Day 46, Thessaloniki
[Wednesday, 29 June] Some brief notes on the day, because I’m beat.
Slept poorly at the Holiday Inn Express in London because I was nervous about the alarm clock not going off correctly (somehow you program the television to work as an alarm clock), and woke up at 4:15 am. Couldn’t get back to sleep. Showered, ate early at the breakfast buffet and stocked up on cheese sticks and hard rolls to take with me. Left early for the airport, in case security took a while. It did. Changed money into Euros.
Flight from London to Budapest was uneventful… for the most part. Was approached by a crew member mid-flight and asked if I would move to first class to get off the plane quickly when we landed. My connecting flight from Budapest to Thessaloniki was taking off five minutes after I landed. A very young airline representative met me at the door of the plane and ran me (literally) through the Budapest airport, security and passport control and all, and got me to the plane after the door had been closed. The Hungarian airline is not so uptight as American ones, so they let me on and put me in first class even. All in all, I think I was on the ground in Budapest for less than 30 minutes before I was airborne again.
Flight to Thessaloniki was truly uneventful. Going through immigration & customs involved walking under a particular sign and being ignored by the staff who were sitting in their offices and didn’t even look up.
(By the way, all the rioting and such are taking place in Athens, around the Parliament building. Everything seems perfectly normal in Thessalonica. Those of you who worry for my safety can rest easy, at least on this score.)
I asked for the taxi stand at a bus ticket office, and they convinced me that a 0.80 Euro bus ticket ($1.50) was a better deal than a $30-40 cab ride. I agreed. Took the bus they indicated, got off on God-only-knows what street in God-only-knows what part of Thessaloniki and waited for the transfer. It being some 8 hours since breakfast, I ate the hard rolls and cheese sticks I took from the hotel, and also the banana left over from the meal the sisters had packed for me the day before. I caught the correct transfer, but missed my stop and ended up at the terminal on the far side of town. I have seen more of Thessaloniki, and spent more time doing it, than I cared to. But the nice thing about a bus terminal is that you can always catch a ride back, and that’s what I did. It was a 3 block walk to the hotel, where my reservation was in hand, and I was shown to my room.
Once I saw my hotel room, I knew I was in Europe again. If you’ve ever stayed in modestly-priced hotels in Europe, you’ll know what I mean: the tiny, one-person elevator that doesn’t quite hold you and your luggage and takes a little too long to go up one floor; the rather Spartan accommodations with uncomfortable furniture; the bathroom floor that’s raised just enough for you to stump your toe on as you go in; the lack of a shower curtain; the noise and diesel fumes from the street; all those things. Pure joy.
I got recommendation for a restaurant for dinner; it was a sidewalk café around the corner from the hotel, where I had had a fine, relatively inexpensive meal of chicken, with a basket of bread, a bottle of water, and a small flagon of dry white wine, that was too much for one sitting (I emptied the water bottle and filled it with wine). I feel compelled to eat meat today, for SS Peter & Paul’s feast day (even though it’s a Wednesday), because the Holy Mountain is on the Old Calendar, and it’ll be back to the Apostles’ Fast once I get there.
After dinner I changed into my cassock, startled the front desk with my transformation, and asked how to get to St Demetrios’ church. The basilica is, I think, 6th century, and since my first parish was dedicated to St Demetrios, I wanted to see him and the church. Besides St Demetrios, the Myrrh-streamer and Wonderworker of Thessalonica, is the Main Man around here, and it simply wouldn’t do to skip stopping by and paying your respects. It turned out to be a 10 minute walk.
I arrived during Vespers. Many tourists were about, in addition to several dozen of the faithful. I knew where the hexagonal shrine of St Demetrios was supposed to be: on the left side of the church, about the middle of the way up (they call it the “ciborium” and the original was made of solid silver, donated by a wealthy man whom the Saint had cured). I knew it when I saw it. An old lady (Greek churches always have old ladies in them) noted my piety and approached me, asked a blessing, and gave me one in return: a cotton ball with some of the myrrh which still streams from St Demetrios’ relics (they’ve been producing myrrh now since the 4th century). I was overwhelmed. I figured the myrrh couldn’t be had for love or money these days, but it turns out I was wrong.
She also pointed out to me a couple of things I didn’t know about. Apparently St Demetrios caused a fountain or well to spring up near his grave, and the basilica included it when it was built. It’s a stone water basin now with a brass faucet and a drain, like a sink, and it stands just to the left of the Iconostasis. I had to get in line to get to it, which was fine, because I learned what to do: drink the water out of your cupped hand, fill your bottle (if you have one), and wipe the rest of the water on your head and face. Further up in the left aisle, directly to the left of the altar, but outside the Iconostasis, were the relics of St Anysia the Martyr. The relics and episcopal vestments of a Greek Bishop-Saint, Gregory Callides, are in the back of the church. There is a crypt, too, under the altar, but it was closed. I don’t know what’s in it, but I’ll have to go back tomorrow to see it.
So much for the adventures of the day. Tomorrow, I hope to go back to St Demetrios, and, if time permits, visit St Gregory Palamas. He stays at the bishop’s headquarters these days. Then catch another series of buses for the trip out to Ouranoupolis, where I will spend tomorrow night.
God willing there will be internet access available there. If not, I’ll post again after I get back from Mount Athos.