On our drive into northern Greece, I see fields of cotton, unexpectedly reminding me of Mississippi. Scenes from childhood and young adulthood flood my mind like a quick movie trailer of my life. Cotton fields connect me to my family's home place and sweet times as a young girl; the scene quickly advanced to my commute to and from one of my favorite clients located in the Arkansas delta during my auditing days. Reflecting on sweet people and memories who have made me who I am today is a nice way to start this week.
The roadsides are lined with a bush covered with orange berries. Called a "fire bush," its color blends perfectly with the terra cotta rooftop tiles that occasionally peek through the trees on the hillsides. I want some fire bushes at my home in Searcy, although I want them only along the border of the property. I'm told they're prickly. Olives, of course, dot the landscape, waving their silvery leaves at us; they look short in the distance, but upon closer inspection, their gnarly brown trunks support newer life that holds the olive fruit and its precious green oil simply waiting for the harvest season. Dark green cypress trees occasionally interrupt them and shoot straight up into the blue sky. As we drive further and further north, pine trees begin to take over, replacing the silver olives. The scattered oleanders give their pink blooms to us. I'm glad they're still showing off. Sunflower fields also share the spotlight. Windmills in the distance twirl atop the gray-brown rocks that form the rugged mountains, getting taller and surrounding us on each side as we drive these winding roads, completing the picture from my seat on our tour bus.
The tour of ancient Delphi is informative and interesting, as always. The best guide in Greece, James, teaches me something new each time I listen. After a light shower - it IS September after all, rainy season in Greece - the sun has decided to shoot its rays through the spotty clouds, giving us a brilliant rainbow that stretches all the way across the sky and disappears behind the trees. I bet there's gold at the end of it. It's been a beautiful day in numerous ways.
After the majority of our learning today (monastery at Meteora, Tomb of King Philip II, Jewish synagogue and ghetto in Veria/Berea) we are back on the road heading to Thessaloniki. We pass trees, vines, and fields growing kiwis, peaches, pomegranate, apples, pears, apricots, and rice. Mountains are in the distance on both sides. We are in the valley that was swamp land in ancient times.
Thessaloniki is Greece's second largest city behind Athens. We start the day in this modern city's center surrounded by bakeries, apartments, and shops already open with owners readying for the day ahead. A statue honoring Aristotle, who King Philip II hired to tutor Alexander, sits to our left. Another statue honoring the Jewish community sobers our thoughts early today. After the population exchange with Turkey when the Muslims left and the Orthodox Christians returned to the city, World War II hit the area, and the Jews were either killed or fled from their homes here running to other lands. Once a significant population percentage, few Jews remain. Past the sea in the distance, Mt. Olympus stands; it's a postcard picture. The ruins of a great arch marking the successful war against the Persians and a rotunda in the distance, give evidence of this being a Roman city - the capital of one fourth of the Roman empire. Buildings of past Turkish baths, a continuation of Roman baths, still stand and may be reopened in the future. An Ottoman mosque is surrounded by scaffolding, indicating its need for repair. A Byzantine church is on our right, while a boy younger than ten smokes a cigarette to our left. This city, with its buildings and people, is quite a mix of images. Up at the top of the city, we shop and take in the panoramic view while eating a sweet treat of pastry with sugary cream - a fresh Thessaloniki specialty. It's time for a ride to Philippi.
These are a few sprinkles on the way. Before the harvest time, grapes hanging heavily from their vines are covered by what looks like long tarps to protect them from the hail storms. The rains come more often in northeastern Greece, unlike where we live in southern Greece whose "rainy season" is predictably September. The mountains are, of course, just as strong today, but they're greener than the gray-brown ruggedness that we usually see; they are covered with trees that hint at turning colors, indicating that autumn just might be approaching. I like 'em. In my book, green is comforting. We drive along the old Macedonian ancient highway that has been traveled for centuries. Mountains surround us, olives sway their silver, and country homes that peek through the green feel inviting with their pretty rooftops and doors. Tunnels are carved into the mountains, shortening our drive. We come out and in a couple of moments see the Aegean Sea on our right. Mountains and sea make a view that would inspire every single day.
DAYS 4 and 5
Oh, it's been a full week! We're all back at our home-away-from-home and are enjoying each other's stories of the climb. I really do think that the students feel as if the campus is their "home" now, even though it's been only three weeks. Coming back to this place is special for so many people, and we've just added quite a number of folks to that list who have special feelings about this part of this world and our campus in particular...makes me proud and happy to be a part of such a wonderful place.