My book Why Religions Work explores religious tolerance issues. It could not be more relevant at the moment with the world in its present state.
This blog has concentrated recently on the wonderful pilgrimages I have been on - to the Holy Land and to Turkey and more recently to Holy Georgia , Greece "In the Steps of St Paul" , Ethiopia and most recently my experiences in Iran.

"If I was allowed another life I would go to all the places of God's Earth. What better way to worship God than to look on all his works?" from The Chains of Heaven: an Ethiopian Romance Philip Marsden

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Travelling through Greece In the Steps of St Paul - Kavala

Lake Koronia
The journey from Thessaloniki airport to Kavala is scenic and pretty, pink and white Oleander lining much of the main road, and we pass through olive groves and coniferous woodlands. There are election posters everywhere and the inevitable roadside litter, although it has to be said that this seems far less of a problem here than, sad to say, either in beautiful Caucasian Georgia or indeed in the UK where our litter problem is shameful.
The castle above the town
We are heading out Eastwards on the main road which was supposed to have been finished for the 2004 Olympics. It was not: apparently rare local brown bears, archaeological treasures and the mountainous terrain all conspired against timely completion. We drive alongside two vast expanses of water, the freshwater Lake Koronia and Lake Volvi. This is an important area for passage and overwintering birds. Water pollution is a problem and the area has some protection status. 

We are told that the Greeks here grow a little of everything; a few chickens, a couple of cows, some sheep, goats, pigs - a sharp contrast to the supposed greater efficiency of large-scale single crop farming which is being promoted.

the castle and port at night
As we view the island of Mt Athos to our right, in the shimmering Aegean Sea, we learn about the monks here who  inhabit this oldest surviving monastery in the world, where a wealth of unimaginable treasures is preserved for those who follow the monastic life here, other male workers and those few others who are privileged to be given permission to visit, for pilgrimage or study. Access is severely limited and women are never allowed, not, it seems, even cows or chickens! Boat trips can be taken to have a look at the monastery from a respectful distance.
Bright orange roofs on glistening white-washed houses tumble down to the shore at Vrasna. The road then climbs away from the sea again, through large areas of olive groves.  
castle and cruise liner
Suitably refreshed at a service area where we sample the local almond cake delicacy,  courtesy of Mara, we continue through a road tunnel and out again down to the lowlands approaching Kavala. The Island of Thasos is in front of us in the bay, famous for its snow white marble, mostly exported to the Emirates and Germany, and which claims to be even more translucent than the Italian white marble.

Kavala is charming - the old city sits on a peninsular topped by a castle and the acropolis. The Kamares, or "arches", are the trademark of Kavala. A listed monument, this is actually an aqueduct built in 1550 by the Sultan Suleiman II, the Magnificent. It was repaired in the 19th century by Mehmet Ali to serve the water supply needs of the City.
fishermen mend their nets and share the day's gossip
Brooding over the whole port today as we arrive is a massive Hellenic Seaways cruise liner - this is a popular tourist port of call for obvious reasons.
Kavala was also the birthplace of Muhammad Ali, founder of the dynasty which ruled Egypt in the 19th and early 20th century, and his house can be seen in the square just behind our waterfront hotel.

The town owes its prosperity to the tobacco industry, started here at the beginning of the 19th century, and there is a Tobacco Museum which recalls the industry's rise and subsequent decline in the area in the early 20th century. Tobacco used to be a big crop generally here in Macedonia - until the advice was given to start growing sunflowers for the oil. 
solar panels - many along the way

Now a different style of farming is evident - Solar panel farms are cropping up everywhere.

Kavala at night
We arrive at our hotel in Kavala in the early evening. It is in the old town fronting the port and after a quick check in and unpacking of essentials there is time for a stroll around this delightful old town. There are tranquil scenes of fishermen sitting around mending their nets, while no doubt sharing the gossip of the day. A row of suntanned women, mostly dressed in black, sit on a bench in the shade, the sun still fierce in spite of the hour. Reflections ripple on the water as just below the surface small fish fry are taking advantage of the day's accumulated detritus from the returning fishing boats. Seagulls are also trying their luck. Houses scramble up the hillside to the citadel. After saying our evening devotional Compline with the group, I sit on my balcony looking down upon the busyness of the cafes and restaurants below which have suddenly come alive. It is lively in a restrained kind of way - and the air is pleasantly warm to sit out. Hard to imagine that winters here can be harsh.

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