We’d had a very full day of sightseeing yesterday in Athens. We were a bit sore, and slow to get going today. It wasn’t helped that we knew we had a long (and likely boring) day or two of driving ahead of us. We chose to avoid the motorways, mostly because we didn’t quite know how much they were going to cost. As far as I could tell, the toll from Athens to Thessaloniki was going to be about €35 for a car – and the last few tolls we’ve been around 3-4x the price of a car. There was no way we’d save even close to this much fuel (we’d probably actually use more on the motorway), and weren’t in a particular rush to leave Greece.
So, we stuck free roads. This took us through dozens of mountain ranges, which still sounds crazy when I write it now – Greece is full of mountains.
We’d become somewhat accustomed to the heat, but the drive today took us through large dry and dusty plains. We were partially backtracking from our drive in to Athens from Delphi two days ago, so we knew to expect the enormous cotton farms. These farms continued on, and on, and on for a major portion of the day.
Our Tom Tom seems to be a little out of date (I updated before we left), which has often meant that newer roads don’t exist. Today was a little different. The road existed, but it had changed from a free road, to a toll motorway. It was getting late, and it looked difficult to try and avoid, so we just thought we’d give it a go, and take the next exit. We ended up staying on it for 30km, which cost us an eye-watering €11! It put me in a sour mood, since we have no idea what this is going to cost, other than just rolling up and finding out when we attempt to leave.
We didn’t make it all the way to Thessaloniki, but I was impressed that we’d managed to cover a little over 400km. It wasn’t easy motorway driving, and we were both exhausted. There was a free camp by a beach. We arrived in the dark, and shortly after parking, eating, and cleaning, we were ready for sleep.
The beach faced to the east. The van was a glowing ball of light shortly after sunrise, with the sun hitting us with full intensity. The beach was pleasant enough, but it was just a beach, it was chilly, and I wanted to make it to Bulgaria tonight.
We actually camped right by Mount Olympus, the home of the gods. It was a perfectly clear day, if somewhat hazy. I couldn’t make out any homes of gods up there, but maybe we were too far away.
It was a terrible first impression arriving in Thessaloniki, aka. Salonika. In fact, it was so bad, that I actually considered just continuing on our journey north into Bulgaria. Not only did it start out as one of the ugliest cities we’ve ever visited (and we’ve visited a few shit holes – I’m thinking of you, Mersin, Turkey), but it was also dirty, industrial, littered in rubbish, filthy air and terrible roads. Upon arrival, there were absolutely no redeeming qualities about this town.
I had a list of some free parks in town, but it proved to be far too difficult, so we opted to pay for parking – it was only a few Euro/hr, and we didn’t plan to be here for that long. It meant that we were parked by the waterfront, which made for a slightly more enjoying walk than through the central streets.
Risa did some research and found there were some popular local markets, with both fresh food and restaurants. She followed her nose, and found a great little restaurant that had their own special octopus dish. Since we both are fond of (eating) these amazing little creatures, she ordered a dish. I don’t think I’ve ever had such tender octopus before. Not only was it soft, but it was also full of fantastic flavour.
We felt pretty excited after such success on our first attempt, so sat down for a slightly larger meal. We were served a complimentary soup, and then ignored for nearly 30-minutes, never getting a chance to order food. So, we waved thanks for the soup, and took off, hungry and disappointed. It’s twice now in Greece that we’ve left a restaurant before having our order taken – I can’t think of another time that I’ve walked out of a restaurant, either.
The fresh seafood in the markets looked fantastic. It looked fresh, smelt fresh, and was surprisingly cheap. But, we wanted to eat something now – and raw seafood wasn’t an option. I found a small bakery selling all manner of treats (as well as savoury options). I filled up several bags with little balls soaked in honey, and coated with icing sugar. As well as buying some other sweets, as well as savoury stuffed filo triangles. I will admit that I have a soft spot for Greek deserts, and certainly indulged while here this time.
The hot afternoon sun was making us perspire. The waterfront was filled with packed café, after packed café for what seemed like a kilometre. I had no idea where all these people came from, and why they weren’t working on this random Friday afternoon. But, they seemed to only be interested in one thing – watching the crowds walk past them.
We might have spent the previous day cooped up in the van, but by the time we’d walked the length of the city to the White Tower, I’d wished I’d parked closer. So far I hadn’t seen anything that would warrant a stop in this town, and we had now walked past most of the highlights of the town.
For completion sake, we also swung past the old cathedral, complete with the equally old victory arch. There didn’t seem to be much to hold our attention, other than some of the carvings on the arch itself. I had a quick look inside the church, but it wasn’t decorated – and there was an entrance fee.
Instead, we decided to head back to Gunter, via the seafood market for some fresh food for dinner. It was now, as we walked between the market at our car park did we finally find an interesting part of town. The small pedestrianised streets were filled with bars, and hipster art. Again, it was 3PM, but the bars/cafes/restaurants were busy. The area seemed fun, and was probably the only thing we came across in town that would make me want to spend any time in this city. It was nice that we had this one nice experience before we left the city.
And that was it for Greece. We were now bound for Bulgaria. It was still quite some distance, but at least the motorways north of here were free – I double, and then triple checked!