A few days after arriving back in Thessaloniki, a new friend came in the shape of Sven, a tall dutchman riding a 250cc yamaha fazer (currently this bike is for china only). He’d left China 3 months ago and ridden through the ‘stans before catching a boat from Kazahkstan to Azerbaijan. From there, Sven had passed through Armenia, Georgia and Turkey before arriving in Greece – he had ridden almost the exact route I was riding, but in the opposite direction!
We spent the next two days talking about his trip over the odd beer, and any advice he had for a first time newbie heading through on a bike. Sven turned out be an invaluable source of information and good company. I hadn’t been able to talk bike stuff for a while, so it was good to just jam away the time talking about riding and motorcycles. After getting his broken suspension fixed, he was on his way the next day, on his bike that really looked the part.
Thessaloniki is my ‘home’ city at the moment. It’s an interesting place, and feels like a real city. Not the typical european ‘here’s the famous bridge, here’s the castle, there’s the historic church and blah blah blah’. It’s a little loopy, with old byzantine churches plonked in the strangest of places. Everyone seems to be eating hotdogs or sipping on 80 cent frappes. They love smoking here too. Chain smoking actually. Apparently part of the reason they chain smoke is because it’s really cheap, so why not? Sit at a cafe and you automatically get a clean ashtray before anything else.
Street art is a riot – virtually any blank space in the heart of town is covered in graffiti and murals. Lots of pro refugee slogans have been sprayed all over the city. The bus system seems to be constantly on strike ever since I arrived in Thessaloniki a week ago. I still often forget that everything seems to close at 3pm and re-open at 5pm. Half the city lives on these ridiculous steep hills, littered in winding streets and stairwells. It’s a city full of quirks, but with an overall laid back and social attitude.
I can’t finish describing Thessaloniki without mentioning the old city walls – which date back longer then a thousand years. Great arches hang over some roads, remnants from the old city gates gazing down the long main city streets. The higher you make you’re way up the hills, the more walls you’ll find along with rotund watchtowers. As usual adventure took over when I first discovered the old walls and I managed to find several ways of climbing up the old stone network. You are well rewarded with wonderful views of the entire city after your sweaty efforts.
Despite all the weird shortcomings of Thessaloniki, I’m really liking it here. Thess’ has quirky attitude. I like attitude. Street food is only a few euros. Although I whine about the weather, it’s nice to take my shirt off and soak up some sun. It’s giving me much time to prepare for the long ride ahead, and contemplate a few possible issues that I might (and probably will) encounter. I can go for the occasional walk on the boardwalk by the Aegean and lick my gelato if I’m bored. And you know what?… It’s nice doing nothing for a change.