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Answers for Visitors

 

This small informational site was put together by Americans living and studying in Thessaloniki for the benefit of pilgrims visiting Thessaloniki and the Holy Mountain. The page you are viewing now contains visitors' most frequently asked questions. For further information, including useful links, see the Table of Contents to the right. If you have something to contribute, or a correction, please let us know!

 

Stay current! Updates are listed on the What's New page. From there you can arrange to be notified of changes — by email, Google Reader, RSS, MyYahoo!, and several other methods.

 

This guide is by no means complete. Those who have been to Greece before will already know that reliable information is both difficult to come by and constantly changing. The information contained herein represents only the latest information we have. Please also see the disclaimer.

 

If you run into wrong numbers, unhelpful clerks, and a general lack of coherency—well, welcome to Greece! Our advice is to be persistent and assertive—it is not rude. American ideas of 'meekness' and 'politeness' will not get you far here.

 

The guide is meant to answer the most basic and frequently asked questions of pilgrims, for the sanity of those studying here. Since pilgrims are coming here on vacation, it is easy to forget that the Americans living here have full schedules of classes, work, child-rearing, etc. Our hope is that this guide will answer the most basic questions, so that we may use our free moments to help with complications.

 

Enjoy the blessing of your Greek experience, however God works it out for you. It will almost certainly not be exactly as you planned!

 

The current date in Greece:

 

The current time:

 

 


 

Where's the best place to get plane tickets?

 

Orbitz has produced good results, along with Expedia, Kayak, and Smartfares. Currently, tickets range anywhere between say $800-$1,800, depending on the time of year. Remember that Christmas and summer will be expensive times. If you can find a ticket for less than $1000, it's probably a good deal.

 

  • Note: Booking your tickets through a discount online "travel agency" such as those listed above can cause problems if you encounter any difficulties in your plans. Be aware that the airlines regard these companies as full-fledged travel agencies, and thus they will not deal directly with you, the customer, in the event of a problem (e.g., you need to change the dates of your flights). Instead, you must go to these companies, which are usually understaffed by poorly trained, poorly paid workers (thus their cheap travel agent fees). They then must contact the airline on your behalf—this middleman can cause all sorts of problems, as one personal experience has made all too painfully clear (and similar stories abound). Therefore, our suggestion would be to use these sites as a guide to find the tickets you want, and then contact the airline directly and book your flight. Often, the price is the same. Plus, if you have any difficulties, we've found that airlines are generally easy to work with. Also note that these online sites may book itineraries for you which include unrealistic or impossible amounts of time between planes, and because of the way they book the flights, this often leaves you no recourse. Instead, you must simply buy a new ticket at the airport. If you had bought directly from the airline, however, you'd be covered.

 

Alternative routes: For cheaper and more flexible travel arrangements consider taking a major carrier to a hub in Western/Central Europe (London, Berlin, Prague, Rome, etc.) and then a low cost airline to Thessaloniki. RyanairEasyjet, Germanwings, Hapag-Lloyd Express, among others are a good place to start. For a full listing of routes and airlines look at the Low Cost Airline Guide.

 

Alternative airports to fly to are Sofia (Bulgaria) and Athens, both of which demand a 5-7 hour commute via train or bus to Thessaloniki. From the Athens airport, take the subway to the center of the city (a 1 hour trip). To take a train, continue on to Larissa Station (red line); to get a bus, head to Omonia Square or the port of Piraeus (green line). There are multiple trains and buses daily.  (You can find more information about Athens on our Visiting Athens page.) From the Sofia airport, you can take a taxi to the main bus terminal, where daily buses are available (Note: Schedules in Bulgaria often refer to Thessaloniki as "Solun."). It should be mentioned that, while it was once possible to take a train from Sophia to Thessaloniki, all international train services to and from Greece were discontinued in February of 2011.

 

Luggage: Be aware of weight restrictions on your luggage. These are fairly generous for itineraries booked from America to Europe, but are significantly more limited for travel originating and terminating within Europe. If you are checking your luggage all the way through to Greece (or to Sofia if you are taking a bus for the last leg of your journey), the more generous allowances will apply, even if you have a layover within Europe. But if you have bought your tickets from America to somewhere in Europe, and then from that place to Greece, independently of each other—that is, if you will have to pick up and re-check your luggage inside Europe—the lower, European allowances will apply to your second flight and you should expect to be fined if you are overweight. This can be very expensive, even if you are only overweight by a little.

 

Incidentally, if you will have extra room in your luggage, Americans here always appreciate offers to ferry over to them things that cannot be found here. If you are willing to do this, please let people know a little early if possible, since they may need a week or two to arrange to have whatever it is shipped to you.

 

What should I bring?

 

So glad you asked—there's a whole seperate page about it.

 

Can you recommend an affordable place to stay in Thessaloniki?

 

A frequently recommended choice is the Hotel Orestias Kastorias. They have an English website. The hotel has a great location in the center of the city, in a relatively quiet little nook. It is right in between St. Demetrios Church and the Ancient Roman Agora—about 200 feet to either one! The prices are very reasonable. Their prices, as of June 2010, are 39 euro/night for a single, 49 euro/night for a double, and 60 euro/night for a triple. (Note: There is a considerable price spike for the month of September, which is true for all the hotels in the area, because of a big International Trade Fair.) The hotel was recently renovated, and we were impressed during our visit there in June 2010 to collect updated information. There are 37 rooms, each with personal air conditioning and TV. There is free Wifi internet throughout the hotel. There is a computer and printer in the lobby, with internet, available for free to all guests. They currently do not offer breakfast, but they have free coffee, tea, and snacks throughout the day. They are willing to discount their price for extended stays (i.e. beyond 3 nights, at least). Send them an email with the dates you'd like to stay and ask what is the best price they can offer you.

 

Another option used in the past by American visitors is the Hotel Pella, which also has an English website. This is not quite as conveniently located as the Orestias Kastorias, but still within reasonable walking distance of everything. They advertise rates of 36 euro (single) and 52 euro (double), though they too have been known to agree to discounts for extended stays.

 

If you are interested in renting an apartment (and thus having a kitchen and room for up to 8 people), check out this website, which has rooms starting at 90 euro/night. There is also a one-time 30 euro cleaning charge at the end of your stay.

 

Other suggestions can be found in the Lonely Planet: Greece travel guide: its recommendations are usually reliable. Otherwise, search online, for example at Hotels.com or Orbitz, or at a Greece-specific site. Please note: the "GYHA Hostel" (on Alexis Svolou St.) is permanently closed, which, until recently, meant that there were no hostels in Thessaloniki. However, we recently discovered that a new hostel has opened, as of November 2009, next to the Rotunda. The location could not be more central, and opens directly onto the famous Rotunda. It is also 100 yards away from the famous Kamara, or Arch of Galerius.

 

The only disadvantage of this location is that it may be somewhat less than desirable at night. But that certainly does not mean it is not safe. Thessaloniki is a very safe city, provided you exercise common sense. It means simply that you may not have the wine-and-cheese crowd hanging around there at night.

 

The hostel is known as RentRooms-Thessaloniki, and the Backpack Cafe is attached to it. Their website is in English, and you can make your reservations online. These were the prices I was quoted in person in June 2010:

 

Single person in a dorm room (male dorm room has 8 beds; female room has 6): 19 euro

Single room: 39 euro

Double room: 49 euro

Triple room: 65 euro

Four-person room: 79 euro

 

All prices include breakfast, and all rooms have their own bathroom. Our recommendation would be to use one of the above-listed hotels if you are looking for a room, but if you are on your own and on a budget, the 19 euro/night option at this hostel seems worth a try. As always, please give us your feedback so that we can improve this page for future visitors.

 

If you are feeling adventurous and are prepared to exercise sensible caution, you might find a good limited-budget solution via CouchSurfing, which allows you to contact local residents who who are willing to put up visitors without charge in order to meet people from other places and cultures.

 

Hopefully, others will in time add further suggestions from personal experience. Please consider posting your own experience here after you return!

 

A note: If you stay with an American student who lives in Thessaloniki, you might consider making a donation to the cost of their studies. The cost of living here is quite high and job opportunities are slim-to-none, so all the Americans struggle to make ends meet. (Of course, this is just a thoughtful gesture, not a necessity! If someone offers to host you, all they expect is that you'll try to be a good guest.) A similar suggestion applies to spending a night at a monastery: small financial contributions are appreciated, though certainly not required.

 

How do I come into town from the airport?

 

It is of course easiest to do this by taxi, and there are always plenty available. It should cost between twelve and fifteen euro for a single passenger, and no more than twenty for a cab-full, including luggage, to get to the center of town (say, the Arch on Egnatia Street). There is also a bus, Number 78, that runs from the airport into town every twenty or thirty minutes, day and night. It has a limited number of stops, the most central one being at Aristotle Square.

 

What sights should I see in Thessaloniki?

 

See the church of St. Demetrios, of course, which houses the saint's relics, and the Cathedral of St. Gregory Palamas, which houses his. Agia Sophia, Thessaloniki's homage to the Great Church, is where St. Gregory preached the Orthodox teaching regarding the uncreated energies of God to the city's faithful. In the central church of the nearby monastery of St. Theodora are the relics of two Thessalonian saints, Sts. Theodora and David. Those with an interest in Byzantine history, in addition to exploring the city's many Byzantine-era structures, will want to visit the excellent Museum of Byzantine History. A number of points of interest are identified on our City Map page.

 

The public bus system has recently added a bus that makes a circuit around 16 sites in downtown Thessaloniki. The bus begins and ends from the White Tower on the waterfront, and completes the circuit every 50-60 minutes. A ticket costs 2 euro and is good for 24 hours, and you can get on and off as often as you like. From June-September, the bus runs every hour from 8:00 AM until 9:00 PM. From October-May, it runs 9:00-4:00. The bus seems to go under the number "50" and is painted primarily blue with designs inspired by the city. On the back, it says in English "Thessaloniki on the Go." An online map of the number "50" bus route as well as additional information can be found here.

 

We liked Thessaloniki before it was cool to like Thessaloniki. Those of you just catching up might want to refer to a 2007 New York Times article, which christened Thessaloniki "the Seattle of the Balkans" and explored the local artistic and cultural scene. Then you can pretend you knew all along. More recently, National Geographic named Thessaloniki one of the top "Best Trips" of 2013, stating that Salonika is "a world away from chaotic Athens" and one of the "last urban seafronts in southern Europe not hemmed in by a giant marina."

 

In addition to our City Map you will find links to various maps of the city on our Links page. A visitor has created a video noting landmarks in a 360˚ view from the White Tower on the seaside. You are welcome to contribute your own!

 

When are things open?

 

In short: Whenever they feel like it.

 

Seriously, though, this is a complicated question. One thing is for sure, though, you've left the world of 24-hour Walmarts and convenience stores back in the US. Here, the general pattern is something like this:

 

Mondays, Wednesdays: 8:00 AM - 2:00 PM

 

Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays: 8:00 AM - 2:00 PM, 6:00 - 9:00 PM

 

Saturdays: More variable, but the law requires most places to close by 8:00 PM.

 

Sundays: Most places closed, by law.

 

One exception to this pattern is chain-stores (especially foreign-owned ones). Supermarkets, for example, typically keep longer hours—though they too are closed on Sundays—and do not close at midday.

 

If your interest includes the many ancient churches in Thessaloniki, the pattern is somewhat different. Usually, the church will open rather early for Orthros (morning prayers)—say at 7 AM. They will close some time between noon and 1:00 PM. They will open again for Vespers (evening prayers) around 6:00 PM and remain open until maybe 8:00 or 9:00 PM. (Agios Demitrios, however, is usually open all day.)

 

Unfortunately, many visitors on a vacation schedule will find it difficult to get out and about too early in the morning, so they will not start until maybe 10:00 or 11:00 AM. Then by the time they get their bearings, everything is closing. Not knowing the schedule, they then spend several hours wandering around the city in the heat (and for those visiting from June to September, this is an important consideration) only to find that every church they manage to find is inexplicably closed.

 

Fortunately for you, you have this guide! We would therefore suggest something like this: Try to get up and out as early as possible. This also has the advantage of being the coolest time of the day. From 1:00 to 6:00, you can then either go back to your place to rest, find a place to eat, or go visit one of the two excellent museums (that is, Ancient and Byzantine). You can then try to hit more churches in the evening, especially the bigger ones. (Tiny ones may not have regular services, and therefore do not reopen in the evening for Vespers.)

 

How do I get around in Thessaloniki?

 

There are really three options here.

 

1. Rental car. You get a better price the longer you rent the car—if you rent for, say, less than two weeks, expect to pay about 35-40 euro a day. If you're renting for longer than that, you may get something like 30-35 euro a day. Be aware that agencies rent stickshift cars almost exclusively. If you want an automatic, and one is available, you will often have to pay more for it. Beware: driving here is NOT like in the US. People have told us, straight-faced, for example, that stop signs are optional. The roads are chaos and there's no parking in the city. You drive at your own peril.

 

If you decide to rent a car, there are several variables among the car rental agencies that you will want to be clear on.

 

    • International Drivers License: Is it required?
    • Insurance: Is it included in the price quoted or extra? You should expect, at a minimum, for the insurance to cover everything that is not your fault. If you are at fault, you may have a 350-500 euro deductible—obviously, the lower, the better.
    • Is more than one driver permitted? If so, does it cost extra?
    • Are you allowed to take the car on a ferry boat? (This is important if you are planning on visiting any islands.)
    • Does it include unlimited kilometers?

 

Note, additionally, that it is difficult to take the car outside of Greece. If you want to do so, you will have to obtain a special green insurance card which should cost you around 100-150 euro. Some car rental agencies will get this for you, provided they have several weeks advance notice. Many do not offer the service.

 

If you want to secure a car rental reservation before coming to Greece, try using a website like Travelocity or Car Rental Express, a European car rental comparison website which includes local companies. Note that the airport code is SKG. If you wait until you arrive in Thessaloniki, go to Angelaki Street (near the Kamara, or Arch of Galerius), where perhaps ten car rental agencies can be found side-by-side. It seems that these local agencies frequently offer better amenities—better insurance, no International Drivers License requirement, etc. With the online rental options, it may be difficult to get specific answers to your questions (like the ones enumerated above), possibly because they are hiding added restrictions and extra charges for insurance and additional drivers.

 

You should pay special attention to what size engine you are getting in your car. The smallest (and cheapest) is an 800cc engine. For comparison purposes, an average motorcycle in the US has about 600cc. Avoid these cars if you plan on driving anything other than downhill. The next step up is slightly better—1000cc. If you only have one or maybe two people in the car, and plan on doing only city driving, this may suffice. The next step is 1200cc. This is typically a Hyundai Getz, Fiat Punto, or Nissan Micra. As of June 2007, you can expect a 1200cc car to run you around 36-38 euro a day. A 1000cc car will cost around 33-35 euro a day. As mentioned previously, you may save a few euro per day at a local agency if you rent for longer than 2 weeks. The latest dollar-euro exchange rates are available online.

 

[We realize that these prices are rather high as compared to the U.S., but they're actually quite fair considering how expensive it is to own and maintain a car here in Greece. With all the registration fees, insurance, maintenance costs, wear and tear, etc., we calculate that it costs a private car owner--apart from gasoline--about $0.10 per kilometer to own and operate a car here.]

 

Finally, calculate in your costs that gasoline is more expensive here—for comparison purposes, approximately $7.00 USD per gallon. However, since, as we mentioned, the engines are relatively small as compared to the U.S., you can get decent gas mileage, so calculate something like $0.15 per kilometer.

 

Rental cars can generally be picked up and returned at the airport, train station, or the rental agency office. For an extra fee, they will arrange for other locations.

 

A report:

 

"In July 2007, I found the following deal: A 1200cc Nissan Micra for 6 days, with multiple drivers, unlimited kilometers, and the best insurance deal that could be found (where you only pay if the accident is YOUR fault, in which case you pay only a 350 euro deductible)—for 36.67 euro per day. This was from Avance Rent-A-Car, located on Angelaki Street, near the Kamara [that is, the Arch of Galerius] in Thessaloniki. The customer service there was very friendly and efficient, and all spoke English. Their phone number is 30-2310-243-0000. You can also email an employee named George Tsioumas at georgetsioumas@yahoo.gr."

 

2. Taxi. This is a great option, if you have the money. If you are planning just to stay in and around Thessaloniki (i.e. no long trips), taxis make much more sense than a rental car. There are plenty of taxis (they are all blue in Thessaloniki) and they are cheap compared to the US. They do work a little differently than in America, however. Sometimes it is just the same: you get in, state your destination, and then pay what's on the meter at the end of the ride. Other times, however, the driver will refuse to take you where you want to go, perhaps just because it would mean having to point the cab in the opposite direction. Sometimes he may not turn on the meter, or he may—after picking you up—stop mid-trip and look for other fares to cram in with you. (Unfortunately, if he does pick up someone else, this doesn't mean you split the cost with the other person—each pays the full price. That's a bit strange, but the prices are still low enough that you're getting a good deal.) Now, of course, if he doesn't turn on the meter or he's splitting the ride, then you (as a tourist) have no way of knowing if the price he gives you at the end is 'fair.' In the experience of the Americans here, however, Thessaloniki's cab drivers are generally honest. If you try to stop several cabs, and they seem to be waving you in one direction or another as they drive by, that usually means there is a taxi stand in that direction, and they want you to go get a cab from there.

 

The local taxi company Alpha Levkos Pyrgos can be reached at 2310.214.900 and 2310.218.600. Another, Euro Taxi, can be reached at 2310.866.866 and 2310.511.855. Operators generally speak enough English. If you call a taxi, there is an additional fee, as there is if you schedule one in advance (each additional fee is less than two euro). If you call for a taxi immediately and one is not available, your request will not be placed in a queue: you'll be told to call back repeatedly until one is.

 

3. Bus. Of course, buses are by far the most economical means of getting around. Inasmuch as this is Greece, however, there are no bus schedules and no reliable bus maps. As with most everything here, you have to just know how it works. This makes matters difficult for tourists, but again, as is also usual here, people are generally very friendly and helpful. Ask someone at the bus stop, or on the bus, or the bus driver, for help. (Drivers are usually very knowledgeable.) You can buy tickets at many newsstands—they are red and come in books of ten (0.80 each). You can also buy them from a machine once you're on the bus, but the price is slightly higher and you will not be refunded if you don't have exact change. Every time you get on a bus, if you've bought your ticket before getting on, you insert it into a small orange box, which stamps the ticket with the bus number and time. (Occasionally, an official will randomly get on a bus and ask to see everyone's stamped ticket, fining people without one on the spot. Note that student fares are only for students of Greek universities who have their student discount passes with them—if you use a student ticket but don't have the pass with you, you'll be fined.)

 

Bus stops frequently have a little shelter with a bench and the name of the stop written on it. Next to it, there's a small blue and white sign that lists the bus numbers that stop there, and there may be an electronic display indicating when the next buses will arrive. Some stops are indicated by nothing but the small blue and white sign.

 

4. Scooter or motorcycle. This is probably a bad idea in city driving conditions, unless you happen to be stuntman. With a death-wish. However, scooters and motorcycles can be a pleasant way of getting around on the islands. Motorcycle rentals will naturally require a valid US motorcycle license—unfortunately, many scooter-rental operations are beginning to require them as well. (Some do not, or will bend the rule if they like you.) If you're inclined to get licensed, a hard-riding visitor suggests finding out if your state allows private instructors (in particular, ones offering the Motorcycle Safety Foundation's "Basic RiderCourse") to perform the road-test portion of your evaluation. If so, the process will be much less of a hassle for you: such courses take only a couple of days to complete, and you won't have to provide your own bike as you probably would at a DMV.

 

What about tours or tour guides?

 

Unfortunately, we do not know of any local companies that offer tours of Thessaloniki. Most of the tours are organized somewhere else (such as Athens) and include a brief stop in Thessaloniki. 

 

We have tried on this site to make it easier for visitors to find their own way around Thessaloniki and northern Greece, but it can still be quite difficult, and many visitors would like to have a guide, both to help them navigate and to provide information.

 

If you are interested in this, it may be possible to arrange for one of the Americans living here and studying theology to guide you. The pool of Americans here is quite small, so please plan as far ahead as possible.

 

As we mentioned earlier, the cost of living here is quite expensive and work/scholarship opportunities are minimal for foreigners. Therefore, you may want to consider making a donation toward your guide’s theological studies, which are in service to the Church. 

 

When determining an amount, you might want to consider the normal cost of day tours in Greece, plus entrance fees and meal expenses. For between one and four people, guide costs range from 50 to 100 euro per day. For larger groups, the range is 150 to 300 euro. (Multi-day tours are typically discounted.) 

 

It is also possible that we could find you an American tour guide/translator for less than a full day. In that case, you should consider a donation of around 10 euro per hour.

 

It is possible to arrange for an American to provide transportation for you and thus act as a driver/tour guide/translator for popular trips to such places as Ormylia, Souroti, Meteora, etc. This is particularly helpful because these places can be difficult to get to on one's own, and renting your own car can be a time-consuming hassle. In this case, you should remember that gasoline alone costs approximately 17 euro cents per kilometer. Thus, a trip to Ormylia, which is about 100 kilometers each way, would cost 34 euro just in gasoline. A typical visit there, including the 1.5 hour drive each way, could take about 5 hours. Thus, all together, you may want to consider reimbursing your driver/tour guide something like 90 euro for the whole trip, including the use/rental of a small car, which can take up to 3 other people (besides the driver/tour guide). It is also possible to get a minivan that can take up to 6 extra people, but this involves an extra cost.

 

A trip to Elder Paisios' grave at the monastery in Souroti is about a 30 minute drive each way. A typical trip there, including driving, could last 2-3 hours. In that case, you should consider reimbursing your driver something like 40 euro.

 

A trip to Meteora is about 3.5 hours driving each way. It is possible to do it in a single very long day, but spending one night is also a good option, as you have the advantage of seeing the beautiful sunrise and sunset. In this case, gasoline alone costs about 80 euro. Factor in also the number of hours you would need the tour guide and the cost of the car.

 

It is also possible to arrange for an American to guide you and translate for you on a trip to Mt. Athos. They can also help you with the paperwork and planning your trip, which makes the process much easier. In this case, you should consider a donation of something like 100 euro for the planning and the first day, and something like 50 euro for each additional day.

 

If you are interested, please use the contact form with the dates of your trip and what you are interested in seeing in Thessaloniki and northern Greece, and we will try to find someone to guide you. We can also help you with arranging somewhere for you to stay (besides the hotels mentioned above), renting you a car, and renting you a cell phone with a Greek phone number. Please mention in your email if any of this interests you.

 

What do you recommend in terms of phones? How do cell phones and payphones work?

 

Landlines: Payphones do not take cash, but work only with prepaid phone cards, which are easily available at any of the many newsstands. (A few payphones will also take credit cards.) It's a good idea to buy one of these cards upon arrival. Ask for a "telekarta" — the smallest denomination available is 4 euro. You can then use any payphone. Simply pick up the receiver, insert the card (chip first), then dial the number. Always dial the "area code" (i.e. in Thessaloniki, 2310), even for local calls. Just don’t forget your card in the phone after you hang up! There are also American-style calling cards, with pin numbers, available. Some brands will be cheaper than the "telekarta" for local calls (especially to mobile phones), though it is hard to know which one is best. (A reasonable choice in the past has been the "TalkTalk" card.) There are cards that are particularly good for overseas calls to one or another country—if you are at a kiosk with a wide selection, the owner may have some insight on this. As of this writing (March 2007), the best card for the US seems to be the "Unity" card. (Note that not every kiosk will carry every brand.)

 

If you have a calling card from an American telco such as AT&T, find out what access code you will have to dial in Greece to be able to use it. (For AT&T cards, dialing the toll-free number 00 800 1311 from within Greece will patch you through to the AT&T system, at which point you dial your access number just as if you were in the US.) You might also want to see if your bank (and health insurance, etc) has a number that is toll-free from Greece. (The Citibank US number, for example, is 00 800 123 162.)

 

(While we're on the subject of phones: If you have access to a high-speed internet connection, consider using VoipDiscount for your long-distance calls. It's a great option. You can make calls using your internet connection for only 5 cents per call, for up to 1 hour of talking.)

 

Cell Phones: Depending on the length and purpose of your visit, you may also want to consider a cell phone. You can get a pre-paid phone with a good amount of credit for thirty or forty euro. You can also use a phone you already own with a Greek chip, if you have the right kind of phone. There is much more information about all this on our cell phone tips page.

 

How do I obtain Internet access?

 

Don’t expect your hotel to have Internet, even if it claims that it does. Your only reliable choice is to go to Internet cafes, which have fairly high-speed connections for about 2-3 euro/hour. They’re not exactly on every block, but you should be able to locate one within walking distance.

 

Some have accommodations for those who wish to use their own laptops; but many do not. The cafes' main use seems to be for teenagers playing computer games.

 

If you simply need to check your e-mail or read the news, you might consider visiting one of the many Starbucks cafes located in and around the city center. With every Starbucks purchase, you are provided with an access code to the store's free WiFi network. You can find the WiFi access code (as well as the code to the lock-protected restrooms) on the bottom of your receipt of purchase.  

 

What about money? How expensive is Thessaloniki? How much should I expect to spend per day?

 

More than you think.

 

It's difficult to say, because it depends on numerous factors. As a ballpark, a fair estimate is that, aside from hotel expenses, you could easily spend 30 euro a day (for one person). (That is around $40 as of this writing, in December 2010, but these things change, so you should check the latest exchange rates.) Many travel guides suggest $100-$120 a day as a conservative figure, which would be more like $60 a day after hotel expenses. If this seems high to you — well, it is. And while it is true that you could get by on much less, our guess is that you probably did not fly all the way to Greece to sit in your hotel room all day and eat only stale bread. Getting around to see the many sights will cost money, as will food and the requisite coffees.

 

Regarding cash and credit cards: In many ways, Greece is about fifty years behind the US. One example of this is that it is still primarily a cash society. Some places do accept credit cards, but it is unusual. Additionally, your credit card company will probably charge you a hefty fee for converting — you should check with your credit card company on this before you leave. Likewise, there will usually be a fee for using an ATM.

 

One choice, if you can plan ahead, is to obtain cash in euro from your bank in the US. Many banks will do this for their customers, but you should give them 2 to 6 weeks lead time. But note carefully what exchange rate they are giving you. We recently noticed that Bank of America was charging an outrageous and usurious $0.14 on every euro they gave out (i.e., the exchange rate was $1.35=1 euro, but they were charging $1.49). In this case, you would do just as well at the airport, which is notoriously expensive. As a point of comparison, you should be quite pleased if you can find an exchange rate that adds only 3 cents.

 

If you do not bring euros with you, the best option is to bring cold hard American cash with you. Then you can go to one of several currency exchange stores, all conveniently located next to one another at the top of Aristotle Square (i.e. at the north end, furthest from the water). The stores are located on or near the north side of the major road of Egnatia, just to the north and west of Aristotle Square. They're actually next to a historic church worth seeing in its own right, Panagia Chalkeon, which is sunk down below street level and is surrounded by palm trees and other flora (this will stand out in the concrete jungle that is Thessaloniki). To be specific, one store that we've had success with is: Thireos Money Exchange, located at 17 Chalkeon Street. Their phone number is: 2310-244-761. But there are many others just around the corner of Egnatia. You can compare their rates and fees for yourself.

 

You can also use an ATM, but call your bank and inquire about their fees and exchange rates. Also, call your bank before you leave and tell them that you will be traveling, so that their security alarms do not go off when they see your card being used in another country. (If that happens, you won't be able to use your card at all until you get in touch with the bank to explain, and there could be a significant delay on their end.)

 

  • Several American visitors have experienced frustrations with their ATM and credit cards. Despite having told their banks that they would be in Greece, these visitors came to discover, as they went to an ATM in desperate need of money, that their company was blocking their use here anyway. It wasn't until they called their banks/credit card companyagain, from Greece, that the company authorized withdrawals. So be sure to emphasize your need to be able to use ATMs when you first call, and be prepared for problems by carrying the customer service or security department phone number with you. (It should, of course, be a number you can easily call from abroad; that is, not a toll-free American number but a regular American number or a special line for Greece.)

 

Let us reemphasize that credit cards are not widely accepted. In 2009, a visitor came to make a purchase of several thousand euro in church vestments and furniture, and he was shocked when an employee of the company he was buying from—a large, well-established company accustomed to orders totaling thousands of euro—only looked at him with a blank stare when he asked if he could use his credit card. This began a multi-day adventure trying to find a bank that would give him a cash advance. Although the American credit card company assured him that this would be no problem, no bank manager—at least at the first 9 banks he tried—would give it to him, claiming that this was "impossible."

 

Finally, after stopping to venerate Saints David and Theodora of Thessaloniki in the center of town, he tried one more bank and had instant success. (That bank, for the record, was the Aristotle Square branch of Ethniki Trapeza.) Of course, there was absolutely no reason that the other banks should have denied him—but welcome to Greece. The lesson, then, is to anticipate problems with electronic means of payment. If you want to avoid hassles and wasting time, then, the best course of action is to bring and use cash, either euro or dollar.

 

How do I make a pilgrimage to Mount Athos?

 

There are several steps you must take to organize your visit, and a number of things we think it'd be helpful for you to know. You'll find it all on our Visiting Athos page.

 

What about other pilgrimages outside Thessaloniki?

 

We recommend consulting the book Evlogeite! for information on the several places outside of the city to which one might make pilgrimages. There is a page on this site about visiting one such location, the Holy Monastery of the Annunciation in Ormylia.

 

Another popular choice is the Monastery of St. John the Theologian in the village of Souroti, a women's monastery founded by Elder Paisios. It is a popular pilgrimage site because the Elder's grave is there; it also has a rather large relic of St. Arsenios the Cappadocian, to whom the main church is dedicated. Many pilgrims take a small bit of the dirt from the Elder's grave as a blessing. If you ask the nun watching the grave, she may even give you a small plastic bag for it.

 

The monastery is easily accessible by car; it is about 30 minutes outside Thessaloniki to the east. You'll take the road to Halkidiki until you see signs for "Waterland" and "Hotel Heaven." Take this exit and then take an immediate right, which will send you in a loop. When you come to a T in the road, turn left and go straight for about 10 minutes. You'll eventually see the monastery up on the hill to your right. Look carefully for the sign marking the entrance to your right; it is easy to miss. 

 

You can also take a bus from Thessaloniki, but be aware that this could easily take 2 hours. First, you will take Bus #2 or #8 (and possibly also 3, 5, 6, but we're not sure) to IKEA. At the IKEA terminal, you will switch to Bus #87. This is not a busy route so you may have to wait a bit until the next one leaves. Ask someone on the bus or the bus driver to let you know when to get off for the monastery. There is a stop right in front of the road leading up the hill to the monastery. You'll just follow that winding road all the way up the hill. It will probably take at least 15 minutes to walk.

 

It is possible to arrange for an American living here to provide transportation and act as your driver/tour guide/translator. A trip to Elder Paisios' grave at the monastery in Souroti is about a 30 minute drive each way. A typical trip there, including driving, could last 2-3 hours. In that case, you should consider reimbursing your driver approximately 40 euros for the car, gasoline, and his/her time.

 

Finally, you could talk to a taxi driver or call a taxi company to get an idea how much they would charge to take you there.

 

The monastery's schedule is as follows (April 2010):

 

Monday-Thursday and Saturday (Closed Fridays)

November-March: 10:00 AM – 1:00 PM, 3:00 – 6:00 PM

April-October: 10:00 AM – 1:00 PM, 4:00 – 7:00 PM

 

Sundays

4:00 – 7:30 AM

9:00 AM – 12:00 PM

4:00 – 7:00 PM

Note: You cannot enter between 7:30-9:00 AM on Sundays, i.e. once the Liturgy has started.

 

Sundays after a Vigil

10:00 AM – 12:00 PM

4:00 – 7:00 PM

 

Dress: Women should wear long skirts. (Skirts to borrow are available at the entrance to put over pants.)

Men should wear pants.

 

Their phone number is (30) 23960-41320 (only dial the 30 if you are outside of Greece). They seem to only answer the phone between 10-1 and even then you may need to be persistent.

 

It is possible for women to stay the night there, but you will have to plan ahead for this. As with everything in Greece, it is better if you can have someone here arrange this for you, but you can also try to arrange it by telephone.

 

 

What if I become sick or injured while in Thessaloniki?

 

Find out before you leave if your insurance will cover care at Saint Luke's in Panorama (a suburb of Thessaloniki) and the Interbalkan Medical Center. These are private hospitals: trust us that they are the places you want to be for both inpatient and outpatient care if you are injured or seriously ill. In April, 2010, a newspaper headline announced “Eight in 10 fear state hospitals, poll shows”; and, indeed, stories of severe neglect at public hospitals here are legion. One woman writes of her husband's care after a brain tumor operation in mid-2008:

 

"Immediately after the operation, he was back in the ward with 7 other people plus visitors. My two sons were left to look after him with instructions not to let the numbers on the monitor go above certain numbers. A couple of times there was absolute panic as the numbers did go up - only to find out that the monitor was malfunctioning. There was no way we could find a nurse that time of the night."

 

Other accounts, some of which we could share ourselves, are actually even worse. The emergency number for an ambulance in Greece is 166, but if you call it you will be taken to a public hospital no matter what you want. The better move, if you have the insurance for it, is to call the Interbalkan Center, which has an emergency room, at (+30) 2310.400.000 and request an ambulance to take you there. (If they have a backlog of patients, however, you may need to go with 166.)

 

  • It is always good to have someone accompany you to the hospital, especially someone who speaks Greek if you do not. At a public hospital, you may well want someone to stay with you around-the-clock (and, if you require regular or urgent assistance from someone specifically trained in nursing, you may want, like the woman quoted above, to hire private a nurse).

 

Some hospitals and doctors here may participate in your American insurance company's plan, such that in theory you should not have to pay more than your normal out-of-pocket expenses. However, confusion can reign in practice, so regardless of your insurance coverage, plan on having to pay upfront for care, including making a substantial deposit if you must be admitted as an inpatient, and be sure to travel with a credit card that will have at least a few thousand dollars available for such an emergency. Be sure to check with your insurer to find out under what circumstances you will need to receive pre-authorization for care, and what number you can call from abroad in order to do so. You should also learn what documentation may be required of you on your return.

 

  • Before you leave, be sure to have the doctor (or if he does not speak English, a doctor or nurse who does) write down his name, and your prognosis, prescriptions, and instructions in English as well as Greek.

 

Lastly, you might also consider a service such as Air Ambulance Card. This is a membership plan that, for $200 per year, will provide medical evacuation to any hospital you choose in the US or Canada, as long as you are an inpatient at both ends and require continuous medical care. The $200 plan covers trips of up to ninety days; for longer trips, you must buy a more expensive membership. (Note that this covers the costs of your transportation bed-to-bed, but not your care at either hospital — for that you will need insurance.)

 

Can you recommend any websites or books that would be helpful?

 

Lonely Planet: Greece (in its 8th edition as of mid-2009) is indispensable and can be had for under $20. Mother Nektaria McLees' enormous book Evlogeite! A Pilgrim’s Guide to Greece is also excellent for the Orthodox traveler. (The lowest price for a new copy seems to be on Amazon.com: about $39, including shipping.)

 

As to websites, we invite you to check out our Links section.

 

What's the best way to learn Greek?

 

Some have found Rosetta Stone useful—though it is expensive and not everyone's cup of tea, so you should test it out before committing. (Even better: your local or school library systems may offer you free access to Rosetta Stone's online version, even from your computer at home. Check out your institution's website or ask.) Future Greek students should consider Routledge's fantastic Greek: an Essential Grammar of the Modern Language, which is just what it claims to be, providing a systematized and detailed explanation of Modern Greek that is missing from the textbooks here. Also, the extensive Greek-language course developed by the Foreign Service Institute is available for free online in MP3 format.

 

Both short-term travellers and language students will find Oxford's very small, bi-directional mini-dictionary useful—it is the best of this category several Americans here have seen. Lastly, Lonely Planet produces an excellent Greek phrasebook to help you survive while getting started. For larger dictionaries, it's hard to go wrong with Oxford—many of us have used their "pocket" (actually book-sized) Greek-English/English-Greek dictionary, and their Greek-English Learner's Dictionaryis a great next step (there is also a well-reviewed English-to-Greek version).

 

There don't seem to be any portable electronic dictionaries aside from those made by Ectaco—which makes impressive claims. But a stern return policy makes their high prices all the more problematic, paticularly since there seem to be no reviews of their Greek dictionaries, which can only be tried out at a few Ectaco stores. If anyone has experience with Ectaco's Greek dictionaries, or knows of other electronic-dictionary options, we'd like to know.

 

Finally, we are not aware of any intensive Modern Greek program in America at this time. The UCLA Classics department offered such a course in the Summer of 2007—at this time it is unclear if it will be offered again. You can check at the Classics department website. You'll find any available offerings under "Greek"—don't forget that the course title should specify Modern Greek!

 

Contributors: add another Q&A here!

 

Chose "Heading 1" from the format menu for the big, bold question, and choose "normal" from the same menu for the answer text. (Please leave a blank line between the question and the answer.) If you have a large amount of information on a topic, feel free to make a whole new page for it (cf. "What should I bring," above) and just link to that (or ask someone how to do this). Then tell us about your changes using the Update Descrption Page. Thanks! 

 

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