He pondered for a while, his eyes gazing away and suddenly sparkling. A smile timidly spread across his face.
“The boat ride across the river”.
He paused, breathed in the emotion and continued: “I didn’t think it would be anything mind-blowing, but I decided to go along anyway, given it was a must-do sightseeing. The water was far from clean, so we were all extra careful about potentially falling in”. He laughed.
“We saw an alligator crawl in a few metres away. But that wasn’t what changed me. It was she…”
In the northernmost part of Greece there is a prefecture – one of the largest regional units in the country – home to beautiful places you’ve never even heard of. Because the Prefecture of Evros, part of the East Macedonia and Thrace region, is better known for the huge fence across the border between Greece and Turkey, aiming to keep out irregular migrants, rather than the dozens of other wonderful things that invite you there. The truth is, there is not much sightseeing to do here. But was is certain is that you’ll have a great time and you’ll manage to relax. Because here, there are large areas of natural forest that will replenish you with tranquillity that only nature can offer. There are museums and natural wealth, that unfortunately is not promoted sufficiently, nor it is it exploited adequately. There is so much more beyond the media-focused fence to see here. There are people who are among the most hospitable you will ever meet; simple, calm and hard-workers, who know how to enjoy life in a milder rhythm and seize every single day that comes.
The capital of the region is Alexandroupoli, one of the newest cities in Greece, as it was only a fishing village settled by the Ottoman Empire until the late 19th century. It benefits from its position at the centre of land and sea routes connecting Greece with Turkey. Landmarks in here include the city’s lighthouse in the port, the archaeological sites of the Mesimvria Zone, the city’s waterfront (the centre of commercial activity), the Ethnological Museum of Thrace, the thermal springs (Hana) of Traianoupoli which have been recognised by the Greek state for their therapeutic abilities and are considered among the most important in Greece, as well as the cave of the Cyclops Polyphemus in Makri – a coastal village, which also offers a range of beach bars and restaurants by the sea.
The city’s large coastal road is closed every afternoon, transforming it into a long promenade along the beach, with a view of Samothrace island, and the majestic colourful sunset that allows your thoughts to wander as you acknowledge the slower pace of life you too are entering.
For nature lovers, the area has a lot on offer: the nearby Evros Delta is one of the most important wetland on a national, European and international level. Extending over 200,000 hectares, with a significant number of rare animal and plant species, it has been branded a Special Protection Zone, as well as a proposed Site of Common Interest in the Natura 2000 network.
The Dadia-Lefkimi-Soufli Forest National Park is also one of the most important protected areas at national, European and international scale. It is one of the first areas in Greece to be declared as protected since a great deal of flora and fauna species found in the Balkan Peninsula, Europe and Asia coexist here. The landscape mosaic formed by pine and oak forests, interrupted by clearings, pastures and fields is the ideal habitat for birds of prey. The Park is near the village of Soufli, notable for the silk industry that flourished there in the 19th century. The village hosts a unique Silk Art Museum, which aims to highlight and preserve the region’s rich tradition of silk production and processing.
The northernmost and newest city of Greece and the second largest town of the Evros regional unit of Thrace is Orestiada. It was founded in 1923 by Greek refugees from Adrianople after the Treaty of Lausanne when the population exchange occurred between Turkey and Greece, in which the Evros River became the new border between the two countries. Despite lacking in sightseeing, the city is full of options for leisure, as it offers a range of all kinds of traditional cafes, taverns, restaurants, and modern bars that are not far from any other found in larger, more urban, cities. There is a particular café situated in a large pine park, allowing you to enjoy shade in the summer, while children can play carefree in the playground. A small theatre here, also hosts the Panhellenic Amateur Theatre Festival every end of August-beginning of September, while the city itself organises a variety of concerts and performances, especially during the summer.
Here, you’ll manage to relax, as you’re only true concern is where to have your next cup of coffee, where to dine, and where to have a drink later on. In this northernmost part of the country, you’ll come to acknowledge that you don’t need a lot to have a good time. It’s the company that makes that time worthwhile and memorable.
The city has a characteristic solar tree dominating its central square, an equivalent of which exists in Milan and other cities around the world. The city’s central square won the first prize at the 2016 Best City Awards Contest. Noteworthy is the fact that the city is constructed in a square-like manner, making it hard to get lost even for those with no sense of orientation whatsoever, while it is remarkably clean, peaceful, and with the character of an urban-village.
Further up north, there is an endless green scenery by the river Ardas that makes you wonder why these amazing destinations are not better promoted. The area here by the river that unites three nations (Greece, Turkey, Bulgaria), is an attraction for a pleasant walk, and a relaxed coffee with a unique view. Here, every summer, a music festival is organised with the participation of renowned Greek and international artists.
The traditional town by this river, Kastanies, whose name derives from the huge chestnut trees that once featured in the town square, hosts the only land border between Turkey and Greece (of length 11km), given that the rest of the border is along the river Evros. It is said that this is one of the oldest towns of the prefecture and has never been occupied by Muslims. Although it is highlighted by media for political issues, this town is full of vitality, demonstrating the warm hospitality of the people of Evros, and uniting people beyond the borders who cross over for work, leisure, a cup of coffee, or a delicious meal at the famous pizzeria “Lakis”.
A trip in this region will not be complete without a tour of Didymoteicho, a town associated with the military presence it is best known for, due to its proximity to the borders (it is only 2km from the Greece-Turkey border). The town once served as the capital of the Byzantine Empire, while it holds the ruins of the ancient Roman city of Plotinopolis. The city had been built in a very strategic position, because it had for exploitation a very fertile plain and also controlled a passage of Erythropotamos, through which passed a branch of the via Egnatia leading in the middle and upper valley of Evros river and on the shores of the Black Sea.
The city offers a mesmerising view from the ancient medieval hilltop citadel complex – Fortress/ Castle, while an important sight of the town is also the Çelebi Sultan Mehmed Mosque, also known as the Bayezid Mosque and the Great Mosque, an early 15th-century Ottoman mosque, which is considered one of the most important Muslim monuments, not only in Greece, but in all of Europe, as being the oldest mosque on European ground. It has been a protected monument since 1946. Due to a fire during restoration works in 2017, the entire roof was destroyed, while damage to the interior and the walls remains unknown. The mosque, like many other buildings, today remains unexploited. The city, however, is a great escape from the urban routine, as it hosts a range of cafes and restaurants with a breath-taking view.
With endless valley green, riverfront walks, and tranquillity we desperately yearn for, this border prefecture illustrates some of the most beautiful areas of Greece, despite the fact that it is rundown by mosquitos (so much, that even cafeterias have mosquito-repellents available!). But that is the minimum price you pay for relishing the so many benefits this region has to offer. Whatever you are looking for: relaxation, adventure, exploration, food and drink, this place is ready to impress you, so much that you’ll want to return soon.
If you start off with no expectations, you’re going to have a wonderful time.
You’ll find it is true for any sort of travel. The less you anticipate, the more bewildered you become with everything around you. And the more you enjoy your time there. Because you realise you don’t need a lot to have fun.
A walk in the countryside, a coffee by the river, a meal at a cosy restaurant, a couple of drinks with friends. No matter where you are.
You’ll see; you glow differently when you’re actually happy.
When you fall into a river you’re besieged with an innate instinct for survival and you search for ways to keep afloat and to get out. It’s natural. If you stop trying to swim, you’ll sink, and ultimately drown.
This is somewhat true in how you survive in your daily life as well. In the relationships you build and maintain. What holds you down is what makes you drown. And that can range from the negative thoughts in your head, your problems, your stress, the prejudices you carry around, even past traumatic experiences from failed relationships that have left a bitter aftertaste.
When you exit the river, you’re never the same person as the one who entered. Something has washed over you and infiltrated you even if you can’t see it. You’re changed by every experience you have, every person who walks in – and out – of your life. There is a lesson to be gained from everything. As long as we want to acknowledge it.
Seminars on self-help and self-growth are abundant. This was an excerpt from one of them. She was drawn into it because the metaphor was cunning. But, this was nothing new. Theories are so easy to develop. They’re easy to state, even to ourselves. Acting upon them is what is necessary and means something. And that is the hardest to do. Because accepting reality and that some things just happen, is the most difficult of all.
She would give herself completely in someone she felt was worthwhile. She would fall head over heels from the start. And perhaps that was her mistake. That she would put herself on offer willingly, without being asked. Her friend told her that this made the other person greedy, thus provoking his insatiable attitude. But she would do things because she wanted to and felt pleasure in doing them. Because happiness entails making others smile. Because we love the way we want to be loved. It’s the only way she knew.
But when things snapped in an instant for no rational reason, she was the one left heartbroken, wondering why others don’t treat her the same way she would. Why they wouldn’t run to surprise her and make things right. Why they wouldn’t even call to talk and solve the dispute that so abruptly and harshly erased their laughter.
They say “we accept the love we think we deserve”, but that’s not true. Because we don’t always attract what we want, but rather what we need at certain periods in time. We learn something out of every incident we face, regardless of how good or bad it is. We don’t always end up with what we crave. But sometimes we realise that maybe it’s for the best. Sometimes pain is meant to be felt, so we can appreciate serenity when it finally arrives.
There is a saying by Heraclitus: “no man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man”. There is an advantage with flowing rivers: they are never stagnant, never in the same place, always changing, always moving, always somewhere different.
We should be more like the flowing river. Knowing that there is no hurry, we shall get there someday, even if we don’t really know where we’re going. The point is to keep moving.
Remember too that the more the water moves, the more it is oxygenated and the cleaner it looks.
Imagine the same for your own soul and mental health. The more you move about, you travel, you do and see something different, the more alive you’ll feel.
After all, “you drown not by falling into a river, but by staying submerged in it” (Paulo Coelho).
Life is a river of opportunities. We need to learn to flow with the current, for to turn against it takes effort, but the current will carry you if you let it. The river teaches us how to be silent and calm, to go with the flow, to turn the bends and eventually reach the ocean. No matter how long it takes, it’s the journey you must learn to enjoy.
There comes a moment when even the calmest of rivers transform into currents, streaming their way, carrying with them anything around them, like a gush of strong, wet wind flooding its surroundings. Times change. It is the nature of things. Nothing can maintain a steady rhythm, pace or rate perpetually.
There is a need to react, to act, to do something to relieve all those feelings that are suppressed inside. And the longer you keep them locked up, the greater the explosion will be.
Buddha said that “holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned”.
After the blow-out, disaster may have ensued around you, but it is you – the quiet stream – that has lost its composure, that has experienced something out of character, that has been irreversibly scarred. And the more times the river turns into a current and causes floods, the greater and irreparable the wounds will be.
The truth is, however, no matter how many self-esteem and self-improvement books we read, if we are not surrounded by people who understand us, who love us and who share our desire for mutual respect, it is not easy to maintain that much needed calm for long. All people really need is the acknowledgement of their actions and the reciprocation without needing to spell out everything done for someone else every single time. More often than not – and this should be the case – we do things for others because we want to, not because we have to. There is no point to the latter.
It is in the nature of things to fall apart. But it is also in their nature to come back together. The rate depends on us alone and our determination to prefer the calm river to the raging flood.
Salt is considered perhaps the most important element on earth. Among its many uses, salt is essential for seasoning and savouring. Thus, a place that produces salt would be historically important with a huge heritage to deliver.
Such a place is Salzburg. Not just because of the salt, but because it truly is a city of music and arts. With its most famous resident being the musical genius Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Salzburg boasts a plethora of cultural, historical and artistic monuments and many, many, many churches! Here even the cemetery is a must-see place to visit. In fact the whole of the city’s historic centre was named UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997.
Salzburg, one of Austria’s most beautiful cities, developed over the period from the Middle Ages to the 19th century when it was a city-state ruled by a prince-archbishop. Its Gothic art attracted many craftsmen and artists before the city became even better known through the work of the Italian architects Vincenzo Scamozzi and Santino Solari, to whom the centre of Salzburg owes much of its Baroque appearance.
This meeting-point of central and southern Europe features breathtaking panoramic views, with the Hohensalzburg fortress situated high on the hills, as Salzburg’s famous landmark. People from all over the world flock to the city, not only due to Mozart or the famous chocolates that bear his name, but also to see the picturesque settings that formed the background of one of the most famous musicals of all time “The Sound of Music“. There are even specific tours just for this! (Just make sure you board a relatively new bus, otherwise you’ll feel as if you’re on an old carriage off to a Renaissance market place!).
Salzburg is a city that is just as beautiful covered in snow as it is in spring with its blooming flowers and colourful gardens. Its palaces, squares, and pedestrian alleys are a pleasure to walk through and given the warm weather, a boat ride across the Salzach is ideal!
And since you’re in Austria, don’t forget to visit the famous historical Sacher Hotel with its renowned torte with a bit of sahne (fresh cream) and a capuccino! It is mouth-watering and an essential part of a day at one of Europe’s most scenic and idyllic cities!
All photos are mine taken in Salzburg on 02 January 2014.
With Christmas being only a few hours away, everyone is anxiously rushing for their last minute shopping – either the gifts or the food and drink. And there is a general feeling of excitement in the air. With everything closed at around midday of the 24th December, you can sense something important is happening tomorrow (and it’s not just my birthday ;))
Germany is one of the places you want to be during Christmas time. You truly feel like it’s the most wonderful time of the year here, because of all the beautiful Weihnachtsmärkte abundantly found in almost every square and opening in every city. The markets are overlowing with Glühwein, Lebkuchen, Stollen, and chocolates, as well as beer of course, and the famous German sausages cooked fresh for consumption and mystifying the air with the aroma of a German Christmas. Artisans and handscraftsmen find the greatest opportunities to reveal their work and fill the stalls with the delicately prepared ornaments and perfect ideas for gifts!
Germans have many traditions for Christmas. One of them, for example, is that St Nikolaus arrives on the 6th of December bringing children chocolates to sweeten their arrival of Father Christmas later on.
The heart of German Christmas Markets has for long now been in Nürnberg (Nuremberg).
An old city enwrapped within stone walls but as busy as a metropolis, visiting this during the busy Christmas season, and particularly during its last days, is truly a challenge. With all sorts of languages being heard in the streets, and people from all over the world being overcrowded in the pedestrianized streets. But it is definitely worth it.
There is so much to see in Nürnberg.
The beautifully sculptured Church of St. Sebaldus appears in almost every city skyline with visitors gathering at its central square – the crossroads for the numerous festive markets spread throughout the city.
A city that draws you in the deeper you go.
With stunning views being commonplace, and with a horse-drawn carriage never lacking.
There is even a royal castle which offers for an even more beautiful glimpse of the city from above.
The Pegnitz river crosses through the city and provides a magnificent, tranquil atmosphere in which to stroll and take artistic photos.
It causes tourists to flock on its bridges and take souvenirs of their visit to Nürnberg, be it with a simple phone camera, or the latest technology available. The river and its little inhabitants – the ducks, for example– are a demonstration that no matter how commercial a city may get, there still remains another side, the more humane and “real” one.
Whatever the reason behind a visit, finding the time to tour around the city itself and learn a bit of its history, traditions, and culture, will always make you a little bit wiser. And will certainly put a smile on your face and give you a sense of fulfillment.
P.S. All photos included are my own, taken in München and Nürnberg on 22-23 December 2013.