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Trip report (long): Greek Macedonia, some insights into London's airports and the discovery of perhaps the worst airline in the developed world.

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Background. A late decision to stay on for a few days after an industry conference in Thessalonica, and by Mrs O to join me, led to a badly under-researched four day jaunt round the Greek province of Macedonia. The province is a revelation. If you’ve not been there, go now before it changes.

We didn’t get round to going to a proper bookshop, so made do with a Rough Guide grabbed locally. This site rarely mentions the area, which is why this trip report is unusually long. The National Tourist Organisation of Greece stand at the conference provided us with lots of maps (of varying reliability), and no real advice. It also had (of which the stand operator was unaware) an excellent free guide (“Macedonia”, by the NTOG and the EBTA Cultural Foundation) which was a brilliant contrast to all the vacuous puffery of its other guides.

We were totally bowled over by what we found. That’s why this report is lengthy.

General observations.
We travelled in late June. It was, for a fair-skinned Celt, scorchingly hot. Apart from the standard chain conference hotel in Thessalonica, nowhere else we stayed in Macedonia seemed to have adequate air-conditioning. It’s probably better visited in spring or autumn.

The roads are generally excellent, even in the back of beyond (though some mountain roads can be pretty hair-raising). But they’re being added to a lot (your tax pounds, guilders, kronor and deutschmarks at work). So the correlation between what’s on the maps and what’s actually built is weak. And while signing on the major motorways is excellent, it’s very variable indeed off the major roads. There are a couple of threads on this board that say you can drive rounds Greece without reading Greek. I think that’d be impossible in Macedonia – and I can’t remember anywhere else it’s possible either. On any journey off the standard motorways, we frequently met signs in Greek only. And often, for navigating, it helped to have some basic knowledge of the language as well.

Archaeology has boomed in the area in the last two decades. So has museum provision. So all guides are perpetually out of date. What they say’s in museums sometimes isn’t, and new things are being uncovered. We were constantly stumbling over unannounced treats. The local tourist offices are rarely particularly helpful – but museum staff often are.

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