Ancient in age, youthful in vibe, the city that never sleeps; Greece’s second city is full of beautiful people, excellent food and an easy-going attitude, the perfect place to pop my solo travel cherry!
Before I went on this trip, I was ‘nerxcited’ (weird mixture of nervous and excited) about travelling by myself. I was already planning to do Lisbon solo later in the year, you know psych myself up; pick a good hostel and all of that, but you know what they say about the best laid plans. So I summoned all the courage I had, packed my bags, puffed up my chest, said a few silent prayers and I was on my way. I arrived at Makedonia Airport at about midday and got on the bus right outside the airport to my Airbnb where I met Stella, my host, already waiting for me.
Home Sweet Home
Stella was absolutely lovely and I found out she went to Nottingham Trent University for a year while I went to the University of Nottingham. We instantly connected over our proximity at one time in our lives, talked about our time in the city of Robin Hood and the odds of us ever even meeting each other. We talked about my first solo jaunt and she assured me the people here were very nice so I should have a great time and she gave me recommendations on what to do. Armed with that knowledge and my plan, I headed out into the city to begin my solo adventure.
I started at the Archaeological museum to get a full picture of how anoint Thessalonians lived and see ancient treasures. I got the combined ticket for €14 because I wanted to go to the White Tower and the Museum of Byzantine culture as well. It was a great layout and as I walked through all I could think about was how cool it would be to have a place like this in Lagos, stocked full of archaeological finds from old life in Nigeria and celebrating our rich history. But the British took a large portion of our artefacts and are yet to return the vast majority of them so it might be a pipe dream (sigh!).
Put on your walking shoes
Thessalonians love to say you can’t get lost in Thessaloniki because all you have to do is ‘head for the sea’ and that’s exactly what I did. I followed the roads till I was faced with the beautiful view of Aegean Sea by the boardwalk. With the intense 29°C heat, the cool ocean breeze in my face was heavenly! I strolled by the water down to Aristotelous Square to the meeting point of an amazing free walking tour held by the lovely and very knowledgeable Giorgio, standing under a red umbrella by the statue of Alexander the Great.
Giorgio is a born and bred Thessalonian. He’s been doing the free tour for 3 years by himself and his love and passion for the city is contagious. He never has and doesn’t want to live anywhere else but this beautiful city, regardless of the crisis. He told us the history of how Thessaloniki came to be while we walked around the city to the first cinema, the wall of kindness, drank from the fountain at the Church of John the Baptist and a few hidden city spots he enjoys. The wall of kindness in particular was moving. It’s a social movement with a simple idea- people hang bags of food, clothes or whatever else you want to give on the nails on the wall to help those in need as people felt the government was failing them. It just showed that the people here really do care about and are looking out for each other.
He shared stories, told us about the reality of the debt crisis and how it has affected him and particularly the young people in Thessaloniki. How its forced lots of young people to move back home to reduce cost, how the average salary is between €500 and €600 which shocked me and the state of health care in the city.
On the tour I met a few solo travellers: a Finnish girl (K), an American girl, an Italian (S) and an Irish guy (M). We found camaraderie through our shared experience of seeing the world and navigating unknown streets on our own. I listened to them speak about the countries they had been to before finding themselves in Thessaloniki and their reasons for travelling solo in the first place. I felt most connected to both the Italian guy and Finnish girl’s reasons; he was travelling before it was too late, before he had responsibilities and couldn’t anymore, while she was travelling solo plainly because she could. Both not wanting to live a life of regrets, sitting, waiting for their friends to be ready and their lives to start. I left that conversation feeling even more reassured in this decision and also very inspired.
There we were, four strangers from different parts of Europe, connecting over amazing, cheap salad, watching the sunset together. I couldn’t imagine doing anything else in that moment. We made plans to meet after dark to check out the nightlife in the city.
City at Night
Back in the centre after dark, the city comes alive in a different way! Thessaloniki is well known as the entertainment capital of Greece, it’s even been listed by Nat Geo as one of the ‘Top 10 nightlife cities’. With more bars and café’s per capita than any European city, it’s easy to see why! In Ladadika, a picturesque district near the port, there are lines and streets of restaurants, bars, tavernas and clubs. I’m not a beer girl but my new Finnish friend and I had this lemon infused beer from one of the restaurants as we walked and it was amazing! Public drinking is legal in Greece (not disorderly conduct) and Giorgio (remember him from the tour) gave us a tip- drinks are cheaper when you buy them to take away!
We met the boys from the hostel while sitting down in a courtyard, admiring the people all dressed up going to start what will undoubtedly be an unforgettable night. Bought some more beers and took a walk to the port and there we were again, 5 strangers (an American boy, A, joined us) from around the world sat on the boardwalk, chatting and drinking beers with the backdrop of the ocean and city lights.
We walked back into Ladadika on the lookout for a bar to end the night in. Finally settled in a Czech bar (Ikr, in Greece haha), we talked some more about everything from religion, to Trump, to cultural differences to TV shows. My first night travelling solo couldn’t have gone any better and I owe it all to this charming city.
Day 2 coming up next where I’ll share how disrespectful flies are, my only possibly racist experience in Thessaloniki and all about the enchanting Old town.
Until next time xx,