Thessaloniki – August 2017

I kicked off ‘Jason Likes To Travel’ back in April 2017, some of you have been along for the ride and for some of you this might be the very first post of mine you’ve read! If so, welcome! I hope you stick around!

Anyway, I’m not somebody who really dwells on the past, likewise I don’t worry too much about the future. I try and keep myself in the present but sometimes it’s nice to reflect and it was one of the motivations that really kick-started this blog. I think any blogger is hoping their content is read and enjoyed, I was certainly no different in that respect but I also think there was an element of doing this for me. I wanted somewhere I could reminisce and document my travels and so ‘Jason Likes To Travel’ was born.

What relevance does any of this have to Thessaloniki? Apologies to new readers, not aware of my ability to go off on a bit of a tangent, but I am getting to the point – I promise!

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You see, last time out on the blog I wrote about my trip to Hamburg in May 2017. You can catch up on that (here) but the eagle-eyed among you will notice the timing. That’s right! I was a newbie travel blogger! I came back from Hamburg desperate to get the next holiday booked but I was also in somewhat of a reflective mood. I was planning blog posts and content, reminiscing to travels of the past and before I knew it a pattern had emerged.

“Hang on a second.. forget the next holiday. When was the last holiday?”

Don’t get me wrong, I loved Hamburg and afterwards I was thinking about all of the other amazing places I’d been to in the past few years. Sydney, New York City, Berlin.. city, city, city..

Were they holidays? That’s not me being ungrateful. I’m so appreciative of the places I’ve been to, I also love a city break and they’re typically my preferred type of break but are they really holidays? Does rushing around Vienna in 24 hours constitute as a holiday? Was 3 days in Budapest long enough? I’d spent four years rushing around various cities, obviously enjoying myself, but where was the “break” in the city break? Where was the holiday? Maybe they should be called city rushes instead.

Although that might be a little more accurate, perhaps a little less successful on the marketing front. Nevertheless it did get it in to my head that, with 2017’s summer approaching, my next trip should be a proper holiday. I wanted a birthday treat in August. With that said there was specific criteria and restrictions I placed on such a trip.

First and foremost, I wanted a birthday treat but didn’t want it to actually overlap with my birthday. I wanted to ensure I was home in time for the football season. I wanted to visit somewhere warm, a place with a pool and also visit a country I hadn’t been to before!

With my birthday on the 7th and the football season starting on the 12th I’d restricted myself to just four days (Aug 8th – 11th) which pretty much restricted any adventures to a European trip. Not necessarily a problem but August is the busiest and most expensive month to go anywhere in Europe. Likewise the cheapest places to visit were all countries I’d been to (Spain, France, Portugal). The one exception perhaps being Ireland but who takes a “summer holiday” to Ireland? No.. I had to keep looking.

After looking at various accommodation options and flights that ticked the right boxes I eventually found myself a deal I was happy with in a place called Thessaloiniki. “Where is Thessaloniki” I hear you ask, well it’s a city in Greece!

“A city..?”

Alright, you caught me! I’ll admit the irony wasn’t lost on me in that my quest to find myself a “holiday destination” to avoid “another city break” still resulted with me booking essentially a city break. Oops!

The other criteria held up though. It was a new country, I’d booked a nice hotel with a rooftop pool, it was a place I knew nothing about so I had no long list of stuff to see. It was genuinely going to be a relaxing break! Hopefully..

Anyway, all booked! Tuesday 8th of August to Friday 11th of August. On the Tuesday I made my way over to Stansted for an afternoon flight. I was sticking to the relaxed ethos of the trip, for once I decided I wasn’t going to get an early morning flight. I still had three days to enjoy in Greece.

So onwards to Stansted I went and the holiday could begin! There was a bit of delay to my flight but on the plus side I had been allocated a window seat by Ryanair and even better, the seat next to me was vacant so I got treated to a rare piece of “Ryanair luxury” in being able to stretch out a bit. A few hours later we were landing in Thessaloniki.

By this point of the evening it was already getting dark so I didn’t mess about in navigating my way to my hotel, I just jumped in a taxi to take me there. From the outside it appeared to be a nice hotel, not five star or anything but it was a good first impression.

Check in was quick and easy. Friendly too! The receptionist welcoming me quickly complimented me on my dress sense. It puzzled me somewhat as I wasn’t wearing anything beyond the ordinary. I was just in a t-shirt, pair of jeans and a pair of converse but it put me in a good mood heading up to my room nonetheless.

I didn’t really do anything with the rest of my evening. It wasn’t particularly late but I didn’t want to go wandering too far given it was dark so I just settled for relaxing and getting a bit of an early night. The holiday could start properly tomorrow!

On Wednesday morning I headed down for breakfast at the hotel, there was a buffet of sorts (no Weetabix) which got me going for the day. Afterwards I headed on out to get my first proper look at the city, wandering down towards Thessaloniki’s port and seafront which was a short walk away from the hotel.

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The “strip” – just a long road of bars/restaurants

Along the seafront is essentially a “strip” – a long line of buildings which were I think pretty much all either a bar or restaurant of some sort. I wandered along as far as Thessaloniki’s White Tower which given the heat seemed far enough to walk for the time-being. Closeby was this fairly tall statue which I had a little gander at and suddenly I was being approached by this little Asian man who wanted me to take a photo of him.

Did the respective heights and nationality need clarifying? You’d be forgiven for thinking no but absolutely! This guy wanted me to take his photo, for all I know he was speaking to me in Greek but there was a clear language barrier between us so communication was at a minimal amount.

I sized up a vertical photo and he begins waving at me in protest. I find it fascinating how we don’t let the lack of a common language stop us from communicating, it was clear he was basically saying to me “other way..”

I understood but my problem was their respective sizes. I tried to advise this wasn’t going to work but he was stubborn and refused to accept a landscape shot just wasn’t going to work. This statue was towering over him and I was desperate to try and get my point across but I reluctantly submitted to his wishes. .

“Okay, so I’m either chopping off half of the statue or half of your body – which would you prefer?”

After taking a couple of photos I somehow got the message across that now we were going to do it my way. Oh, look at that. All of you is in the picture with the statue! Why didn’t we think of this earlier?

I handed him his phone back but he gave no real indication if he was happy with the photos or not. I didn’t really stick around to find out in truth, Hopefully when looking back at the photos he realised what I was trying to say, failing that he flagged down some other poor soul to do a better job but either way I was out of there. I had come to relax and wasn’t about to let tourists start stressing me out.

That debacle added to the heat led to me deciding to find somewhere to grab a drink. Honestly, I looked at the time and thought it might be a tad early for an alcoholic beverage. I looked to the others sat dining for comfort but with little success so I settled for getting a ‘mocktail’ instead which was some sort of peach and mango concoction. It was good though!

After a quick refresher I decided I’d head back to the hotel for a swim. I had actually hoped to get an early morning swim in but it turned out that the pool didn’t actually open until 10am, additionally it seems that it closed around dinner time so I wanted to make the most of the pool hours whilst I could.

The location was perfect. It was situated on a rooftop which overlooked the city. Unfortunately though it wasn’t a particularly big pool, quite small infact, and there were plenty of other people with the same idea so the pool area was pretty busy. The people to pool space ratio was not in my favour and I wasn’t really going to get the relaxing swim I’d planned on.

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I settled for grabbing a drink at the poolside bar and admiring the view instead. Not quite what I’d hoped for but still pretty relaxing so not an entirely wasted journey back. I didn’t foresee my luck changing at any point during my stay though so I didn’t return to the pool. It was a little frustrating because one of the bigger appeals of this hotel was that it had a pool, so it felt a bit of a waste to have had no use of it.

Anyway, after a bit of time poolside I headed back to my room. I chilled out for a little while and then freshened up to go out for dinner. I found a nice square which had a bunch of restaurants that seemed ideal to grab some food. Dinner was good, my only other plan for the evening was to find a bar by the water and watch the sun go down with a few beers.

It didn’t take me long to find somewhere with a prime sunset spot, there are an endless number of bars and restaurants to take your pick from. After sitting down at this table outside I ordered myself a beer but politely declined ordering any food, I’d literally just come from dinner so wasn’t feeling particularly hungry.

Nevertheless the waitress came back with a beer and a small plate of food. There was a small salad and some chicken strip/finger type things to accompany it. I really appreciated the gesture and thought it must just be a one time thing but it turns out beer actually means “beer and free food” in Greek.

I visited countless places over my trip and it kept happening. Admittedly in most places it came in the form of some crisps or nuts or something equivalent but still, it was free! I almost found myself resenting the places where this didn’t happen.

“Excuse me, where are my free beer snacks?”

I said I wasn’t hungry but now with a mini plate of food in front of me I didn’t want to let it go to waste, it’d just be rude, right? I ended up spending the remainder of my evening at this same bar. The service was nice, it was a nice atmosphere and the view was perfect. It was my first Greek sunset and a beautiful one at that, certainly a highlight of my summer.

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Stayed here all night!

With the sun down I called it an evening and made a slow walk back to my hotel. After another good night’s sleep I woke up on Thursday and headed back out in to the city. Wednesday had really been about familiarising myself with the city, today I wanted to at the very least climb the White Tower so I made that my first stop of the day.

The tower isn’t particularly big but even so, sometimes these sort of things can be a little pricey so I was quite pleasantly surprised to find it was only about 4 euros or something to go up it. At the top you get city, sea and mountain views so it’s well worth going up. Within the tower there are also some exhibits which I was a little more torn on.

There were pieces of information in each room, presumably covering stuff like the history of the tower or whatever. The only downside was it was purely in Greek. On the one hand I quite liked that for once a tourist attraction hadn’t completely catered towards the English (Americans, Australians etc) but on the other hand, or rather on a personal note, it made the information a bit of a waste. For 4 euros and a cracking view at the top it’s still great value but just something to note. Although I think there may have been audio guides so with hindsight I might have been better picking one up.

Anyway, after snapping a few photos I made my way back down. Opposite the tower there were a handful of boats sat on the harbour offering tours. One in particular had caught my eye the day before. Sitting on the water was a pirate ship which was cool enough but what really caught my eye was the green sign flashing “free ride” or something to that effect.

There had to be a catch, right? I figured it had to be one of those.. “£500 free.. when you spend £4 million in store..” type deals. Nobody’s just handing out free boat rides on the water. A boat ride did sound like fun though so depending on how much it actually was, I figured I’d take a tour.

I approached the boat with a bit of curiosity and yet despite my cynicism it seems this was infact a completely free ride. The man watching over the entrance waved me straight on board, I was pleasantly surprised. There was a bar on board which was an added appeal but you were under no obligation to buy a drink. If all you wanted was a trip on the water then it was a completely free ride.

Personally, I took advantage of the bar on board. There was a temptation to see if they had any rum and have a proper pirate’s drink for my new life at sea, I settled for a beer though and waited as the boat filled up a bit before we waved goodbye to shore. It was a short trip, only around 30 minutes in total but it was a lovely way to spend a bit of time and without doubt the coolest boat I’ve ever rode on. The fact it was free was just an added bonus!

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Enjoying life at sea!

After my fun on the water I went for a bit of a wander, didn’t do anything particularly noteworthy but saw some cool buildings and just generally wandered along the waterfront. My afternoon flew by which meant soon enough my attention had turned towards evening plans – bar-hopping apparently!

I didn’t really have any set location but I started off around the White Tower and with my hotel at the very end of the previously mentioned “strip” it seemed unavoidable stopping along the way. I’d grab a beer or two, enjoy the atmosphere and the views and then move on to the next. At one of the restaurants along the way I grabbed some food but generally it was just an evening of checking out a few of the bars by the water whilst the sun went down. By the time I got back to my hotel I was beyond the tipsy point, I pretty much crashed the second my head hit the pillow. Overall it was another good day in Greece with just one left to go!

I woke up Friday in a very different mood, probably the closest thing I’ve experienced to any feeling of ‘homesick’. I don’t know what brought it on but I didn’t really want to get out of bed whatsoever. It wasn’t a reflection on Thessaloniki in any way but my head space just wasn’t in the right place. I was here on my own and I think more than anything I just wanted a familiar face or voice in Greece with me. I think I could have done another day relaxing with the right company but another day of nothingness whilst traveling solo got to me I guess.

If I hadn’t had to check out I think I’d have just curled up and spent the day in bed, as it was I left it as late as possible before dragging myself out of bed. I’d paid in advance for my room so I was expecting a smooth check out and then the receptionist asked for me to “settle the balance”.

A phantom bottle of water had magically found its way on to my bill. On any ordinary day I don’t think it would have bothered me in the slightest, it was clearly a mistake but today? I let it add to my miserable mood – “just get me home..”

I wasn’t rude about it and the receptionist seemed to just accept me at face value, for the sake of a bottle of water I don’t know how far I’d have argued it but I suppose they took the same approach and it wasn’t of enough significant value to kick up a fuss about. It did take the shine off what had otherwise been a nice stay though.

Moving on, I now had hours to kill in Greece or rather hours to mope about in Greece. I had a long wait until I could go home so I went and found a restaurant to get some lunch at and I thought I’d try the chicken ‘souvlaki’, whatever the hell that was.

I think it was lunch which firstly perked me up and secondly where a bit of common sense kicked in. There are obviously cons to solo travel but there are pros too and the lack of company meant I got in to my own head a bit. I realised how ridiculous, selfish and ungrateful I sounded. I couldn’t change my situation so I might aswell enjoy the final few hours that I was here. I also knew come Monday I’d be stuck in an office probably wishing I was back in Thessaloniki. I’d already let my mood spoil my morning so I wasn’t going to let it ruin my afternoon too.

With a new-found attitude I finished off my lunch and got back to wandering. The sun was shining down on me, the sea was gleaming beautifully and for a minute it almost seemed like Greece wasn’t the worst place to be on a Friday afternoon. Reality, or the lack of it here, had finally hit me. “Why am I in a rush to get back to England?”

There was a buzz about Thessaloniki on Friday, everywhere seemed much busier than the last couple of days. There was a bit more life to the city and I think that energy helped lift my spirits. I don’t know why it was so busy, it almost felt like nobody worked on a Friday here. Perhaps there were just a few more tourists in town for the weekend but it felt like a different city.

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My wandering took me past some cool pieces of architecture and I spotted a couple of cool pieces of street art too. I figured I’d maybe go and round up my trip by doing a sightseeing bus tour which would perhaps highlight some of the ‘sights’ that I’d missed. By the time I reached the pick up point though I’d changed my mind. Fortunately just across the street was this park so I thought I’d go have a look around and take advantage of some of the shade – it was particularly warm today.

It was here that I stumbled upon perhaps my favourite bar in Thessaloniki. It was an unexpected find but one I was pleased to stumble upon. I couldn’t resist stopping for a drink, it was so quiet and peaceful in comparison to an otherwise pretty busy city. Every bar and restaurant I’d passed up to now seemed full to the brim and here was this perfect place hidden away in the middle of the park.

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Bar is hidden in here somewhere

 

I loved it so much I stayed for more than one, I’d planned on taking a bus to the airport which would have taken a little longer but I figured the money I’d saved on not doing the sightseeing tour could go towards grabbing a taxi instead. One beer ended up being a few before finally calling it quits, I had to make my move. It was a shame I found this place so late in my trip as it would have been nice to see how the atmosphere compared in the evening but it was a nice end to my time in Thessaloniki. My mood had significantly picked up and I was a bit sad to be heading home.

I was a little early to be heading to the airport but there was nothing else I particularly wanted to do so I flagged down a taxi. I’d barely buckled my seatbelt when my driver told me he needed to make a quick coffee stop. “Wait, what?”

It was certainly a taxi first for me. Admittedly I was early so an unplanned stop helped kill a bit of time. Also, to his credit, he did at least ask if I wanted something to drink too (I didn’t). He pulled over and said he’d be two minutes, I figured he was exaggerating but surprisingly two minutes later we were on the move. Two and a half years later I still don’t quite understand how he managed to get his coffee so quickly. Does he have a coffee guy randomly waiting on the off-chance he pops in? It was impressive.

Speaking of impressive, so was the journey. It’s a scenic drive which I hadn’t really been able to appreciate when I arrived as it had been too dark to see much. Soon enough I’d arrived at the airport, far too early and unfortunately there wasn’t actually much to keep me entertained as it’s quite a small airport. Additionally my flight was then delayed an hour so a little more boredom but all in all it was a good trip, little blip aside.

Did I get the relaxing break I wanted? Yes, for the most part.
Would I recommend Thessaloniki? Yeah, it’s a nice city and I enjoyed my brief visit.
Will I personally be going back? Probably not. Never say never but unless a specific reason presents itself I think it’s unlikely. I’m glad I went but I think one visit is enough. Greece is definitely a country I want to see more of though and this proved to be a good introduction to the country.

Have you ever been to Greece? Where else should I visit? Let me know!

Anyway, that wraps this one up! Next up on the blog? My first trip to Washington State!

Stay tuned!

Jason

Going on holiday

So one of the things you should know about me is that I’m a city person. I’m an introvert with a quiet personality so it often comes as a surprise to say that I love big cities. That’s often reflected in the places I travel to.

I was born in London and lived there for the first nine years of my life so city life was with me from birth. I still hold a lot of pride in being London born and bred, it’ll always be my favourite city and a place I think of as home.

In the last five years I’ve travelled to numerous cities spanned across 16 different countries including England. The emotional attachment I have to London means it’s never likely to be displaced as my number one destination but some cities have pushed it close.

One city I was particularly excited to tick off my bucketlist last year was New York City. If anywhere could rival my love of London surely it was the Big Apple? I had high hopes for NYC and it didn’t disappoint, I’ll dedicate a post to that at some point but, almost inevitably, it’s currently my favourite destination I’ve visited outside of England (London stays number 1).

Whilst NYC tops my travel list, one drawback to big cities is when do you find the time to relax? It was my first time visiting NYC with just a week to try and see as much as possible, including NYC based friends. Perhaps it’s just me but I often come home more exhausted than I was before I left. It does make you question why it’s often referred to as a city “break”. Where was the break? I’d have relaxed more at home!

So it got me thinking about the difference between travelling and having a holiday. I’ve travelled a lot in the last five years but how many would I consider an actual holiday? It’s certainly in the minority as far as my adventures go.

That’s not to say I have any regrets in where I’ve visited. I’ve completely fallen in love with many of the cities that I’ve visited. New York City, Sydney, Berlin, Amsterdam, Edinburgh and many more. The list is endless and there’s many more cities still on the bucketlist.

However I’m pleased to say my next trip was motivated by a desire to relax! I wanted to go away the week of my birthday and I’ve booked a trip to Greece in August! Sunshine, sunsets and a hotel with an outdoor pool! It’ll be my first visit to Greece too! Now the countdown begins!

Tell me, what’s your ideal trip? How do you find time to relax when visiting a city?

I look forward to your thoughts! Also, any tips for Thessaloniki would be much appreciated.

All the best!

Jason