Dunno about the rest of you, but the only advantage I see of getting a 6:15am flight from Gatwick is that you know that at least the aircraft is here and there will be no delays. For the damage to my body clock, I might as well be getting the red-eye to Rio. But there are few direct flights to Salonika, so…
Arriving on May Day had the extra problem of reaching the town centre avoiding the various Labour Day marches. Greek marches are famed for their ferocity, but I needn’t have worried. My balcony from the Park Hotel overlooked the, well, it is hard to call the gathering of a few thousand scattered people, a demo.
I felt quite let down. It seems the depth of the recession has dampened the spirit of those notorious Greek anarchists.
The last time I was in Salonika I was 18, and the surprise was not that so much has changed but that so much of the town’s character has survived. Arguably, Salonika provides of more satisfying Greek urban experience than sprawly, materialistic Athens which has lost its soul to the God of globalisation.
There are still old men playing biriba (a type of gin rummy) on Aghios Dimitrios square. There are sparrows in the pavements and copulating stray dogs in the back alleys. There are old-style patsatzidika restaurants that serve tripe to late-night owls and a proper meat and veg covered market like you’d find anywhere in the Med.There are neoclassical gems and crumbling art deco houses, as well as late night bars fuelled by the students of the large University nearby. Finally, there is a recognizable centre combining an oriental and yet Greek style: colonnaded galleries looked over by buildings with neoclassical flat roofs and series of windows within Ottoman curved arches surrounded by arabesques.