The first time I visited Thessaloniki more than 30 years ago, it was during a family trip and I was very young. My memories are vague, but I remember being excited and overwhelmed with this vibrant city that it was bustling with activity. Our visit was coincided with the International Trade Fair, an event of great importance in Greece and Southern Europe. Thousands of people attend it while it also attracts major political attention. It is customary for the Prime Minister of Greece to outline his administration’s policies for the next year, during the event.
It was at this fair, but not the year we visited, that Dimitris Vakondios, an employee of the Nestlé Company and a coffee lover, created, by accident, the first coffee-frappe or Greek-frappe in history. The peak of the fair was the Film Festival. In the 1960’s, the gold period of Greek cinema, the greatest actors and actresses of Greece were gathered there and with them a crowd of funs. In the 1990’s though the Festival became international and now presents innovative independent films from around the world.
I was back after so long, albeit for only 24 hours and with a tight schedule. I arrived an early afternoon, and even though it was raining heavily during the morning, the clouds were gradually thinning, just enough to give a brighter spell and an opportunity for me to do some sightseeing for a few hours. But, there was no room for spontaneity, aimless walks around the city, or just watching local people passing by while sipping coffee.
I left the hotel as soon as I checked in. My first sense was that of a different Greece. While Athens is dominated by its ancient past, Thessaloniki seems to embrace its diverse past, and the city is more intimately linked to neighbouring people, languages and cultures than Athens.
Despite the critics, Thessaloniki’s Mayor, Mr Boutaris embraces the city’s Ottoman and Jewish past. Some buildings have been restored; one of them is the magnificent Bey Hamam, the largest Ottoman bath in Greece. Located along Egnatia Street, also known as the Paradise Bath, it was built in 1444 by Sultan Murat II, and it is considered one of the most important buildings of Ottoman architecture in Thessaloniki.
I could not leave Thessaloniki without visiting one of the city’s hot spots, the famous Ladadika neighbourhood, the bazaar of the city during the ottoman occupation. Ladadika, which means shops that sell olive oil, has been declared a historical monument by the Greek Ministry of Culture. It has preserved its original style and character and old buildings are now occupied by coffee shops, bars, tavernas and restaurants.
And then, it was time to run. I was not on a leisure trip. Having barely scratched the surface of the city, I promised to myself to come back soon.
I stayed at the Ilios, it is a budget hotel, but well equipped, friendly and very clean. It is located in the centre of Thessaloniki, you can walk everywhere in the city
Night out: Bord del’ eau,drink room/ coffeeshop. Beautifully designed and very friendly. Great coffee and you will definitely love the music.