Tuesday 19th April 2011, Kavala, Macedonia
Twenty-five degrees in England and here we are shivering in north-eastern Greece where the temperature has struggled to reach a pathetic ten degrees all day! On the bright side though, it's been a lot more comfortable than it might have been as I followed Ian up the steep cobbled streets to Kavala's ancient citadel overlooking the harbour from where the ferry runs hourly to the island of Thasos. It was gold, mined on Thasos and in the hills surrounding Kavala that produced the wealth upon which the city was founded. Gold is still mined here, as we discovered when Modestine accidentally strayed from the straight and narrow (actually winding and twisting) main road through the forests yesterday and found herself on forbidden ground.
This morning we unhooked Modestine from her electrical umbilical cord and drove into the city. As it is reputed to have a population of a mere 60,000 plus I assumed it would be easy to park and it would save us 12 euros on a taxi. The city is built in a fold between the hills, overlooking the harbour with Thasos a few miles off shore. Thus everybody lives within a confined area and the white blocks of cement flats cascade from the hills down to the sea, crowded in, the narrow streets crammed with cars and lorries. Maintaining the streets in front of one's home is the responsibility of the home owner here and most people have higher priorities. We eventually found a place to leave Modestine, in true Greek style with two wheels up onto the broken pavement on a bend in the road winding up the hillside. It was a steep walk back down to the centre, mainly on the busy road as the narrow pavements, where they existed, were occupied by parked vehicles. We noticed one vehicle wearing what appeared to be a burka and are now wondering whether it might be advisable to have one made for Modestine before she moves on to the east, out of Greece! I could just about see through the window opening to drive her!
Kavala is considered to be one of Greece's more attractive cities. Certainly it has some pleasant corners and an interesting history but personally I find its appearance lacks charm. White concrete flats laid out without any apparent street planning cannot look attractive, though there are many dilapidated, decaying buildings of an earlier age that were once quite grand.
The city has a long and chequered history. The modern city is built over the ancient city of Neapolis, once the port of Philippi. It was the landing point in Europe for travellers from the East and it was here that St. Paul landed in AD 49 on his way to Philippi after a dream in which he felt called by Christ to attempt to convert the Philippians.
Mehmet Ali (1769-1849) was born in Kavala. He became Pasha of Egypt and founder of its last royal dynasty. (He also apparently had his own harem and fathered 95 children.) Above the city towers the stone crenelated walls of the old Byzantine citadel rebuilt during the Ottoman period by Süleyman the Magnificent (1520-66), and nearby is the Turkish house where Mehmet Ali lived as a child. The city also has impressive remains of an aqueduct constructed at the same time as the citadel to carry water from the hills to feed the fountains of the town.
The population of Kavala increased dramatically in 1923 under the forced population exchange with Asia Minor when Greeks living in Turkey were driven out, flooding in to cities such as Kavala, Thessaloniki and Athens, while Turks living in Greece were forced back to Turkey. Kavala had been Turkish until the fall of the Ottoman Empire. Since then it has been occupied briefly by Bulgaria at least twice during the Balkan Wars and has only really been part of modern Greece for less than 100 years.
Most of this we have found out from plaques around the city and from the Archaeological Museum which is excellent. Its exhibits are mainly ceramics, jewellery, ornaments and sculptures from ancient Greek sites in the locality. We went straight there this morning as it closes at 2pm.
Next we sought out the municipal museum. That was closed until the summer. Hey, isn't this the summer? The tourist office told us we should visit the Museum of Tobacco as the growing and production of tobacco had been a major industry upon which much of the city's wealth had been based. However, it also closed at 2pm so there wasn't time to visit both museums on the same day!! We suspect that several of the rather large, abandoned and decaying warehouse buildings we saw around the city were once connected with the tobacco industry. Certainly several of them had Arabic script above the entrance and were presumably originally Turkish enterprises prior to 1913 when Kavala was finally liberated from Ottoman rule.
We explored the old Turkish quarter, known as the Panagia. It surrounds the citadel, built on a headland overlooking the harbour on one side and the island of Thasos on the other. Steep narrow streets lead up through residential houses in Turkish style with overhanging upper floors. Some are beautifully maintained with flower-filled balconies while others are dilapidated and abandoned. Most appear to be built from wooden lathes covered in plaster. Around here there are very many cats wandering wild but the area is far better maintained than was the Turkish quarter in Thessaloniki.
Up near the citadel stands what is now a magnificent hotel with thirteen domes, known as the Imaret. It was built in 1817 by Mehmet Ali as a gift to the city of his birth and was originally used as a hostel for theology students. Rooms in the hotel are reputed to cost over 400 euros a night – but you do get breakfast thrown in. We decided to investigate. Unfortunately we didn't get far before we were asked what we thought we were up to wandering around the book-lined lounge with its opulent armchairs and low tables, pausing to peer out from the windows over the bay. It was made very clear to us that this was not the kind of establishment that you could walk into from the street just to look around. However, if we cared to take coffee we were welcome to stay. We asked how much a coffee would cost us. Prices started at 6 euros for an expresso! So we returned to the street without any photos for the blog.
Nearby we discovered the mosque of Halil Bey, constructed in the early 20th century, with the base of a 16th century minaret. Finally we reached the citadel from where we had spectacular views back over the city, down on to the port and out across the bay.
Much of the rest of the day has been spent pottering around the busy streets of the city centre and around the harbour. We also saw a rather dire fashion show in the street with lots of loud techno-music.
For lunch we decide to try the kebab/souvlaki/gyro experience. Many Greeks were buying them and taking them back to eat at their workplace. The owner spoke a little English and was very friendly and helpful. This was just as well as we are innocents abroad when it comes to choosing a gyro. He sat us down and a few minutes later presented us with a couple of souvlaki wrapped in unleavened bread along with onion, tomatoes, chips, mustard and tomato sauce. With it we had a huge bowl of salad to share containing everything – lettuce, cucumbers and tomatoes, cheese ham, eggs in mayonnaise and sprinkled chilli. It all tasted very good and we realised walking in the cold had made us really hungry. It was also quite cheap – 8 euros for both of us – with much good humour on all sides.
Rejoining Modestine we returned to the campsite where we've discovered a draughty corner where we can pick up free wifi from a neighbouring restaurant. Emails from friends gloated at the warm temperatures in England! We bore the cold in the gathering dusk as long as we could before returning to the warmth of Modestine to thaw out.
Wednesday 20th April 2011, Kavala, Macedonia
This evening we are feeling rather nonplussed. For the last couple of days there has been nobody on the campsite except us and a large English campervan owned by a very friendly couple, Linda and John, of much the same age as us. They retired early, let out their home and have been travelling around Europe for nine years. When they return to England they live in their camper van. Naturally we have been swapping notes and we find we have visited many of the same places and had similar experiences. They are braver than us however and have travelled in North Africa – Tunisia and Libya, as well as South America and New Zealand.
Today has been hot for a change and when we returned this evening we invited them to join us on our pitch for some wine while our supper cooked. Meanwhile a huge luxury camper van from Turkey arrived trailing a very smart motor bike. The owners came over, intrigued by Modestine and asked to see inside. Why, they asked each other, did they need anything as big as theirs? Modestine had everything and was so compact she could get them anywhere. They said they were off to Sicily and then up through Italy to discover Western Europe. We said we were on our way to Istanbul and to discover something of Turkey. They became worried about us staying on campsites in Turkey, fearing they were not very good. We explained that we were well hard having spent hundreds of nights on some of Europe's best and worst campsites. They told us they lived in Istanbul and as they wouldn't be using their house again for several months why didn't we stay in it? It's by the sea and would be very convenient for all four of us with space to park the camper vans. They intend phoning their "driver" to alert him that we will be turning up and have promised to give us detailed directions tomorrow before we leave! Our heads are still reeling! Linda and John seem quite amenable to the idea and we can each do our own thing while we are there. Can these Turkish people – we don't even know their names yet – really be so unbelievably hospitable?
This morning we drove 15km north of Kavala to the ancient site of Philippi. Originally called Krenides it was established by Thracians from the island of Thasos. In 356BC it was seized by Philip II of Macedonia, father of Alexander the Great, eager to exploit the gold to be found in nearby Mount Pangaion. The city became enormously rich as a result.
In 44BC the Roman Emperor Julius Caesar was assassinated by Republicans, concerned at his imperial ambitions. The chief assassins, Brutus and Cassius then travelled to Macedonia to take over the command of the Roman legions at Philippi. Mark Anthony and the young Octavian (later the Emperor Augustus), loyal supporters of Caesar, pursued them and in 42BC a decisive battle ensued on the plain before the city gates. Cassius was defeated and committed suicide. Brutus was successful against Octavius but was later defeated by Mark Anthony and he too committed suicide. (I just knew studying Shakespeare's Anthony and Cleopatra all those years ago in school would come in handy one day!)
Philippi is also important as the first European city to accept Christianity following the arrival and initial imprisonment of St. Paul in 49AD – the place shown as his prison was really a water cistern.
The site lies on a level plain that was once marshes. Above towers a grey rocky hillside topped by the Acropolis. The steeply raked theatre was constructed under Philipp II but adapted by the Romans to accommodate their gladiatorial combats and fights with wild animals. There are also the ruins of five Christian churches, a huge forum with the remains of the colonnades and a room with 42 communal latrines. There were also the tumbled remains of marble columns, carved and decorated lintels, mosaics, and the remnants of the agora where the market was held and foodstuffs sold. The setting for the site was superb, lying on the flat plain yet overlooked by the snow capped peaks of the surrounding mountains. All around were wild flowers, tortoises trundled through the ruins while birds sang and bees and butterflies settled on the flower heads. There was also an excellent museum exhibiting finds from the site.
We left around 2pm and after a picnic lunch in the car park we drove on another 20 km to the town of Drama. It turned out to be far less interesting as a town than its name implies and the only thing we noticed about the place was that it is sufficiently prosperous to afford to purchase all its manhole covers from Spain. There is supposed to be a mosque there but we never found it. Indeed it was all a bit of an anticlimax really being more of an epilogue than a drama!