Thessaloniki: The New Barcelona

By: Bella Papodopoulou Dobrowolska and Morgan Pettersson

A local fisherman sits on an old crate next to the port, quietly sipping his coffee watching the world pass by. It has been three hours now and he has only paused to greet the occasional passer by or old friend. The man is drinking a traditional Thessalonikian Frappe, which is so strong that you need at least two hours to drink it. Legend tells that it was invented to force the hectic Athenians to sit down and take time to stop and enjoy life. Some claim it is the new Barcelona, but one thing is certain if you want to learn the art of living then Thessaloniki is your place.

Geographically located in the heart of the Balkans, Thessaloniki is the forgotten but unspoilt city of Greece. For centuries it has acted as a crossroads for different civilizations and religions which make up the character of the city today. It is a city of diversity, and you really feel that it has its roots in the east but is always looking to the west. Egnatia street which runs through the centre of the city was the ancient trading route which ran from Rome to Istanbul, placing Thessaloniki directly between Byzantine and Ottoman influences.

This city has seen many changes throughout the 2,300 years of its history, which haven’t always been peaceful, such as 480 years of Ottoman occupation and a civil war. The city got its name from Alexander the Greats sister, Thessaloniki, although little physical remains can be found from that time period due to the fire that broke out in 1917. What does remain reflects the atmosphere of the Byzantine past amongst others is the old town wall which still visibly surrounds part of Ano Poli and Agia Achiropitos one of the oldest churches in not only Greece, but the greater Balkan region. Unlike Athens the ruins and monuments are open to the public, so walking through the city you constantly encounter reminders of ancient times, and thereby you become a part of history. Or as Stavros Orailoglou the press advisor of the regional governor of central Macedonia says,

”When you come to Thessaloniki you come closer to and feel closer to cities history” he says.

Today Thessaloniki, Greece’s second largest city, is a thriving youth metropol that never sleeps, which has something to offer everyone. The city is nestled in a valley, surrounded by mountains in the north and the Aegean sea in the south creating the perfect atmosphere for a calm state of mind.  Relatively untouched by tourism compared to other destinations in the country the city retains its traditional way of life, making it a treasure of the Mediterranean. The charm of Thessaloniki is that it retains the feel of a small village, where daily life revolves around coffee time.

Stavros Orailoglou believes that the hospitality shown by the people is part of the city’s allure.

”The people are friendly and they love visitors. They can rest and have this beautiful coffee time, the people here work to live not live to work” he says.

Another occurrence that cements Thessaloniki as a vibrant and creative city is the nomination for theEuropean Capital of Youth for 2014. Maria Paschalidou the minister of youth and volunteering for Thessaloniki believes that the city finally has its time to shine.

“Thessaloniki is a rather “un touched” city when it comes to cultural actions and this is why I believe that if we will become the Youth Capital in 2014, we will do it with a lot of passion and enthusiasm. Thessalonikians are known for having a thirst for creativity and fantasy.”

“What makes Thessaloniki different to the rest of Greece is its inspiration. This city is like very fertile piece of land that when you plant a seed of creative thoughts, it will grow up and blossom like a flower” she says.

Ano Poli, is the traditional old town that hosts many Greek restaurants and boasts amazing views over looking the city’s bay. Here you will pass the ancient wall and literary walk into what once was the byzantine village.

Drinking copious amounts of coffee, is one thing that you cannot miss even if you want to as you will find a continuing strip of cafeterias along the waterfront. Sit down, relax and sip a Frappe for 3 hours whilst enjoying the sun and the sea view.

Tavernas are an integral part of the culture here in Greece, with meals lasting hours. Food is shared in the centre of the table, and if you are lucky you will be serenaded by bouzouki players.

There are over 20 museums in the city, to keep you busy which boast a range of artifacts and exhibits. The two main attractions are the Byzantine Museum and the Archaeological Museum. Opening times vary so check before going.

Nightlife in Thessaloniki is always dancing to the rhythm of the city any night of the week. Bars and clubs are scattered through out the city, and in the summer time there are even party boats which circle around the bay offering a fun alternative.

Bouzoukia is a Greek traditional way of partying. The Bouzoukia is a Greek nightclub where the traditional instrument Bouzouki is played, while people are dancing on tables and throwing flowers. This is something not to be missed as you wont find anything like it in any other place in the world.

Walking along the promenade next to the white tower, which is the symbol of Thessaloniki, is a great way to relax and soak up the atmosphere of the city. Old and young sit sipping coffee, fishermen gossip and street merchants shout their wares.

Tsimiski street is the perfect place to shop away the day, with all the leading brands of the fashion and design world, including many local Greek designers.

Halkidiki, the so called Greek Riviera, is the place the locals go to get away from the city to relax and enjoy coffee on the beach instead. Only 70 kilometres away the crystal clear turquoise water and white sand make you feel that you are in a Mediterranean Paradise.

Its been three hours, and the sun is beginning to set over the bay of Thessaloniki. His coffee finished, the old fisherman begins to rise to leave when he spots his old friend Kostas, and takes him under the arm to lead him to the next coffee place for another round of Frappe.

This is the true essence of this city, that has its roots in the pleasure and art of living, this is simply Thessaloniki.

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