Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Saloniki

There are two Thessaloniki’s. The city during the day and the city after sun down. My first glimpse of the place was on Sunday, when everything was closed. It’s an ugly city as such. Most of the city was destroyed by a fire and the cityscape is made up of rows and rows of ugly block shaped buildings. Some of the old Turkish houses in the Anopoli survive, as do the Byzantine walls, some old churches and hamams. Well, on Sunday the city was deserted. What the hell will I do here for three days? was the only thought in my mind. I walked around the city centre, saw some of the sights, fended off unwanted advances and went back home around six.

In an hour or so I was bored (1) and decided to take the half hour bus ride back to the city centre and hang around the sea front. I have never seen a city transform so much in just a couple of hours. The stalls on the waterfront were now open (there’s a book bazaar on), musicians were playing their instruments, all sort of food was being sold and traditional Macedonian dances were taking place. It was just so amazingly festive! I eventually reached home only around midnight.
Yesterday, things were busier during the day. The street markets were open. Around the Ladadika area vendors sold fish, fruits, flowers, clothes, hats, shoes (I bought a pair for €10).

I’ve spent most of my time here walking around the waterfront. It’s the one great redeeming factor of the city. People fish, walk, run, make out, eat, paint along the length of the coast. After two days of sunny weather, its pouring here today and I spent most of the afternoon sitting in one of the gazillion café bars (café by day, bar at night, full all the time) that line the water front. The coffee is always good (and comes with an adorable platter of pastries), the music uniformly excellent. The Thermaic Gulf stretched out ahead and I could barely make out the ships in the mist. It was rather lovely.

Thessa is also famous for its food. The Turkish influence (or is it the other way round?) is strong. I ate simit type bread every morning. A big fancy pastry shop just off Aristotelous Square, sells the most fabulous baklava. The shop owner has consistently refused to charge me for my daily piece of baklava, “No money!” he said firmly every time I went up to pay. Yesterday, at the book bazaar I had (I don’t know what the Greek name is!) a Greek version of the small gulab jamuns. Some sort of flour balls, dipped in honey and sprinkled with walnuts. Sickeningly sweet. Amazingly good. Earlier today, when the rain was coming down heavily, people lined the covered alleys, almost all of them eating steaming hot böreks. (I love the ones with feta cheese).

So the three days here have passed fast enough. My train for Istanbul leaves in three hours. Am excited :).

(1) The girl whose place I was staying at with took off for Bulgaria an hour after I reached. So I was basically home alone the whole time.
(2) I wish I had pictures. Damn it.

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

I don't know what to say. Everything I can think of sounds inane. Haha, just enjoy the desserts, I guess. Bring some back. Or some coffee.

Karan

Anonymous said...

Hey - are you travelling by yourself? Just wondering if its a safe place to travel alone for a young woman. I have been planning a trip to Greece and Turkey for years, but doesn't materialize because of the people I plan with. So wondering if going solo is alright?

-Anu

Chimera said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Chimera said...

wow, all the exotic food made my stomach (g)rumble - if you are on a solo trip, would love to get inputs from you.
meanwhile i'm still biting my nails awaiting ur Istanbul post :)

Szerelem said...

anon, swathi: Yes, travelling alone. Its safe. Theres no hassle as such - just overtly friendly men who are irrıtating and pissing off.

Am in İstanbul now :) and İ really cant think of any words to put down that wont sound completely ınane and superfluos. Mıght put up pıctures soon.

Aishwarya said...

You're right, words are superfluous. Istanbul did that to me too.

thalassa_mikra said...

Those gulab-jamun like balls? They're Loukoumades. Very sweet and very yummy. You can find them in most parts of Greece - there was one place on Paros island that used to be our favourite.

The simit like bread is called koulourakia. It has sesame sprinkled on it. What makes for an excellent breakfast in Greece is the different pites from the traditional bakeries - spanakopita, tyropita, kolokithopita, etc.

You'll see this seafront promenade centric buzz in cities all along the Greek mainland coast. Same in Volos, all the city seems to converge on the seafront in the evening.

As for the food, the influence goes both ways. Greek food in general tends to be more simple, rustic food. There was a big migration of Greeks from Istanbul (or Poli Greeks) in the 1920s and they brought a much more sophisticated cuisine with them which is a mix of Ancient Greek, Byzantine, and Middle Eastern (mostly Persian and Arab Levant) influences.


To be honest, Turkish cuisine as it developed in Ottoman times is basically a reworking of classical Persian, Arab and Byzantine cuisines.

For your next visit to Greece, I highly recommend travelling to a few of the islands and either Volos or Nafplion on the mainland.

the wannabe indian punkster said...

I wish you had pictures too.

Damn it.