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Thessaloniki, here I am! By Riccardo Rossi* September 19, 2013

Posted by usbngo in Older Posts.
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On Sunday first September night I touched down at Thessaloniki international Airport (Greece) after having been stuck at the Athens airport for 30 minutes due to a problem with Aegean Airlines. Honestly, when I was waiting for the flight to Thessaloniki at the Athens Airport the first feeling I had right off the bat was: It is a really good start!!!!!!!!!

Some United Societies of Balkans staff came over to the airport to pick me up, and took me to my new home. Once we went there I got to know those who will be my new flatmates. At first blush, I thought that they are not so bad people to get along with! Same impression I had for my new roommate. He is from Turkey but he speaks excellent Greek as he has been studying it for four years, and he has also been living in Thessaloniki for seven months. I am really happy to share my room with him, because he is such a funny person to stay with. I have been in Thessaloniki for almost three weeks now, and I have already begun to get the feel of the city. First impressions are important, but they should be appreciated for their fragility. So far, everything I have felt about the city is something special to me, but I also guess that time will expose my first perceptions in a wrong or right way; it does not matter. However, at first glance I could notice some clear architectural differences between my country and Greece by just having a look at buildings such as churches, cathedrals, castles, and so on. Throughout the downtown buildings are old and beautiful, small shops are favoured over the larger stores. Thessaloniki is surrounded by green mountains, and you can have an amazing view of the sea by staying in the upper part of the city where the fortress is.

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As far as I can tell, the city is a lively place rolled up in a relaxing atmosphere especially by evening, which gives you the feeling that time goes by slowly. Although, I would say that the city has a particular feature: it becomes noisy at night and hectic at overnight. There is a variety of activities at nights, most of all in the weekends, such as concerts which are often held in the University, discos, and bars. I also realized differences between Greece and my country become so subtle, referring to the fact that people have many different ways of enjoying life, especially the night’s one. As it happens in my country here you can find “certain people” – e.g. with a particular way of dressing, of looking -, according to the place that they stay in. I would say that in general the city is open to a variety of ways of being, and it also allows you to be as you are. Another aspect which has aroused my curiosity is the fact that in Greece siesta’s hours are granted by the law. It sounds strange at least to me, and I did not know before came here. As far as I experienced the people of my district Agios Pavlos are friendly to the tourists, but not so much during the siesta’s hours. Over the siesta’s hours in this neighborhood anyone stays in silence, and if you might make any single subtle noise you would be scold by the typical whistle “shhhhhhhhhh”. If you walk on the district streets in the summer period, from 14.00 to 17.00, you cannot hear a pin drop. Truth be told, I did not notice this attitude of people in each part of the Thessaloniki but only in my neighborhood, where perhaps residents are such law abiding people. Even so, I am so happy about the fact that residents appreciate to hear my huge efforts in speaking Greek. So far, I am just able to get cigarettes in Greek and vaguely greet people. It is really funny because I am totally panicky whenever the shopkeeper tries to tell me something else. However, I will have time to learn Greek as well as I will have time and eagerness to discover the desires, fears, secrets, and perspectives of the city. Finally, I would like to conclude by quoting one of my most favourite Italian writers, Italo Calvino. Once he wrote about the cities: “Arriving at each new city, the traveler finds again a past of his that he did not know he had: the foreignness of what you no longer are or no longer possess lies in wait for you in foreign, unpossessed places.”

*Riccardo does his European Voluntary Service, supported and funded by the Hellenic National Agency under the Youth in Action programme.

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