jc travels

Thessaloniki, Ladadika, Halkidiki, and other fun-sounding words

May in Berlin has been nothing but great. As the winter starts to make its way out, the days are longer, the skies are sunnier, restaurants are starting to dust off their patio seating, and my boyfriend is in town! And the cherry on top – lots of German national holidays. That means I finally have time to explore the rest of Europe! Which is what I originally intended to do moving here anyways, before my life fell into the hands of my job. Oops.

#1 on my list of travel destinations has been Greece for the past few years now, but I just never found the right opportunity to come along until now. A short, 4 day trip to Thessaloniki. Though only a small part of Greece, it was amazing nonetheless and left me wanting to come back to see the rest of this country. (The views flying above the Grecian islands are incredible. Getting a window seat both ways was one of the highlights of my trip, seriously.)

We took it easy our first afternoon in Thessaloniki, getting to know the city. Strolling along the waterfront never gets old – we did it at least once every day we were here. Along it are restaurants and bars filled with locals, young couples sitting along the edge of the water, a modern but low-key bar situated on the quay with a killer view of the Aegean Sea, and the iconic ‘Umbrellas’ structure standing so brilliantly tall, backlit by the glowing sun setting behind it.

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Oh, and a free cruise along the Thermaic Gulf isn’t so shabby either.

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Close to the waterfront is Aristotleous Square (Πλατεία Αριστοτέλους), the main city square. While almost all of it seems to be designed around tourists, there are a couple gems. One being Spata, where I had the best gyro ever (and I tried several). Dare I say it – these sort of knock the döner kebaps here in Berlin off its pedestal. The second is the rooftop garden at the Electra Palace Hotel. A bit unknown to people who aren’t guests at the hotel, but maybe that’s a good thing. From here, you can grab a coffee and get the most spectacular view of the Aegean Sea. And on a clear day, Mount Olympus, too.

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A little ways north – if you’re early enough – you’ll find the morning hustle and bustle of Modiano Market (and if you can’t find it, you’ll for sure hear it). While only open for a few hours in the morning, I’d imagine a couple hours here would really wear you out, with all the market vendors yelling over one another and beckoning for you to come browse their offerings. We eventually made our way through the commotion and scored a couple bags of the most sumptuous salty-brined olives.

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Thessaloniki is a cozy, intimate and very laid-back community made up of several distinct neighborhoods, each uniquely special and saturated with culture.

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By far my favorite neighborhood was Ladadika (Λαδάδικα), located not too far from Aristotleous Square. Around Egiptou, small alleys filled with restaurants and bars tangle together, creating an isolated, lively space to spend an evening. People here have dinner quite late (10pm) and around this time, every nook and cranny of this place is filled to capacity with young locals. The best meal we had during our trip was here, at a traditional Greek meze restaurant called Full Tou Meze (Φούλ του μεζέ). A meze is a selection of small dishes, like tapas. All the food was so good (even the free bread). It was so good that I contemplated breaking one of my travel rules and eat here twice in one trip. But we refrained – and unfortunately very much regretted it later. Oh well, next time.

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When we asked our Airbnb host for his recommendations about what to do, he quite literally told us to “just walk somewhere and get lost.” At first I was thinking – well gee, that’s not very helpful at all.

But only later did I realize that he was absolutely right – much of the beauty of this place was discovered while on foot, observing our surroundings as we made our way somewhere. And every couple of blocks, you can find some place to refuel (with some delightfully flaky phyllo pastries, of course).

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What he said is especially true about Ano Poli (Άνω Πόλη) or Upper Town / Old Town. We wandered here on our last evening. This area is the only part of Thessaloniki that has remained intact from the Ottoman-era after a great fire wiped out pretty much everything else. It has such a historic, rustic sense of wonder to it. The imperfect, stone-paved streets messily strewn on top of one another weave through the residential areas and eventually take you to the top, where you are presented with a beautifully lit panoramic view of the city and sea. Dotted along these alleys are warm, grandmother’s-kitchen-esque taverns. It’s simply romantic.

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Unfortunately there are no beaches in the nearby vicinity, but there are a couple just a bus ride away. Halkidiki is supposed to be the place to be, but we didn’t have time to make it out there. We spent a lovely afternoon at Peraia Beach (Περαία) instead, piña colada in one hand and a beer in the other. Free beach chairs to kick back on and a full beverage service. I mean, you can’t really go wrong with that, can you?

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Thessaloniki – a place where you’ll be up to your ears in cream-filled phyllo dough pastries, a place where the people are as warm as the air around you, and best of all – a place where the only place you want to be is lost.

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