Monday, March 28, 2011
Back in Athens. LOVED Thessaloniki!
Why did I really start off with that photo? I believe that it displays perfectly the way the Greeks revolve their current lives around ancient marvels. The ruins are second nature to them, not intrusive to the forward movement of their lives, but there like guardian spirits--nearly unnoticed.
I'm not really in Greece to check out the ancient ruins. I just do that because I'd rather check out ancient ruins than shopping malls and clubs (which are more abundant in Greece than ancient ruins). I'm here to open my mind and see what falls in. I go to places and spend time in them to see what will happen, not for some matter of principle ("if I don't visit ancient ruins, then I'm being ethnocentric"). Of course, my favorite thing in Corinth was the ancient monuments, I have no qualms about that. I'm just pointing out that while one place in Greece may serve as a ruin hotspot, another place will be geared towards other things. In the case of Athens, it's not geared towards anything :). My favorite thing about Thessaloniki wasn't the ruins, even though those were definitely a plus...it was the energy from the people in the city that makes it what it is today. Why don't I just tell you what I did?
I got there later than I intended, which was the fault of Athens, not me or Thessaloniki; so I lost a significant amount of time on Friday afternoon, but seriously, after a few hours, I realized that I was completely enamored with Thessaloniki and the people in it. Maybe it was because my hostel was situated in the middle of the hip-happenin' city center, or because the water right alongside it provided the element of peace that never seems to exist without a body of water, or because there was a humorous episode where I ran around to all the kiosks trying to break my 100-euro bill. Once night fell, everyone was all over the street and the walk along the water, just chilling out, eating gelato (which is to die for in Greece, by the way), making out with their significant others, and some boys were actually breakdancing next to a statue, which Thess was overrun with. Everyone's fun attitudes and friendly smiles and overrall positive energy gave a real character to the city, and it lifted my spirits so high that I must officially declare Thessaloniki to be my favorite city in Greece so far.
I also had a great experience at the hostel, where the next morning I met a Spanish couple who didn't mind me tagging along while they looked at ruins and churches. I would have been going to same places they were anyway, so between my Spanish and their English, we spent a pleasant day together. We visited the Palace of Galerius, which runs straight down the center of the city and is outside and isn't very tall anymore; the Roman Agora, with an amphitheatre; and the outside of some Turkish monuments, a bath and a mosque. We also walked up the White Tower, which gives some pretty views of the city and the sea (Aegean Sea); and the Byzantine walls, the remains of a fortress that is in the hills and stretches on for a while. We went to the walls at night, which didn't take away from the Thess experience. There were groups of people, mostly the young crowd, sitting out on the walls, smoking, laughing...chilling. Having a good time looking at the view of the lit-up city with their friends. Man, this town is so much fun.
As for the churches, we went inside the Agia Sofia and Agia Dimitrius. And if you saw me in Spain and Mexico, then you know me and churches. These churches here weren't identical to those ones, of course, since Greece is Orthodox, not Catholic. They were slightly less decorative, but I think the aim was to preserve as much of the original structure as they could when they were restored. I liked the Agia Dimitrius better because the walls and columns, when you look beyond the painted designs and carvings, are white. It just gives a friendly atmosphere as opposed to the dismal dark walls that all the other churches I've seen have.
And of course, the water. The land stops and the water begins. I don't know if people swim in there. There are nice parks near it, and street vendors selling popcorn and breaded treats hover there amidst the swarms of people and dogs hanging out there.
I am now back in Athens, having just gone to class the day after a six hour bus ride (ick) and some typical Athenian transportation drama (more on that some other time). I regret that I have no more three-day weekends and that I couldn't have spent at least one more day in Thess just to chill out ALL DAY. But...Thessaloniki, highly recommended! It is the second largest city in Greece, but it doesn't feel like it because it doesn't feel busy or jam-packed. It is the perfect combination of relaxation and a lot to do.