Since we’d been to an island (Rhodes) during our honeymoon, we thought it would be fun to see an entirely different part of Greece. We decided on the region of Chalkidiki (sometimes spelled Halkidiki) on the mainland in Northern Greece. This area is well-known to German holidayers as “The Three Fingers”. One look at the map below and you’ll see why. (Funnily enough, this area is known as “The Three Feet” in Greece. Hmmm, still trying to figure that one out.)
Nevertheless, we could not be deterred from the promise of baklava and the beautiful Aegean Sea so we worked it out with our travel agent to find a flight and a hotel that could make room for us. We had to take the bus/train/train/train/shuttle to the Düsseldorf airport leaving at about 5:30am on the Saturday morning to make our departing flight. It was our first time flying out of the Düsseldorf airport; the airport itself is quite nice, but the 4 to 5 hour journey north to get there just to fly south was a bit roundabout. I think we’ll try for the Stuttgart or Frankfurt airport next time with a little better advance planning.
We also experienced the joys of “first day of holidays” travel in Germany. The bus ride and S-Bahn to the Stuttgart Hauptbahnhof (central train station) were perfectly uneventful. The first DB train to Mannheim was fine as well; S and I even found seats, though we were sitting across the aisle and a few rows apart from one another. But that DB train from Mannheim to Düsseldorf was…memorable. There was about a 4-5 minute transfer time between our first train to this train and it seemed like everyone on our train was also switching, holiday luggage in tow. When S and I crammed onto the first available carriage only to be squeezed next to the doors and several other passengers, I thought there would be no more room for anyone behind us. I was wrong. Without exaggeration, at least 20 people with children, duffel bags, suitcases, and attitude followed behind. Many were irate because they had made reservations and there was no way they were going to be able to get through the crowd to their reserved seats. One man felt the need to complain to the train conductor for several minutes about this as I accidentally trod on said conductor’s feet as I tried to take up as little space as possible between him and my luggage. Meanwhile S was squashed between the complainer and some other people on the other side of the entryway. We made eye contact at one point that my internal Newlywed Decoder translated into “Let’s not travel on the train on the first day of Pentecost Holidays again.”
Once in Düsseldorf, we made it out just fine (with the exception of the 1 hour delay on the plane for who knows what reason….we couldn’t really hear the pilot’s announcement). It turns out just a couple of days later, there was a huge storm in North Rhine-Westphalia and 6 people were killed, with Düsseldorf being one of the worst hit areas. Our jaws dropped as we watched the German news report from our Greek hotel room…we sure were lucky we missed that storm.
Because of our delayed arrival, our tour company had arranged for us to take a private taxi from the airport in Thessaloniki (the 2nd largest city in Greece after Athens) to our hotel in Kallithea, a small seaside town on the first “finger” of Chalkidiki, Kassandra. We were pleasantly surprised when we pulled up to our hotel – it was beautiful and right on the beach. The hotel is split into 2 parts by a main road and our room was on the upper part, further away from the beach. That was fine with us because we could easily access the beach by the hotel underpass.
Unlike our previous Greek hotel in Rhodes with mainly UK and German tourists, this hotel seemed to cater to the Russian, German and Eastern European clientele. Though the dining room was packed at dinner every night, the hotel was deserted during the day. We literally had a pool to ourselves for a number of days. My guess is that everyone veered toward the beach, leaving the pool unclaimed. We had some lovely downtime swimming/snorkeling (S) and reading/hiding under sun umbrellas (me). Something for everyone.
We went on a 1-day tour called “Unbekannte Chalkidiki”, meanining “unknown Chalkidiki”. We visited some off the beaten track locations on the peninsula. The tour was completely in German so I did my best to follow along. We stopped first in the capital of Chalkidiki, Polygyros. Unfortunately, it was a holiday (due to Pentecost) so the town was a little ghostly (ie. nothing was open and nobody was walking around on the streets). Our next stop was the city of Arnea based at the foot of Mount Holomontas. We took part in a little local honey tasting; we sampled 4 different kinds: heather of spring, chestnut honey, flower honey, and pine honey (left to right in photo below).
Our next stop was the Aristotle Park in Stagira, the birthplace of Aristotle. The park is set up with experimental instruments related to Aristotle’s work, particularly in “The Naturals”. For a fee of 1 Euro, you can enter the park and examine (ie. goof around with) the sun dial, compass, pendulum, water turbine, parabolic reflectors, and more. S even burnt a hole in his park entrance ticket with the giant lens as a fun memento of the tour.
Our last stop along the coast was a tiny town called Pirgadikia where we had a little ice cream break. The tour gave us some insight into Chalkidiki and was a nice way to see part of the area that we would not have seen otherwise. If we ever go back, we will definitely have to check out Thessaloniki, known for its vibrant culture, festivals, frappé coffee, and eastern-influenced sweets and pastries.
With olive oil and baklava in our carry on bags, we headed back to Germany (fortunately to Stuttgart this time, not all the way to Düsseldorf). We came home just a couple of days after the start of the FIFA World Cup, in fact the same day as Greece’s opening game. Too bad we missed the chance to watch that in Greece! We did make it home right before Germany’s first game, just in time for a special visit from my parents and uncle from Canada.