with finally a notion of fall in the air – because of one rainy day this friday – i am looking back to last weekends’ trip to Χαλκιδική (Chalkidiki), the peninsula next to thessaloniki. thanks to the german “Tag der deutschen Einheit”, i had a long weekend off from work. my better half came over from germany, so we drove around the beautiful second finger of chalkidiki.
Chalkidiki is a peninsula southeast of thessaloniki, it has a hilly main land and three fingers sticking away from it. the first one, Kassándra, is the most touristy one, so we went straight to Sithonía. it offers mountains up to 817m high and beaches, or better lagoons, of stunning beauty. as it is in the middle of the other fingers, you have wonderful view with some mountains in the horizon. especially its east coast view is remarkable, as you see the third finger, Áthos. on the tip of the finger, we find mount Athos, a holy mountain, more than 2000m high. therefore, athos is a monk’s republic. it is a politically autonomous region in greece and can only be entered by boat. around 2000 monks live in the 20 monasteries throughout the hilly landscape. the monks use male donkeys only – why that?
the most important rule to visit that mysterious republic: be a man! female* beings are not allowed the entrance to make living in celibacy “easier” for the monks. men have to be pilgrims or apply for a special visa many months in advance. not even female pets / farm animals are allowed in athos – except from beehives and all the cats that protect the monks from rats, snakes or mice. women have fought against this rule and there have been cases of border-crossings via land and sea.
as our visit was in the very last days of summer, we found chalkidiki in a calm atmosphere, without a rush of tourists and with many guesthouses and restaurants already closed. it was a lucky time to come, as the beaches and roads were empty, but also a strange experience to drive through ghost towns with all window shutters closed until season starts again in april. many owners of restaurants and hotels leave chalkidiki in winter, and stay in thessaloniki (like my flatmate). also, many of them seem to be from the generation of Gastarbeiter (most gastarbeiter that came to germany from greece were from the region of makedonia. many of them returned – this is why you find so many greeks with an amazing knowledge of German language here) and leave back to Germany in winter. I wonder how winter is in Chalkidiki …