On our way home from Greece we spent the night in Greece’s second largest city, Thessaloniki. I wanted to learn a bit more about Greece outside of the resort areas.
We didn’t have a great first impression. The city was very crowded and I guess the best term that comes to mind is “seedy,” and it had a much different feel than Belgrade.
It reminded me a bit of my time on the north coast of Colombia and the cities of Cartagena and Barranquilla. The uneven sidewalks, the many apartments close to the street, and the hot, humid weather, brought me back to Colombia. We also stood out with blonde children and I really felt we were in a foreign land.
I was also taken aback by the aggressiveness of the people. For example, we stopped at a roadside fruit stand and I inquired about purchasing a watermelon. When I decided not to purchase one, saying it was too expensive, the vendor flipped out, gesticulating with much anger and shouting. His colleague also gave me a dirty look and a masturbation sign. All over a watermelon???
Negative impressions aside, I did see the appeal to the city. It had a sensual side, with many young people, a proliferation of bars and cafes, and I would guess for a young, single, man, that Thessaloniki would have its charms. Across the street from the hotel there was an impressive theater and contemporary art museum. I also would have loved to stay for the International Hellenic University’s symposium on the Jewish heritage of Salonica. So it does have its cultural and intellectual side.
However, I don’t think it would be a good place for children. The crowded streets would be hazardous for running and there was not a lot of green space. I was also surprised at the lack of people who spoke English. I would guess that the education in the local area is not great, or maybe it is something with the Greek culture?
In speaking with the locals about the economic crisis, they were concerned. An owner of toy store said that his business has been down for the past three years. He said with so many people out of work, toys are not one of the essentials. Several people predicted the government would drop the Euro and go back to the Drachma. Others mentioned they couldn’t do anything about it, and were more focused on their daily lives.
Thessaloniki is only seven hours’ drive from Belgrade, but a world apart.