A Spontaneous Trip to Greece
I had just recently returned about a month ago from Barcelona and was back in Florence, where I planned on hunkering in for a while and working. But when my friend Madeleine suggested that we take a trip somewhere—literally anywhere—I couldn’t resist. A month in Florence had reignited my wanderlust, and we jumped on the Ryanair website to see which flights might be available. After about five minutes, we decided on Thessaloniki in Greece, which neither of us had ever heard of. We found a cheap hostel where we could stay for four nights, packed our bags, and flew into Greece.
Because the trip had been planned so spontaneously, I really had no expectations or any idea of must-sees. As most people know, Greece’s economic situation is a little desperate right now. Graffiti covered the buildings, adding a splash of deviant color to architecture that was once washed white. Coupled with an unfamiliar alphabet, Madeleine and I were unsure if an unexpected trip with no research had been such a good idea.
After the first hectic day, we decided to see Thessaloniki with some new eyes and began walking around the city. What we found surprised us. Coffee shops were full of young, friendly Grecians sipping their frappes (made very differently than the usual frappe in America—no blended ice, just foam, coffee, a little sugar, and an ice cube or two) and chatting with friends. Every person we talked to, young or old, greeted us with a smile and a spattering of English. In a place where there are few tourists, many were thrilled to hear we were American. “Which state are you from?” was a common and eager question.
Refreshed and reenergized by the kindness of the Greek people, Madeleine and I decided to check out some hot springs a few hours away from the city. After spending a few minutes figuring out how to get there by taxi, a bus, another bus, and another taxi, we headed out with our swimsuits and senses of adventure. Inevitably, we ended up getting off at the wrong bus stop, where we were given chocolate bars and water after the nearby shop owner saw our dazed and confused expressions. After being redirected to the right bus, and after the shop owner called a taxi to pick us up and take us to the location of the hot springs, we were back on our way.
Once we finally arrived, Madeleine and I couldn’t help but gloat over our success at reaching a place so completely foreign and out of our element. The warmth of the hot spring was like a minor victory treat; the greater one was saying that we had navigated our way across the Grecian countryside.
When we returned to Thessaloniki, we ended up meeting with an acquaintance of Madeleine’s, and we ducked into a local restaurant and ended up devouring some pastries. Apparently it’s never a bad time for a pastry in Greece. “Our national hobby is eating,” Helen said. “If you don’t like to eat, you are in the wrong place.”
Fortunately, eating was our hobby too. Helen directed us to several restaurants where we could find the best food in Thessaloniki. All were more than affordable, and the portion size and care that the Greeks put into each dish was, well, gastronomical. Madeleine and I scarfed down Greek salad, feta, fish, calamari, eggplant, gyros, coffee frappes, and crispy pastries. Each night, we bordered on sickness, though it was almost impossible to finish every dish brought before us.
Once, I ordered an entire squid calamari. My pants popping at the seams, I was unable to finish the delicious work of art in front of me. “You do not like it?” the waitress asked. Placing two hands over my stomach, I tried to convey the fact that as a tourist, my stomach was simply not prepared for all the Greece had to offer it.
Our final day consisted of Helen taking us to the beach of Halkidiki, where we could see the Aegean Sea in all of its multicolored glory. Madeleine and I dipped our toes in the water (it was still a little chilly to fully immerse ourselves), and posed on the rocks. Helen recommended more pastries before lunch, which we snacked on in our bathing suits, feeling the sun touch our skin.
After such an incredible day, we found ourselves feeling disappointed to be leaving so soon. Greece had wormed its way into both of our hearts. It might not have been the adventure that either of us were expecting or planning, but we felt that though Thessaloniki had the kind of personality that might not have initially attracted us, with time, its vivacity and warmth shone through.
I’ll undoubtedly return—but maybe when my pants fit again.