x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Embrace driving madness and explore Greece

The nomad Thessaloniki is to the north of both Athens and Mykonos and in easy reach of archaelogical sites and tombs.

Opening the door to my room at the Nikopolis Hotel in Thessaloniki, Greece, I immediately feel relieved: it's spacious and modern looking with a comfy king-size bed, a television and air-conditioning to keep the room cool as it's scorching outside. Having spent the past three weeks in hostel dormitories with lots of random people I thought I deserved a higher quality place to rest up. Of course, it costs a little bit more: about US$210 (Dh767) per night compared with the average $14 to $28 (Dh51 to Dh102) that I had been spending on the dorms.

I've been to Athens and Mykonos before but never ventured north into Thessaloniki. Although I'm here for a wedding, there's time to take in the sights so we decide to head to Vergina, an area famous for its archaeological sites and tombs. After a challenging drive - deciphering Greek road signs is not easy - we finally arrive and take a moment to admire the dry, mountainous landscape, before making a beeline for the tomb of Philip II, father of Alexander the Great, which is housed in the museum.

For an entrance fee of $11 (Dh41), you can see Philip's larnax - or golden burial chest - which is one of the many interesting exhibits on display, explaining historic Macedonian society. Philip's body would have been burnt, and the bones collected for burial in the larnax, along with his weapons and battle armour, all of which were discovered in the tomb. Philip's tomb itself is protected by glass barriers, so visitors can only see the front façade with its small door. If you close your eyes, you can imagine yourself standing here more than 2,000 years ago. The tombs were discovered by a Greek archaeologist Manolis Andronikos and excavated from the late 1970s to the early 1990s. It is believed that Cleopatra was buried here with Philip, but this has never been proven.

That evening we explore the quiet streets of Vergina, which reminds me of the Amalfi coast but without the sea. It's a small village with traditional houses and narrow alleys with the occasional cafe. Peckish, we snack on chicken kebabs and Greek burgers without buns. As it's getting dark, we decide to head back to Thessaloniki, but on the way we manage to get lost in another little town just outside the city.

Driving through the winding, narrow roads is hectic as two cars can barely pass side by side. Confidence seems key to avoiding an accident. The incoming drivers never ease off the pedal and as they pass us I notice their wing mirrors are almost touching ours. The streets in this mysterious town are empty, possibly thanks to the stormy weather, however, the roads are filled with crazy drivers. There is nothing for it but to embrace their insanity, and we drive like maniacs in order to survive.

Next week: Omar strolls along the promenade in Thessaloniki