There we were, last day of the holidays and a quick visit to Thessaloniki was compulsory.
Now, you might have heard of the name Salonica but I dislike calling it that. The Greek name is Thessaloniki (it has a meaning . Salonica does not).
The city is basically wrapped up in myth and history in equal measure. It was one of the first multicultural cities, suffered atrocious losses over the ages (both in terms of people and in terms of buildings) and retains a magical allure for most. I heartily recommend Mark Mazower’s Salonica: City of Ghosts if you want to find out more about Thessaloniki.
This is the place to see and be seen in Thessaloniki. It is called a ‘square’ but it is effectively a wide pedestrianised street which is very wide at its end towards the sea, surrounded by lovely buildings. There are cafes and bars dotted around and it is there you will see… basically everyone. If you are local you can bet your bottom dollar someone you know will be around there at some point during the day. Or rather after the economic crisis it’s during the week rather than daily but you get the picture.
A personal favourite is Mojo cafe – bar (left hand side as you are facing the sea). Polite waiters, a bit pricey but coffee always comes with a variety of nomz. I had an early morning coffee there and got two medium sized croissants filled with melting chocolate. Not too shabby.
As I was sipping my coffee and reading the newspaper (a must for a Sunday) I had the pleasure of overhearing the ladies sitting behind me. They were old (sorry, but they were) and perfect specimens of women from Thessaloniki. Always well-dressed, always perfectly coiffed and made up. They were discussing their latest surgeries (heart, hip replacement), how beautiful Thessaloniki is (a favourite subject for the citizens) and how horrible Athens is (the rivalry is legenday).
The s.o. had the brilliant idea to arrange dinner at the top of the Electra Palace Hotel, their Orizontes Roof Garden. This offers a great view of Aristotelous. You don’t have to eat, they also serve coffee and nibbles. The food was not extra special but it was well presented. Service was a bit slow but courteous and smiling. I think they have an amazing space there so they need to seriously try more with the food. Yes the view does make up for it but it’s a bit of a waste.
We were somewhat exhausted and sleepy when we climbed to the 7th floor to tell you the truth but the view really does revive you. Seeing that it is also high and very open it is always colder and breezy, very welcome in a city that can get very hot indeed.
That night life
Thessaloniki’s night life is something of a legend. A certain spot to find the well-heeled and in-vogue crowd is Apallou. They are open all day and most of the night, with tables outside and a dark bar inside. Too dark for my liking. However, the music is good, the cocktails yummy, the people not too many on a Sunday night.
Come to think of it Thessaloniki’s nightlife has taken a major hit with the economic crisis. I can’t remember the last time I went to a number of fashionable spots and they were so empty!
Anyhow, try Apallou on a Saturday morning for example and be amazed at how many well dressed people can get together in one place.
I’ve done the White Tower and the Archaeological Museum (more than once). This time I went by the Museum of Byzantine Culture and the Folklife and Ethnological Museum of Macedonia-Thrace.
Do not be fooled by the atrocious websites. Visiting those you would assume the museums are derelict (seriously people, update your bloody websites, how difficult can that be!)
The Museum of Byzantine Culture is in a lovely building, modern, cool, quiet and clearly designed to lead the visitor to take the journey through the exhibits. You will find the story of Byzantine life (and death) in there. I was touched when I saw that my mum’s village gets a mention too, Ginekokastro (literally ‘women’s castle’) boasts the remains of a Byzantine castle, built during 13th century by emperor Andronikos Paleologos. Local pride ye ken…
If you have children (or enthusiastic adults such as I) do go down to the Folklife and Ethnological Museum of Macedonia-Thrace. This is housed in the old Modiano Villa (read the aforementioned Mazower book to learn a bit more about the Modiano family – or check out this interesting page by Mario Modiano). I found gob-smacking (the technical term) exhibits of folk dress from all over Macedonia and Thrace. They also have a new exhibition downstairs with the history of the city (even though, if you want the history of the city go to the White Tower exhibition, I do hope it is still on).
If you are walking from the White Tower to the Folklore and Ethnological Museum (like yours truly), you can have a welcome break at the Anthokomiki Park, immediately after the Byzantine Culture Museum. They have really updated this tired old park and at the quite expansive cafe you will mainly find families and older ladies gossiping. Not for the “in” crowd this one but certainly a lovely spot.
I dare you to go to Thessaloniki, walk around, meet some people and not fall in love.
It is an amazingly special place and it has welcomed all manner of people over the ages. I would really suggest reading a bit of the history before visiting as the past is very well hidden but some buildings (a hamam, a mosque etc.) still remain.
Check these out:
(as always, we paid for everything, there was no prior heads up to the venues)
Plateia Aristotelous 4, 54623 Thessaloniki
Tel: +30 231 027 6341
Electra Palace Hotel
9, Aristotelous Square, 54624 Thessaloniki
Tel: +30 2310 294000
Mitropoleos 51, Thessaloníki
Tel: +30 231 022 8898
Museum of Byzantine Culture
2 Stratou Avenue, Thessaloniki 546 40, Thessaloniki
Tel:. +30 2313 306 400
Folklife and Ethnological Museum of Macedonia-Thrace
68 Vas. Olgas Str. 546 42, Thessaloniki,
Tel: +30 2310 830 591