Macedonia and the crisis

As we drive west across the geographical region that my guide – Maria – assures me is the true meaning of Macedonia rather than the modern political context – the day starts and we begin to pursue themes that need drawing together to make any sense of.

We are on the way to visit the tomb of Philip II, the father of Alexander the great, at Vergina – which can be reached in a little over an hour from Thessaloniki. It’s a UNESCO world heritage site, and certainly it lives up to everything I expect in terms of  archaeological significance and the way that such relics, visited in situ, will always move me spiritually.

The tomb at Vergina
The tomb at Vergina

They are currently excavating the area around the tombs to map the city and palace. On a hillside is the recognizable shape of a small theater – where the king could bring his guests to watch a performance – and  also look beyond the small stage to a most beautiful panorama of the fertile plains and distant mountains. Maria describes him inviting his enemies as well as his friends and allies, to both entertain them and to reinforce their understanding of his power and the extent of his empire. Who could not be moved by such a vista.

Importantly for me personally by the end of the visit I have a true sense of the word Macedonia, and what it means to the Greeks. And I realize that this part of the world has been one of the centers of the world’s attention for 3 millennia, and for much of that – including modern times – it has been a battleground.

But of course we are also driving across these plains at a time of a different battle – the modern economic crisis in Greece – and  this backdrop is always in my mind and is a source of much of our debate.

Maria is passionate about the crisis, it is a very personal pain to her, as it must surely be to all the individuals caught up in it. Over a long coffee on the veranda of an isolated estate in the hills, where we are the only customers, she cries as she describes her frustrations of trying to run a business and bring up a family.

The Kalaitzis Estate, Vergina
The Kalaitzis Estate, Vergina

The recurring theme is that the political system is rotten – she quotes a Greek proverb  “The fish stinks from the head.” She compares modern life to ancient Greece, and remarks “Thank heavens that at least we had an ancient civilization that knew what it was doing..”

She compares the modern government with their shifting policies and a relentless pursuit of “taxes, taxes, taxes” to Phillip II – who was to her a great king – inspiring his people and giving them direct participation in his success by giving land to soldiers who fought for him in successful battles. To her he was a constant force, deserving of respect and she compares this to  the modern political system which she describes as a shifting quagmire of corruption and policy changes that makes planning difficult and success almost impossible.

I simply listen and ask gentle questions of her, as she is clearly deeply upset. Of course I have no solutions, but I leave Vergina understanding so much more about the trials and tribulations of both ancient and modern Macedonia than any classroom or western media can teach me. I am inspired to learn more, to spend time in this beautiful and fascinating country.

By getting on a plane so that I could hear these things from a passionate Greek lady while sitting in the winter sunshine a stones throw from the tombs of a Macedonian king it has all become so very real to me.


Get out there and celebrate the moment

One of the most important things I think I have finally, absolutely learnt recently is how fantastic it is to just get out and do stuff. You learn, live and celebrate.  Why do I ever take my eyes off of this very simple goal?

Two great examples form the last 24 hours here in Thessaloniki.

Yesterday evening, after two glorious days of December sunshine, as the sun went down it started to pour with rain. Rather than sit and read, listen to music or write – I looked out – saw the street reflections – reached for the camera and just tramped around for a couple of hours in the dark. What a great decision.

I spent the time wandering around in Ladadika – a very small area of Thessaloniki treasured for small intimate cobbled streets with cafes, bars and restaurants – a short stroll from the sea and opposite the main port. And about 500 yards from my hotel, so no effort at all.

Rain on tables

I ended up with some photos that I love, two of which I have posted here – I learned about the camera which is still new to me – but more importantly I have some memories that I treasure because they were created out of the moment by me getting out and just living. Upside down tables and puddles were transformed into something quite magical – and all I had to do was be there and look.

Then again this evening – no rain but its windy and cold – and off I go. No hesitation. This time the experience wasn’t driven by photographs but simply by going into a bar to shelter from the wind. Inside it was small, very dark and intimate. I ordered a glass of wine, warmed up, got settled –  and very gradually started looking around.  It took me a while to work out that I was the only guy in the bar.. I had managed to wander into a gay women-only bar without realizing it.

After my over-polite exit i fell into the next bar where the barmaid – Nandia – thought it was extremely funny, and so did I. The girls in the bar were  amused, hospitable and I am sure I didn’t spoil their evening, I was just a crazy English bloke who didn’t understand what way up anything was and left as soon as he did.

And to round off the the experience I did manage to order a sparkling water ( to go with the chardonnay ) in Greek without Nandia hesitating – although she did smile – for all the wrong reasons women have been smiling at me all evening – and how nice is that?

Just get up and get out there – it’s such an exciting planet!

The Importance of Music

Music has been a big part of my first visit to Thessaloniki.

Drummers in Thessaloniki


Drummers in the square, children singing, a man playing the accordion for his friends in a cafe – and street bands have all been very uplifting for me.




Music so lifts me up.

Thessaloniki accordian player

People sharing music here just seems so natural – unpretentious.

But actually the biggest high so far was last night – when I finally realized I could plug my laptop into the room sound system and listen to Spotify through proper speakers. I haven’t yet started a Greek channel – but I am sure I will.


Lots of bouncing around the room for joy – no photos of that, fortunately..


Thessaloniki – First Impressions

End of the first full day of my first visit to Thessaloniki – and I am certainly impressed so far. Main takeaways are:

  • Great weather – the UK is getting a cold snap – what a great feeling to have the warm sun on your face
  • Not a tourist resort – at least for global travelers – just the right balance of visitors enjoying themselves and locals out and about
  • Lots of music, culture and celebrations

I definitely lucked out on the celebration front – the city has just started a month of celebrations around Christmas, with children in particular loving the celebrations in the main square today.


Greece is of course constantly in the news for all the wrong reasons – the miserable state of the economy and the impending and inevitable exit from the euro. Based on my first few hours here the people are friendly and full of life. Even the Chardonnay is totally reasonable..













Just a shame about the sunsets..


Leaving space for people

In the Arts

Another great evening last week discussing creative writing with Gary Mepsted. One of the main subjects that comes up consistently is that of leaving space for the reader.

This is extremely important in creative writing – if we provide all the answers and explanations the reader will become bored. Give them the space to work things out for themselves, and leave them with a sense of satisfaction – ideally the emotion would be ‘I didn’t expect that – but yes, I understand”. People are also absolutely prepared to have many minor things left unresolved, a beginner writer like myself is too often tempted to make everything too neat.

In photography I am also learning that without a story that allows the viewer to participate the photo is a meaningless snap. A friend often describes this as ‘context’ – she will ignore a pretty scene of a boat drifting by, because there is no story. She will be facing the other way – finding images and stories amongst the graffiti on the wall.

This is true in business and also in my life.

In business we have been designing and implementing a comprehensive dashboard this month. I have all of the financial information nailed, its just a question of presentation. But one of the metrics needs to be a measure of satisfaction and engagement of our staff. I passed around a simple graph that a friend who runs a search company had found very useful – a simple graph that asks you to plot where you are on two axes – one is how clear your role / tasks are – and the other is how much freedom you have within that role.


The idea of course is that without the freedom you simply won’t be engaged – people need space to contribute – they want to chose the best way to get things done, participate fully in the way they accomplish the tasks the company needs them to complete. They need space to express themselves.

In life I am learning now to make sure that I respect peoples space – i think I have always had a temptation to try to control too much. A friend I met recently is just a brilliant example of this – she wants to live life to the full – but expects to control nothing, to enjoy the weirdness and excitement with what happens if you pursue your passions and learn from those you meet on the way.