The first nasty thing to happen on our trip happened on the bus from Bulgaria into Greece – my ipod was stolen. But if that’s the only bad thing to happen on the trip, I’ll take it! We arrived in Thessaloniki and set out to meet our host at the main square. Mirsini is a university student studying to be a veterinarian and she was an incredibly gracious host. She also had the most adorable 3 month old Pug puppy. I should correct myself and say the most ugly pug puppy – so ugly it was adorable! Our first night Mirsini took us on a night tour of the city (the new town section) and showed us our way around. We also stopped to have the most delicious pastries that are a local specialty of Thessaloniki. Their name translates as ‘triangles’ and essentially they are triangle shaped phyllo pastry filled with pastry cream. So rich and sweet but delicious!
The next day we had breakfast (yum baklava and Greek sweets) at a nice bakery before heading to the White Tower (which is no longer very white) to have a look around. There was a storm coming in off the sea and it was drizzling a bit but it was a lovely walk. The tower got its name from a punishment in which a prisoner whitewashed the entire tower in return for his freedom. A big task for one person! Inside the tower was a museum about the history of the city – a good starting place for looking around the city. It has a rich history as a major trading hub and was influenced by the major powers in almost every era.
We then went a checked out several Greek Orthodox Churches as well as a Mosque and the old ruins of the Agora and the ruins of the old city gate. Lots of old ruins and buildings in Greece! We also managed to stumble on the beginnings of a riot (although we missed the tear gas that happened later in the evening) and with our luck we also managed to end up in between the protesters burning dumpsters and the riot police. We got out of there rather quickly and Mirsini explained later that there are always riots on that day because a few years ago the police killed a teenage boy on that date. Luckily we missed the worst of it!
We headed to a café and had enormous salads for lunch before having the owner of the café enforce free dessert on us. This happened quite frequently in Greece – I suppose in the north they aren’t used to tourists, especially in the winter so people were very excited to see us and often we were offered free food in restaurants – the owner would bring over a plate with their favourite dish and offer it to us “this is from me!” was the common refrain. The hospitality is really quite wonderful – as was the food!
The next day we took the bus up to the Old Town – built up on the hill after we explored the market and had breakfast. Once we found the Old Town, we wandered around the walls for a while before getting horribly lost. Eventually we sort of figured out where we were and decided to have some lunch at a tiny little empty restaurant. After a huge lunch (the problem with free food) we set out to find a church we saw. Unfortunately, because we were looking for it, we couldn’t find it but we did find a lovely little wilderness area up a hill and saw some traditional Greek topography before giving up on the church and deciding to wander home. Of course the minute we gave up on it, we turned the corner and there it was! It was a very lovely example of Greek Orthodox churches and I’m glad we found it at last! We wandered back down to the New Town and found a pet store selling all sorts of unusual creatures – most strange were chipmunks. I’m not sure that they’d be good pets and I’m not convinced they wouldn’t carry disease – but I suppose they’re a novelty here! That evening we went out with Mirsini to meet some friends at a bar and have some drinks which was lovely until Janice got a migraine from all the smoke and loud music, so we headed back early and I caught up on some business before heading to bed in preparation for our trip to Istanbul the next day.