Greece is one of those places you’ve 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’s about beautiful destinations will dedicate at least one episode to Greece in its first season.
There’s the all white backdrop of Santorini, there’s the history of Athens… and then there’s this amazing coastal city of Thessaloniki.
This was my second solo travel, a quick 4 day stay in December of 2016.
Coming off my first solo venture to Tokyo 3 months earlier, I’ll admit it; I was feeling prrrrreeeeetty good about myself.
Two amazing destinations in 3 months? Are you kidding me? I never thought I’d be able to do that.
Granted, this was literally just my second trip, BUT I was doing it, right? And that’s all that mattered to me.
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 to in 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 sooooo many more. 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 MLM, network marketing based travel clubs where you’re supposed to get hugely discounted “Dream Trips” when you pay a monthly membership, blah blah blah.
Well, one of my cousins was working it, and at the time (this was 2016), World Ventures had some momentum, so she was really pushing hard for me to try it.
She really wanted me to be in on the business end of it, like in her downline, but I didn’t want anything to do with recruiting or multilevel marketing.
Nothing against people who are currently in an MLM. If you’re the proud owner of your own home business selling the latest awesome health products, or skin care, or whatever. I totally get it and I respect it.
That being said, now that I’m Batman and I’m traveling the world like a CHAMP, having been to 23 countries in 3 years when I began solo traveling, let me make one thing crystal clear:
You don’t need to join any travel clubs 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!
So, while I politely turned down the business side of World Ventures, I figured if there really was travel savings like they promised, then I could at least see what it was all about as a customer.
En Route to Thessaloniki, with 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 bizaarrrre to say the least
Even arriving at the Istanbul airport, there was this instant feeling I got of “Yeahhhh, I’m in the angry part of Europe now aren’t I?”
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 insuuult my wiiiiiffe!”
And that was the guy who worked there.
When I first saw the overnight layover on the itinerary I wasn’t very happy. But thanks to Turkish Airlines policy, they set you up with a free room at a nearby hotel along with a free shuttle back and forth when this kind of thing happens.
Thank god, cuz spending the night at that airport listening to “You insult my wiiiiiiffe!” would have been a veeeery looooooong night.
So I take the shuttle to my hotel and, low and behold, this hotel is pretty legit. Spacious, modern, slightly leaning towards dark and ominous, but we’ll go with modern here.
I breathe a sigh of relief. This overnight layover is gonna be alright after all.
If I had arrived earlier or had more time, maybe I’d have gone and ventured into Istanbul. But arriving late at night, all I had time for was dinner and drinks at the hotel.
So there I am, chillin in the lobby, I’m on my phone, checking how early I have to wake up for the shuttle in the morning, and then…
“Nice hat, brother.”
The voice came from across the lobby. There sat a dude, chillin like me with his beer. His accent was heavy, so I wasn’t sure if he was a local, but I acknowledged him with a quick, “Thanks, man.” and went right back to chillin.
About 15 minutes pass, and then there it is again.
“I reeeeeeally like that hat, brother….”
Ok, what’s this dude up to? He’s making a second attempt at conversation and now he’s waving me over. He’s definitely shady, and I get this feeling like he’s gonna try to sell me something.
So I decide to nip it in the bud and walk right up to where he was sitting, sit down, and politely let him know that I’m just gonna chill with my beers tonight.
“What’s up, man?”
“Hey my brother! Is this your first time in Istanbul? Why aren’t you out partying?”
“I got an early flight in the morning, man. I’m chillin tonight.”
“Oh, yes!” he said, “I leave very early in morning too! This is why I no sleep!”
“…You’re not gonna sleep tonight?”
“No, no… I no sleep. We go out tonight, friend! You and me! And the women here… [he does the ‘chef’s kiss’ gesture..] ohhh the women you will like! And they will like your hat too! We go! You and I! We leave now! Come!”
Dude apparently loves my hat.
He pulls out his phone and starts showing me awkward selfie pics of himself while telling me what a great time we’ll have.
This guy definitely works for some of the local clubs, strip clubs maybe, hangs out by the airport and hotels looking for guys like me, and then does everything he can to get people to the clubs to spend their money.
This was definitely not gonna be something I doing tonight.
“Uh, yeah, no… that ain’t happening man.” I think it’s always best to just be blunt in situations like this. “I’m staying right here tonight. I’m gonna drink a few more beers, think about all the fun I’m gonna have starting tomorrow in Greece, and get some sleep. There is zero chance I’m going out with you. Thanks though.”
“Oh yes! We will have fun tonight friend! You will see!” He got up and started walking toward the door, his voice trailing off as he got further away. I think he realized this wasn’t going to happen and he was off to find some fish who would actually bite.
He left the hotel, and that was that.
Strangely enough, this wouldn’t be the last of this guy. But that, bizarrely, comes 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 Thessaloniki
I roll out of bed and into the hotel lobby with my luggage rolling behind me. It’s around 6:15 in the morning.
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 outside sitting with their luggage too.
“You waiting on the shuttle?” I ask.
The dude sitting down with his luggage 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 Thessaloniki.
We sat and started talking as we waited for the shuttle, and then as it took us to the airport and we made our way through security, we realized, as luck would have it, that we were sitting right next to each other on the flight.
Panosh is telling me all about Thessaloniki. He grew up there and had then moved away when Greece was going through its economic crisis.
He’s my age, but he’s a doctor, so he moved his practice to the Swiss Alps (what a life, right?), and now he was returning to Thessaloniki to visit friends and family.
On the flight he’s showing me pics of ski trips in the alps with his girlfriend, telling me of all the things I can’t miss while I’m Thessaloniki… just a really nice, helpful guy. And it made the quick flight go by even quicker.
We touch down and he tells me, “Eric, if you need anything at all, here’s my number. Me and my friends will be out and about in the city center tonight. If you want to come out, have some beers, or if you have any questions during your stay, don’t hesitate to text and ask.”
Super nice guy, right? I save his number and thank him for all his tips as we part ways.
I make my way to my hotel and there’s this whole check in deal I gotta go through with the World Ventures reps when I arrive.
I forget this guy’s name now, but he was a super helpful asian guy who let me know of some of the amenities I had access to as part of my Dream Trip. He also reminded me of the full day excursion the group would be going on the next day and how I had the rest of this day absolutely free to go and explore.
This was perfect. A full day free to explore, and thanks to Panosh, I knew exactly where I wanted to go.
Thessaloniki’s Amazing Waterfront Boardwalk
This day started out innocent enough. The weather was PERFECT, sunny, clear, cool, and not a cloud in the sky. The city center was a quick cab ride from my hotel, and Panosh was right. This was the spot to be at.
See that white tower in that last picture? It’s hard to miss.
That’s Thessaloniki’s White Tower. Make your way up the spiraling rampway on the inside and it’s like you’re traveling through time learning all about 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.
There were street performers, people everywhere, and I was taking pictures and video of everything. 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 away from home, realizing you can stay out as long as you want.
If and when you go, there’s two amazing museums that are walking distance from the city center and they neighbor each other. These are DEFINITE must-sees when in Thessaloniki.
One is the Archaological Museum and the other is the Museum of Byzantine Culture. Set aside a couple of hours for each. You won’t regret it.
As I walked the boardwalk, I kept spotting this boat cruising out in the water.
It had a pirate ship look to it, and I finally saw it come in to dock. The sign said something to the effect of it being a half hour cruise, that there’s a full bar on board, and, oh by the way, boarding is FREE!
By this time it was approaching sunset. I got on board, grabbed a beer from the bar, 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 I get a lot when I’m traveling. It’s like right as it’s happening, in that present moment, I realize I’m in the middle of a memory that I’m going to look back on vividly for the rest of my life.
Do you know how awesome that feeling is?
It’s kind of like when you’re in the middle of a dream and you realize you’re in the dream. You get this hyper-aware feeling and it’s like everything slows down.
I get this so often when I travel. And it’s so amazing when you realize it as it’s happening.
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 be…
Out Till 6:45 am With Crazy Greeks
After this cruise I was on a definite high. I made my way back to my beautiful hotel, and, you know what, let me pause really quick and mention how great this hotel was. It was called Les Lazaristes when I stayed there, but it’s now called LAZART. It’s a posh little spot and you’ll love it. Spectacular restaurant too.
I wish I had more pictures of what it was like inside, but all I can find is this picture of a breakfast I had. In the video at the end of this post you’ll see a little bit more.
Awesome spot, highly recommend.
So, I had my dinner, and as I’m sitting there I’m remembering what Panosh had told me.
He’d be out with his buddies tonight, right? I look at the time and it’s around 9.
Should I text him and see where they’re at? This would be my chance to check out some Thessaloniki night life with true locals as my guides.
Why not? I text him.
He responds right away. Sure enough, 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, and around 30 minutes later as I open the cab door to step out, I hear “Eric! Over here!” in the distance.
I was in.
Do you see this hospitality? This happens in so many of the places I travel to.
And I can’t help but think about it and realize that, while I’m a nice guy, I’m not sure if I’d ever offer this up to a complete stranger like he did to me, know what I mean?
Like, “Hey man, I’m gonna be out with friends tonight, come party with us if you want.”
Yet it seems like people abroad do this all this time for me. No joke.
And this is yet another reason why I love solo travel. And, trust me, almost 100% of the time it leads to great adventures.
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 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. That works for me!
The guys ate, I drank, and I remember looking at the time.
I had to be up early the next morning for my full day excursion, remember? And, of course, right as I’m contemplating whether I should call it an early night, this is when 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 and craft beer 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 with a tray that had flowers on it. Not like a bouquet or anything like that, just a whole tray of flowers without the stems.
I asked her what they were for, but she didn’t speak English.
“What are the flowers for?” I asked Panosh.
“The flowers are for if you really enjoy the band and the music, you take one and you throw it at the stage!”
I was throwing flowers 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… I didn’t want to leave.
The guys told me initially 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.
Panosh asks me if I’m ready for the next spot or if I need to get back to my hotel. It’s almost 2 am.
“What time does everything close in Thessaloniki?” I ask.
“Thessaloniki doesn’t close,” he says, “We can stay out all night if you can handle it…”
A challenge like this cannot go unaccepted. You understand this, right?
I mean if you’re in Greece, partying out with locals, beautiful girls everywhere, greek rock blasting, you’re already launching more flowers at the stage than you’ve ever given to any of your girlfriends, and you’re asked if you want to keep partying or if you want to go home to bed like a little girl with her little pigtails, 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.
There was more live music, lots more beer, a party of greek girls who wanted to take turns dancing with the tall texan (they didn’t speak much English but kept repeating ‘allrighht babyyyyy’ while my crew kept telling me “she says she likes you!”) and I couldn’t stop thinking about how happy I was to be out with these guys.
It’s around 4:30 or so in the morning now, and we walk to their tiny car. We drive around for around 10 minutes, park, and start walking.
It’s initially quiet, so I’m figuring we’re walking to a spot where we can grab a bite, but then, in the distance, I hear the unmistakable rhythmic bass sounds of a club:
[untz, 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 sideways walk through this sea of people, squeezing through, and make our way to a tiny table in the middle of this huge party.
“Drinks?” says this tiny server who just appears almost under my arm.
“Yes one round, and keep them coming!” Panosh says.
2 minutes later she’s back with our beers, which is lightning fast for a club this packed. I can’t help but think, “Don’t any of these people work?” It’s a weekday after all.
But no one here is thinking about work. Note to self: 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 some kind of pita bread wrap filled with tons of meat and fries, or something like that.
I feel like the later it got the more they talked about it, and I do have a fuzzy memory of it being good.
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!”
What a great experience! That 6 am drive near the end of the video at the end of this post is another one of those memories I realized right in that moment that I would remember forever.
Aaaaaaaaaand, of course, the next morning I overslept and missed my full day excursion.
This, as you’ll see, is a recurring theme in so many of my travels. And it’s always worth it.
A Day of Recovery
I honestly intended to get an hour of sleep or so and make it to that full day excursion.
I laid down, set my alarm, put my phone right on my chest, passed out, and yeeeaahhhh 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, and I’m sure I was excited about it.
But I woke up somewhere around noon, instantly knew I had missed my excursion, and I didn’t even sweat it.
I grabbed a bite at the hotel, and decided to add to some culture to my life.
I hit up the those neighboring museums I had seen the day before, visited the Arch of Galerius and Rotunda, and closed it out with a relaxing day back on the boardwalk by the water.
This was a PERFECT day of recovery.
Later in the evening the World Ventures rep who greeted me when I got to the hotel gave me a call.
“Eric! What happened? We missed you on the excursion!”
I told him of my adventures the night before and I remember his reply being really cool. “You know, I’m sorry that you missed out on our excursion, because we did have a great time, but to be honest, what you did last night is what traveling is all about. You went out with the locals and immersed yourself into the culture for what sounds like an unforgettable night. Don’t regret missing this excursion. It sounds like you had an even better time.”
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 this would be easy.
Not so much.
When I got to the Istanbul airport and walked up to the Turkish Airlines desk and asked for the hotel they’d be setting me up with for the night, I got a different response than I was expecting.
“You no get hotel tonight.”
“Because you could have come in on earlier flight, we don’t give accommodations for tonight.”
Understand, it’s approaching midnight. There’s no way I’m gonna venture out into Istanbul after midnight and randomly try to find a hotel.
And this airport is shady. Police are walking around with MACHINE GUNS. There’s a constant sound of yelling in the distance. I can’t spend the night here, right? My flight isn’t until like 11 in the morning.
I CANNOT SPEND THE NIGHT HERE.
“What do you mean there was another flight I could have taken to avoid an overnight layover? The last thing I wanted to do was have an overnight layover. You think I wanted to spend the night in Istanbul? What am I supposed to do?”
He gives me a number to Turkish Airlines support. My phone is at 3%. This isn’t gonna be an easy night.
I’m on the phone with Turkish Airlines explaining everything. They’re giving me a complete runaround, constantly putting me on hold, ending the call, calling me back, asking me more questions, putting me on hold, and my battery, of course, finally dies.
I’m standing by the escalator, phone in hand, completely frustrated.
It’s around 3 am. And then, right on cue, coming up the escalator, guess who…
It’s the ‘nice hat’ guy again.
“Hey! Brother! Nice hat!”
You have got to be kidding me.
He’s with another guy this time, and he’s acting like we’re long lost friends introducing me. “This is my American friend. Hey, we party tonight? Let’s go! The women are waiting!”
I’m officially stuck inside a weird bizarro Istanbul right now. What the heck is going on? I’m so frustrated and tired that I can’t help but start laughing, like hard.
“Yes we have good time now, friend? You ready? What’s so funny?”
I can’t deal with this guy right now. His voice trails off as I walk away from him and go back to the Turkish Airlines desk.
“Is there a phone I can borrow?” I ask. “My phone’s dead and the Turkish Airlines support guy I was talking to was saying he could…”
“No phone here for you.”
This dude is ZERO help.
“What do you mean no phone for me? You won’t let me use a phone? It’s your own support number. That’s what this whole desk is for, no?”
“Phones are for us, no for customers.”
Arguing with this guy won’t help. Arguing with the guy on the phone didn’t help. My phone’s dead. My eyes are painfully heavy. I can’t escape the ‘nice hat’ guy.
This airport is defeating me.
But in that moment, I remember that I’m half way around the world on my own. I’m traveling like I’ve always wanted, right?
This isn’t a nightmare. This is an adventure.
I start laughing again. I’m realizing I’m in another one of those forever memories.
Right here, right now, in this miserable airport, this will be a memory I never forget.
I turn to the guy behind the desk, smile at him and say, “You win. I give up. Is there anywhere, even outside the airport where I can get a beer? As long as it’s not with that guy over by the escalator, I don’t care. I’m done.”
And then something miraculous happens.
The guy behind the desk who has been so confrontational the whole time and zero help suddenly changes his demeanor. “My friend, I will take care of you. Hold please.”
He walks away for 5 minutes and comes back.
“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 well rested. I take care of you, friend.”
I seriously almost teared up. I’m not kidding.
All I can figure is that he saw me breaking right in front of him, like literally being defeated by the airport system, seeing me go from completely angry and frustrated to ‘why be angry, Eric, there’s nothing you can do’, and I guess in that moment he felt empathy.
Cuz OUT OF NOWHERE he’s set me up with a free room for the night. Out of NOWHERE.
These are the stories you can’t make up.
I’m taken to the shuttle that takes me to my hotel which is just a couple of minutes outside the airport. And while it’s much darker and more ominous than the first hotel, it’s still a sanctuary.
For real though, when the elevator doors to my floor opened, for a split second I thought it was a trap. IT WAS PITCH BLACK.
As in ZERO LIGHT in the entire hallway except for glowing white room numbers. I’m being totally serious.
Definltely watch for that part in the video.
As morning came, I realized I had survived bizarro Istanbul. I had my breakfast, got shuttled back to the airport, and hopped on my flight back home.
And with that, I end this adventure. This was my incredible second solo travel. Thessaloniki, Greece with a dash of bizarro Istanbul. Enjoy the video!
Have you ever been to Thessaloniki? How about Istanbul?
Do you think you could go it alone? Ever had a travel experience like mine?
Let me know what you think in the comments section below! Give me your questions, your comments, and anything else you want to share. I love reading them and I always respond! Thanks again for checking out my adventures!