I’ve been here in Θεσσαλονίκη (Thessaloniki) for almost a week now, but I’ve found it difficult to blog for a couple reasons. One, I’ve come down with a minor cold. It’s nothing terrible (runny nose, uncomfortable throat, inordinate sneezing), but it’s made me feel off just enough to not want to write.
Two, I haven’t been taking many pictures. There are some fantastic city views, but pulling out a camera has felt awkward most of the time. This may have something to do with reason one as well…. Traveling isn’t all rainbows and sunshine; even if it’s 21 (70F) and sunny outside (like right now).
I’ve been on a couple walking tours with Γεώργιος (George, which means farmer in Greek) now. He’s from here, and the tours are truly amazing for absorbing the history and culture of this place. “In this place a hundred years ago, a fire started that destroyed the city.” “There’s an old lady that lives here who you should say ‘hi’ to, because she’s friendly and knows a lot of history.” “This is the acropolis of Thessaloniki that the Turks lived next to during the occupation.”
On one of the tours, he even gave us music lessons: we learned about the Ρεμπέτικο (Rebetiko) movement. Even though the style of music hasn’t had much additional composing since the 1950s, it’s still incredibly popular with young college students. In a square with a bust of Βασίλης Τσιτσάνης (Vassilis Tsitsanis, one of Greece’s most famous musicians), he even pulled out a μπουζούκι (bouzouki) and played us a few songs.
Another time, he spent a good 15 minutes describing something few guides I’ve encountered will pontificate upon. He showed us the church of Όσιος Δαβίδ (Saint David, it’s hard to find on your own), and talked about the famous paining inside. Like any good work of art, it can be interpreted in a few ways, and there are lots of ‘easter eggs’.
When a couple of us returned to the church the next day (it wasn’t open during the tour), we encountered the ‘keeper’. He knew all about George, and quickly had us take seats in the church. Then we talked (well, he did most of the talking) for at least 30 minutes about the art we were seeing. I found it very interesting despite not being religious any more.
The day after that, I ran into George again and told him we’d seen the church’s ‘keeper’. He (George) then went into a spiel about every interpretation about which they disagreed. This multi-day discussion was highly entertaining, and speaks volumes to the caliber of the amateur art lovers involved.
This city is definitely worth visiting. There are so many little historical gems laying around…even if you won’t get too many Instagram-able pictures. And ensure you find a good guide; mine was totally worth the free price…. Just kidding, I gave him a couple donations.