Hello, my dear strangers!
I spent this past week on the peninsula of Chalkidiki which spreads south of Thessaloniki, Greece’s second largest city. This is a turf I’m very familiar with, since 80% of my childhood seaside holidays were spent somewhere in the area, mostly on Chalkidiki’s first and second fingers – Kassandra and Sithonia. My parents love Greece, especially my dad who is a Greek fanatic and strongly resembles My Big Fat Greek Wedding‘s Toula’s father in all but heritage. He visits Greece at least three times a year, has taken numerous pilgrimages to Chalkidiki’s third and final finger where a plethora of Orthodox Christian monasteries are situated, is learning Greek and plans on buying his retirement property somewhere in Thessaloniki’s vicinity. He, along with my brother and my best friend, were my companions on this trip.
My fascination with Greece is virtually non-existent, probably because I spent so much of my childhood in it. No one admires their backyard when there’s a whole wide world out there to explore. Nevertheless, I decided to go on this trip because it’s been two whole years since I travelled anywhere and it was my last chance to do so for a while before the term began. Despite having to go with my father (with whom I have a very poor relationship, but my daddy issues are a topic for another day), I ended up really enjoying myself and recharging my batteries. So, let me give you an abridged version of my trip.
We were stationed in the small town of Nea Kallikrateia. It’s picturesque to a degree and very small, meaning you need only take a thirty minute walk to get from one end to the other and see everything there is to see. There is a nice little pier off the beach. This being early October, it was pretty cold, too cold to take a swim, though we did see people in the water every now and again. Despite that, the season is officially closed and recliners were being taken from the beaches before our very eyes.
Some 12 kilometres from Nea Kallikrateia lies the unremarkable village of Petralona, which features on tourist maps for one reason only – its cave. It was discovered in the late 1950s when a local sheep herder stumbled upon a fossilised human skull. It houses bones of animals one would have to go to Africa to find today, such as lions, rhinos and hyenas. The skull of the Petralona Man, however, is the main attraction. Unfortunately, taking pictures inside the cave is forbidden, but I can tell you this much – it is impressive. There are beautiful stalagmites and stalactites and rock formations inside. There is also a tiny accompanying museum on the site where you can see the Petralona Man’s skull, a replica of the cave where it was found and numerous bone fragments of the fauna that used to live there.
We briefly visited some of the small towns on Kassandra, the first finger, that are thriving tourist resorts in summer, but pretty bleak and dead in autumn. Still, we entertained ourselves going from one souvenir store to the next, shopping for things we don’t really need, such as t-shirts, fridge magnets and so forth.
The first town we visited is Chaniotis, where our family spent the summer back in 2006(!). I didn’t remember much of it except for the main square and its fountain. The one interesting thing about it is the layout. While most towns have the grid layout, Chaniotis spreads out like a snowflake, with the main streets all starting out at the square. During summer, there are costume shows, plays and performances there, with spotlights and a mini amphitheatre all set up for audiences. Also, there are cats. Lots and lots and lots of cats.
Having spent a few enjoyable hours in Chaniotis and had lunch there, we moved on to Kallithea, another Kassandra tourist town. Much like the last one, the majority of its shops were closed, the beaches cleared and the streets nearly deserted. Still, even though I’m not a big fan of Greek architectural style, I found these small towns to have a certain charm to them, even off-season. Some people may even prefer this type of travel, de-cluttered and free of crowds and fanfare.
And, now, moving on to the main thing – Thessaloniki. I spent a wonderful day in Thessaloniki with my brother and friend. It’s perhaps the seventh or eighth time I visited it, so you could say I know my way around it pretty well.
I’m the type of person who doesn’t have ‘bad weather’ in her vocabulary. For me, all weather is good weather. Still, having said that, I have to admit that I was aiming to visit Thessaloniki on a sunny, warm day and, fortunately, the forecast hadn’t let me down. It was indeed a wonderful, warm, sunny day, which was amazing, since surely at least a third of our day was spent on the city’s promenade. And – it was glorious. We strolled about, taking endless photos and even a few selfies, watching jellyfish, dancing around lampposts, goofing off, lounging about and having cocktails by the water. The waiter even brought us over some nuts which led to endless fun with local pigeons who kept circling our table like vultures and even, more-or-less fearlessly, landing on it a few times.
We then passed by the famous White Tower of Thessaloniki, one of the city’s most prominent symbols, a monument which used to serve as a prison during the rule of the Ottoman empire. There were several tourist galleys anchored in the marina, each one more lavish or more outlandish than the previous one, often sporting different themes, such as a pirate ship or a happy hour ship.
We continued our walk by the harbour all the way to Aristotle Square, a humongous spread lined with beautiful hotels and restaurants, which also happens to serve as one of my earliest memories. It is impossible to take it all in at once and indeed impossible to later describe it. For me, it is one of the most majestic and beautiful squares I’ve ever visited. For some reason, maybe owing to those childhood memories, I see it as a place of good vibes, of vivacity and joy. And, quite appropriately, given its name, there is a statue of Aristotle.
Unfortunately, we spent so much time on the promenade, admiring its beauty and sauntering by the sea, that we didn’t have enough time to explore two of the most beautiful districts of Thessaloniki – Ano Poli and Ladadika. On the bright side, my brother and I have already seen them during one of our previous visits. However, those photos (actual photos, the ones you hold in your hands) got lost when we moved a few years back. Oh, well.
The rest of our time was spent wandering through the picturesque streets, enjoying ourselves, eating good food and drinking good wine (well, mostly water actually, it was quite warm outside). We saw the monument of Alexander the Great, the Agora and the Roman Forum, the church of Hagia Sophia with the accompanying square, the Arch of Galerius with its Rotunda. All in all, it was a glorious day.
So, there you have it, my dear strangers – the summary of my brief, but much needed trip. Hope the next one (whenever it may happen to come) will be longer and more immersive.
Keep travelling 🙂