Looking back, I cannot confidently say why, but I headed into Thessaloniki, one of the largest cities of Greece on the Northeastern coast with high hopes. Its not too well heard of by American travelers, despite playing a prominent part in history. Like most places we’ll be going for the rest of the trip, its a land touched by many empires, a city where you can find Roman ruins of the agora just a block or two from a Byzantine church, itself not far from a Greek orthodox church built a few hundred years later.
When I wrote about Athens, I noted the local culture, the culture produced by the modern population of the city as a less spoken of attraction. The difficulty in Athens is that it is all somewhat hidden, not at all easy to find. Thessaloniki is full of this modern culture, the residents are a people full of art and music and relationships, but the difference between the two cities is that this culture seems to be what makes up the whole area.
The streets are full of skillful and thoughtful graffiti, giving taste to otherwise bland architecture. It is impossible to walk anywhere without seeing a restaurant or cafe not full of people. All of these have strong feelings of authenticity. When on Ios, we saw all these bars that were pretty cool but they were created with the idea of trying to be cool, and seemed fake. Here in Thessaloniki, everywhere we went served the basic purpose of providing food or drink to the customer, with an ambiance and decoration according to the owner’s taste. The result is welcoming and striking. Bars and cafes double as art galleries for the seemingly endless artistic talent of the inhabitants.
Similar to Athens, much of the city is not wholly pretty, but the monuments, street art, museums and establishments much make up for it. But more than anything, the city feels alive. People are outside everywhere, at all hours of the day. When we went out at night for a beer or two, first we joined the million residents in a park listening to a live band, after midnight. Then we went to the well-known bar area – a section of twelve streets with bars so packed that the party was as much on the streets as it was inside. Nothing was out of control, everyone was just full of life and friendliness. Four in the morning came and everyone hit the restaurants for local soups and potato dishes. Throughout the day, the whole world sits and takes coffee or enjoys the company of others in parks.
If I were to move to Greece, it’d be to Thessaloniki. It’d be the perfect city for a Contemporary Art Museum focused on Greek artists, one I’d love to help curate.