Last week-end I was able to get a new stamp in my passport, this time it was Greece. I signed up for the weekly UNMIK (United Nations Mission in Kosovo) bus trip; you may recall I went on the trip to Bansko, Bulgaria a few weeks ago. Last week-end the destination was Thessaloniki Greece. A friend and fellow advisor John, went as well and it turned out I knew another lady who was on the bus.
The Bus ride was lengthy but uneventful. I think it took about 6 ½ hours to get to our destination. Border crossings always take a long time on the bus, for each border you have to go through two checkpoints, the outgoing and the incoming, at each checkpoint they collect everyone’s passport and stamp them all, sometimes they do a quick search of the baggage compartment, it usually takes about 45 minutes to an hour to cross a border if there are no other buses in front of ours, if there are it can be much longer. I am told that driving a car to Thessaloniki usually takes about four to four and a half hours.
My hotel room was small and basic but clean and comfortable it was also only 50 Euros per night, and included breakfast and internet in the lobby. After we got to the hotel I checked in and pretty immediately went to bed. The next morning I got up and went to breakfast, while I was at breakfast I ran into Janice from the American Bar Association who is the lady I knew on the bus, we had breakfast together. Her plans were to basically hike around and explore the city, with a focus on the historic sites. This coincided with what I was planning to do so after breakfast we decided to explore together for a while.
We started out walking from the hotel to the board walk that stretches along most of the bay. The hotel is about 7-8 blocks north of the boardwalk and so we proceeded south and ran into a marketplace that was full of every vegetable, fruit, meat, fish and flower imaginable. I saw a stand with nothing but olives on it that must have had 30 different types of olives. It was very interesting. We window shopped the market for a few minutes and continued to the boardwalk, past ancient Greek orthodox churches, Roman ruins and the occasional mosque.
Thessaloniki is a modern city with all the modern conveniences, stores, shops, restaurants (including an Applebee’s, a TGI Friday’s and the almost ever-present McDonald’s). Once we got to the boardwalk we walked along it headed east toward the White Tower, which is apparently Thessaloniki’s trademark building. The bay was filled with cargo ships apparently waiting their turn in the docks at the port of Thessaloniki.
After walking about a mile we got the White tower which is also the City’s Museum of history, we took a tour of the museum and then caught a tour bus that drove us around the city and pointed out the mail historic attractions. It was about 45 minute tour but you could leave the bus about any time you wanted and catch a later one all day long for the price of the 2 Euro ticket.
We rode the bus up to the top of the hill and got off and decided to walk back down and explore the sites that were pointed out on the way up. These included the old city wall, a number of churches and monasteries and various ruins. One of the Churches had catacombs that were open to the public that were interesting to explore. The tombs had been removed and it had been made into a museum. I don’t recall the names of all the places we went, but we must have checked out about 10 different sites included Thessaloniki’s own Hagia Sofia, which the tour guide described as being like the one in Istanbul only smaller (It was an interesting building but having seen both I can tell you that comparing it to the one in Istanbul was a pretty significant stretch).
Exploring the city was a lot of fun but tiring and I am sure we walked at least 10 miles, we stopped at the “Space Needle” looking building which we were told was the Telecommunications building (or something similar), and had a drink at the restaurant near the top. The restaurant rotated so we got a great view of the city from it. We decided we should have started there because you could see all the sites and plan your day better starting there and it was only a couple of blocks from the White tower and the tour bus starting point.
After that we went back to the hotel, I have made reservations at a nice restaurant called “7-Seas” near the hotel John where was staying. John had a different agenda for the day but we made plans to have dinner together Saturday night. Janice decided to come along as did two other women that we met on the bus who worked for USAID. We walked to a Starbucks on the boardwalk and met John; he knew the location of the restaurant so we all walked the three-four blocks to the restaurant from there and met the ladies from USAID.
As you may have guessed, being on the coast of the Aegean, sea food is big in Thessaloniki and that is what everyone had for dinner. We had dinner European style, that is it lasted forever, it was very good. It seems to be something of a tradition in this part of the world for the restaurant to give you an after dinner drink at the end of the meal. They went over board at this restaurant and gave us four bottles of liquors to sample as much of as we liked as out after dinner drink. I like Ouzo! After dinner I walked along the boardwalk and watched people for a while then went back to the hotel and went to bed.
Sunday I slept late, had breakfast, and walked around town again, seeing some of the same places again and some different ones. On Sundays in Thessaloniki the market and all the shops are closed as are many of the restaurants. I met John for a late lunch. We ate with a two Finnish police officers who were on the trip with us. After lunch we walked around a bit more and the caught the bus for home.
The trip home went faster than the trip there and I was home by 8:30 p.m. We even stopped at for a while at a duty-free shop between the Greek and Macedonian borders.
I liked Thessaloniki and what I saw of Greece in general, I look forward to going there again. Almost all the Greeks I ran into seemed friendly enough and spoke English and it seems to be an easy country to get around in. It was warm there, I noticed that the trees planted around town were all orange trees, when I was there they all had large ripe oranges on them, apparently it doesn’t get too cold there.
My only complaint about Thessaloniki was that (I heard there was a recently settled trash haulers strike) and there was trash piled up literally everywhere. Prices for food were higher there than in Kosovo, but the hotel was reasonably priced. Most of the museums and monuments we went to were free, or at most two Euros to get into. There is another trip there on the week-end of April 8th and I am tempted to go again.
- My Big Fat Greek Adventure: Thessaloniki (travelintheknow.com)
- Discover Terrific Thessaloniki (hotelclub.com)