was the main reason for going to the Mount Olympus National Park. But due to the rain and thunderstorms in the previous week, there was a safety warning and they went to check the canyoning route, only to find that their anchor points for the belay ropes were below the water level at the moment.
So they sent me a mail to tell me that the tour was cancelled.
With no plans for the following day, I went to the reception and asked about options. As other canyoning operators presumably faced the same problem, I needed to look for something else.
The only thing available on short notice (although I could have conceivably stayed at the hotel pool and done nothing) was a 'river trekking' tour.
It seemed an activity reasonably close to canyoning (although without the fun bits). So I made a booking, which turned out to be rather expensive, as they have a minimum tour size of four people and as nobody else was booked for the following day, I had to pay the quadruple price, amounting to more than twice the price the canyoning tour would have cost me. (To be fair, the time the guide spends is the same, whether there's one person to guide or ten.)
While 'River Trekking' doesn't sound as exciting as 'Canyoning' it still sounded more interesting than it turned out to be.
I had assumed that it would include walking along (or in) a river, following the river bed. Just not doing the abseiling, sliding and jumping bits, but leisurely walking down those parts instead.
What it turned out to be was a more expensive repeat of what I did the previous day, although with guidance and a less crowded waterfall.
'River Trekking' meant to drive to a parking place (where, to my frustration, a group was getting ready for canyoning - seems that at least one company was doing tours) and then walk along a small trail, mostly uphill (300 meters uphill over a distance of 2.5 km).
The trail went mostly through a forest, so there wasn't much to see (especially not of the river). After a bit more than an hour, we reached a waterfall, admittedly a nice location and with nobody around.
So I went for a short dip (the water was still too cold and the weather not warm enough for anything longer), dried off, ate a light snack, got dressed and we went back the way we came. All in all about half an hour at the waterfall and two hours of walking.
I just looked up Wikipedia, which states "River trekking is a combination of trekking and climbing and sometimes swimming along the river. It involves particular techniques like rock climbing, climbing on wet surfaces, understanding the geographical features of river and valleys, knotting, dealing with sudden bad weather and finding out possible exits from the river." (and that it is "similar to canyoning or canyoneering").
I hadn't been aware of that description, but it was more or less what I expected. What I got was walking to a remote waterfall for a short swim. At quadruple cost.
If I had spent the day at the hotel and spent that money on cocktails, I'd probably be looking for a liver transplant now.
As the activity didn't fill the day, I went go-karting again.
That was originally a bit of a random find - I had been looking at the coast with Google Earth, mostly to look for any ports and whether there might be day tours on boats available there. And I noticed an odd shape near the port of Paralia, which turned out to be a go-kart track.
I wasn't quite sure whether you could really drive a go-kart there, as there wasn't any web site about it and the track might be no longer operating. Or maybe it was a private track that someone built on his field. Or maybe it was part of that derelict amusement park that might have been next to it.
But I had nothing to do anyway and it wasn't much of a detour, so I went there.
Even close up, the place seemed a bit deserted, but there was a track (and it was well maintained), some go-karts next to it and some sort of building, even though there was nobody at the counter.
But there was someone in the workshop, tinkering with one of the go-karts and it turned out that they were open and that I could drive a go-kart there. The payment system was a bit different from the one in Thessaloniki (where you pay by time, while here you pay by the number of laps). But the price was reasonable and I had the track to myself while I went for lap after lap.
As on the track in Thessalonki, they had to types of go-karts, so after a couple of laps on a 200cc go-kart, I 'upgraded' to a 270cc go-kart. While there are probably more 'worthy' things to do in Greece than going around a kart track (I was aware that the Archaeological Park of Dion wasn't far away), I was enjoying myself.
Before heading back to the hotel, I tried, unsuccessfully, to figure out the (minor) mystery of the amusement park.
Google Earth shows a Ferris wheel next to the kart track, while it has an "Amusement Park" marker on an empty, but obviously previously used spot about a hundred meters away.
Google Streetview has nothing but a fenced in field next to the go-kart track, but a operational looking amusement park (named "Luna Park") on the space where Google Earth shows nothing. As the Streetview data is from 2014 and the Google Earth data is from 2018, it seems like the amusement park has moved at some point.
Older satellite data seems to match this - in 2009 there clearly was some sort of amusement park next to the main road and images from 2013 and 2014 look similar, with the most attractions in March 2014. After that, attractions seem to vanish and the amusement park looks no longer operational, until at the end of 2016 there's nothing left at the original site. But there's nothing next to the track either. In late 2017 there seem to be at least some trailers parked on the field next to the track, and the Ferris wheel seems to be standing there again.
But it wasn't clear whether the "Luna Park" had just changed position, whether it became a traveling attraction and used the field next to the go-kart track as a storage area for attractions between events (but then, why actually set up the Ferris wheel?) or whether the whole operation was bankrupt and rotting away.
In the end, I couldn't answer any of the questions.
The place looked oddly inconsistent.
The "Luna Park" sign was set up (why do that, if it's just for storage?), the Ferris wheel was standing and a water basin for two 'boats', looking like a swan and a pelican, was filled with water.
And some things looked like they had been taken apart for transport, but otherwise ok. (Someone was putting some of these things into a trailer.)
But other things didn't just look dismantled, but broken, rotten and rusted.
So the place is probably bankrupt and they are selling off the attractions that are still working while the rest is rotting away, but I have no idea whether that is really the case.
In any case, I went back to the hotel, had a nice dinner and drove to Thessaloniki airport the next day.
And, as I had built a bit of a time buffer into the trip and the go-kart track in Thessaloniki is close to the airport, I stopped there and did a couple of laps on that track before I went to the airport to fly home.
Looking at the lap times (the first three columns were from my first visit there, the last two from before going to the airport - the GT4 is the lower powered kart, the RT8 the slightly more powerful), I was surprised that I was driving fairly consistently. Most of the times were within a second of each other, especially on the last two runs, where I was alone on the track.
Having the more powerful kart was nice (it sounded a bit better), but even at the best lap it resulted in less than 0.6 seconds improvement to the track time. So it seems to be more about the track and the driving than about the kart itself.
Flying home afterwards, as so many things during this trip, suffered (indirectly) from thunderstorms. They weren't allowed to refuel the plane while there was a thunderstorm in the area. As a result, the plane was more than an hour late, which kept me from making the flight connection in Vienna.
Like most of the rest of the trip, it somehow worked out in the end, but was more complicated than anticipated.
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