Our third and final program trip occurred this past week. Our journey consisted of a long bus ride to and from the Northern Greek city of Thessaloniki. Known as Greece’s second city, Thessaloniki is a college city with its large university and is filled with many restaurants, bars, and cafes. With its waterfront location that help lead to its rise in power, today its residents and visitors enjoy its views from the pedestrian walkway that extends for miles directly alongside the water. Northern Greece differs dramatically from Attica with its combination of tall lush mountainous regions to sections of large flat plains that lend well to agriculture. This trip allowed us to experience both a different city while at the same time exposing us to more of the beautiful landscapes of the Greek countryside.
We departed from Athens on Tuesday, April 5th stopping at the small mountainous town of Ambelakia for lunch and a tour of the Schwartz Mansion. Back in its heyday Ambelakia produced a beautiful red dye from a special flower that only grew in that region. Tucked into the side of a mountain the village has been in decline since the Industrial Revolution replaced the naturally occurring dye with the chemically produced. What remains is a quaint village with a dwindling population…the perfect quiet stop to break up a long bus drive.
We arrived at Thessaloniki around 5:00 with the evening free. My roommates and I took advantage of the long walkway that extends along the water and went for a run. Even though Thessaloniki is a young city with many other students our age enjoying the seaside views, there did not appear to be too many others running. Not to mention running while wearing shorts and tshirts…the Greeks prefer to wear tight fitting leggings or sweatpants leaving us feeling slightly uncomfortable being the only ones revealing our knees despite the 70 degree weather.
While Greek food is absolutely delicious, Athens often comes short of offering a greater variety of cuisines, in particular, Mexican. With Thessaloniki catering to thousands of twenty-somethings, there seemed to be a greater variety of dining options which brought us to our dinner selection. El Burrito did the trick with offering some much needed guacamole, margaritas, quesadillas, and every other Mexican staple. Since we were visiting another part of Greece instead of another country we felt little regret abandoning our usual Greek staples of souvlaki, gyros, and olives.
Our second day in Thessaloniki involved a walking tour of many Roman and Byzantine sites. We began with the Gallerius Complex, commissioned by 4th century Roman Emperor Galerius, which included the Palace, the Arch, and the Rotunda. While the Palace is no more than a few ruins, the Arch and the Rotunda still exist. Made into a Byzantine church after the fall of the Roman Empire (along with everything else old in Greece), the church boasts beautiful mosaics with bird and floral motifs. The Arch of Gallerius also remains intact with its marble sculptural panels depicting a victory over the Persians. Afterwards, we completed three quick tours of different Byzantine churches throughout the city (Acheiropoiitos church, Aghia Sofia, and Agios Demetrios).
With the afternoon off, we decided to take a sunset boat ride around the port. Many large shipping boats floated out in the harbor as we rode past. The waterfront was filled with many people enjoying the warm weather with their friends and family. All of the cafes and bars facing the water were packed full of those getting their late afternoon drinks. We spent the rest of the evening sitting near the water by the White Tower, one of the most popular spots in Thessaloniki.