I first visited Salonica October 2014 at the very end of my last Europe adventure with another traveling American on the very beginning of her Europe adventure. Thessaloniki is the 2nd largest city in Greece and is the capital of Greek Macedonia with a population just over 1 million people. The city is renowned for its festivals, events and vibrant cultural life in general, and is considered as Greece’s cultural capital. Lucky or unlucky for me the Thessaloniki International Trade Fair was taking place over the weekend of my 2nd 4 night visit in September 2015. I stayed at Hostel Studios Arabas for 2 nights located in the northern part of the city, called Ano Poli (old town) the only part of the city that survived the big fire of 1917. Be sure to ask about the Best of Balkans Hostel passport cover if you don’t already have it, it will give you 10% discount off select hostels throughout the Balkans plus a bonus gift upon your arrival like a shot of Rakia, a beer, food, laundry and even a free night after your 20th visit to a Best of Balkans hostel.
Ano Poli, the upper town will make you feel as if time has stood still; you’ll immediately be stricken by its unique style, so different from that of the rest of Thessaloniki that will travel you back to the city’s Byzantine past.
Ano Poli can be reached on foot, if you don’t mind a bit of walking (bring water its a very steep hill), or by bus (22, 23). Take a stroll in the graphic stone paved little streets surrounded by small beautiful ottoman houses and enjoy the amazing panoramic view of the city and sea – catching the sunset is to be sought-after (great spot is by the Trigonio Tower on the old fortress wall). (See pic)
Do not miss out on the numerous little taverns with traditional cuisine of Minor Asia and Macedonia that reflect the area’s history and cultural identity, at very reasonable prices.
On the first full day in the city I walked around the old city with Marko Serbian friend I met at the hostel. Because it was less than a year since my last visit the free walking tour that was offered by the hostel was still very fresh to me, he and I did it on our own and it tried to my best as the tour guide. After sweating out roughly 2 liters, we decided to go eat at Kanoula located on 8 Raktivan Street, a very authentic Greek kitchen and cuisine style tavern. For 5 Euro I was able to get a chicken fillet with rice and a sweet and sour type of sauce as well as the bread which we didn’t order, but had to pay 1 Euro for. (See pic) We then headed south to see the famous White Tower, it became a notorious prison and scene of mass executions during the period of Ottoman rule. It was substantially remodeled and its exterior was whitewashed after Greece gained control of the city in 1912. It has been adopted as the symbol of the city. (see pic at top of page)
After two nights staying at the hostel I decided that I wanted stay 2 more but when I tried to they booked full for the rest of the weekend due to the trade fair being held that weekend. With the new information at hand I had to make moves so decided to hitchhike to Litochoro a small town where Mt Olympos resides. Later that I night I met a German guy named Simon and he had also planned on staying a couple more nights but was unaware that they were sold out. A few beers later we had a plan, he was going to join me to Mt Olympos via hitchhiking. After talking for several hours it became clear that we were going to get along, que the Oliver soundtrack now…… Not much longer after making our plan Simon received an email from a Couchsurfer host- Niki a German native who alos has Greek routes and she said that Simon could stay on her couch. The slight problem was that we were unable to get in touch with her to see if I could also stay, after checking out her online profile we saw that she hosts multiple guests at a time. We figured we would just go to meet her and see what she would say, thankfully she was very nice and allowed the both of us to stay in her flat. 3.50 Euro and one pint later at her favorite Irish watering hole, we headed out to her place a short bus ride away. She provided us with a couch, a mattress and said if we grabbed some lemons she would prepare us a local dish that you couldn’t find at any restaurant, Spinach Risotto with lemons. (See pic)
Later that night we headed over towards the Trade fair found this very nice and cheap bar we grabbed a some raki and beers, the raki ended up to be the best bang for buck. The pour was a very heavy one and varied per bartender. We were lucky enough to meet the owners of the bar and of course we did a shot of raki together. After talking about the united states with the owner for 15 minutes we paid out tab 5 Euro each (The raki was 2 Euro) and headed over to the trade fair with our drinks in hand. The International Trade Fair was held in a large area near the cities University campus on the East side of the city. With over 15 different buildings housing everything from beds, bikes, live stock, home goods, food, kitchen sinks, as seen on Tv knick knacks and even a fashion show, and gaming hall that had every video game you could think of being played. (See pic below) For the 3 Euro entry cost we were able to see quite a bit in the few hours that we spent there, we ate numerous food samples of Greek food, tried some Cannibis drink and enjoyed the open air Greek concert (apparently they were pretty popular as the locals knew al the words) that closed out each day of the trade fair. After the Concert we headed towards home and of course we stopped to get another glass of raki for takeaway this time we were charged 3 Euro but the pour was heavier so we didn’t complain.
The next night Simon and I heard about a FREE concert that was being held in the university’s main building and that a band from the UK was playing called “The Sounds”. We headed from our couchsurfer hosts place and stopped in the bar we previously visited the night before. Now familiar with the prices we skipped the beer and went right for the raki at 2 Euro a glass, hopefully. After getting our first glass the bartender said he apologizes for charging us 1 Euro to much last night and only charges us 1 Euro for each glass. After the finish the second glass of raki we headed over to University just a short stumble away. 10 Minutes of walking around lost trying to follow the echo of sound off the buildings we were finally at the concert. We approached the building and made our way inside, on left was a make shift bar sell warm to semi cold beer for 1 Euro each. Simon and I each grabbed one and made our way to the front of the stage, and by stage I mean a set of stairs. Yes they were playing on the staircase of the main building so you can imagine how loud it was, kind of like listening to a band playing through a megaphone directly into your ear. After 2 beers we realized that they were just doing a sound check and not actually playing, so we headed outside to mingle with the locals and utilize the bathroom (tree). We sparked up a conversation with a local and asked about the times of the concert and who was playing nobody seemed to care, just that there was live music. Everybody was outside enjoying the air and the fact that the University is off limits for the Police, so pot was everywhere. Once we heard actual songs being played we headed inside to see the performance, upon entering I saw a table was set up on the left with CDs and T-shirts, it was then we realized that “The Sounds” weren’t playing and it was another band playing called “The Zounds” a heavy metal band. Song after eardrum bleeding song we listened or I should say tried not to go deaf, and to our surprise at the end of every song not a single person clapped cheered or even showed appreciation towards the band. It was quite weird, to say the least, so after we finished our beers we randomly ran into a few people from the hostel we were staying at a few night before. After a drunken conversation that I cant remember for the life of me, we headed to get some street food, but the only thing that was open was .90 Euro pizza so we inhaled our slices and made the great decision to go back to the bar and grab another beverage. Bad idea, that we would later regret that following morning when I had to head to Mt Olympos and Simon had to find another place to stay in Thessalniki and our heads felt the previous nights one to many adult libations.