Thessaloniki – Salonica


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.

The busy waterfront at sunset.

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?

A typical street scene in Thessaloniki

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.

A Relaxing Day

We took a day trip to Diaporos Island, the largest of the nine islands off the coast near our hotel. The boys enjoyed snorkeling and exploring the island. It was very relaxing. The islands and the area remind me of the Mochima National Park in Venezuela. The blue waters and hot, dry climate are reminiscent of our times there. I was not impressed with the amount of garbage on the bottom of the sea and on the islands themselves. A cleanup and an environmental consciousness needs to be brought forth in this area.

We left Vourvourou for a day in Thessaloniki. We packed up and said goodbye to the Ekies Resort. I would highly recommend the hotel. It was perfect for kids with a pool, sandy beach in a protected cove, and other stuff for them to do like a trampoline, billiards, etc. The food was delicious and the design of the rooms, restaurant, and beach front was perfect! We would definitely go back.

It is nice to have beaches like this a day’s drive from Belgrade. I can see why so many Serbs travel to Greece for the summer holidays. It would be like driving from Michigan to Cancun, Mexico in one day.

My Thoughts On Greece

As you can see, it is quite beautiful on the Aegean Sea. I’ve been reading about Greece’s economic problems and the recent elections recently in Slate and in the Wall Street Journal . I also read Robert Kaplan’s Greek chapters in his book, Balkan Ghosts: A Journey Through History. Below are my thoughts on the country and the things I have learned. Note that I’ve only been in the resort for a few days and have only spoken to employees, so this is no way an informed or experienced view. The purpose of this post is to crystallize my opinions of Greece.

  • I learned that the Greeks refer to themselves as Hellenes and the country Hellas. “Greek” is a corrupted form of the Turkish word for dog or slave.
  • I agree with Kaplan that Greece is more Balkan than Mediterranean. That is if you can define a place with those two “adjectives.” He means Balkan in that Greece is the mother Orthodox Church, from which the other  Balkan Orthodox Churches were developed (Serbia, Macedonia, Bulgaria, Romania), the Byzantine Empire, which shaped the cultures of the Balkans, was basically a Greek Empire, with its capital being Constantinople, and also the Cyrillic Alphabets in the Balkans are also of Greek origin.
  • Salonika, or today known as Thessaloniki, used to be a predominately Jewish city. Jews found refuge in the city from 140BC to 1500 AD. 96.5 percent of them were wiped out by the Nazis at Auschwitz and other camps. With hundreds of thousands of Greek refugees fleeing Ataturk filling the city, any trace of the Jews in Salonika is gone.
  • I can see why the Greeks hate the Turks so much. I didn’t realize that Constantinople was a Greek city and the Hagia Sophia was built by the Byzantines in 500 AD. Ataturk wreaked havoc on the Greeks living in Asia Minor and the Greek city of Smyrna is today 100% Turk and named Izmir.
  • Most people do not know much about the recent history of Greece. The 20th century had lots of war and bad government. Kaplan had a good quote, “It had become just another Eastern European country: its population emerging, completely bewildered, into an unsentimental world where efficiency and hard work, rather than notions of past glory and philotimo were all that mattered.”
  • Like many nations, or states, or city governments, Greece needs to balance their budget. They spend wastefully and owe Germany and the European Union a lot of money, with a huge debt. This past quarter, unemployment in Greece was over 22%, which is twice as much as usual. It is however, a quite developed nation and I’ve seen good infrastructure and definitely not Third World. Greece has come a long way since the days of terrorist bombings in the 70’s and 80’s. I don’t envy the new Prime Minister, Antonis Samaras’s job. He and his colleagues need to make the government more efficient, protect the poor, find jobs for young people, and negotiate with the IMF and European Central Bank about the bailout and balancing the budget over time. Yikes!

I’ll share more thoughts if we stay longer.