Saturday, January 30, 2016


Hello, this is Johanna speaking.

Last weekend it was looking like Dad was going to be really busy for the next three to four weeks and the weather was excellent. I had been kind of hoping to go somewhere, so Friday afternoon, I got the job of planning the weekend: destination and activities. Mom said she would book the hotel.

So I looked around, and finally settled on a Greek town West of Alexandroupoli called Xanthi.
It was supposed to have a couple of churches, museums, and a fairly nice `old town`.

Saturday morning, we left bright and early for the Greek border. It turned out to be a good thing we did. It took us all of two hours, possibly more, to get across the border. This made the 2 hour drive to Xanthi take closer to 6 hours.

Once we finally crossed the border, we drove past a long avenue of tractors parked on either side of the road. Apparently the farmers (and others) are protesting a tax hike that will pull 29% of their income instead of 10%.

About half way between the border and Xanthi we faced another delay as we were rerouted by the police, off the main highway and through the center of Komotini. We eventually found a secondary highway and continued on our way. While I`m not 100% sure why, the road was closed I suspect it was another demonstration, and the tractors were blocking the road since we ran into the same problem on the way back.

On the bright side, the detour took us around lake Vistonida, which is also home to the St Nicholas monastery. Two churches, and a few other buildings are built in the lake at a spot called Porto Lagos.

It was a beautiful day, and everyone was glad to get out of the car. On our way back to the car, we stopped to talk to one of the monks who spoke good English. I don`t know why I only took one picture, but I guess I wasn`t quite in vacation mode yet, and I was just excited to be out of the car.

My understanding is that the monks living at this monastery come from other monasteries on Mt Athos, the holy mountain to the South. For more information on Mt Althos check out this CBS article. The monk we talked too couldn`t wait to return to the mountain because of how damp it was on the water. I can`t really blame him.

After leaving the Monastery we made our way to the hotel, checked in and walked up to the main square, where we found a restaurant that the concierge had recommended and ate supper.

We wandered the Old Town until dark, then found a cab driver and zipped back to the hotel.

On Sunday we spent our day at the History and Folk museum in the Old Town and the Avdera Archaeological museum at - wait for it - Avdera, a tiny little town South East of Xanthi.

The Folk Museum was better than I expected. It was housed in an old fashioned duplex that had been built by two brothers. Apparently the tobacco trade was very big, and very profitable in Xanthi through the 18 and 1900s and the houses of the tobacco merchants are now theaters, restaurants and this one is a museum.

We had to knock hard on the door to get in, but the lady inside was happy to see us and tell us all about the house and the displays that we had questions about afterwards. There were plenty of displays of traditional dresses and  outfits.

Upstairs they had few furnished rooms and a stamp collection dating from the mid 1900s to now.

Downstairs were a few more furnished setups and a few farm implements, including a wooden plow. There was also an assortment of household items and supplies, some old photography cameras and a movie camera. and a still for making Ouzo. Unfortunately, the downstairs area was poorly lit and I didn`t get many decent pictures down there.

The house was just as interesting or more so than the displays it housed, The stair well to the upstairs was painted to look like Marble.

The ceilings and walls were painted with graduated levels of molding. If you look closely at the ceiling in these two pictures, the first layer of molding is real, but the rest is all painted.  Upstairs, the ceiling was painted to look as though it were open to the sky.

 From the museum we found a restaurant and had lunch, then at my request we went to check out the church I had spotted the night before. It was beautiful on the outside.

 But the inside wasn`t a slouch either.  Looking at the paintings and chandelier made it easy to imagine what the Hagia Sophia must have looked like before the Muslim takeover. Of course, the decor in the Haigia Sophia would have been Mosaics instead of paintings.
The museum at Avdera was interesting because of the large number of grave related finds, including pottery, jewelry and a couple of slightly creepy grave reconstructions.
They also had a slide show of images from the excavation of the site from the early 1900s and onwards, as well as some copies of original sketches and notes from the archeologists, which was fascinating.

 That evening we completed the locked room puzzle that I had booked, with the help of google translate on the greek site the people running the facebook page, and the guy in charge of the site, spoke English well. The puzzle itself was hard because it split us up and put us all in different rooms (jail cells and Dad was chained to a wall). But we made it out, and were all still speaking by the end of it, even though the guy in charge was rather annoyed with some of our improvised solutions.

On Sunday we drove home, but once again, the trip didn`t go as planned, instead of crossing at Ipsala, the same way we came in, we were diverted to the northern border crossing at Edirne. The drive is quite a bit longer, but we had no trouble at the border crossing itself. Once we were back on the Turkish side we all gawked at another edition of only in Turkey. We followed this truck for a while after getting out of Edirne. The horse was haltered, and tied in the front of the truck box, it seemed quite content to stick its head out in the breeze. The rest of the box seemed to have most of a household in it, an appliance or two and some furniture. 

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