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Visiting Thermopylae?

Buffalo, NY
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Visiting Thermopylae?

I am in the early stages of planning a trip through the Balkans with my father: a professor of classical history. It would seem to make sense if we started our journey in Greece (arriving from the United States), but my father is mostly interested in the northern part of the country's mainland. He would very much like to visit Thermopylae. I was wondering what the closest large city is to this historic site, and what the fastest way to reach it would be after flying into Athens. Also, we plan to go from Greece to Albania. Is there any way you could recommend getting to the city of Butrint from Greece? Thank you for any help you can provide!

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1. Re: Visiting Thermopylae?

Hey and welcome Subwayfanatic07:-) You've got a number of options here..and considering your father is interested in the Northern part of the Country, you may want to consider flying into Thessaloniki which has an int'l airport (SKG) and good connections via Europe..Athens airport would be closer since Thermopylae is close to Lamia (actually just a bit further North from Kamena Vourla)..there are buses that go there which take about 3 hours give or take..also trains but haven't done that route in a while..am sure someone will kick in w/specs! A rental would certainly come in handy here;-) As far as Albania goes, there are flights from Athens..you'd need to check www.aegeanairlines.com/ www.olympicair.com/ I know Olympic use to fly the route which is a short haul of maybe an hour..you'd then need to head South for Butrint..Don't know the legalities of entry but the isle of Corfu (you can fly there as well from Athens in about half an hour) has ferry crossings over to Saranda..usually tourist/day trippers..Butrint is barely 10 miles from there! Sounds like quite an adventure...keep us posted..happy planning and Enjoy!

Philadelphia
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2. Re: Visiting Thermopylae?

IF you want to drive there (the actual "address" midway through the pass is "Loutra THermopylion" it is 200 Km and will take you about 2+ hours straight driving... here is the Michelin Planner link http://tinyurl.com/2esd9gk

I have known people to go there before and be disappointed ... the Pass of Thermopylae has altered greatly from ancient times... it was once more defined, a narrow defile... but now the sea is farther away, the narrowness gone. Midway thru the pass there is a hot springs. There is a mound, which is the grave mound, and a statue of Leonidas -- but there is a tavern and tacky facilities around. So he should not expect impressive setting -- such as Delphi, which no matter how shattered the ruins, still has the stunning setting.

Komotini, Greece
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3. Re: Visiting Thermopylae?

As strictly historical sites go, Thermopylae is not bad. (A historical site, as opposed to an archaeological site, doesn't have architecture on site, it's just a "oh look where we are, XYZ happened here." Your dad will know that and I very much doubt he'll be disappointed.

When you visit Thermopylae, things have changed quite a bit in the last few years - it used to be THE pass in modern times too and all traffic headed between Athens and Thessaloniki passed through there. Now (as of the last 3 years or so) it has been replaced by a major highway and Thermopylae is on a secondary road. There is no longer traffic and it is very quiet and peaceful.

When you get to the site, you want to get out and look at the site on the INLAND side. Do not be tricked by the presence of statues on the seaward side - that is NOT the site. The actual visitable "site" of Thermopylae is up a low hill (signed with a brown sign) which has a plaque on the top of it with the Simonides epigram (your dad will know what I'm talking about). From this vantage point you can make out the battlefield, (you have to imagine the sea MUCH further inland but that's okay), and you can sort of guess where the Phocians probably were ("up there somewhere" on the green mountain just inland of the hill).

There are no site plans or maps on the site so make sure your dad has a plan of the battle with him to figure out what happened where. After you see the hill, you can walk north a little ways and see the actual thermal springs that run perpendicular to the street and the coast, which are sulfuric and actually quite hot. On the other side of the street from the hill are some statues, one of Leonidas, dedicated to the memory of the fallen, which he might like to see as I do think they are meant to recall ancient statue dedications in that area although to be honest I'm not 100% sure about that one.

I was last at Thermopylae about 2 weeks ago and it is worth visiting if you're interested in history. It may not be as "impressive" a site as Marathon or Leuktra, but it is certainly more impressive than Mantineia, Chaironeia, or Plataia. As far as the topography goes, after Salamis, I would say Thermopylae is a must-see.

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4. Re: Visiting Thermopylae?

If your dad's main interest is in Macedonia and Thrace (northern Greece) then you should consider flying into Thessaloniki and doing Thermopylae as a side trip. Failing that, fly to Athens and rent a car to explore Thermopylae, then either continue on to Thessaloniki, or return the car at Athens airport and catch a flight to Thessaloniki. This may work out cheaper than returning the car at a different location, or it may not. I don't think you'll be able to take a rental car into Albania.

You can reach Butrint either by car via Ioannina (4.5 hours drive from Thessaloniki) or by boat via Corfu (fly to Corfu as suggested by Litsa). Flying to Tirana makes no sense, as it's too far away from Butrint. Corfu is much, much closer, and there are several excursions to Butrint, some are day tips and others include an overnight stay.

BTW Thermopylae isn't in Macedonia, it's in the region called Central Greece (Sterea Ellada). You may want to check the relevant forum for information about Thermopylae and the surrounding area: tripadvisor.com/ShowForum-g189405-i2077-Cent…

Philadelphia
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5. Re: Visiting Thermopylae?

Car-return to a different location, unlike the USA, can be horrendously costly, as I learned in my efforts to help someone with this 2 years ago ... they paid €350 in THessaloniki for rental of a 4-door car for a week, and 240€!! drop-off fee in Athens airport ... this was after searching in vain through ALL the rental co's that had offices in both places. So, consider all the other options.

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6. Re: Visiting Thermopylae?

..the only rental I recall that does not charge a drop-off is SIXT which is found at both SKG and ATH..of course, you'd need to check for your specific dates..and if in fact you're looking to fly into Thessaloniki and drive down to Athens:-) Keep enoyin'!

Philadelphia
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7. Re: Visiting Thermopylae?

Thank you Litsa, that's a TERRIFIC tip... I"m putting it in my bulging "I-tips" file (for Internet tips ...they're like GOLD).

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8. Re: Visiting Thermopylae?

Hey Jan..I do recall having this conversation a couple of years ago?;-)) Nonetheless, haven't checked lately..so am hoping their fee-free drop-off is still in effect! Enjoyin'!

9. Re: Visiting Thermopylae?

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