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From Thessaloniki, With Love

Here is to one of those spontaneous trips that I booked not knowing what to expect and yet, the sheer joy of exploring the unknown took better of me. Probably thats why, instead of landing in one of those dreamy touristy Greek islands with brightly blue painted doors, I chose the scruffy Thessaloniki. Fuelled by optimism, vibrant nightlife and a dash of chaos, this three day solo trip eventually turned out to be an amazing alternative city break with perks of traveling off season - ridiculous price offer from Ryanair to get there and being able to book one of the cutest little seaside apartments on-the-go in Airbnb

White Tower, once served as prison in Turkish empire

"Purple rays" 

I have realized that feeling the pulse of a city in its peak hours is one thing, and it is a completely different experience to feel it while the city is just waking up. My first morning in the city and I was up at 5AM to go for my run. With Mount Athos peeking on one side and the vast gulf on the other, it was a spellbound moment to witness the dark sky turn purple to blue to white all the while reflecting in the Agean Sea. As I ran along the wooden pier, all I could hear was the sound of my footsteps and that of the waves lapping against the shore. Pure bliss!

                                            Sunrise at Thermaikos Kolpos

But once the sun was up the waterfront got crowded with couple of old men flocking with their fishing gear, few other joggers joining in and even boats went out to the sea... The city was finally waking up and so was my appetite for some Greek breakfast.

"Table for one, feast for two"

Thessaloniki spoiled me with choices when it came to savouring the Greek delicacies. The first evening of aimless strolling in the Aristotelous square rewarded me with my first tavern of my trip - Agioli . Once inside and before I could raise the"pointy', my server of the evening, Harra, ushered me to this cosy sea-facing table. I was regaled by the view with the rembetika (Greece's version of the blues) being playing in the background and the anticipation of what awaits my taste buds - the true romance of a gourmand thus began. 

My Big Fat Greek Dinner - pictures don't do the justice
By the time I was done ordering my first three-course meal, my server just asked me one question:

"Are you sure you can finish them all? Its a two person portion." 

On a normal day this kind of directness can offend a person, but my greed outweighs my vanity. So loud and proud, I channeled my inner Obama with a -Yes, I can.  

I believe I had spent copious amount of time that evening leisurely gorging on my melted feta-yellow cheese platter with crusted homemade bread, followed by calamaris and mussels risotto, all the while pairing each dish with some local white wine (Lalikos being my favorite so far). I could further feel the warm Greek hospitality as the chef sent out complimentary desserts - vanilla soufflĂ© and a sweet tasted very much like the French mille-feuille. However it was the succulent Soutzoukakia I had next night in my next taverna, Diavasi, which etched a forever memory in my mind with its aroma and texture. Definitely a must eat if you are traveling to Thessaloniki. 

Breakfasts at Estrella's
Breakfasts in Greece were no lesser portions than my other meals, especially after running couple of miles each morning. My days started with aromatic Helliniko Kafes with sweet fluffy baked pies besides the usual platter of waffles, bacon, cheese, eggs, and ham. Once fuelled by sugar and well-channel caffeinated energy, I was ready to explore the city.

"Vitamin sea, wear your sunscreen"

One thing I picked up from my last two Iceland trips (yes, explored twice and written not even once) is to always carry my bathing suit wherever I go. You never know when that surprising thermal pool might pop up at the turn of the road or the sun unexpectedly shines bright through the clouds for a beach day. I was totally blessed with great weather this time in spite of traveling in the rainy season. Thus my original plan of torturing my feet with walking tours got hijacked with an impromptu decision to visit the Perea beach. Slight issue with that: most the buses to the beach were disconnected due to off-season. Thankfully the local hop-in-hop-off bus tour guide, Anna, came to my rescue. She called up a friend of hers who run errands in that part of the town, and hence I ended up sort-of hitchhiking my way to the beach for a fairly small price.  

The drive to the beach and back
Turns out that driver friend of hers, Apostolos, (yes, he couldn't sound any more Greek :D) was quite a history fanatic who literally injected 2300 years of Thessaloniki history in my head in that short one hour trip. Greeks have a very distinct way of expressing themselves and you could feel their pride and amazing storytelling way of narrating stuff. My animated chat with Apostolos started with history indeed but soon enough we were talking and exchanging ideas in politics, economy, tourism and even Germany ;) 

Count me my shades of blue
However once in Perea, I was welcomed with near empty beaches and long rows of beautiful cafes on the pier. I had peaceful few hours to stroll around there, take a few dips at the sea, caught up on some reading and even took a short nap before heading back to the city. It was like having my own private beach and I think I lost track of time there surrounded by shades of blue and more seafood.

"Gypsy trinkets, and other loots"

Once back, I visited the Ladadika quarters near the port for souvenirs and evening coffee at the waterfront. Instead I ended up meandering among local stores for spices, sweets, baked goodies, olive oil products, etc. By the time I was done with those shops, I had my fair share of "loot" that my return flight baggage capacity would allow. As my flight took off the next day, gradually the magic of the city settled over me gently and clingingly as pollen in springtime. 

Nut about nuts @ The Nut Factory.

Greek version of Baklavas - Pour some sugar on me!
Now two weeks later, as I am reflecting, writing and still smiling over the memories of my mini city break, I could only feel my heartbeat quicken again at the thought of taking the next random trip. Yes, I did get weird looks when I was eating alone or had to ward off unwanted company while enjoying a cocktail watching the sunset over the harbour, but given a chance I would do it all over again.

I'd rather live for such spontaneous trips and making plans on the go, than wishing for that perfect time and company to explore a new place. True, adventures are better when explored and shared with like minded individuals, but there comes a time when your wanderlust heart doesn't want to consult anyone over a trip, it just wants to catch a flight and leave. So if you feel the same and life gives you opportunities to follow what you want, just buy the ticket and go. Amazing things await in the other side of doubts.

On that thought, signing off for now until my next adventure: hiking trip in the Swiss -Saxony over the Easter break! Adios!


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