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Published: September 30th 2017
Geo: 40.6424, 22.9497
PIGS - Portugal, Italy, Greece, Spain ... they've been all over the news in recent years, with all their economic troubles. In Greece, the outlook has been the most dire of them all, with political upheaval and protests dominating the news. Demonstrations centred on the larger cities, Athens and Thessaloniki, so I had no idea what to expect upon arrival. But strolling around the well-to-do areas of Thessaloniki, you can't help but wonder "Economic crisis? What economic crisis???"
From the perspective of a tourist just passing through for a few nights, Thessaloniki appears to be one giant sidewalk cafe, with people packing the terraces all day and all night long, whether it be a weekday or weekend. Happy chatter, games of backgammon or cards, downing refreshingly light beers and rich, sweet iced cappuccinos, you'd never know these people had a
worry in the World.
Of course, you have to ask yourself - how come all these people are off during the middle of a weekday? Don't they have to work? Maybe the patios are only packed because the people have nowhere else to be, or maybe the typically-alarmist north American media once again blows things out of proportion. Are
things really as bad as they say?
It's difficult to say, as Thessaloniki is one of the richest cities in Greece, and the areas I've toured are probably some of the most affluent in the city. It's always difficult to truly tap into the local mentality as a tourist, especially one not stopping for long ... maybe things here really are as bad as reported in the media, but if they are, people in Thessaloniki certainly don't show it. The present may be dire and the future bleak, but you can still live for today!
Most come to Greece for the beaches and in fact, the original plan for today was to head for the coast in Halkidiki - but it's over two hours by bus each way, and walking around last night and seeing the countless outdoor cafes made me want to stick around today. Thessaloniki is also renowned for its numerous museums which, aside from hitting the beach, is the next best way of avoiding the blistering heat.
Despite it being only late morning, temperatures had already climbed over 30 C and stupidly, I decided to walk uphill to the old town, Ano Poli. It's a beautiful part of town,
full of character and traditional architecture, as well as the ubiquitous Orthodox churches in Greece. Definitely a nice way to pass the remainder of the morning.
Navigating Thessaloniki is proving to be a bit of a challenge, not only because of my lack of familiarity with Greek characters, but also because of some truly awful signage and identification of street numbers on the outskirts of the city centre. On the flight in, the Aegean Airlines propaganda magazine mentioned an interesting temporary exhibit at the Macedonian Museum of Contemporary Art - however, after nearly an hour of searching, I was unable to find the place, nor actually physically locate the exact address where it was supposed to be.
Eventually, I ended up at the Macedonian Museum of Modern Art - hmmm ... was this the correct museum, but with a slightly different take on the name? If it was, it was well over a kilometre away from where the Contemporary Museum was supposed to be ... the same magazine also showed an exhibit at the Benaki Gallery, supposedly at the intersection of two streets I couldn't find on Google, nor on any of the three tourist maps in my possession.
luck was on my side, as I was able to easily find all the cafes and pastry shops that caught my eye in the Lonely Planet. Thessaloniki's cafes serve up some of the most amazing iced cappuccinos, a rich dark roast that is surprisingly refreshing, sweet without being overly so, and topped with a light and luscious milk foam that is the antithesis of the dirty beach foam I had at Alfie's Rooftop Restaurant.
Even better are the pastry shops - I absolutely love baklava and couldn't wait to try the Greek variety. I've had several over the years traveling through the Western Balkans, but none were ever that great - I felt that I'd had better back in Calgary. But ... the baklava here has been phenomenal, with the most wonderfully crisp sheets of phyllo that shattered with each bite, soaked, but not drenched in a sweet, light syrup. Such incredible pastries cannot be of this Earth, they must have been baked on Mount Olympus, by Zeus himself!
There's no more fitting way to end the final evening in Thessaloniki than to enjoy a beautiful patio on the waterfront - Kitchen Bar is located in the port area, and
you simply can't beat the location, as evidenced by the massive patio that was packed with people, both locals and tourists. The menu wasn't the draw for me, with the high prices associated with a location on such prized real estate, and its international flair - I'm in Greece, and I want Greek food! Luckily for me, there was a special menu for tonight, featuring moussaka, the most Greek of dishes.
Never been a huge fan of moussaka, but I've only had the mediocre versions found in Canada - fortunately, this was excellent, though it's not like I'd truly know what an excellent moussaka should taste like! No matter what, it was a memorable evening enjoying the refreshing sea breeze and watching the sun go down, brilliantly illuminating Thessaloniki in the rich colours that can only exist during those fleeting moments when the sun falls, and the moon begins its slow ascent.
The beautiful scene played out to an eclectic and enjoyable mix of reggae and Spanish soft pop played in the background ... too bad the playlist consisted only of ten reggae and five Spanish songs - I heard each song at least twice!
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