"Exploring Macedonia" is our first new itinerary in Greece since 2018. On this occasion, to give an impression of the experience, we are providing a kind of travel diary on our blog, following precedents from Greece, Ireland and Turkey. Rather than describing every day in detail (you can check our itineraries on www.petersommer.com for that), every day we will pick one image we took that day, accompanied by some explanations and thoughts.
Today, we returned to the hub of Macedonia, to Thessaloniki.
We did so with a detour through the Chalkidiki Peninsula, to show our guests the ancient city of Olynthos, a key part of our narrative on the ancient history of Macedonia, and on the conflict between the Macedonian Kingdom and the southern Greek colonies that existed in its neighbourhood.
Olynthos is an indispensable site for understanding how ancient Greek private houses and private households worked. It was our privilege to meet some of the archaeologists involved in an ongoing project there, and you can follow their work here. Our visit was curtailed by an unannounced rainstorm, but we used the excellent exhibition centre to make up for that - thinking on our feet as always.
After a fine seafood lunch, we proceeded to Thessaloniki, where we showed our guests the mighty walls of the Upper Town and citadel, and then the Church of Saint Dimitrios, its origins in the fourth and fifth centuries AD and its current form essentially of the seventh. It is the quintessential Byzantine basilica. A short glance onto the Roman forum of Thessaloniki was followed by free time, including a free evening.
A free evening in Thessaloniki is both an essential and a dangerous feature of this tour! Thessaloniki is, beyond any doubt, the culinary capital of Greece. Although the city has only a quarter of the population of Athens, which is the capital in political, governmental, economic and some cultural aspects, Thessaloniki has its own claims and holds its own where it can. It is the student capital of Greece, it has a vibrant cultural life and it has amazing food. Thessaloniki gastronomy is second to none.
The city's culinary offerings range from traditional Greek taverna food, seafood or meat, via various regionally or ingredient-themed eateries to multiple options of gourmet food. The high-end part ranges between internationally accepted gourmet dishes and locally-inspired ones - and I'm more interested in the latter. I took the opportunity to use the evening to retry a restaurant I had found during a reconnoitre two years ago, through a recommendation by a highly-trusted friend. I was also joined by another beloved friend and returning guest. The place we chose is what I would call an innovative seafood restaurant, its dishes grounded in Greek tradition, but lifted beyond traditionalism by a highly original chef. Thessaloniki's gastronomy at its best is defined by such an easy-going approach to international ideas of cuisine, tempered by a solid grounding in the local ingredients. The results are incredible.
Our image shows a small sample of what we tried: grilled shrimps with sour soft cheese and poached eggs, accompanied by homemade pita bread. It was absolutely delicious, flavours and textures melding into a unique whole. That applies to every other delight we tried, including an amberjack carpaccio - Greek sushi - and delicate ravioli with a filling of shrimp and asparagus.
Thessaloniki can throw such surprises at you, and I recommend embracing them with open arms. Especially on our Exploring Macedonia tour!
Tomorrow we will explore the city's history at full tilt.