From Sofia I got a bus to Thessaloniki. This is the first time I’ve ever been to Greece, so I was pretty excited.
My hostel was right next to the Rotunda, which was built in 306 AD and has been both a church and a mosque through the years.
It turned out to be a slightly more dangerous part of town. It seemed to be common knowledge that this was where drug dealers liked to gather. One guy offered marijuana, then heroine, then cocaine. I already have caffeine so I wasn’t interested.
Next to the Rotunda is the Arch of Galerius and a large Orthodox church.
One nice thing about staying in hostels is how much easier it is to connect with people. On my first day I made friends with a Russian guy named Pavel in my room, and proceeded to ask endless questions about Russia. He was very nice and I was able to learn a lot about a country I won’t be visiting on this trip. It was also nice to complain together about how hot and un-Canada/Russia like the temperature was.
Thessaloniki has its own Hagia Sophia based on the one in Turkey.
Pavel had already been here a few days and brought me to the place that supposedly sold the best bougatsa in Thessaloniki, and it was excellent.
I also managed to find a coffee place I liked enough to walk across town for.
We walked down to the waterfront to see the symbol of the city – The White Tower.
Returning to the hostel always involved avoiding eye contact with sketchy people trying to sell me things and being welcomed by the hostel cat.
I had to check out the Rotunda at some point, and I was impressed when I got inside. Specifically, I loved the mosaics.
One interesting sight that I wouldn’t have guessed to be in Thessaloniki was the house that Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of modern Turkey, was born.
The land the house is on actually belongs to Turkey now, and was full of Turkish tourists.
One afternoon, despite the heat I somehow managed to convince Pavel to explore a different part of town with me, so we went on what ended up being an hour or so trek up to the fortress overlooking the city.
Having grown up in Russia, he wasn’t quite as impressed as I was with the orthodox churches. I guess when you’re comparing to St. Basil’s Cathedral it’s hard to be impressed.
This one was cool though, and gave a view of the city and the hill we were working on.
We stopped at a grocery store to get water, sweating profusely, and I mentioned to the lady at the cash that we were from Canada and Russia. She asked a very good question: “why are you here?” To suffer in the heat is my suspicion.
Perhaps is wasn’t the wisest decision to make this trip in the afternoon, but we got to see a lot of the city by ourselves as most other tourists weren’t out in the heat.
The next day there were still some things around the city I wanted to see, so I ended up doing another afternoon of walking.
That night I was returning to the hostel a little after dark. I was just walking past the usual group of dealers, about to make it inside without trouble, when eight policemen on motorcycles suddenly pull up and start searching everyone. So I tiptoed my way around motorcycles and cops as people were being patted down, just happy it didn’t turn violent.
Turns out the ruins outside the Rotunda provide some good perches to nap on.
I was a little overwhelmed by just how much there was to see in Thessaloniki. It may have been a little more danger than what I’m used to, but the layers of civilization and culture made my time there enjoyable.
There was of course evidence of the Roman presence in the ancient forum in the centre of town.
I saw it as a good sign that not only did Pavel come on another walk with me, but he accompanied me to an Orthodox Church that I’m sure he wasn’t interested in. My time in Thessaloniki was made much better by having a friend to share it with.
As the first of my four Greek destinations, Thessaloniki did not disappoint.