By Annie Shustrin
On my first full day in Thessaloniki, I hit the sidewalk inspired… inspired by the warm welcome and revelry of the local nightlife the night before. Inspired by the new streets and neighborhoods I was about to explore.
My hotel was located on one of Thessaloniki’s wide boulevards lined with trees and classical buildings. I felt like I was walking down the fabulous avenues of Paris, with a Greek twist. Small coffee shops boasted the nuttiest baklava, bookshops and boutiques were lined up like chess pieces. The further I walked the more cultural influence I began to see in the buildings and architecture. Rounded archways gave me daydreams of Moroccan souqs and Turkish bazaars. Archways and statues took me to Rome and Florence.
Beyond these whispers of multicultural influence sat stoic and unapologetic reminders of the Ottoman and Byzantine empires that once ruled the region. Around every corner, another remnant of history popped up – some in devastated condition, some renovated as churches and cathedrals used by Thessaloniki locals.
Each day was a swirl of modern and classical – a trend that seeps into seeming everything in this city. One day I would peruse the racks of a local boutique or update my travel wardrobe with some standard H&M favorites. (Shopping and fashion are still top of mind as Thessaloniki is urban and lively.) Traveling around the city from shop to shop, I walked through the crumbling foundations of Greek and Turkish history – a thought provoking intermission to a daily routine. For a meal, I sat myself at a water front traditional taverna to enjoy dolmas, tzatziki and my beloved keftedes. Oh, and of course some ouzo for the win.
The ability to live a modern but local life surrounded by so much history is one reason why Thessaloniki has become one of my favorite destinations in Europe. It was low on my list at first – it’s far from the islands (which let’s face it, is one of the key reasons people come to visit Greece) and it’s still a lengthy bus or car ride from Athens. Luckily though, this distance from the tourism trail is one of the city’s greatest assets. Here, we found a late-summer respite from all those sparkly cruise ships and didn’t have to skimp on flavor, culture, or local appeal.
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.