There are things known, and things unknown, and in between are the doors
A message pops up on my iPhone from the incomparable Sofia Bournatzi of Pass-Partout Tourism marketing in Thessaloniki. Am I Ok? John, in Veria City, is waiting for me. Am I on my way?
We’re late, and I’m not happy about it. It goes against the grain of my soul and beats up the reliability gene in my inner Eagle Scout.
But I’m not late because my neurons fail to fire. I lost the power cord to my computer during my journey across Macedonia, and the only place I can buy the one I need is in Thessaloniki.
I send Sofia and John a message. I’ll be 2-3 hours late.
You can zip around Greece quickly these days. The new national road makes it easy to do. If you’re from a big country like the United States, you’ll come to view intercity travel here as a transporter-like experience in Star Trek. You can move from one end of the country to another in a day — great news for travelers.
Touchdown: Veria City
We arrive at the classy Hotel Olganos VL in Veria City and check-in. Veria or Veroia is the capital city of the Imathia region of Greece and, Olganos stems from the name of the river god of Imathia.
This hotel isn’t easy to find if you’re driving and don’t know the layout of Veria City. It stands within the old city walls on a side street closed off for pedestrians. Innovation is in order. I move a barricade to drive up to the hotel. It’s Ok. Other cars are there too.
The Hotel Olganos VL
Visually, the Hotel Olganos VL fits in with City-wide initiatives to restore historic landmarks. Murals on guest room walls in the hotel reinforce the imagery of the temperament and past of this place. The fittings and fixtures are modern. The setting presents Veria as a place where we may discover all of our yesterdays if only we know where and how to look.
When you step outside the Olganos VL, courtyards, cobblestone streets, and 18thcentury style manor house buildings command your view. The oldest Jewish Synagogue in the city stands opposite the hotel. It’s one of the top tourist attractions here. Visitors hobble over the cobblestone street to experience this place throughout the year.
I’ve Been Expecting You
At the front doorstep of the hotel, I hear, “I’ve been expecting you.” It’s John from the Veria City Department of Tourism. “Shall we begin our meeting over lunch? It’s a short walk from here.”
As we walk through the narrow streets and footpaths, John cites points of interest. I stop to talk with Evi Meska, the resident expert about the Jewish Synagogue across from the hotel.
Everything in the old city of Veria is historic. Sites are restored or under restoration. This place would offer an endless supply of tales if only one had the time to stay and research them all. We're here for only a day and a half.
Manor houses were the prevalent style in the Balkans in the second half of the 18th century. They follow the architectural scheme of the cities typical of the time, as shown below.
In post-Byzantine times, all homes — elegant townhouses, country towers, working-class homes, and farmhouses — follow the manor house style. Residents used the ground floor for cooking, storage, and craftworks. The high walls protect the main living quarters above.
We follow a path to a footbridge across the Tripotamos River. Yes, you can tell we’re in Greece. Potomos means “river” in Greek. Trito stems from the word for “three.” Tripotamos is the place where three rivers converge.
We step through and around a dozen work areas. Workers pour concrete to shore up old buildings. Trucks with building materials queue on the sidewalks of narrow streets.
The 12 Grada Restaurant: Scrumptious Macedonian Delights
We arrive at 12 Grada, a restaurant par excellence in town. John speaks with the owner, Chef Yiannis Samoukas. Our gracious host and owner of the Hotel Olganos VL, Vasilis Likostratis, joins us. Vasilis serves as a consultant to the city council in Veria. We’re in the hands of resident experts.
12 Grada is our base for work over the next hour. Our talk is lively, wide-ranging, and random. Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman history and influences abound here within a few hundred meters inside the old city walls.
John peppers me with questions. Did I know Veria stands at the religious crossroads of the world? Did I know Jews and Muslims co-existed here with the Greeks in harmony since the Ottoman occupation era right up to today? Did I know Apostle Paul was here twice in 50 and 57 A.D.? Did I know the French and Russian Armies were here during World War I? Did I know a Roman-era road still exists here? Did I know Ho Chi Minh visited here?
Not all that exists in Veria is old. John regales us with facts. Seventy percent of national beef production stems from here. Local milk and cheese are notables as is a wine they call Xinomavro. The latter is thought by some to be the best red wine in the country.
The offerings at 12 Grada are a marvelous distraction to our brainstorming. We enjoy 5-star dining at its best with chef Yanni in command.
There’s a 12 Grada variant or shall I say reinvention of all tasty morsels Macedonian. Chef Yanni paves a unique path in the kitchen as you’ll note from the photos and captions.
As goes 12 Grada so goes this city. Much of what happens in Veria is a variant of Macedonian traditions. The entire city is something old and new wrapped in a distinct Veroia package.
I wonder if I can find a way to live here for a while so I can eat at 12 Grada and drink Mastika, a favorite national liqueur that stems from the resin of the Mastic tree, a variant of the pine or cedar tree family typically found in places like Macedonia and the isle of Chios.
A Modern Day Muse
It’s difficult to focus more than a few moments of adoration on the delicious creations Chef Yanni heaps on us. John and I bounce through various ideas quickly — this is unbounded brainstorming at its best. We talk about sites to see in the old city. There is ancient Aigai 8.2 km just outside of Veria City in the town of Vergina. Aigai is the first capital of Macedonia and home to the royal burial tombs of Alexander the Great and his father, King Phillip II of Macedon.
As we speak, it occurs to me John isn’t just talking about Veria present and past. It seems he is living in these places in their time as we speak. I am on these journeys with him. What does this say about us?
There is a difference between a vicarious and extrasensory experience. The former involves projecting oneself into a place or situation through recall or projection in the future. The latter occurs when one lives through an unusual phenomenon like a metaphysical or inter-dimensional experience.
John Valachis, B.A., MSc., Ph.D., presents as a mortal human and to all outward appearances, evidence suggests this notion is true. He is, of course, Greek and lives in Veria City with his wife and children and is from Halkidiki. He’ll appear — seemingly out of thin air according to the way he talks about it — at family holdings in Neo Marmaras, Halkidiki where he was born. He dallies in a multitude of interests that include interludes with a stringed musical instrument called a Bouzouki.
Despite these appearances of normalcy, John displays an ability to invoke emotive transference and embed himself and others in history. It’s a quality the ancients told us the temple priests and pagan Gods would display Millennia ago. Of course, this quality presents him as an ideal representative for Veria.
Has John had extrasensory experiences? I don’t ask. I watch and listen.
The Human Connection
Long before the ancient Greeks arrived, Veria was a Paleolithic era settlement. Today, the old city presents 48-post Byzantine era churches, the Jewish Quarter, a shrine to Apostle Paul, and the remains from ancient Greek, Byzantine, Vlach, and Ottoman influences. Are the sites in Veria a gateway to all of our yesterdays via an interdimensional experience?
Researchers at Stonehenge in England and, Carnac, France found out famous temples, and human-made stone field alignments are built on electromagnetic hotspots on Earth. These hotspots interact as energy portals between the Earth and the Sun and align with star constellations. They generate auroras, rapid appearances and disappearances of lights and lightning around mountaintops — like those some see with UFO sightings — and cause some people to experience interdimensional or time travel like experiences on Earth.
Clearly, the ancients before us sensed these hotspots and built temples and stone field alignments on or around them. How is it that humans can experience these phenomena?
It turns out we have a tiny pine cone-shaped gland in our brains called the Pineal Gland. Almost all vertebrates have this gland. It contains Pinealocytes, the same photo-sensitive material found in our eyes. When our eyes detect light or darkness, our brain sends a signal to the Pineal Gland to produce melatonin, a hormone that regulates our sleep and helps us adjust to seasonal cycles.
The Pineal Gland also produces DMT, a powerful psychedelic found in hundreds of plants and almost every mammal. DMT episodes in humans account for reports of visions, spiritual insights, and compelling, emotive experiences with the Earth and universe known to occur at hotspots on Earth.
Our elemental nature with that of the universe might explain ancient reports of lightning passing from conductive battery-like mountaintops like Mount Olympus to the heavens. Or it may explain why some among us see UFO’s or think we pass through portals of time at other ancient sites in Greece. It could explain why ancient Greeks thought of Zeus as God rather than a man. It may explain why monks built monasteries across Athos and Meteora.
Is it possible John Valachis has experienced such phenomena at ancient sites in and around Veroia?
Veria City Sites: Portals In Time?
Veria is delightfully dense yet deceptive. A visit here assures you can step into different points in history every time you visit.
Will you set foot on a hotspot and encounter an interdimensional experience? I can’t say. I still wonder about John, and I am tempted to ask him some probing questions.
One thing is for sure, Veria is jam-packed with sites to see. Here are a few that are sure to pique your interest.
Site #1: The Tribute To Apostle Paul
The immergence of Christianity in Greece stems in part from Apostle Paul preaching throughout the country. He made two visits to Veria in 50 and 57 A.D. A monument and statue mark the spot where Paul would share Christian teachings.
Site #2: The 1850’s Era Jewish Synagogue
On the northwestern edge of the open courtyard of the Jewish Quarter next to the Tripotomos River stands an 1850 era Jewish Synagogue. It is the oldest of its kind in northern Greece and one of the oldest in Europe.
Jews from across the world travel to Veria to pray here. This building stands as a monument to harmony between Christians, Muslims, and Jews, all of whom have co-existed here peacefully at least since the days of the Ottoman Empire.
Sites #3: Monasteries, Churches and “Little Jerusalem”
Many buildings of archaeological interest in Veria stem from the Byzantine era. You can pick up a booklet about the city from the local tourism office. Inside you’ll find a map that shows where you can find sites of interest. You’ll find dozens of post-Byzantine churches in the old city.
Between the 11thand 14thcenturies, Veria stood as one of the most important Byzantine Centers in Macedonia, a tradition until the end of the Ottoman Empire occupation of Greece in 1821. Veria gained a reputation as “Little Jerusalem” over the Millennia as a religious center for the Byzantine Empire. Today, 48 out of the original 72 post-Byzantine churches that existed here at one time remain.
Site #4: The Archaeological Museum of Veria
At the Archaeological Museum of Veria, you’ll see discoveries from the late Stone Age up through the end of the Hellenistic Age. Most display’s present pieces from the Macedonian Kingdom with relics from the Archaic, Classical and Hellenistic periods.
You’ll also find five other museums in Veria. We didn’t get a chance to see them. Our time there was limited. But you should put them on your visit list if you have two full days to spare in Veria. You’ll find citations at the end of this article.
Site #5: The Ancient Roman Road Via Ignatia
After the conquest of Macedonia by the Romans in 168 B.C., Veria developed into a cultural powerhouse in the region. The Romans improved ancient roads running through Macedonia across northern Greece up to the Dardanelles in present-day Turkey.
The Ignatia road was essential to move the Roman armies and material across northern Greece. You can read our story about their work at ancient Philippi. Today, you’ll find part of the Ignatia road smack dab in the center of Veria where portions are exposed near Mitropoleos Street.
Site #6: The River Tripotomos
No trip to Veria is complete absent a visit to see the River Tripotomos. You can walk behind the Jewish Synagogue to see running waters.
A Destination In and Of Itself
Veria is a destination in and of itself. You’ll need several days, perhaps a week or more, to soak up all this area has to offer.
You can spend an entire day at Ancient Aigai 8.2 km just outside of Veria City in the town of Vergina. Aigai is the first capital of Macedonia and home to the royal burial tombs of Alexander the Great and his father, King Phillip II of Macedon.
You can spend several days or more at all of the sites in the old city. The six museums and 48-period era churches alone can occupy you for many days.
A Place for Business Retreats
If you run a business and are looking for a retreat, Veria might be right up your alley. You’ll find luxurious hotels and guest houses that display an impeccable taste for local and period architecture.
There are five ultra-modern conference centers in Veria City. The Cultural Congress Center of Veria offers 3-rooms with a seating capacity for 600. Conference attendees will find of a host of gastronomic delights, pedestrian walks to shops and cafes, and a cultural performing arts center.
Veria is one of the few cities in Greece with a layout friendly to pedestrians. It also offers a free wireless network downtown.
The Great Outdoors
Veria is also a place to explore the great outdoors. Here, motorcyclists will find motocross and enduro tracks in the nearby Vermio and Pereia mountains and the racetrack at Tripotomos where you can ride at an international level.
You’ll also find climbing, mountaineering, hiking and biking tours and outlets to your delight. Paragliding, hang gliding horse riding, and birdwatching are other favorite pastimes for locals and visitors alike.
A Journey of Personal Discovery
Regardless of how you plan to see Veroia, search your feelings as you step from site to site. Try to feel the frequency of the Earth underneath you. You just might step on a hotspot, experience your own emotive transference and, take a step back in time. And if you’re lucky, you’ll find your own muse or perhaps, you’ll be fortunate enough to run into the resident muse — John Valachis.
Where To Eat: 12 Grada Restaurant
The 12 Grada restaurant is among the best restaurants in old town Veria. It’s the #1 restaurant on Trip Advisor. But more importantly, the ratio of price to performance is just right. Prices are reasonable for serving sizes. Servings stem from fresh ingredients, carefully crafted daily, by master chef Yianni.
Where to Stay: The Hotel Olganos VL
If you’re looking for a boutique lodging experience, look no further than the Hotel Olganos VL. We speak from experience, as cited earlier.
When To Go
You can visit Veria area all year. But it will be too cold for outdoor activities such as hiking, swimming, sailing during the winter months. The best months to visit Veria are April-October.
How To Get There
Fly into Thessaloniki International “Macedonia” Airport (SKG). From there, you can rent-a-car and drive to Veria City. It's about a 1-hour and 15-minute drive from the airport.
You can also fly into Athens International Airport (ATH). From there you can get a connecting flight to SKG, or you can drive to Veria City (about 6 hours). The new national road system in Greece makes getting around the country a snap. If you drive from Athens, make sure you have about 100 Euros and a credit card. The new national road system is a toll road.
Aegean Air is the national airline of Greece and offers direct flights into ATH or SKG from all over Europe. Air travelers from other continents may have to fly to ATH for connecting flights to SKG.
12 Grada Restaurant
Sofou 11 and Demothenous
Véroia, Greece 59100
Hotel Olganos VL
10th Merarxias 7
Folklore Museum of Veroia
P.C. 59 100 Veroia
Travel /Tourism Agencies
Doucas Tours & Travel
8, El. Venizelou Street
54624 Thessaloniki Greece
Tel: 0030 2310 269984, 633404
PASS PARTOUT Tourism Marketing, DMC
8, El. Venizelou Street
54624 Thessaloniki Greece
Tel: 0030 2310 269984, 633404
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The author is the source of all photos in this article unless otherwise specified. All rights are as specified on publication.
The author thanks Pass Partout-Tourism Marketing, the Municipality of Veria and the Hotel Olganos VL, for sponsoring his visit to Veria City. The assessments and views in this article are those of the author and do not represent the official views of the Municipality of Veria, or the management or owners of Pass Partout-Tourism Marketing, the Hotel Olganos VL or the Veria City Department of Tourism.