After my so-so trip to Prague I needed an experience like this to get my travel blood pumping again. Thessaloniki was an easy city to pick, since budget airlines fly there relatively cheap. I went in with no expectations, and was blown away with the beauty of the city and its people.
It’s hard to remember meeting nicer people in Europe. Everything from asking for directions, to getting advice on what attractions to see…everyone was more than willing to help, and do so with a smile. Greece has been going through an economic crisis for years, with high unemployment and even for those who are employed, they often only get paid whenever their employer has the money, so nothing routine like every two weeks. Even with this crisis, everyone seemed very optimistic and happy to be there. Although they could move to other countries where employment opportunities are better, their love of family and love of country keeps them here…I must say I respect that a lot.
Thessaloniki had the perfect mix of everything. The food was amazing, the nightlife was plentiful but not too wild, the city was beautiful both at the seaside and inland, and it was very cool to be just walking around the city and stumble upon ancient ruins in the middle of town squares. Many of the restaurants served smaller plates of food called ‘meze’, similar to tapas in Spain. The White Tower is the symbol of the city, right by the seaside. The museum tells a detailed history of the city, including its occupation for over 400 years by the Ottomans. Views from the top of the tower were amazing.
Next to the tower was a grandiose statue of Alexander the Great…he was born nearby here in the Macedonia region of Greece.
The ancient city was quite a walk away, and all uphill, so taxi was the best option. It’s a walled city, and there’s some great views of Thessaloniki from here. Once inside the walls, however, there wasn’t a whole lot to the city, as it was mostly suburban with the exception of some old ruins of a former prison. On the way back down from the city, I stumbled onto some other ancient sites…the Arch of Galerius and the Rotunda…very old (4th century), and very cool.
The Church of St. Demetrius, the patron saint of the city, was another highlight. Demetrius was born in Thessaloniki, and was a Christian martyr, killed by pagans in the early 4th century. This is a Byzantine church, and dates back to the 7th century. What’s really interesting is there are mosaics on the inner church walls that were painted during the dark ages. While here, there just happened to be a wedding going on. I got some good pictures and videos of the ceremony, which was quite different from what I’m used to seeing in Catholic weddings. There was a decanter of wine on the altar for the common cup tradition, where the bride and groom drink from the cup as a symbol of sharing all that life will bring. I didn’t understand most of the words, since it was of course all in Greek. This wasn’t the last time I saw the happy bride and groom, as later that day I ran into them again as they were starting their reception on one of the boats outside the White Tower!
There were some things I missed, as I wanted to catch the archaeological and Byzantine museums, but I’ll save that for next time. Also, Mount Olympus is only an hour away from here, so that might be on the future itinerary as well. Yes, I’d definitely love to come back, as this is now one of my favorite cities in Europe. Like I said, a little bit of everything good, and definitely a place I could live.
Thanks to George, a local I met at a great cafe/bar called ‘Muzik’ that really helped out with sightseeing tips. Also, George’s girlfriend, a geologist, who’s responsible for the only pub conversation I’ve ever had on geology…very cool! Thanks to my Greek friend, Eirini, for dinner at the Treehouse restaurant…the spinach salad was to die for! I’m so glad I came here, what a gem of a city.