A THESSALONIKI SONG, Elif Talay | 01.08.2016

As soon as I receive my passport in March 2015 I decide to take my first trip abroad to our neighbors. We reach Thessaloniki in our THY plane via the IST-SGK route on Saturday morning after a comfortable trip without any research because of my wingman’s previous experiences. We leave an overcast Istanbul which turns to rain when we reach our neighbor and we are caught in a downpour at the airport.

As we approach the city center, the old buildings and antennae on their rooftops attract my attention. I experience the feeling of past lives that I am used to from the area near the old city walls of Istanbul. When we reach Aristotle Square, which is free from the hustle and bustle, we are welcomed by the sound of raindrops hitting the ground. The city feels like it is abandoned to me, I am very surprised. The reflections of the beautiful white buildings can be seen on the wet stones of the square, as the weather clears alongside the sea. Against this calm backdrop all of my fatigue disappears.

Before going towards the seafront, we visit a café that my friend goes to all the time, which is open even though it is early in the morning, to have breakfast. It's the first breakfast on my first trip abroad… Here I have the pastry with cheese called bougatsa and Lipton tea. It is a very genuine and heartwarming breakfast for me because it feels as though it is just Thessaloniki, the rain, and us that are there. As we are getting up to leave some other people start coming to the café. Under the slowing rain we start to walk towards the seaside. Once we get there, the road which leads to  Beyaz Kule (the White Tower) reminds me of the Waterfront in İzmir which I saw in old photos. I learn later that this place is called the "İzmir of the neighbor's." The gray sea and the cloudy skies remind me of the Black Sea region as well.

Once we reach the White Tower we see that it isn't open yet as it is still very early in the morning. As we are feeling kind of disappointed at this, we notice the tour bus waiting at the stop just there. We pay two Euros each and get on it. We have no idea where it is going but we will find out as it goes. The driver heads out with two people, there is also a girl making announcements in English. She seems a little sleepy from not having totally woken up and starts to slowly tell us about the places we pass by with her sweet Greek accent. As we start to climb from the center we see the beautiful views in front of us. Once we reach the walls at the hilltop the bus starts to turn back. We decide to get off to enjoy this beauty.

"The Upper City" welcomes us with tranquility; there are kittens walking lazily around the place. We walk towards the walls from the spot we got off the bus and end up with a bird's eye view of Thessaloniki. The avenue that passes by the walls has people with umbrellas on it and the occasional car passing by. This place with its walls reminds me of Unkapanı in Istanbul. We see the center made up of older buildings, Aristotle Square, the White Tower, and the OTE Tower towards the end of the road. The view ends with the indistinct ships in the blue of the sea and the gray clouds within the blue of the skies. We take in this view for a long time under the falling rain. Then we turn back towards the narrow streets of the upper city.

There are old buildings which feel abandoned once again, but with open curtains and smoking chimneys. There are narrow streets going between each of them with cobblestone roads and many stairs going down from the top. I notice the colorful graffiti on most walls and writing, just like the antennae. This neighborhood isn't just a rubble of stones, there are the cats, trees, and many spring flowers springing up everywhere. Even though we don't see anyone around, we guess that there are people living from the laundry, mops, and newspapers at the doors. I feel so happy after seeing the calm streets which smell like oranges under the rain after coming from the flood of people in my own city.

We head into a café that we see is open to have some hot drinks. The inside is wooden and charmingly decorated. We sit by the window. A merry waitress approaches us afterwards. She places two glasses of water in front of us before we get the chance to order anything. I am quite surprised. We thank her and order two "Turkish" coffees. Apparently it is a tradition to offer water at places you visit. I really like this kind of touch. Then I think of the prices of the water I have drunk. As we are sipping on our coffees and talking with each other, an old voice behind us says, "Sssh kuklamou." For whatever reason I turn back to look at the person who gestures for me to come over.

It is a charming old man with a brown suit, flat cap, and glasses that is calling me over. As my Greek isn't too good I don't understand everything that he says, my friend is a little better in this regard and tells him that we don't know much Greek. Once he learns that we came from Istanbul he gets even more excited. He lets out a great smile and tells us that he is originally from Istanbul. We invite him over to our table, and uncle Kostas Konstantinis joins us right away after taking his tea from his table. As they speak amongst themselves, I look at them and smile when I hear some words I recognize. He stops for a second while pointing towards my face and he says, "omorfo." He is so genuine and so charming. I want to tell him that "What's beautiful is your warm heart," but I can't. We take photos together and he writes down his name and hands it to us. His friends come to the table next to us, they are also old. He points to us and tells them that we are from Istanbul. They look and smile at us, it feels like a visit to our relatives. We sit for a little longer and then ask for permission to leave. Uncle Kostas says, "Don't leave, stay at my house." We thank him saying that we are staying at a hotel. He tells us to, "Come again tomorrow." He gets sad after hearing that we will visit Kavala as though he is being separated from his grandkids and clouds fall over his eyes. We give him a big hug. We promise to come again and see each other some other time in the future.

As we go down the road that we climbed with bus I look at the charming houses with cats in front of them, and the trees alongside the road. I feel both like I am at home in Thessaloniki and I am trying to get used to these tranquil streets as I have been living in a metropolitan city for such a long time.

Once we get down to the center we reach the hotel in which my friend stayed in previously. There are angels depicted on its ceiling and the hotel has a very elegant lobby with golden colored seats. The gentleman in the lobby is very kind and cheerful, I notice his name tag as he is checking us in: "M. Tsafranbolou". I tell my friend, "Aah Safranbolu", after which he smiles upon hearing us and tells us that he is originally from Safranbolu. We go up to our rooms feeling at home again. Here too are angels posing beyond the clouds on the ceilings. We lie down on our beds and fall asleep while watching them.

Once we wake up we find that the weather is overcast. But it feels like outside is noisier. Once we get down to the center we see that people, cars, and bikes accompany the noise of the rain. We choose to go to a district called Ladadika much like the French Street in Istanbul, where music is played with crowded restaurants to have dinner. Most of the songs being played are Rembetiko songs, which I love. Stelios Kazantzidis, Stratos Dionisiou, Manos Hacıdakis seep into our consciousness and then our souls. Unlike the morning we have a very lively and jovial night. I learn that; Greeks start to dine at around 10 in the evening and enjoy meals until the late hours with music and laughter. We too wolf down our dishes with great appetites. Chicken souvlaki which is chicken shish, gavros which is anchovy, Greek salad which is shepherd's salad with cheese, kolokithakia which is fried crispy zucchini and tzatziki. My first dining experience abroad is also amazing thanks to this; with foods that I am used to with different touches to them which add even more flavors.

I watch the conversations in Greek at the tables next to us with great admiration. The way they use their hands while talking, the way they talk loudly, and their facial expressions are all familiar… I want to have some tea after dinner, then I remember that we aren't in our home country. We enjoy the desserts offered after dinner, which come instead of the tea I longed for. We leave this nice atmosphere as we are going to be waking up early in the morning to make it in time for our flight. As we walk towards the hotel it feels as though the rain has slowed down with the weather getting a little bit warmer. Thessaloniki takes a great place in my heart even during the short time that we have in it. I mutter a Fikret Kızılok song.

“A blue spell between us
A warm, cordial sea
We are two sibling nations as beautiful as each other."

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Özlem Şakiroğlu


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