Athens, on the one hand, is an interesting city with a long vibrant history and on the other hand, is in a state of decay. Downtown towards the heart of the Athens, is the Acropolis. The Acropolis is the city on the hill. The Greeks constructed numerous temples on the Acropolis dating back to 500 BC. Many temples on the Acropolis are dedicated to the Goddess of Athena, the goddess of wisdom, and one dedicated to the God of Poseidon, the God of the Sea. Supposedly, the Greeks were impressed when Poseidon struck the ground on the Acropolis with a spear, and water began to flow out. Then Athena struck the same spot with her spear, and an olive tree grew. The olive tree is a source of food, and the wood can be burned for energy. Thus, Athena won the battle and is the origin of the city's name, Athens. The spot of the ancient battle is the Erechtheum.
Many historic buildings surround the Acropolis, including numerous hotels, shops, and restaurants. Even a flea market is nearby where customers can buy antiques and other heirlooms. The only problem is we stayed North of the Acropolis about five blocks away. Homeless people were sleeping on the sidewalks and plazas on the main streets. I even saw a transient junkie help "shoot up" another junkie around the corner from KFC on the main street in the open. The side streets that branched from the main street looked dangerous. They were filled with shady looking people.
- Area of the country spans 50,944 square miles, making Greece the 96th largest country in the world.
- The currency is the Euro.
- The capital is Athens.
- In 2010, the population was estimated at 11.3 million, making Bosnia the 74th populous country in the world.
- Greece is the largest city, and the financial, manufacturing, and political hub of the country.
- Greece is part of the European Union.
- Foreigners tour many parts of Greece. However, Athens is at the top of the list.
- Greece is popular for illegal immigration and is a gateway into Europe
Thessaloniki is the second-largest city in Greece and is located in the northern part of the country. Northern Thessaloniki has a long history and has a different history from Athens. Northern Greece is considered to be part of Macedonia. (The Republic of Macedonia is to the north and was part of Yugoslavia). Alexander the Great is synonymous with Macedonia and conquered much of the developed world in 300 BC. Alexander even conquered Egypt and founded the Egyptian capital, Alexandria. Then Thessaloniki became part of the Roman Empire. Roman Emperor Galerius funded several large projects in 4th century which some are still standing.
The Roman Emperor Constantine split the Roman Empire into the western and eastern halves. Rome controlled the western half, while Constantinople (i.e. Istanbul) controlled the eastern half. Thessaloniki became the second most important city of the Eastern Roman Empire after Constantinople. After the Roman Empire fell in 476 AD, the Eastern Roman Empire became the Byzantium Empire. Then the Turks overthrew this Empire in the 15 century.
Is Thessaloniki worth seeing? Thessaloniki is much cleaner than Athens. I saw no homeless people sleeping on the streets or shady people walking around looking for things to steal or tourists to pick pocket. However, Thessaloniki is a little more expensive than Athens. The answer depends on how long you will be in Greece. Athens is definitely at the top of the list, but Thessaloniki also has a long, rich history. It is possible to see everything in Thessaloniki in one day. Although, Thessaloniki is approximately 500 miles from Athens, the train and buses connect the two cities. It is normally a 6-hour trip. One can even take the night train, where you leave at 11 o'clock at night and arrive in the next city at 6 o'clock in the morning. Of course, I recommend paying extra for the sleeper car.
Why is Greece having financial problems? The usual story, Greece, like Athens had a low cost of living. Although most Greeks earned paltry wages, they could afford their living standard because everything was cheap-the rent and food. Then life became more difficult when Greece became a member of the European Union and adopted the Euro. Now, prices have skyrocketed and many Greeks are struggling to pay for their necessities of life. Their salaries have not kept up with the price increases. Then Greece tends to be a cash economy, and the Greeks favorite pastime is to evade taxes.
The Greek budget crisis is having an impact on tourists. The museums in Athens and Thessaloniki reduced their staff and closed many exhibits. The day I arrived in Athens, the bus drivers and subway staff went on strike for higher wages, shutting down the transportation system. Then the prices were crazy. Two cappuccinos at Starbuck's were 9 Euros (or $12) in Thessaloniki. The price craziness did not stop there.