One bit of my recent European trip I haven’t posted much about was our day in Thessaloniki, Greece. I’ll preface this by saying, “mistakes were made,” but they were all our own. I invite other photographers and travelers to take note of our mistakes and don’t be like us.
Greece is to the southwest of Macedonia, and a 3 hour drive. We chartered a private driver to take us there, 90 Euros roundtrip. The driver found a busy street corner where he said he’d pick us up at 5pm, then dropped us off at a different spot near the waterfront by the obvious landmark “The White Tower.” “Why didn’t he just say he’d pick you up at the same spot?”, I hear you ask through the interwebs? I don’t know but that gives a clue to our problems.
Now, my experience in major cities is A. the good stuff is usually close together B. signs are in English C. there are maps available to give clues as to what one is doing. Also, I’m used to having my phone to access information and directions. Thessaloniki has:
a tourist board with no maps
signs that point you towards tourist destinations with no clue as to how far
far less English signs than Macedonia, and no Macedonian anything (Greeks and Macedonians quarrel over the name Macedonia)
no service for my phone, or Wife’s phone which we needed to contact our driver
lots of hills and heat
no beach by the waterfront, just concrete
Rough stuff. Within this scenario, Wife loaded up a backpack with unnecessary items which was ridiculously heavy, especially walking around the hills of the city. I had spent only 4 minutes prior to the trip looking up museums and locales and picking out things to do, not even bothering to draw myself a map on a piece of paper. I had a totally different concept in my head of how simple it would be to get around, communicate, and be picked up.
After a couple hours of walking in circles, we took a cab (Wife presuming it would be an overpriced 40 Euro drive to a zoo when it turned out to be 3 Euros). The Thessaloniki zoo, while entertaining our children as intended, was basically a bear and some chickens and deer- not worth the effort for the journey. It was free though!
We visited some Roman ruins, which were cool to me but of no interest to the kids.
We went to the Archaeological Museum where the kids remained tired in the lobby while Wife and I took turns exploring. I love Greek sculpture, so this was by far the highlight for me. No fun for complaining tired kids.
There was an Expo area, sort of a “World’s Fair” type of place, that I would’ve fully explored had I not been carrying two youngsters with me. Let’s not pretend that we can shoot anything well while saddled with children who just want to be out of the heat, fed, at home.
Finding our driver, or him finding us, the less said the better, but we left the city maybe 20 minutes later than intended, no one died and we didn’t waste money beyond expensive Coke. On the journey back the kids were thrilled to get American toys at the Duty Free shop, and our driver smuggled cigarettes into Macedonia using the old “I’m showing these American tourists around” ploy.
In the end… I chalk it up to a similar experience to any other major city I visit for the first time, where I’m totally a tourist and all the pictures I take are very surface snapshots. Wife and I both agreed that this was the most difficult day of the trip, but at least I got another country stamped on the passport!