First stop: Naoussa
Naoussa is the most lovely city with some fascinating history attached to it. It's located about an hour or so outside of Thessaloniki, Greece's second largest city after Athens. It was hot, hot, hot when we stayed there for three days with Tom's cousin Patrice; her husband, Nik; and their two boys, Dino and Johnny. The view from their rooftop is unbelieveable! (See the second and third photos down from the top of the post.)
Naoussa may not be the easiest to get to (we—Tom; his brother, Brian; his aunt Julie; and I—flew into Athens, took an hour-long flight to Thessaloniki, then drove an hour to get there), but it's the most gorgeous, green place. We explored the narrow roads, window-shopped (so many cool flatform sandals!), and got delicious gelato. Some cool history: It was only 2 km (about 1.2 miles) from Naoussa where Aristotle taught a young Alexander the Great (that's the spot, above, where we also met some doggie friends). There's also a famous statue in Naoussa that references a time in the early 1800s when Ottoman soldiers had overrun the area. Rather than be captured, it is said that many local women took their children and jumped to their deaths at this spot, where there is a cliff overlooking a waterfall. The towering statue, below, is of a woman clutching her two children. (That's why Naoussa came to be known as The Heroic City of Naoussa.)
Each night we had a big dinner (outdoor seating, of course) at local restaurants where we all shared different appetizers (think: fresh Greek salad, fried cheese, eggplant, even french fries!), and delicious main courses. And wine, of course! Always wine. To have a heavy dinner is a bit unusual for Greeks, since their big meal is in the middle of the day, where shops often close and people leave work to go home to eat. (Sounds so much better than the sad lunches we scarf down in New York, usually while working at our desks... gah!)
Second stop: Thessaloniki
Thessaloniki is located right by the Thermaic Gulf. Our hotel, Daios, was by the water, and from our balcony (!) we could look out at a seemingly endless expanse of blue before us. So dreamy! At night, the walkway by the water (no guardrails there, by the way!) really came alive with endless people walking down to where there was live music. We were there for one day and one night, and I can't wait to go back to explore it more. We got lunch and coffees at a cafe of sorts called Pepper that looked right out onto the street and the sea beyond, then took a hop-on, hop-off bus tour of the city. I was amazed at how the big red bus maneuvered through such busy, narrow streets, where trucks were often blocking the path, or people had double parked, all while mopeds weaved around us! We stayed on the bus for the whole tour and it was a great way to get a feel for the different neighborhoods and history of Thessaloniki. I saw a lot of women wearing loose, pretty dresses, especially in neutral colors; it was so hot! I loved people-watching and picking up on the styles of the women in each city we visited.
Later we took a cruise along the gulf to take in the Thessaloniki shoreline. It was free to get on the boat, you just had to buy a drink. Sounded like a pretty good deal to me!
Last stop: Athens
Our first night in Athens (we were there for three days and three nights), we went to Dionysos Zonar by the Acropolis, a restaurant that had a stunning view of the Parthenon. It was almost surreal, sitting there, eating moussaka, and looking out to see this huge piece of history, so close!
The next day, a tour guide took us to some of the most well-known parts of the city, including the dusty-rose-ish-hued Parliament building, the National Gardens, and of course, the Acropolis and the Parthenon.
There was one special place in Athens that I really wanted to visit: Melissinos Art, a tiny shop with beautiful handmade leather sandals pinned up on the wall (there are leather bags, too). You choose a style to try on and then they are custom-fit to your feet. (I found out about the spot here.) The shop was first set up in 1920 by Georgios Melissinos, and it is Pantelis Melissinos, Georgios' grandson, who runs it now. Pantelis is a poet, playwright, and artist, as well as a shoemaker, who studied at Parsons School of Design in New York. He and his team at Melissinos sit down with you and try the sandals on your feet, making adjustments along the way, puncturing new holes in the straps so they buckle just so.
As we were leaving Melissinos Art, Pantelis stood outside giving directions and taking pictures with a family he had just sold shoes to. I asked him for a picture, too. (Thank you, Patrice, for encouraging me to get a picture with Pantelis!) He couldn't have been kinder. Oh, and their clientele over the years? To die for. Melissinos shoes have been worn by Sofia Loren (the story goes, after she had purchased a pair in the 50s, sales went wild), the Beatles, Sarah Jessica Parker, Lily Tomlin, all kinds of European royalty, Jeremy Irons, and more... there was even a picture of Pantelis with Bob Saget in the shop! It was such a cool place, and I hope if you visit Athens, you seek it out. (The only place to get these one-of-a-kind sandals is his shop in Athens.)
On our second to last night in Athens (and Greece), we watched the sunset over delicious food at Sissifos, a rooftop restaurant. It was one of my favorite nights. To get to Sissifos, you have to climb a long set of steps, passing restaurants on either side as you go. Most restaurants had seating out by the steps, too, where people were smoking, drinking, and talking at tiny tables. I remember thinking how happy I was to be there on that rooftop, in that moment, in Greece, surrounded by such wonderful people.
If you got to the end of this post, phew, you are amazing! (I know it was a long one.) Thank you so much for reading, and I hope you all have the best weekend!
P.S. Many, many, many thanks to Patrice and Nik for hosting us in Naoussa, and to Patrice for showing us the beautiful country she lives in. I will always remember it!
All photographs by Tom Schelling except the following, which were taken with my iPhone: (Naoussa) the gelato and the close-up of The Heroic City of Naoussa statue. (Athens) the Erechtheion temple, two photos from Melissinos, and the two pictures from Sissifos.