Once again I happened to stumble upon a tour bus heading in the direction of a place I hadn’t been, this time Thessaloniki, Greece. The price was reasonable, so I decided to grab a ticket and very early one morning, I jumped on the bus and off we went. As I was living in Kosovo at the time we headed south from Pristina to Macedonia. The border checkpoint was no big deal as the interpreters had been through the process several times and the guards let us fly through. We then proceeded through Macedonia via a winding road through rolling terrain and dotted with small cities and what appeared to be structures and industrial areas in various states of repairs. When we arrived at the Greece – Macedonian border we were required to all step off the bus while our passports were stamped or something, I’m not sure. It could just have easily have been that there was a restaurant conveniently placed at the border but I didn’t ask.
Since we were told it would be around 45 minutes we all hopped off and got a bit to eat. The time flew and I managed to purchase some Greek eats to taste while I waited. Other than the wait the process was uneventful and soon we were on our way to Thessaloniki. The terrain in Greece looked very similar to Macedonia and as far as I could tell it could easily pass for the same country. Of course the populace probably wouldn’t probably but it was drawing nigh to evening and I couldn’t take many photos but nevertheless I did enjoy the trip.
We finally arrived at our destination and I grabbed a key to my room, dropped off my luggage and asked a couple friends I made along the way to walk in to town. Before we left it was decided the bus would drop us in the city central and it was up to us to find our way back which sounded fine to me. It was late so we just dropped by a few bars and eating establishments to get our bearing and headed back to our rooms. We were told it was a short walk back and believing them we decided to walk rather than grab a cab. The walk took several hours and we walked along the beach as much as we could but were turned inward a few times due to construction and crowds of people we felt should be avoided as were foreigners.
The next morning the bus again provided us a lift into town but this time arrangements were made to pick us up as well which I thought was a great idea after the previous night’s experience. I spent the entire day wandering around the city and the first place I headed was the White tower as it is on the shore and is quite prominent. I could see it from where the bus dropped me off and figured I’d start there and make my way around the city after that.
Turns out this tower has been around in one form or another since the 12th century and was once a prison. I paid the fee and walked a stairway that wound around the interior stopping at various places where scenes from history involving the tower had been recreated. Upon reaching the top I snapped a few photos as much of the city and bay can be seen quite well from this vantage point. On the way down I was told by one of the curators that a chapel St Paul preached at which is mentioned in the bible was only a short walk away so I headed off in the general direction. I spent a couple hours winding in and out of an area I thought it would be based on the directions I was given but had no luck finding it. I did however walk through some ancient Greek Orthodox churches which were quite something by themselves. They appeared to be in use so I didn’t spend a great deal of time in them and oddly enough I didn’t meet anyone that spoke English well enough to ask directions.
Giving up my task I headed back to an area where I noticed a Christmas festival and after a short while I found it. Christmas in Greece, how about that. They had some small rides an ice rink, small but effective, food displays, games, arts, crafts it was a great time. I wandered around the site and after exiting one end noticed a fish market so I headed in to see what was available. Along the way it seems as if every restaurateur was convinced they had the best restaurant and I must come in and enjoy the evening.
After browsing the market I returned down the same alley that brought me in and one of the smaller restaurants we passed had a woman standing out front enticing us. Since she wasn’t pushy I decided to go in with my friends. It was a small place, with seating for 30 or so and the grill was to the back left Above the grill was a small stage that had apparently at some time been built for a band. There were in fact that night two people playing Greek instruments directly above the grill the entire night. The owner gave us some menus and we decided to try an all you can eat seafood sampler with some drinks. He walked out and went to the seafood market we had just come from because he came back in with our dinner. This is one thing I thoroughly enjoy about traveling in foreign countries, the food is invariably fresh, made to order. The food came out in a bit and was delicious, so we listened to our two piece band, ate fresh fish and some salad had a few drinks in a cozy street-side restaurant and enjoyed the entire evening. We paid up and wandered back through the Christmas festival to the street.
It was getting late so we hopped on the bus and made our way back to our rooms and got some sleep. Next day we headed back into the town for a few last minute purchases, wandering in and out of the shops when I noticed a mall. We felt there was time so we headed over and who do we see in the center of the mall but Santa, letting children have their pictures taken with him. I got in line and my friends were a bit apprehensive as we were the only adults but I finally convinced them to come along and when we got to Santa he thought it was all in good fun and everyone had their pictures taken with him. It was a great time being the center of attention and I came away with a once in a lifetime picture of me and Santa.
Afterwards we grabbed a bite, hopped on the bus and were on our way home, just in time as my funds had all but dried up. We took the same route back and it was rather uneventful as it was dark by this time and the countryside was obscured but I felt like sleeping anyhow. The border checkpoints were no big deal and we were home in what seemed like a few hours. It would have been nice to spend more time there but it was a one time shot, I took it and had a great time.