Fields of white stretch as far as the eye can see. Crossing the northern border into Greece one sees miles and miles of cotton ready to be harvested and with her head extended out the window that's exactly what Erin saw. On this glorious morning we're headed to Pella the childhood town of Alexander the Great and from where his father King Phillip II reigned over the world's mightiest empire. I'm giddy upon arrival at our destination while Erin is equally excited at thoughts of escaping the back seat; she is promptly leashed to ensure she doesn't desecrate a national treasure then exploration begins. I was anticipating large imposing groups of visitors but the crowd was sparse for the most part but that was alright as that meant less people blocking my views and impeding my path to whatever peaked my interest. Walkways crisscross the ancient site while barriers ensure folks stay on designated routes; we stroll about soaking up the atmosphere often stopping to take pics and as usual Erin was the only dog present thus she attracted attention from dog-loving Europeans.
The site dating from around 300 BC was under excavation and workers beneath protective awnings could be seen. Towering white columns littered the landscape while portions of thick wall give testament to how massive many structures were. Cemeteries, sanctuaries and urns taller than men sitting upright were all interesting but it was the well-preserved mosaics that provided the wow factor. Colored pebbles formed elaborate hunting scenes and symmetrical patterns but Erin was getting bored with it all so a change of scenery was necessary. Modern and ancient Pella butted against each other and this was where my travel companion was unleashed....Into the foothills she scrambled, sniffed, and ran while I kept watch over her like a shepherd over his flock. From there we wandered over to the museum which housed relics from Alexander's time...Crowns made of solid gold, coins, jewelry, statues, furniture, clay jars, weapons, etc were interesting but again it was a mosaic that stole the show. The aptly titled "Lion Hunt" depicts Alexander the Great and his son Craterus engaged in battle with a snarling beast; armed with spear and dagger they're poised to slay the creature...The detail is amazing and pictures fail to convey how beautiful the piece truly is. Over the years I'd read many books about Alexander the Great thus to see where his journey began was a dream come true but it was time to get to our next destination.
Arriving in Vergina we proceed into the hills where the royal palace and theater overlook the village below. Shattered columns the diameter of redwood trees dominate the palace ground and in stark contrast to Pella one does not find a single column that survived the toll of time. Based upon the pillar remains the palace must have been spectacular and certainly worthy of housing the royal family. We wander over to the adjoining theater where King Phillip II was murdered by a bodyguard and consequently the site of Alexander's crowning...vividly my imagination plays out those historic scenes until a wet nose nudge tells me it's time to mosey along. A quaint cafe is quite the welcome sight for us both; a macchiato and loaf of bread are ordered while Erin plops down near my feet. The bread is so unbelievably delicious that to this day I swear it was handcrafted by Greek deities themselves; chunks are torn off and dipped into olive oil which pleases Erin to no end. A handful of scraggly dogs approaching the table make me tense but Erin's wagging tail tells me they're no threat while a passing waiter vouches for their friendliness. Unleashed she socializes with her Greek brethren under my constant gaze and given the choice my travel companion would have chose to remain there but all good things must end thus we bid them goodbye.
A stones throw away one finds the Royal Tombs of Vergina which is housed beneath a massive earth mound...Walking down the sandstone slope is akin to entering another world. The dimly lit first floor contains artifacts recovered from three tombs including a solid gold casket belonging to King Phillip II as well as his gold laurel wreaths, armor, weapons, shield, and other personal effects. Phillip's ivory adorned funeral coach, marble funeral pyre and ashes of a young wife are on display behind thick glass...Items deemed worthy of burial with Macedonian royalty can be seen and as expected it's all decadent, beautiful and visually stunning. I return to the car to check on Erin and grab my camera before checking out the tombs. It's nearly pitch black and quite cold as I descend down the wooden walkways to view the marble tombs which are bathed in a soft glow...There is no viewing the tomb's interiors thus a vivid imagination is required. Exquisite paintings and inscriptions top the doors while intact columns line the entrance way to King Phillip II's burial chamber and it was all very moving to be amongst such treasures.
All alone I made the decision to sneak a photo of the tomb belonging to King Phillip II. Fumbling with the camera in the dark the flash mode was turned off and when the time was right I aimed and pressed the shutter button. Unexpectedly the area lit up like a fireworks display and the wrath of the Greek Gods came crashing down upon me; a female employee appeared in my face to scold me for using a camera which was strictly forbidden. An outstretched arm indicated she wanted the roll of film or the camera but she received neither from me; the camera was shoved deep into my pocket before returning upstairs to the exhibit area. Deemed public enemy #1 security personnel shadowed my every move; out of the corner of my eye I could feel their constant glare and it made me very uncomfortable. Feeling agitated at being treated like a criminal I confronted a female guard standing a few feet away; she held her ground as I lashed out at her before exiting the premises altogether. Returning to the car Erin greeted me with much affection which helped my mood greatly; she quickly put a smile back on my face and I was so thankful to be sharing such adventures with my best friend.
Btw the photo of the tomb didn't come out...Guess the Greek deities had the last laugh afterall. The next few days would be spent in Thessaloniki the second largest city in Greece.
To be continued....