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Thessaloniki

Saga Sapphire blog - Captains' blogs

21st April, 2015

This morning we arrived at the pilot station at 7:00am. After the pilot boarded we were soon entering the port and approaching our berth. The water level along the berth is too shallow for Saga Sapphire, so we ordered some pontoons to be put in place which kept the ship in the deeper water and allowed for safe tying up. The ship was safely moored “downtown” at 8:00am.

Thessaloniki, also known as Salonica, is one of the biggest Greek seaports and one of the largest ports in the Aegean Sea Basin. With a population of over a million in the greater metropolitan area, Thessaloniki is a modern city that is a gateway to the region of the Balkans and south-eastern Europe, as well a cultural and commercial hub. It is the second-largest city in Greece, after Athens, and one of the oldest in Europe. It was founded around 315BC, on the site of prehistoric settlements dating back to the second millennium BC. It is named after the sister of Alexander the Great. Many consider the White Tower to be the symbol of Thessaloniki. This 15th century structure was used as a Turkish barracks for many years. When the city was captured by the Greeks during the Balkan War of 1912, the tower was whitewashed as a symbolic gesture of cleansing and acquired its present name, although the passage of time has now weathered the colour to a pale grey.

Shortly after the officials boarded the ship was cleared and our passengers could proceed ashore.

Today’s tours were:

Royal Tomb of Vergina. The Royal Tombs are located near Mount Pieria, at the end of the most fertile plain of Greece. Vergina, ancient Aigai, was the first capital of the Macedonian Kingdom and for centuries was the place where members of the royal family were buried. This tour visited the original royal tomb of King Philip II, father of Alexander the Great, where our guests could admire an exhibition of the unique gold and silver treasures discovered at this site as well as the architecture of the tombs and the superb wall painting showing the King hunting, accompanied by his famous son and his friends. An underground museum houses the exhibits, which includes a golden chest found inside King Philip's tomb, containing his bones washed in wine and wrapped in a purple cloth, was opened in 1996 and is one of the finest in Greece.

Dorian Memorial & Salonika Front Line. The Salonika campaign began in October 1915, when the Allies sent an expeditionary force to Salonika to support Serbia against an invasion by Germany and her allies. This tour took passengers, after a drive around the highlights of Thessaloniki, to the Dorian Memorial, which stands roughly in the centre of the line that was occupied by the Allies and Commonwealth forces for more than two years. During the entire campaign, the British Salonika Force suffered some 2,800 deaths in action, 1,400 from wounds and 4,200 from sickness. This memorial marks the site of the battle and commemorates more than 2,000 Commonwealth servicemen who died in Macedonia but whose graves are not known. It was designed by Sir Robert Lorimer, with sculptures by Walter Gilbert, and was erected in 1926. The surrounding cemetery contains 1,338 Commonwealth war graves, mostly of the officers and men from the 22nd and 26th Divisions who gave their lives during the fierce fighting in 1917-1918. One French soldier and 45 Greek soldiers are also buried here.

Thessaloniki Highlights & Mika Memorial. The first call of this tour was to the Mikra Memorial and Cemetery in the suburb of Kalamaria, which houses the graves of 1,810 Commonwealth troops from the First World War and 147 war graves from other nationalities. In the cemetery is the Mikra Memorial which commemorates 500 nurses, officers and men from Commonwealth countries who were lost at sea when their troop transports or hospital ships were sunk in the Mediterranean. The names on the memorial include those who perished when the White Star Liner Britannic, sister ship of the Titanic, was sunk by a mine in 1916. This was followed by a visit to the Archaeological Museum which houses a magnificent collection of Macedonian and Greek sculpture, the Church of St Demetrius, dating from the seventh century, built in the form of a five-aisled basilica and restored after the great fire that devastated much of the city in 1917. On the return drive the tour stopped at the house where Mustapha Kemel Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey, was born. Appropriately, it now forms part of the Turkish Consulate complex.

Dion & Mount Olympus. According to Greek mythology a number of gods resided on Mount Olympus: Zeus, Poseidon, Hades, Hestia, Hera, Ares, Athena, Apollo, Aphrodite, Hermes, Artemis and Hephaestus, all lived in ‘crystal mansions’, ruling over the mortals below. At 9,575 feet it is the highest mountain in Greece. This tour started with a drive to Dion, site of an ancient fortified city that was continuously occupied from the Classical period until early Christian times. The site is home to excavated buildings from various periods including large temples, private homes, public buildings, shops and public baths. Many artefacts, including some from the Dion site and Olympus, are displayed in the museum, as well as a fine 2200 year old statue of Hera. The next stop was the picturesque village of Litochoro, where our guests enjoyed lunch and a stroll around the village, which offers wonderful views of Mount Olympus.

For passengers wishing to explore independently it was only a very short walk into town, and for those passengers remaining on board the Cruise Staff had organised and were running different activities.

Once all were on board the pilot boarded and we left the berth. We had to use two compulsory tug boats to move us sideways from the berth a goodly way, after which we were lined up with the port exit. We left the port, disembarked the pilot and set course for our next port of call, Lemnos.

The evening started with pre-dinner cocktail hour in the Drawing Room, where The Hot Rhythm Friends Colin Bryant and Dave Peterson played music that puts a smile on your face and a song in your heart. After Dinner the Britannia Lounge once again featured the spellbinding, staggering, virtuosity of Harry The Piano. This was followed in the Drawing Room by Easy Listening with The Perfect Mood Duo and in Cooper’s Bar by The Late Show with Dave Peterson at the piano.

Captain Kees Spekman

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.

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