The Bustle of the City

It’s early in the morning.  My bedroom window is open, and I can hear the birds chirping outside.  It’s summertime.  In the distance, I hear the traffic on the expressway, trucks, cars, some horns blowing.  My eyes are still closed as I try to wake up and get out of bed.  But the traffic noise from the expressway, transports me to another city, the city that I grew up, the beautiful city of Thessaloniki, Greece. Nestled against the Thermaikos Gulf and the second largest city in Greece after Athens, Thessaloniki is built up high on mountainous ground.  The first time I realized that, was when in 1983, my brother picked me up from the Athens airport and drove me with my two daughters, to Thessaloniki.  As we approached the city, I saw her rising in front of me, majestic, with its high apartment buildings, their glass windows sparkling against the afternoon sun.  My eyes were filled with emotion.  This is the city that I was born and raised but left when I was 18 years old.  A city full of life. There are so many things you can do in Thessaloniki.  You can visit the Archaeological Museum, visit Byzantine churches, have a coffee at the top of the OTE tower, that revolves and provides a full 360° view of the city and the gulf.  You can drive to the north of the city and see the Seih Sou forest, or the Eptapyrgion – the seven towers that surrounded the city during the Ottoman reign. But the heart of the city is bustling with people. There are three major streets, Egnatia, Ermou and Tsimiski, running east/west on the city. All three streets are lined up with shops, from shoe stores to clothing, to housewares to jewelry stores. Amidst the shops you will notice a small church, where people will go inside light a candle and continue with their shopping. There are vendor stands almost in every corner, selling the famous koulouri, the best in all of Greece. The bustle of the city doesn’t stop other than during the afternoon when people and stores close for the afternoon siesta. The stores open up again at 5:00 pm and the traffic picks up.  Hundreds of people walk that seems to be forever, to get to their destination.  Someone hails a cab to take him even further. The busses are full of people, making their necessary stops, and the people who will get off will walk to their destination, either that’s work, church, or just meeting a friend in the Paralia (waterfront walkway). And we come to the Paralia, which is the last major street parallel to Tsimiski. The White Tower stands in the distance. Leoforos Nikis, the name of the coastal road is full of cafes and restaurants. It’s early evening and people finished their work and are either meeting friends at a café or having a small bite to eat. The sun has almost set in the distance, and the orange glow makes the water sparkle in the Gulf. People are walking up and down the Paralia. Vendors are selling roasted almonds or peanuts by the cup. They taste the best.  I have never been able to find the same taste of roasted almonds anywhere else. They are still warm from the small roaster they have in their portable stand, crunchy and salty. Children are walking with their parents.  Another vendor is selling balloons and a mother buys two red ones for her small child. The wind is slight, and as the child tries to hold both of them in his tiny little hands one of them flies away and rises up against the orange lit sky. The higher it goes the more it becomes a small red dot. Further down, the White Tower and the park around it is filled with mothers and their children playing .  Some of the people decide to go up on the White Tower and have a coffee at the café on the top floor, among the turrets.  A wedding is taking place on the top.  The bride and groom have their wedding party there, taking pictures against the sunset to the west of the Tower and the city unfolding to the north of the Tower.  The beautiful, majestic city of Thessaloniki, the one that I grew up, and visit every year; the one close to my heart. article and pictures by Mary Axiotis