Thursday, May 17, 2018

Day 20: Return to USA via Sofia

Today starts our journey back to the USA. The first leg is a bus ride to Sofia, where tomorrow very early we will depart for home. It’s bittersweet.
This is the end of the blog. 

Day 19: Last Full Day in Greece

On our last full in Greece, we were surprised with a Greek pastry called Bougatsa, which is a cream filled pastry that is absolutely delicious.

We then explored the city of Thessaloniki, starting our day at the Archealogical Museum.  The museum presented us with Macedonian culture from the Paleolithic age to late antiquity.  We saw household items, such as this vase, which has stamped decorations on it, rather than being painted.

Macedonian funerals were also interesting, as this stelae depicts all the members of the family, whether they be alive or dead. It would also tell names, identities, and date of death, as well as the date the monument was constructed.

The following mosaic was created between 200-250 AD, and was likely located in the formal room of a wealthy individual. 

These portrait statues depict the change of style from the Hellenistic period to antiquity, and shows that while the style included new elements, it didn’t conflict with Hellenistic tradition. 

Our next stop was at the highest point in the city, at the fortification wall. The tower dates back to the 14th century and provided a beautiful view.

We then got the remainder of the day to do some further exploring on our own, and to prepare for our trip back to Sofia, Bulgaria tomorrow, which will start our long journey back to the states. 

Day Trip to Philippi and Kavala

Today, we made our way to Philippi, an ancient Macedonian city named for the King, Philip II. Initially founded by the Thasians, citizens of the island of Thasos, the city was eventually conquered by Philip's forces as it was in close proximity to a gold mine and it was a strategic location for access to both land and sea.

As we searched around the ruins of the city, we found many of the elements one would expect to find in ancient Greece. Ruins of a theater, a forum, as well as a sanctuary devoted to the god of woods and fields, Silvanus can be seen. It was fun navigating the ruins, even if we had to keep an eye out for snakes! The city suffered an earthquake some time in the past, which is indicated by the columns, as they toppled over one another in a line, sort of like dominoes.

Philippi was also a battleground between Mark Atony and Octavian against Brutus, the murderer of Julius Caeser. This is known as the battle of Philippi in 42 BC. The city was colonized by the Romans soon afterwards under Augustus.
The Battle was fought on the plains 

St. Paul visited Philippi in the 1st C. B.C. Bringing Christianity to the eastern part of the Roman Empire. The christianization of the city can be seen through the ruins of several Christian basilicas and the bishop’ palace.

After our visit, we stopped in Kavala for a meal at a seafood restaurant by the water. This is the kind of Greek town that one sees in the movies. There are palm trees, old luxury cars, and homes built into the sides of the surrounding hills, and beautiful views of the Aegean Sea.  Some of us managed to find slushies, a godsend on a hot day in Greece. After that, we made our way back to Thessaloniki for another night on the town.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Day trip to Pella and Agai

Today we started our journey in Greece by venturing to Pella, the heartland of the Macedonian kingdom. It was the second capital of Macedonia and is most well known because of the riches that Phillip the Second brought to the land. It is also the birthplace of his son, Alexander the Great. The museum was extremely thorough and loaded with information regarding Pella.

Here is a bird eye view of Pella (also the location of the museum we visited). The city is built using the Hippodamian plan, a rectangular layout of streets.

Then only a few minutes drive from the museum, we stopped and walked around the archaeological  site of Pella. The remains consist of the agora, temples, a public archive and houses of the aristocracy. The houses were large with rooms located around a peristyle courtyard. Hellenistic pebble mosaics decorated  some of the floors of the houses which can be seen.

Afterwards, we drove to the tumulus where Phillip the Second’s tomb is located. This city is known as Agae, the first capital of the Macedonian kingdom. It is most notorious for its necropolis, with tombs dating back to the 10th C. B.C. The great tumulus contained various Macedonian tombs dating to the 4th C. B.C. and included the tombs of Philip II, his second wife, and Alexander IV who was the son of Alexander the Great and Roxana.


This is where we wrapped up the sightseeing for the day. We grabbed some lunch then headed back to Thessaloniki for a free day of walking around town.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Day 16: Destination Greece

Today was a travel day for us as we said "Good-bye" to Romania and flew to Greece.
We took some rest time and are ready for our first dinner in our last country. Stay tuned for our adventures in the last leg of the trip.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Day 15: Final Day in Romania

We began our final day in Romania with a visit to a local flea market in Braşov. After wandering for a bit, we made our way to Peleş Castle. This was built in Sinaia during the reign of Charles I and his wife, Elisabeth, and served as their summer residence. Building began in 1873, but parts of the castle have been changed over the years. It has many different architectural styles, such as Neo-Renaissance, Gothic Revival, and Eclecticism, among others. We took a tour of the building, learning about the life and times of the king and queen.
Before lunch, we walked to Pelişor Castle. This was commissioned by Charles I for his heir, Ferdinand, and his wife, Mary. Mary wanted something smaller than Peleş Castle, but as you can see, this building is still quite large and ornate.
Our last visit of the day was to the Sinaia Monastery. There are 2 churches in this area, one from the 17th century and the other from the 19th century. The first church finished construction in 1695 but was redecorated in 1795 after a battle with the Ottomans. While it is similar to the other monasteries that we have seen, it is more basic and simple than the others.

The second church was built in the late 1800s and is dedicated to St. Peter and St. Paul. It was built under Charles I after the original construction of Peleş Castle was finished.

We have arrived in Bucharest for the night, and tomorrow, we leave Romania to travel to Thessaloniki, Greece!

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Day 14: Brasov

Today we traveled to Bran Castle which is the home of "Dracula," the fictional character created by Bram Stoker.  The castle was first built in 1211 as a wooden palace and was destroyed in 1241 by the Monguls.  It was rebuilt again in 1377 as a stone castle and a new tower was added.
The castle was gifted to the Queen of Bulgaria, Queen Mary, for her great deeds done in the First World War as a nurse.
Pictured below on the left is the Queen's bedroom and on the right is King Ferdinand's bedroom.
The castle acts as a border between Transilvania and Walachia.  Pictured below is the Walachian side of the castle.
Then on the way back to the main square, Val and our driver Jon took us on a scenic drive.  We drove through the largest ski resort in Romania.
A little further down the hill we got to see a breathtaking view of the city of Brasov from above.  Sadly the picture does not do it justice but its still worth seeing.

Once we arrived back at the main square in Brasov, Val showed us around the Old Town where we learned that the town was established in 1234 and was known for its traders and merchants.  Val also gifted us a fun fact that the town was renamed "Stalin" from 1950-1960.
            Pictured below from left to right is the Town Hall, the Merchant Council Building, and the
            side and front of the Black Church which is the largest church in Romania.
Some more sights in Brasov included Catherine's Gate, the new gate to enter the city, the only Jewish synagogue in town, and the smallest street in Romania which is also the 3rd smallest street in Europe.
After our tour around the Old Town, we were gifted the chance to spend the rest of the day exploring for ourselves!  Its hard to believe that we have been traveling for 2 weeks already, and its also kind of sad to think that such wonderful experience is dwindling down.  But this trip has been so much fun and it has been a great opportunity to appreciate new cultures and witness some beautiful landscapes along the way :)

Day 20: Return to USA via Sofia

Today starts our journey back to the USA. The first leg is a bus ride to Sofia, where tomorrow very early we will depart for home. It’s bit...