Wednesday, August 30, 2017

[THESSALONIKI] All Chill Here in Thess

When you tell people that you are going to Greece, they are quick to conjure images of the blue and white houses of Santorini or the Parthenon in Athens. This is the default set of imagery that one associates with the country. And then I thought, hey, why not Thessaloniki? Thessalo-what? Thessaloniki is in the northern part of Greece, not far away from the Macedonian border. In fact, the region is called Central Macedonia. Are you confused yet? So am I, but let’s discuss further.

After some research, I found out that the term Macedonia is a rather controversial word. This is said to be the reason as to why most Greeks refer to the country as FYROM (Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia). But why are we discussing this anyway? Let’s leave politics to those interested in it. In any case, I would’ve chosen Athens and Santorini too, but this decision has more to do with practicality and air connections, as well as upping the country count. You know I have a mission to accomplish.

The Athens – Santorini combo would’ve been ideal if I were going back to Southeast Asia afterwards. Scoot plies the Athens – Singapore route for cheap, you know. But this is just a one-week break. I still have to go back to Germany on Monday. There are no cheap direct flights from Athens to Basel, but from Skopje, yes there is. And so I thought, hey, why not just settle for Thessaloniki and then bus to Skopje later on? And so I ended up in Thessaloniki. Am I dissatisfied with my choice?

Not really. Thessaloniki is mostly unknown to tourists who have no idea about Greece outside Athens and Santorini. However, this city is quite well-known to backpackers and European tourists alike. Touted as the country’s cultural capital, there is an unmistakably vibrant vibe here as well as a chill atmosphere associated with its harbors and abundance of squares and cafes. Even so, there are ruins here and there that you just stumble upon as you gallivant around town. Shortchanged? I don’t think so.

But I still chose to chill. My Cyprus itinerary was a hectic one day/one city kind of thing. I arrived at lunch time, had lunch, went sightseeing, uploaded all the relevant documentation by dinner, woke up the next morning, and hopped on another bus. Repeat. It was stressful. For Thessaloniki, I set aside two days not to see more, but rather to see what I can in a leisurely pace. This is why Day One was just all about taking a stroll around the city and getting a grip on the overall feel, which I ended up liking.

I started early on my second day, but decided to just see the main areas of interests for most tourists. My Airbnb place is close to many museums catering to different eras of the city’s past. In my opinion, though, the city itself is an open museum. Like I said, you will find ruins incorporated within the vicinity of the parks and the pedestrian streets. You will see structures from the 3rd and 4th century right next to apartment complexes from the 80’s or the 90’s. That juxtaposition is surreal, to some extent.

What I’ve noticed is the similarity in architectural style. There’s just too much brick involved, or some material that resembles it. As opposed to the ruins I’ve seen in Cyprus, the ancient structures here in Thessaloniki don’t seem so ancient. Why so? I think it’s because of that very co-existence with modern life. Those structures that stood the test of time have been absorbed into the city’s urban sprawl that sometimes your brain tricks you into believing that they were constructed just a few decades ago.

But more than these persisting relics from 1600 years ago, what I appreciate most about this city is the body of water stalking you from the harbor. In any bright and sunny day, you will see the surface of the water sparkling under the sun’s rays as if it rained diamonds. The last time I saw something as stunning was in Port Moresby. Despite the heat and the crowd, that image gives you some semblance of tranquility somehow, a stress reliever of a view that I wouldn’t mind enjoying from time to time.

I won’t talk about the churches and the temples anymore. Seeing them with your own two eyes requires no further elaboration. I’ve been here in Thessaloniki for only two days, but the images I saw will linger in my mind for quite some time. The probability of coming back depends on my motivation to learn Modern Greek. My university of choice is the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, which means I might be coming back after all. When that time comes, I’m sure I’ll get to know the city even more. For now, I chill.

[THESSALONIKI] All Chill Here in Thess

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