Thessaloniki Trauma

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March 30th 2005
Published: March 30th 2005
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The White Tower ThessalonikiThe White Tower ThessalonikiThe White Tower Thessaloniki

Scene of bloody torture and Ottoman oppression during the occupation, then known as the Bloody Tower. Now the symbol of Thessaloniki
The romance of long distance train journeys has been well and truly wasted on me. The Trans-Balkan Express is the now misnamed service from Budapest to Thessaloniki, 15 years ago the route would travel through the former Yugoslavian countries in around 24hrs, now it winds it's way across to Bucharest and Sophia finally arriving in Thessaloniki 36 hrs after departure. It's a long time to find yourself on a train with no company - I was the only passenger using the sleeping carriages for most of the way. The most scenic areas of transit are passed through in the dark, with long hours suffering the wait at border control. I slept a months worth and demolished all the books I took with me.

I'd traveled down to Thessaloniki to see my girlfriend who was on a student exchange program there. Erasmus is a opportunity for students from all over Europe to spend a semester or a year in a university away from home, a great thing in the first few years - but I think unwise in the final year of medical studies. Also terrible timing for me - with the busiest season of freelance web work I hoped that I'd find Internet cafes that would allow the connection of my laptop. If not this trip would be really difficult.

My first impressions of Thessaloniki were of a larger city than I expected, with horrendous architecture, busy traffic and rude people. But the sea front is nice, cafes and coffee shop culture and despite being rude, some of the friendliest people I've met improved my perceptions. Having endured earthquakes, fires and occupation of the ottomans, it's not surprising that very few buildings date from beyond the 1970's, those that remain are mainly Byzantine Churches, there is also the White Tower - symbol of Thessaloniki, and the castle on the hill overlooking the city.

My first few days were spent trying to find a helpful Internet cafe, I asked at over 20 and not one would allow me to plug a laptop into the network, despite some even having posters of happy laptop users surfing away on the store fronts. Eventually I found a public wifi hotspot at the passenger port of the ferry terminal, no where to power the laptop so was forced to work in 1.5 hr bursts, things eased a little when I got a dial
The ArchThe ArchThe Arch

Main meeting point for Thessaloniki, note the attractive buildings around.
up number that I could use from the student dorm - but all said, Thessaloniki is the least technologically friendly city I have ever tried to work from - (and the CS students at the university study Fortran - yes I am trolling here 😉 )

The difficulties with working and a row with my girlfriend probably coloured my impressions of the city - so I'll try to talk about some of the positive things;

Food and Cakes - the food is great, generally, lashings of olive oil and the desserts rich with honey and spice can wile away any afternoon. The “fish n chips” was interesting the chips were great but the fish salty to the point where I couldn't eat it - but the sauces with it were great.

The White Tower - known as the bloody Tower during the Ottoman occupation due to the gruesome torture of young Christians that occurred there. Painted white after the uprising and renamed. Symbol of Thessolniki.

The castle (will add the name soon) - a prison until 1989, slowly being restored and opened to the public, quite small but there is a beautiful little church in the
The RotundaThe RotundaThe Rotunda

One of the oldest churches in Thessaloniki, currently closed to the public while restoration and archeaology occurs.
grounds that makes it really atmospheric.

The Greek students who I met and talked to were so friendly, invited us to parties that start at 10pm and go on till 5 or 6, had lots of interesting things to say.

A few (more) negatives;

The traffic - it is crazy, the rules of the highway give cars right of way at nearly all times even with green pedestrian crossing lights, continual traffic noise throughout the city, (screeching, crashing, honking horns) and only two pedestrianised areas. Hazard lights are used as excuses to stop anywhere at anytime, drive down one way streets. Parking is permissible in two rows, people leave mobile phone numbers on the windscreen in case they've blocked someone in, if not horns are held continuously until someone moves the car - this can take many minutes.

Extremely crowed buses and rude passengers - I'm well aware of differing cultures, but when you get off a bus to let the people inside alight - it is stupid for the other passengers waiting on the outside to push past you, not let the people inside get off, get on themselves, and then refuse to make room for you to get back on. I guess these attitudes are self feeding - to avoid being stranded on the pavement the passengers refuse to get off which means that people on the bus can't get off, which leads to pushing, shoving and stress.

The end of this story is that I rented a car for four days experienced the terrible Thessaloniki traffic from the drivers perspective, drove out of that dump* and visited much more of Greece, which had some of the most beautiful landscapes, towns, villages, beaches that I've ever seen.

*yep I would describe Thessaloniki as a dump - it has potential and one or two redeeming features - but I'd never live there or recommend it for a vacation.

Additional photos below
Photos: 11, Displayed: 11


Traditional Greek ClothingTraditional Greek Clothing
Traditional Greek Clothing

From the national day parade Thessaloniki.
Agia SophiaAgia Sophia
Agia Sophia

I think - will double check soon
Traditional Greek DressTraditional Greek Dress
Traditional Greek Dress

More from the parade.
Greek Men in UniformGreek Men in Uniform
Greek Men in Uniform

Something for the girls...

29th April 2005

Castle's name
So, Ali... Castle's name is eptapirgio which means seven castle. Also known with it's turkish name gentikoule which means new tower. More comments comming soon, I have to explain you somethings... - You know who I am...
29th April 2005

> More comments comming soon, I have to explain you somethings... - You know who I am...
Damn - cryptic comments :) Sorry I don't know who you are - I hope the following comments enlighten me!
18th September 2005

ur joking
thessaloniki is the most friendliest city in europe...u had bad experience with a couple and u brand the city rude a dump....u havent been to too many places...u want rude go to england and italy and friend u must have been a smart ass for the thessalonikians to act that way to u....
19th September 2005

You obviously didn't go visit the right places...
Thessaloniki is maybe the most beautiful and livable city in Greece, not only in my opinion which is biased since I live there, but also in the opinion of thousands of people I have met from all over Greece. Granted there are the problems that you described (rudeness, almost crazy traffic) but it is not such a big deal if you are used to it; which you obviously weren't. To call it a dump is just ridiculous... anyway as we say in Greece "we can't be liked by Everyone"...
27th September 2005

Dump & Thessaloniki
I stand by my description - I've seen thousands of cities world wide. Foti: thanks for the personal assumptions - all wrong. Phaeden: Yes you are biased - if you like the city and enjoy your life there - great. I had a bad time there - I don't blame the city or people but it coloured my view of it, and a lot of it is ugly - granted earthquakes and fires have made it that way. If you want to have a rose coloured view of Thessaloniki - please just read the positives section.
13th October 2005

Hard truth
Gents, I am also a citizen of Thessaloniki even though I have been living abroad since the age of 19. As it usually happens in life, truth is somewhere in the middle: Ali, being a foreigner, could not really know where to go, what to do, how to behave. He did see a very small part of the city. So, it is too early for him to have a concrete opinion. However, he is right that Thessaloniki looks like a huge backwater city where nothing really catches the eye. Architecture: does not exist. People: poor with old mentality and limited modern understanding of the world (that is why our sports teams fail repeatedly and all our good scientists leave either for abroad or Athens). The city is not organised to receive foreigners and travellers. The buses do not even have a diagram of the route and the bus stops! Things are changing (these are the good news) but we are a few years away (these are the bad news). Big public constructions will "drag the Thessalonikians by the hair" to start thinking big and not like villagers as they do know! Howver, Thessaloniki RULES! AThens is the real dump!
13th October 2005

One more detail...
The really good city, does not require from a foreigner to have good local knowledge of the place in order to get by! It must provide for him what is necessary: transport, info, MENTALITY! So yes, Ali had and still has a very limited idea of the place, but he is not supposed to "pay local guides" in order to take him through the jungle:)
15th December 2005

Well I stumbled along this site by sheer chance, I am from England but I have been living here in Thessaloniki for 3 years now, I have also lived in Athens (which is a dump I may ad) and many other places, Thessaloniki is an amazing place, I know hundreds of foreigners living here from all over the world America England and Austrialia etc etc and Thessaloniki is loved by everyone, Its become a bit of a joke lately that everyone I invite here from abroad ends up staying, no wonder Thessaloniki is the 2nd most expensive place in Europe to by a house by the square meter now, as everyone wants to live here. So really I think I can say that its a proven fact by the thousands of foreigners here that you are quite wrong about your theory of thessaloniki, obviously it just wasnt you month or something
31st December 2005

It's been a long time Ali
...and I hope now you can judge things better. It's a fact that you had a bad time in Thessaloniki (in adition to your g/f ) but you should also consider that for a month or so you were staying here for free in the dormitory eating at the university's menza for free althought you're not a student or something and even using a public wireless network for your laptop... From your last post it seems that you're still ungratefull but I hope time will heal your "trauma" and you will reconsider.
1st January 2006

To Remember Me...
Without a name I don't know who you are - anyway a few corrections - I stayed for free, on the floor of my xgf's room for a lot less than a month (less than 2 weeks) and ate at the menza only a few times - for which I am and was grateful. I think you're probably one of the greek students I met, you guys were all great - I had the best time in Thessaloniki when I hung out with you. But I reserve my right to have my opinions and won't change them due to it being a long time. This blog is also a lesson: there are an equal number of positive and negative points made about the city - but it's the negative points that draw all the attention. The same things could be written about London or Mexico City or Budapest. Yeah - "dump" is a little harsh - but that was my immediate impression and when I left I was glad. Putting personal judgements about me based on my opinions of a city that I openly state that I had a bad time in is silly and petty - to be honest I only even think about Thessaloniki when I get a comment on this blog... happy 2006 to all in Thessaloniki - I know if I was to go back I'd have a better time, but I'd stay just a few days and not try to work.
25th January 2006

nice city best people
I was born there but don't live there any more. But when I go visit relatives I get very excited,because I always have a good time. Like someone mentioned in this blog. YOU HAVE TO KNOW HOW TO HAVE FUN IN THIS GREAT CITY OF OURS AND EUROP>.
8th March 2006

Listen, i will make this brief and to the point. I have been there and its an amazing city. Your ignorant pre-mature judgement is what provoked my response. I live in New York City and it is one of the greatest cities in the world(but not flawless). Doesn't every city have its "dumps"? I dont have to visit, but i can tell that if you are any indication of the type of people i would run into where you live, then i would definately avoid THAT DUMP. Dont get pissed when you insult people and they react.Next time stay out of GREECE alltogether!
1st May 2006

this is hillarious
to say that Thessaloniki is a dump is like saying that the sea is not blue!!! i really wonder where you come from my friend. It must be a great city, otherwise you would not have said all those things about thessalonika. All the people that were nice to you (for some reason) are great and you look back with colourful thoughts regarding them but all others you despise. HOW STRANGE!!! no-one disagrees that the traffic conditions are notoriously bad but this is the main flaw of the city, hence you went over and over discussing it. I live in UK for some years but I'm always anxious to visit Thessaloniki and be a part of this crazyness because it is a part of who we are. People there are flexible and easy to communicate with, unlike people here in England who are unwilling to go beyond their absolute duties and are always rude to foreigners pretending they do not understand what they're saying because of a false pronounciation of words. Anyway, i hope there are many people who will agree that Thessaloniki is beautiful in its own way and those of us who have grown up there and really know it should be the ones to judge it. Not all you temporary visitors
8th May 2006

darling u have no idea...
...what Thessalomiki is about. Had 2 weeks there and already have an opinion? Do u call yourself a traveller? I woudn't. What did u expect, Paris or London? It's Greece, you have to live there and feel the life, then u'll know. P.S. I'm not Greek, but I was in Halkidiki for 3 months.
18th July 2006

Thessaloniki is great!
I am from Athens and not Thessaloniki so I'll try and be as objective as I can. I have visited the city twice and this is my opinion. I think Thessaloniki is a great city. There are lovely parts of the city that need exploring. I don't know if you had the chance to visit some of those areas but describing Thessaloniki as a dump is uncalled for. And I too have traveled around the world including but not limited too NYC, London, Rome, Orlando, Chicago, etc. And I can say that even those world class cities have negatives but it wouldn't be right to brand them as "dumps" for whatever reason! Anyway, with that said, I do agree with you about the traffic! The traffic in Thessaloniki is absolutely horrendous (especially along the sea front going towards the white tower). I think that most Greeks would agree with that statement! But overall, I think that Thessaloniki is modernizing, a new metro will be built, the white tower area is being revamped and the city is being cleaned up even more! Let's hope Thessaloniki becomes a world class city like I know it can! Cheers!
4th January 2007

Man who told you that the arch is the meeting point of Thessaloniki??? I live in Thessaloniki and I can tell you that I dont hang around there. If you are looking for buildings from1600.1700.or 1800 then know this: Thessaloniki whas under Turkish flag and they are not known for their buildings so....And who says that a metro or big roads make a city great.Is Hong Kong great?Is Detroit great?for whom?Is a city great when you can walk the streets alone whithout being afraid great?even though it has no metro??And one more thing,in Greece we dont parade for fun we had to blead to get our land back!!so dont get funny over that.Ali one last coment you dont sound like a globetrotter man you sound like a little man who left home for the first time,you came but you didnt se....
9th May 2007

Wireless network access
This is a rather old article, although most of the things may be as discribed above. Today, Thessaloniki has one of the largest city-wifi network in Greece which is interconnected to other cities and there are many wireless nodes that provide free internet access in public places. have a look at: maps ps.: next time, visit some new things... like the largest mall in Greece: and Chalkidiki beaches ;)
9th August 2007

I have lived in Thessaloniki for three years and agree with the author. People--if they don't know you--are beyond rude. I even had a woman walk off in a huff once when my attempt to answer her request for directions in halting Greek was too slow for her. Definately an ugly city with an ugly dog-eat-dog mentality.
18th February 2008

are you successful at this....?
Ali, if you want to be a successful travel photojournalist, do your homework before you leave home. Get an education before you start making assumptions about an entire culture. Your article was painful to read, not that I'm in love with Thessaloniki but because your snide, bratty, and pompous air was written between every line.
24th February 2008

The bigotry and Racism continues against the Hellenic Culture...
The Hellenes were enslaved for 400 years while the rest of Europe was going thru the enlightnment Period but don't misunderstand the progress of Greeks to catchup to their previous Glory with lack of Culture, after all the British Empire is ruled by Germans and Greeks to this day.
24th July 2008

Give the guy a break!
I visited the city for the brilliant film festival last year, I know Greeks are proud and not good at taking criticism but you have to admit whilst the festival is great, the commercial centre is great, the views of the snow capped mountains are awe inspiring...the holes in the pavements, the cables lying everywhere, ugly building blocks and unattended building sites do not do a lot for the image of the place. I have to say everyone I met was lovely, I must ask, did you try talking Greek?
27th December 2008

I 've had an experience similar to Ali's in Thessaloniki. I seriously think the place is an armpit. It's disorganised, everything he says about traffic is true and the drivers are hostile for no reason at all. None of that famous laid-back greek attitude one would expect. Everyone seemed very stressed and moody. The train station and the trains are beyond belief. It's like entering a time tunnel. Bar-life was great though. I had fun cause I manage to have fun wherever I go but the city is a toilet.
28th February 2009

Technical issues
I would like to say that the city seems to lack public internet access. I barely found a free hotspot. The most interesting thing is that even coffeshops such as Starbuck's or Pizza Hut have developped a greedy system: you have to pay to use their hotspot. At the moment I am writing from a coffeshop near Leoforos Nikis. I relly cannot remember Greek names [it's very difficult!!]. Do you actually have some suggestions concerning this internet issues? As for the city, I enjoy it very very much. It's a dream came true! I adore Thessaloniki!
18th May 2010
Traditional Greek Clothing

hi haw are you
30th October 2010
The Castle Jail

23rd January 2011
Traditional Greek Clothing

29th November 2016

My 2 cents...
I'm from Portland, Oregon visiting my daughter who is a student here for one semester. I'm certain there are lovely people here and maybe there is something pretty hiding among the chaos. But my cliff notes description is this... Thessaloniki: an upscale 1980's Tijuana but without the charming people.

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