Sofia to Thessalonika – 310 km (train/bus/train)
& 20131 Fit Bit steps
It took 4 1/2 hours by train from Sofia to the border. We could see the snow covered mountains that surround the city and watched the sun set over the hills bordering Serbia. At Kulata, we were ushered off the train to a bus, passed through the Bulgarian frontier and on to the border with Greece. There, we all gave up our passports and waited. “Canada!” was called out and we were asked to get off the bus to speak with a customs officer, who pleasantly observed that we had travelled a lot in Europe and reminded us that we could only stay in the Schengen area for 90 days. He then took away our passports again and we returned to the bus where we quickly updated ourselves on the Schengen rules. By the time we were called out again, we had learned that, as Canadians, we were entitled to stay 90 days out of the previous 180 days, the latter qualification being something we had obviously overlooked! Counting backwards from now, the 180 day period included the month with our grandchildren in Paris in August. We were dismayed but not really surprised then when the officer told us that we could only stay in Greece (and the Schengen area) for 9 days!
Arriving in Thessaloniki, we had to decide what to do. As we plan to spend Christmas in France with our son and family, we could not waste any more precious days in the Schengen area. Lois eventually suggested that we go to Cyprus – Greek (partially- more on that later) and an EU country, but not in the Schengen. We reserved flights for the next day.
Making the most of our day in Thessaloniki, we walked in the warmth of the sunshine and visted the sights. A major part of the city was destroyed by fire in 1917, but several antiquities remain. The Roman Arch of Galerius (AD 306), The Rotunda of Galerius (AD 303) which has been a mausoleum, temple, church and Mosque, the Agia Dimitrios (5th C) with some remaining 8th C frescoes and the White Tower which was part of the city wall and now houses a very interesting display of the history of the city. Again, we had to try to come to grips with a history from the Greeks to Romans, the Byzantine and Ottoman Empires and 20th C Greece! One floor was devoted to a description of the treatment of Thessaloniki’s Jews who were deported to concentration camps during the WWII Nazi occupation. A power vacuum resulting from the end of German-Italian occupation (1941–1945) during World War II, led to a highly polarized struggle between left and right ideologies. The Greek Civil War was the first example of Cold War power postwar involvement in the internal politics of a foreign country.