Greek-out like a local
When you think of Greece, you probably think of Athens, Mykonos or Santorini – beautiful as they may be, and well worth checking out, maybe next time you think of Greece, you should also consider Thessaloniki!
We had visited Greece once before and visited some of the main sites (Athens, Mykonos, Santorini) but we had never been to Thessaloniki. Our dear friend Thomi kindly offered us to stay at her place for a week and it proved to be the perfect opportunity to get to know a part of Greece from a local perspective.
Economic struggle bus
At this point you’re probably thinking, but isn’t Greece suffering from economic strife? The truth is, yes. Of course they’re struggling –and it was a main topic of conversation during our stay– but the positive energy of the Greeks seems to allow them to look past the troublesome time and still enjoy themselves!
We were in Greece during the most recent elections, which would determine how the nation will be dealing with their bailout plans. It was so interesting to hear everyone’s perspective on the subject. A general consensus: the government needs more organisation, better leadership, and better distribution of wages for public vs. private organisations. We spoke to a lot of hard-working citizens that just weren’t given the opportunity to thrive because of this mismanagement. However, some did admit there are some ingrained cultural aspects in Greek culture that make them value life over work, which could lead to less ambitious (and less productive) workers. We experienced some direct effect of the population’s unease at the current economic situation, when the busses didn’t run one day because the bus drivers were on strike. As an interesting backlash to the struggle, Greeks are now passionately supporting Greek brands over their global counterparts. A perfect example of this is the Greek coffee shop Mikel. It was always PACKED.. and the Starbucks right next to it? EMPTY.
We immediately got a sense for Greek hospitality with a very warm welcome from our host Thomi and her mother. The minute we arrived, we were already sitting amongst an array of beautifully prepared Greek food and some ‘rakomela’ to go with it! (Rakomela is like a sweet raki that is served as an aperitif in Greek culture.) It’s not for everyone but I enjoyed it!
We quickly noticed the importance of family in Greek tradition. During our stay we met Thomi’s mom, grandmother (yaya), grandfather (papou), uncle, aunt, and cousins. It was so nice to be surrounded by such welcoming people. They really made us feel like we were part of the family (even if we couldn’t understand most of what they were saying). History and politics are other huge topics in Greece, (understandably) which allowed for some really great conversations.
Culture & nightlife
But like I said, don’t get hung up on the current crisis, instead, let’s take a look at the really cool cultural scene in Thessaloniki. Some daytime activities include strolling through the beautifully preserved ruins scattered throughout the whole city (they can’t even build a subway because every time they dig, they find more!), riding a bike / jogging along the Paralela boardwalk, or shopping for fresh fruit, veggies, nuts, fish, and meat int he colourful markets. If you’re lucky to come at the right day, you may also get to experience the excitement of a soccer match! Everywhere you look, you’ll see pubs filled with locals getting hammered off of Tuba Libres (traditional drink retsina with coca-cola) while watching the game.
At night, have a cozy evening at a greek tavern and experience the incredibly delicious food (and rakomela!) or for a more exciting night check out Siggrou street for a cool hipster scene, or Ladadiva for a more ‘posh’ night with lots of great dance spots. For a cheap student budget alternative, Ikismiki street has a cool strip where locals hang-out with drinks from a near non-stop shop.