As I write this, I’m sitting on a bus that’s rapidly leaving Thessaloniki behind. I usually reserve bus rides for staring moodily out the window, but I’ll make an exception in this case.
The past three weeks have been chock-full of stimulating experiences both professionally and personally. I’ve met refugee families, interviewed university professors about recycling and sea turtles, and shot and produced a feature story in video form. I’ve also celebrated birthdays of friends I didn’t have a month ago, tried countless new foods, and hiked Mount Olympus.
Living in Thessaloniki didn’t feel like a whirlwind, though. I think that’s because the city itself isn’t hectic: aside from the daily protests, there’s a certain tranquility I have felt during my quieter moments there. Thessaloniki is active but calm, and its small size makes it easy to navigate. It’s definitely a city I’d consider coming back to.
To that end, I’m a little nervous about Athens. It marks a major transition point in our trip, and I think will require a level of adjustment that we just don’t have time for. I am looking forward to getting to know a new city, but there’s also a lot more work to do. It will be a different kind of international reporting. While Thessaloniki felt like home, I expect to feel like more of a spectator in Athens. I’ll see it, but there may not be time to choose a favorite bakery or a favorite bar. Then again, maybe there will be time.
There are a couple of things that have made my experience in Thessaloniki particularly special. Actually, there are a lot of things, but I’m going to focus on three.
First is the boardwalk. Everyone is writing about the boardwalk on his or her departure blogs (and by everyone I mean Asia and Isabelle) and I promise they’re not overselling it. The boardwalk is different every time I walk – sometimes wavy, sometimes busy, sometimes cloudy – and I think it’s part of the reason we’ve made it through the past few weeks without losing our heads. As Asia put it in her blog, there’s something calming about being in the presence of a big body of water. It’s something I learned when I was living in Woods Hole, Massachusetts last year, and it has been reaffirmed here.
Second are the people, both my travel companions and the locals I’ve met while reporting. I thought I would find it difficult to navigate this group dynamic, but the reality is that I appreciate and am happy to spend time with every single person here. There’s a certain closeness that comes from being in this environment together, not to mention sharing local food and drink, and I’m really glad to be a part of this supportive group of people.
Furthermore, I’ve been blown away by the kindness of the people I’ve met here in Greece. All three of the refugee families we met last week were so quick to invite us into their home, offer refreshments, and tell their stories. Even the restaurateurs who don’t speak English are always happy to see us and serve us food at the wrong time of day. And our hosts Maria, Kristina, and Theo have been continually sweet and helpful as we have navigated the city these past three weeks, and have made my experience that much easier and more pleasant.
The last part of our stay in Thessaloniki that has been particularly special is our balcony. When I picture living in Europe, I always picture having a balcony to step out onto every morning and mentally prepare for the day. I’ve gotten to do that every morning so far on this trip.
Tsiang-Yu and I were lucky enough to get an apartment on the fifth floor of our building, and our view is literally of a wall, but I have loved it so much. We’ve both spent hours out there working, eating, talking on the phone, and yes, occasionally crying as I mentioned in my earlier post. There are many things I’ll miss about Thessaloniki, but I think I’ll miss the balcony the most.
So, here’s hoping there’s a balcony in our room in Athens, the people are equally friendly, and I find a way to walk by the water. Even if that doesn’t happen, I’m sure that there will be moments that are equally special.