Saturday, 18 July 2015

Greece – Thessaloniki (in the other Macedonia)

July 16

Hello everyone!

In spite of leaving the country, our time in Macedonia is not yet over. Don’t fret, I’ll explain everything shortly. We’re now in Greece. Riotous, bankrupt Greece.

The sign on the border almost says, "Welcome to Hell"

Scrumptious calamari

I mentioned in a previous post that the country Macedonia possesses the rather long official name of Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM). This was the moniker they were forced to adopt upon becoming independent in 1991. Seems a bit harsh really, along the lines of calling Ghana ‘The former British colony of Ghana’. They would clearly prefer establishing a clean break with the past: FYROM felt the same.

Greece and the EU: best buddies?

The reason for the long-winded name were the Greeks. You see, they have a province called Macedonia and didn’t want people to get the two confused. This funny article recently showed the perils of having similarly-named places, yet it still seems harsh on the country to have to choose a different name. Besides, most people now officially call the country ‘Republic of Macedonia’ so the name has become shorter.

We took a four-hour bus ride from Skopje, which included a long wait at the border and a mild panic when I couldn’t find my ticket to show the driver (why he waited until we got to the border to check for tickets is anybody’s guess). The bus arrived in the port city of Thessaloniki, also known as Salonica and Greece’s ‘second city’ after the capital.

An example of the graffiti artwork dotted around Thessaloniki

I didn’t think many people would visit Thessaloniki. From what I knew, most tourists either come to Athens (to indulge in the history) or the islands (to indulge in many other things). Poor Thessaloniki, up in the north of the country, all alone and merely saying hello to the gigantic tankers that roll in or dock in the dirty waters of the Thermaic Gulf.

Tankers in the distance

Well what do I know? Loads of visitors. Probably because there is quite a lot of history here, too. Thessaloniki has been a stronghold during the Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman eras; the influences of all are visible. Near where we were staying, up the steep hill, are the surprisingly intact remains of the Byzantine walls. We went geocaching and found one hidden inside the wall.

The old Byzantine wall looking over Thessaloniki

The Geocache we found in the wall

Roman ruins are visible in the form of the Forum and Rotunda. The latter, which was closed off to visitors, was originally a Roman temple to Zeus, changing hands as the various empires controlled Thessaloniki over the centuries.

The Roman Forum

The Rotunda

Lots of churches here as well. We didn’t see any mosques – a big difference from Macedonia – but observed many beautiful old churches such as the ones below.

An old, graffiti-tarred chapel

St. Sophia's Church, Thessaloniki

Thessaloniki’s main ‘symbol’, apparently, is the White Tower which stands alone along the waterfront. The story goes that it became ‘white’ after a prisoner offered to thoroughly clean its exterior in exchange for his freedom. It’s a bit grey now; they might to find another volunteer.

The White Tower

Of course, these all represent Greece’s notable past. The country is in the news for very different reasons at the moment. Not that you would notice it here. Cafes and bars were packed along the waterfront, which itself was the meeting point of throngs of people of all ages.

A key part of the local diet

People ambling along the port

We didn’t see any fires, petrol bombs or riotous mobs. Posters proclaiming anti-fascism and anti-capitalism meetings and demos were regularly seen but this is no different from when I visited Athens two years ago. The only flashpoint was when a woman was chased down the street by a surprisingly slim security guard who accused her of shoplifting. After being apprehended by a couple of people in the street, they found a large bottle of clear alcohol. Aside from this, however, everything seemed calm and relaxed.

They might have this demeanour because of the energy-sapping heat. It might also be because they’re stomachs are filled with delicious food. There is lots of it in Greece. In a 8 hour period we (I want to stress we, it wasn’t just me) ate: moussaka, Greek salad, grilled halloumi, local bread with olive oil, ice-cream, stuffed vine leaves, sardines, calamari, Greek-style meatballs and cake.



Food was cheap, with lunch costing €20 and dinner €15. The cake was given to us as a gift by the waitress, possibly after we gave a young homeless boy with an accordion the rest of our dinner bread. Good deeds and all that. In spite of what tortures they must be going through at the moment, the local people were incredibly generous and friendly.

This was very much a whistle-stop tour of Thessaloniki. It may be in Macedonia but is pretty different from the country bearing a very similar name.

Love you all


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