Great Times in Greece! Hello, Thessaloniki!

Thessaloniki, Greece.
December 2016.

Greece is one of the places we’ve all read about and seen pictures of countless times, right?

It’s in all our history books, it’s in the Bible, and I feel like every new series on the travel channel that has anything to do with beautiful destinations will dedicate at least one episode to Greece in its first season.

There’s the all white backdrop of Santorini, the history of Athens, and then there’s this amazing coastal city of Thessaloniki. 

This was my second solo travel just 3 months after my first solo travel to Tokyo; a quick 4 day trip to Thessaloniki, Greece.

Table of Contents

My first solo travel was spectacular. 

And now, two amazing destinations in 3 months? Are you kidding me? I never thought I’d be able to do that!

I wish I could find the article I wrote when I first started solo traveling where I listed all the places I wanted to go over the course of the next 3 years

I wrote it all out, filled it with pictures, and thought to myself if I could even go to a third of those places I’d be happy.

I’ve since gone to so many more places and the addiction isn’t even close to letting off.

So, I found this particular travel deal to Thessaloniki via World Ventures. Ever heard of it?

It’s one of those multilevel marketing (MLM) / network marketing based travel clubs where you’re supposed to get hugely discounted travel vacations, called Dreamtrips.

You pay a monthly membership as a customer, and if you’re in on the business side you recruit people to your team, blah blah blah.

Well, one of my cousins was a part of this MLM, and at the time in 2016 World Ventures had some momentum so she was really pushing hard for me to try it since I was trying my hardest to travel more.

She wanted me to join the business side, but I didn’t want anything to do with recruiting or multilevel marketing.

I had recently found affiliate marketing, and building websites and monetizing them was way more my speed.

Nothing against people who are currently in any MLM. If you’re the proud owner of your own home business, I totally get it and respect it.

That being said, now that I’m Batman and traveling the world like a CHAMP, let me make one thing crystal clear:

You don't need to join any kind of travel club to travel the world regularly!

I’m gonna publish an article very soon on how I travel for dirt cheap, step by step, no MLMs, no travel clubs, and it’s totally doable!

So if someone comes at you with a travel club membership, or a travel related MLM, politely backhand slap them to the face and tell them, Nacho Libre style, to GET THAT CORN OUTTA MY FACE!

nacho libre get that corn outta my face

So, while I wasn’t interested in the business side of World Ventures, I did help my cousin out by joining as a member so I could take a Dreamtrip or two and see if the savings was legit.

Now, I was off to Thessaloniki!

A Quick Stop in Crazy Istanbul

The flight to Thessaloniki had an overnight layover in Istanbul.

Now, I’m sure Turkey is a beautiful country, and if you’re from there I’m sure you can tell me all the amazing things it has to offer. But my quick stay there, both going and coming, was bizzzzaarrreee to say the least.

Even arriving at the Istanbul airport, there was this instant feeling of “Yeahhhh, I’m definitely in the angry part of Europe now…”

Standing in line to get my temporary visa which I had to get cuz I was staying overnight, there’s this loud shouting coming from the service counter: “Youuuu insuuuult my wiiiiiiffe!”

And that was coming from the guy who worked there.

When I first saw the overnight layover on the itinerary a couple months prior, I wasn’t very happy. But, thanks to Turkish Airlines overnight layover policy, you’re hooked up with a free room at a nearby hotel for the night with a free shuttle back and forth to the airport.

So, I took the shuttle to my hotel, and low and behold, this hotel was pretty legit. Spacious, modern, slightly leaning towards dark and ominous, but we’ll go with modern here.

If I had arrived earlier or had more time, maybe I’d have gone and ventured into the city.

But arriving late at night, all I had time for was dinner and kicking back with some beers in the hotel lobby before my early departure the next morning.

So there I was, chilling in the lobby, when I hear someone say, “Nice hat brother.”

I look up and see a dude across the lobby sitting down by himself.

His accent was heavy, and I acknowledged him with a quick “thanks, man” and went right back to chillin.

About 15 minutes pass, and then, no joke, there it is again.

“I really like that hat, brother…”

Now he’s waving me over. Great. I get this feeling he’s trying to sell me something and he’s not gonna stop, so I walk over and sit across from him.

“What’s up, man…”

“Hey my brother! Is this your first time in Istanbul? Why aren’t you out partying?”

“Early flight tomorrow. Just chillin tonight.”

“Oh yes!” he says, “I leave very early in the morning too! This is why I no sleep!”

“You’re not gonna sleep tonight?”

“No, no! We go out tonight, friend! You and me! The women here…you will like! We go! You and me! We leave now!”

He pulls out his phone and shows me awkward selfies while telling me what a great time we’ll have.

I figure this guy’s job is to hang out by the airport looking for guys like me and then do everything he can to lead us to the strip clubs.

When you’re solo traveling, you can become a target for people like this. It’s the exact reason so many avoid traveling alone.

Now, it definitely helps to be 6’4″, 225. But even if you’re not my stature, as long as you keep your awareness level up and stay in public places you’ll be just fine.

“Sorry, man. I’m tired and got to go to bed soon. Thanks though.”

“Oh yes!” he says, “We will have fun tonight, friend!

Is he even listening to me? He gets up and starts to make his way out.

“You will see! The women are beautiful!” His voice trails off as he walks out.

Strangely enough, this wouldn’t be the last of this guy. Bizarrely, he makes his way back into this adventure several days from now.

I finished my beers, got back to my room, and set my alarm for 5:30 am.

Thessaloniki was just hours away.

Arriving in the City

I roll out of bed and into the hotel lobby with my luggage rolling behind me. It’s around 6:15 am. I had requested the shuttle the night before, and the girl at the front desk lets me know it will arrive shortly.

I see someone just outside the lobby sitting on a bench waiting with their luggage too.

“You waiting on the shuttle?” I ask.

The dude is roughly my age and looks like a genuinely friendly guy. “Yes I am,” he says, “Are you flying to Thessaloniki too? That is where I’m from.”

This was Panosh, a really nice, genuine dude from Thessalonki.

We sat and started talking as we waited for the shuttle. When it arrived, we jumped in, made our way to the airport and then through check in and airport security, and as luck would have it, we realized we’re sitting right next to each other on the flight.

Panosh is telling me all about Thessaloniki.

He grew up there and had moved away when Greece was going through its economic crisis. He’s my age, a doctor, and has his own practice in the Swiss alps.

This was a trip home for hime to visit friends and family.

On the flight he’s showing me pics of past ski trips in the alps with his girlfriend and telling me all the things I can’t miss while I’m in Thessaloniki.

“Eric, if you need anything at all here’s my number. Me and my friends will be in the city center tonight. If you want to come out and have some beers you can be my guest.”

Like I said, this guy’s a genuinely nice guy. As we land I save his number and thank him for all the tips.

I make my way to my hotel and as I’m checking in I’m greeted by a World Ventures rep.

I forget his name, but he was this super helpful asian dude and he let me know of all the hotel’s amenities I had access to via this Dreamtrip and reminded me of the full day excursion the group would going on the next day bright and early.

Today was a free day with nothing planned, so I was free to relax or go out and explore.

Thanks to Panosh, I knew exactly where I wanted to go.

The Amazing City Center

The weather was PERFECT.

Sunny, clear, cool, and not a cloud in the sky. The city center that Panosh had told me all about was a quick cab ride from my hotel.

As I looked out the window of the taxi driving up I could see why Panosh told me I had to make my way here.

This was the spot to be at.

See that tower in the background that looks like a castle?

That’s Thessaloniki’s White Tower. Make your way up the spiraling ramp way on the inside and it’s like you’re traveling through time learning about all the history of the tower and the city of Thessaloniki.

And once you get to the top, the view is unbeatable.

I must have spent hours walking up and down this amazing boardwalk.

It was a whole vibe. there were street performers performing, vendors selling, and I was taking pictures and video of anything that moved.

Did I mention how perfect the weather was?

There’s just something about being able to sit down and relax on the water at an amazing location far, far away with no cares in the world, realizing you can stay out as long ss you want and do whatever you want.

This is what solo travel is all about.

While I was exploring I took note of two neighboring museums with walking distance of the White Tower.

One is the Archaological Museum and the other is the Museum of Byzantine Culture. I love museums.

I made a note to self to set aside a day to explore them.

Another thing I took note of and kept noticing was what looked like a pirate ship cruising out on the water.

If you watch the video clip earlier where I’m showing the panoramic view from atop the White Tower you can see it out on the water.

I went to check it out as it come in to dock. The signs said it was a half hour cruise with a FULL BAR on board and boarding was FREE!

Yes, please!

"There's just something about being able to sit down and relax on the water at an amazing location far, far away from home with no cares in the world, realizing you can stay out as long as you want. This is what solo travel is all about."

By this time it was approaching sunset. I got on board, grabbed a beer, and off we went.

The sky started turning orange against the blue waters, the breeze off the water was hitting just right. This was perfect.

It was one of those moments where right as it’s happening, in that present moment I knew I was in the middle of a memory that I’d look back on for the rest of m life.

It’s kind of like when you’re in the middle of a dream and you realize you’re in a dream. You get this hyper aware feeling of everything around you and it’s like everything slows down.

I caught that cruise at the perfect time to watch the sun go down and welcome in the night.

And what a fun night it would turn out to be.

Out Till 6:45 am with Crazy Greeks

After this cruise I was on a definite high.

It was my second solo travel, I had just cruised the Greek waters with cold beers in my hand and amazing views, and there were beautiful girls everywhere.

Now, I’m thinking about that offer Panosh made on the plane about going out for drinks with his crew.

Maybe I’d be able to check out local spots that otherwise I’d never know about.

It couldn’t hurt to shoot a text his way, right?

I made my way back to my beautiful hotel. By the way, my hotel was legit!

It was called Les Lazaristes when I stayed there, but now it’s called Lazart. It’s a posh little spot and you make your way to Thessaloniki you can’t go wrong staying there. 

Spectacular restaurant too.

Thessaloniki Les Lazaristes hotel breakfast

So, I had my dinner, and I texted Panosh to see if I could meet up with him and his crew.

He responds right away. Him and his buddies are in the city center looking to grab a bite to eat and grab some beers.

He tells me to take a cab, where to be dropped off, and around 30 minutes later as I open the cab door to step out, I hear “Eric! Over here!” in the distance.

You know, I’m a nice guy and all, but I don’t know if I’d ever offer to show a complete stranger around like he did to me, know what I mean?

Especially when he’s in town to catch up with his friends and family. But that’s Panosh. A genuinely nice guy who went out of his way to show me a good time.

This is why I’ve become so addicted to solo travel. This kind of thing happens more often that you’d think and, trust me, 100% of the time it leads to an adventure.

So there I was, meeting up with Panosh and 3 other friends of his. I forget their names now, but they were all nice guys and spoke just enough English for us to all understand each other, buy beer, and point out all the hot greek girls.

They needed to eat, so we walked into a pizza place that had tons of craft beers on the menu.

The guys ate, I drank, we chilled, and I vividly remember looking at the time.

I was having a good time, but in the back of my mind I knew I had to be up really early the next morning for an full day excursion.

How late should I stay out? Maybe another hour or so? Midnight?

And, of course, right as I’m contemplating this they ask me if I want to check out some Greek rock music.

In case you didn’t know, the answer to that question is always “Yes, I would LOVE to check out some Greek rock music.”

So much for calling it a night before midnight. From the pizza place we walked not very far to this small, but awesome little bar. There was a greek band on stage, and the place was rocking.

There was a really cute server walking around the bar with a tray of flowers. Not like a bouquet or anything, just a whole tray of flowers without stems.

I asked her what they were for, but she didn’t speak enough English to understand me.

“What are the flowers for?” I asked Panosh.

“If you really enjoy the band and the music, you take a flower and you throw it at the stage!”

I was throwing flowers at the stage like a champ the rest of the night.

There was such a cool vibe to this place. We had a great spot at the bar, the bartenders were cute, I was talking to Greek girls not understanding half the words they said back to me.

I didn’t want to leave.

The guys told me when we walked in that Greek girls can be hard to approach and talk to. But that’s not what I was seeing at all.

The ones who spoke English were awesome, and I think being the one guy in the entire place who wasn’t from there helped a ton.

Have I mentioned how much I love solo travel?

It’s around 2 am and Panosh asks me if I’m ready for the next spot or if I need to get back to my hotel.

“What time does everything close here?” I ask.

“Thessaloniki doesn’t close. We can stay out all night… if you can handle it.”

A challenge like his must be accepted.

If you’re in Greece, partying out with the locals, beautiful girls all around you, greek rock blasting, you’re launching more flowers at the stage than you’ve ever given to all your girlfriends combined, and you’re asked if you want to keep partying or if you want to go back to your hotel like a little girl, you rise to the occasion and demand to stay out all night.

“I just hope you guys can keep up with me, “ I say.

That’s what alarm clocks are for anyway, right?

We went from one great spot to another. Inside every club was more live music, lots more beer, and most importantly lots of greek girls who wanted to dance with a tall texan.

They didn’t speak much English, but they kept repeating “alright babyyyy” while we danced and the guys kept telling me, “She says she likes you!”

Good times.

It’s around 4:30 in the morning now. We walk to their tiny car, all 5 of us get inside and then drive around for around 10 minutes, park, and start walking again.

It’s initially quiet, so I’m figuring we’re walking to a spot where we can grab a bite to eat maybe? But then, in the distance, I hear the unmistakable sounds of a nearby club.

[untz, untz, untz, untz]

I guess we’re not done yet.

Sure enough, a club emerges. We open the doors, and it’s PACKED!

We do the sideways walk you have to do to get through a crowd of people, squeezing through and making our way to a tiny table in the middle of this huge party.

“Drinks?” says this tiny server who appears out of nowhere, almost from under my arm.

“Yes, one round of beers and keep them coming!” Panosh says.

Minutes later she’s back with our beers, which is lighting fast for a club this packed. I can’t help but think, “Don’t any of these people work? It’s a weekday.”

But no one here is thinking about work. Thessalonians love to party.

This is how we closed out our night.

At some point on the way to drop me off we grabbed a bite to eat. It was this delicious pita bread wrap filled with tons of meat and fries, or something like that. Fuzzy memory.

I feel like the later it got the more they talked about it, and I do have a vague memory of it being awesome.

What I do remember vividly is riding back in their tiny car, looking at the clock showing 6:15 am or so, turning to Panosh sitting behind me and saying, “Do you realize that exactly 24 hours ago we were strangers sitting on a bench outside that Istanbul hotel waiting for the shuttle to the airport?”

“Yes!” he said, “And now we are friends and I’ve shown you my city!”

I had only known this guy for 24 hours and we had the best night out. What a great experience!

At the end of this post there’s a video and in it I managed to capture this 6 am drive. It’s near the end of the video and it’s another one of those memories where I realized right in that moment that I’d remember it forever.

And, of course, surprise, surprise, the next morning I overslept and missed my full day excursion.

This is a recurring theme in many of my travels and it’s always worth it.

A Day of Recovery

Just like when I missed the bullet train to Kyoto in my Tokyo solo travel, I HONESTLY intended to get an hour of sleep and make it to this full day excursion.

I laid down, set my alarm, put my phone on my chest, passed out, and yeah I didn’t wake up an hour later.

I can’t remember where exactly that excursion was taking me. Full day ones usually venture out a couple hours away from where you’re staying.

Whatever I missed, I’m sure I was excited about it.

Instead, I woke up somewhere around noon, instantly knowing I had missed the excursion, and I didn’t even sweat it.

I grabbed a bite to eat at the hotel restaurant and then remembered my note to self from the day before to visit those 2 museums in the city center.

It was time to add some culture to my life.

I hit up both museums, visited the Arch of Galleries and Rotunda, and closed it out relaxing on the boardwalk by the water.

This was a PERFECT day of recovery.

Bystander with guitar at the thessaloniki waterfront at sunset

Later that evening the asian World Ventures rep who had greeted me when I arrived at the hotel gave my room a call.

“Eric! What happened? Is everything ok? We missed you on the excursion!”

I told him of all the adventures from the night before and how I spent my day today. I specifically remember his reply.

“Eric, I know you would have had a great time with us, but it sounds like you had an even better time on your own.”

Then, out of nowhere, a Chinese star flew into my room and landed in my skull. (Just kidding.)

This guy was cool and I completely agreed with him. I wouldn’t have changed a thing.

Istanbul Gets Crazy Again

Leaving Thessaloniki and getting back home involved another overnight layover in Istanbul. At this point, having done it on the way in, I felt like there would be nothing to it.

Not so much.

When I got to the Istanbul airport and made my way to the Turkish Airlines desk and asked for the hotel room they’d be setting me up with for the night, I got a different response that I was expecting.

“You no get hotel tonight.”

“Uhhhh, what??”

“You no get hotel tonight because you should have come on earlier flight. We don’t give accommodations for tonight.”

What’s this dude even talking about?

I tried to explain to him how this worked last time and he’s just shooting me down at every turn telling me I could have gotten an earlier flight without needing to stay the night.

Understand, it’s approaching midnight. There’s no way I’m venturing out into Istanbul after midnight to randomly try to find a hotel.

Inside the airport there’s police patrolling with MACHINE GUNS. There seems to always be a sound of yelling in the distance.

My flight isn’t until 11 am the next morning. Don’t tell me I’m spending the next 11 hours in the airport.

istanbul airport police

What does he mean I should have booked an earlier flight? Does he think I’m trying to game the system and spend the night free in Istanbul? At midnight? What would be the point of that?

He gives me the number to Turkish Airlines support. My phone is at 3%.

“Is there any way I can use your phone? Mine’s about to die.”

“No. You do not work here. I work here.”

Great.

I’m on the phone trying to navigate to an actual human being to talk to. I finally get one and it’s not going well.

“Let me see what I can do and I can call you back in a few hours…”

My phone is at 1%. It’s 1 am. What am I gonna do? My phone dies.

And then right on cue, coming up the escalator, guess who…

“Hey brother! Remember me? I like your hat!”

It’s the same dude from the hotel lobby days before. You. Have. Got. To. Be. Kidding. Me.

He’s not alone this time. He’s with another guy acting like we’re long lost friends.

“This is my American friend. We party! Hey! Tonight let’s go! The women are waiting!”

I’m so frustrated and tired that I can’t help but laugh. I can’t deal with this guy right now. I make my way back to the Turkish Airlines desk.

“My phone is dead. I have no options. There’s a weird dude over there trying to take me out to a strip club. If you’re gonna tell me that I have spend the night here. Fine. You win. Please tell me there’s a bar here where I can drink.”

And then something miraculous happens. The asian World Ventures rep shows up THIS TIME WITH A FULL NINJA ARMY… (just kidding).

What happens is this guy behind the desk, this same guy who’s been cutting me off at every turn, completely changes his demeanor.

“My friend, I will take care of you. One moment.” He looks into his computer, makes a call, and comes back to me.

“I have hotel for you. We will shuttle you, you will sleep. take shower, eat complimentary breakfast in the morning, shuttle back in time for your flight. You will be rested. I take care of you, friend.”

I seriously almost teared up. I’m not even kidding.

All I can figure is that he saw me literally defeated by the airport system, saw that I didn’t even care anymore, and in that moment he hooked me up.

These are the stories you can’t make up.

Another airport worker comes over to me and escorts me to the shuttle that takes me to my hotel just a couple minutes away.

The hotel was VERY shady, but still, it was sanctuary and I had a bed to sleep on.

When I say it was shady, dude, I mean it. Watch the end of the video coming up at the end of this post and you'll see what I mean. When the hotel elevator opened at my floor it was PITCH BLACK. Seriously. For a second I thought it was a trap. Definitely watch for this in the video.

Istanbul hotel window

I took the best shower ever, slept like a narcoleptic, woke up the next morning, had a delicious free breakfast, hopped onto the airport shuttle, and onto my flight back home.

This was my incredible second ever solo travel! Thessaloniki, Greece with a dash of bizarro Istanbul.

Wanna check everything out for yourself? Watch the video!

Have you ever been to Thessaloniki? How about Istanbul? What’s your favorite part of this adventure?

Let me know what you think in the comments section below! Scroll down and leave your questions, comments, and anything else you want to share!

I love reading them and I always respond. See you in the next adventure! Don’t forget to subscribe to the blog!

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