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Where to go?

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Hello,

I will be going to Thessaloniki for a conference at the end of December. I have two weeks before I need to be back at school and want to travel around. I will be with my boyfriend and we have no idea where we want to go. I lived in France for a year and have explored Western Europe and am interested in Eastern Europe. My boyfriend has not been anywhere so we are looking for a mix.

We are at a loss as to where to go and what to do! Any suggestions?

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    Lucky you! I have always wanted to visit Thessaloniki and Greek Macedonia, but never had the opportunity. Apart from the city itself, one thing I would definitely try to see is the archeological site at Vergina: http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/780

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    Macedonia is one of the most interesting regions in Greece, and one of the most historic as well. There are loads of things to do and see. Thessaloniki is the second-city of the country, and the cultural hub of the North.

    Thessaloniki was always a very important city. The official capital of Macedonia since the Roman period and also the second-city of both Byzantine and Ottoman Empires. This city is a true paradise for history buffs, rich in important monuments, exceptional museums, and old neighborhoods.

    Founded by King Cassander of Macedon in 315 BC, this ancient city is today home to most treasures of ancient Macedonia. The Archaeological Museum is an absolute must, housing many masterpieces of ancient Macedonian art, such as golden crowns and jewels, statues, mosaics, ancient shields and helmets, objects from the conquests of Alexander, and the famous Derveni Krater.

    The city is known for its Byzantine heritage, many churches are UNESCO protected ("Paleochristian and Byzantine Monuments of Thessalonika") and most of them are more than 1000 years old. Some must visits are Hagios Demetrios with its Catacombs, Hagia Sophia, and the Rotunda of Hagios Georgios. The Arch of Galerius which once belonged to the complex of Rotunda is also an interesting sight. The city walls of Thessaloniki were famous during the Middle Ages, and successfully protected the city from many sieges. The Museum of Byzantine Culture is another excellent museum you can't miss, with Byzantine icons, medieval books, jewels, mosaics, clothes and many other interesting medieval stuff.

    You will find many Ottoman monuments in the city, such as bazaars, mosques, hamams and fountains. The symbol of Thessaloniki, the White Tower, was built by the Venetians but its current form is of the Ottoman period, you can't miss that one. Some other Ottoman monuments which you can actually visit are, Bey Hamam (or Loutra Paradeisos) which today is a cultural center, Alatza Imaret Mosque also a cultural center and Bezesteni market.

    Today Thessaloniki is a city with a very heavy heritage, but it's also a very alive and modern city. Last year it has been awarded as the Youth Capital of Europe 2014, as it is home to many Universities and has a huge nightlife scene, bars, trendy restaurants, hip neighborhoods, galleries for young artists and lots of cultural events throughout the city every day. In 2013 the Nea Paralia was completed, the new seaside promenade where all the Thessalonicians gather and have fun or go for a walk. The Aristotelous Square is the heart of the city, with many cafes that Thessalonicians sip their so loved coffees for hours with their friends, and not far from the Square is the Modiano Market, built by a Jewish resident of the city in the old days is a must for every food lover. One of the hippest neighborhoods of the city is the Ladadika. This used to be the red light district for the sailors arriving in the city, and now is full of bars restaurants and shops. Don't forget to visit the Ano Poli, or the Upper City which is the best preserved part of old Thessaloniki, with its narrow lanes, wooden houses, Byzantine churches, Ottoman fountains and many other jewels you will discover on your own. The Ano Poli is in the edge of the the walled Thessaloniki and you can pay a visit to the citadel (Heptapyrgion) while there, it also has a great view of the city.

    And finally, the food of Thessaloniki. Welcome to the culinary capital of Greece. Due to its multicultural past, the cuisine of this city has as a basis the Greek cuisine with strong influences from Turkish, Balkan, Jewish, and Western European cuisines. The city is also famous for its superb fish and seafood, but also for its famous koulouri which is the top street food here. In Greece, Thessaloniki is called the "Glykomana" or mother of sweets, and yes it has some amazing sweets. I don't know where to start to be honest. The legendary bougatsa, a pastry filled with cream and topped with sugar and cinnamon and some times chocolate, the trigona which are syrupy pockets filled with rich cream, the tsoureki sweet bread filled with chestnut caramel topped with chocolate, and many many more. In the markets of the city such as Modiano, you will find delicacies from all over Macedonia, cheeses, cold cuts, sausages, olives plus many other local specialities. Here are some addresses you may find helpful:

    7 Thalasses, for the best seafood
    Diagonios, for the best soutzoukakia
    Sempriko, for the best delicacies
    Akadimia, for the best modern taverna
    Tsarouchas, for the best patsas
    Mpakaliarakia tou Aristou, for the best bacalao
    Clochard, for the best gourmet

    And for your sweet tooth:
    Terkenlis, the best tsoureki
    Elenidids, the best trigona
    Giannis, the best bougatsa
    Serraikon, great bougatsa
    Estrella, great bougatsa



    Some day trips you can make from Thessaloniki are:
    -The Royal Tombs of Vergina, a UNESCO site which is the Imperial Necropolis of the Macedonian Royalty. You -must- visit the Museum of the Royal Tombs, which is considered one of the most important in Europe. The museum houses the amazing treasures found in the ancient tombs, including the treasures and the ashes of Philip II of Macedon, father of Alexander the Great. You will be amazed by the elegance and the luxury of these Royal artifacts, don't miss it.
    -Ancient Pella, capital of the Macedonian Empire. The ruins of the city are fascinating, and the artifacts gathered from the Imperial City which are located in the Archaeological Museum of Pella, are simply not to miss.
    -Mt Athos, one of the most unique and beautiful places in this world. Full of ancient monasteries and churches, unspoiled nature and thousands of monks this place is one of its kind. It's a UNESCO for both cultural and natural heritage, but women are not allowed to enter the Mount, as the monasteries are male only.
    -You can go for a dive in Chalcidice, one of the favorite resorts of the Thessalonicians.
    -You can trek Mount Olympus which is not far from Thessaloniki.

    I hope my advises seem helpful, have a nice time in Macedonia!

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