By Annie Shustrin
When I traveled to Greece, I really wanted to see something other than ruins and cruise ships. Though I enjoyed my time in Athens and days spent exploring the Cyclades, I really had enough of the summer crowds.
While most people head south for island sun in a Greek September, I headed north, to the Central Macedonian city of Thessaloniki. Though I knew it would promise less tourists and tour guide flagpoles, I didn’t expect much else. A random seaside city—in fact Greece’s second most important economic and industrial city—would probably offer little to write home about, I thought.
I couldn’t have been happier to be so incorrect. Thessaloniki stomped on every preconceived notion I had going in. Boring city? Nope. Young Greeks are out on the streets at all hours of the night celebrating. Bland city? Nope. Middle Eastern influence has created an exotic yet classical city style. Ottoman and Byzantine ruins pop up around unexpected corners. Expensive city? Well, ok, it’s not perfect in every way. I mean, it’s still in Greece and it’s still on the Euro.
Upon arrival, I did the one thing that anyone must do when arriving in a new city: eat. Greek food is regional, so I expected to try some different flavors up in the north as I had in the south. Keftedes, meatballs with oregano and mint, are ubiquitous, as is rosemary chicken, piles of mezes and bottles of Ouzo.
In September, it’s still comfortably warm late at night, and Thessaloniki’s small side streets pulse with music and tables full of hungry Greeks. The loud clink of ouzo glasses and boisterous revelry is what I remember the most about dining at an outdoor tavern that night, in addition to the richness of the local fava and tzatziki. After meals were finished and tables cleared, the streets stayed thick with people. Drunk people. Drunk Greek people. More people than would be outside on a summer night in the West Village of NYC. Who knew Thessaloniki had such lively nightlife?
I walked slowly along one of Thessaloniki’s boulevards, Agios Dimitriou, after dinner en route back to my hotel. The classical European architecture along this main thoroughfare contrasted with the Byzantine Archways that popped up along the road. I knew then, even in my post-ouzo haze, that I was in for even more surprises in this city.
Stay tuned for Destination: Thessaloniki, Greece Part II.
Annie Shustrin is a travel addict. When she’s not on the road, she’s either thinking about past trips, planning future ones, or fantasizing about where she’d like to be right now. She has visited over 30 countries on both long and short term travels, and is now based in New York City. She writes for her blog TravelShus.com, as well contributing articles to other online travel publications. Though Indonesia and New Zealand are amongst her favorite destinations, her favorite travel memory was in China, where she got to hold a baby panda on her very own lap.