Explore Thessaloniki Greece With Rania Kalogirou

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CulturallyOurs Podcast Explore Thessaloniki Greece With A Local Rania Kalogirou

CulturallyOurs
Explore Thessaloniki Greece With Rania Kalogirou
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Show Details

In this episode, we explore the Greece and the city of Thessaloniki with Rania Kalogirou. Rania is a local living in Thessaloniki and share some of her favorite places to explore in and around the city. She also share some off-the-beaten path adventures around Greece away from the super touristy places – a country known for ancient history, museums, beaches and amazing food. From restaurants to outdoor spaces, Rania take us on a beautiful adventure – right from the comfort of our homes.

Show Notes

Karthika explores the incredibly beautiful country of Greece and the city of Thessaloniki with a local Rania Kalogirou. Rania lives in Thessaloniki and she shares her love for this city – unique experiences in and around the city. She shares some off-the-beaten path adventures around Greece that can help us explore this amazing country that is famous for its stunning beaches, ancient history, museums and amazing food. From restaurants to outdoor spaces, Rania take us on a beautiful adventure – right from the comfort of our homes. Karthika and Rain also talk about the future of travel as seen from the eyes of a local living in a touristy location.

The Transcript

Karthika: Welcome, Rania. Thank you so very much for joining me on Culturally Ours. I am very excited to talk to you, get to know you a little bit better, and get to explore your part of the world a little bit with you.

Rania: Hi, thank you for having me very excited to be here.

Karthika: Absolutely. So, before we begin, could you tell us a little bit about who you are and where you’re from just to kind of help set the stage for this?

Rania: Perfect. So, my name is Rania and I’m originally from Greece. I identify strongly as a TCK or a third culture kid because I moved around a lot. So, I lived in six countries, but the main place I call home is my hometown Thessaloniki in the North of Greece.

Karthika: Now you said, a third culture kid. What does that mean? I’m very intrigued. Explain that a little bit to me.

Rania: It’s a term that’s been used recently to describe children that kind of grew up in different countries. So that means they identify with different parts of the world and might’ve picked up cultural aspects of places that are not their own culture.

Karthika: Okay. So, where all have you lived?

Rania: I lived in six countries before I was 18. Romania, Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Greece, and New Zealand.

Karthika: Oh, wow. So, what made–you said now you live in your hometown. So what made you come back after living in all these exciting places?

Rania: I, it was kind of like the pull, how you have this feeling that you need to do something. And I always wanted to move to my city as an adult and finally, I made it happen just before the pandemic. So that’s great.

Karthika: So, talk to me a little bit about your hometown. You said you’ve lived in all these amazing places and you’ve come back home, so explore your hometown with us. What makes it so special?

Rania: Oh. Great. Thessaloniki is not a place most people know, because it’s not the islands and it’s not Athens. It’s mainland Northern Greece and was one of the most important places, and antiquity famously, it is sort of associated with Alexander the Great, that’s the biggest accomplishment. But it’s got a lot of like cultural vibes. It used to be a very multicultural place. We had very similar populations from all around the world. It’s a student town, which means there’s a lot of things happening by the water. it’s a port city, so it’s just like size, a great place to do life.

Karthika: Okay. That sounds fascinating. And anyway, close to the water so you’re still getting the benefits of what Greece is famous for. Right?

Rania: Exactly. And there are some amazing beaches that people don’t know about because they’re on the mainland.

Karthika: I’m sure we’ll get to that a little bit later in the interview, but talk to me a little bit about the whole situation that we’re in. And you mentioned that you got here just before Corona hit. So, what has it been like for you for your community? How has your part of the world and we can even explore how Greece has handled the whole situation. I just want to kind of get your perspective on how things are.

Rania: Greece was doing really well post-pandemic. We were bouncing back from a really bad financial crisis that people are kind of aware of and the mood had started to lift. So, the pandemic was bad because we were doing great and then it happened. But I would say that Greeks are sort of, I don’t know, used to hardship. So, we bounced back easily. We enforced lockdown very, very fast. So, we were stuck for about two and a half months that people were okay with that. And, it was, it was an interesting time in terms of wages and in business and the economy. But I think, I think overall, as we handled it very well and we got some really good press, with the way we were a little bit. So I was, I was glad to see my country get some good press for for once

Karthika: Now have things opened up? Is it slow? Is it a hundred percent open? Are tourists coming in? Or how is that looking like?

Rania: Greece made the decision to open it up in May for tourism and we did get some tourists coming in and it wasn’t normal. And it’s still open to most people, of course not to Americans, because most places right now aren’t.

Karthika: It’s kind of shocking when, a few years ago you, people kept talking with the power of the passport and how, some passports are quite privileged and now it’s almost like a flip one 80 were having us passport, you don’t get to do a lot of things that we frankly take for granted and travel is one of them. So, it’s kind of hitting as hard.

Rania: Yes.

Karthika: So, let’s kind of dig a little bit into this, into this concept of travel, right. , since it has changed so much, and you’re saying that things are opening up, how has that sort of impact, the businesses in your area? Just the mood in your area. I mean, people being welcomed with open arms or is there a reservation? Do you have to wear masks? I mean, I’m just starting to wrap my head around the travel aspect. Especially now with, especially with a country like Greece that is so popular with tourists.

Rania: So I was fortunate to have to have traveled quite a bit this summer domestically. I didn’t expect it to happen, but it was a really great opportunity to travel. So I got to witness a lot of that happening. There are fewer people, but everybody’s just as welcomed most like all of the personnel who wears masks everywhere, but the visitors don’t have to. So it kind of feels like normal almost.

Karthika: So Rania tells me this if I or somebody else will plan a trip to, where you are, where would you take us? Give me, maybe give me an itinerary on where to go, what to do, things to see, that kind of stuff.

Rania: Perfect. Okay. So Thessaloniki is Northern Greece. So you either jump on a plane straight to here or drive up or fly from Athens. It’s not very far, it’s just an hour. It’s great, I would say you need to spend at least three to four days there because there’s a lot to see and I would start with the old towns. So for some Nikki has some of them, actually the most Byzantine UNESCO moments. So I think we’ve got about 15 and it’s a small city. So you would get a glimpse of field castle walls, the old towers, the Cora, the horse racing. Those are very prominent features in the city. So just walking around and then tons of museums, but okay. I would stick to one, the most important one may be, and then for local vibes, which you can find pretty much everywhere. It’s about like nights of the, to Verna with some reki and some friends and some live music. So that would be, the, any key experience. And then if I had, if I could take you a little bit as well, we’d go to [inaudible], which is the beach that I mentioned earlier.

Karthika: Oh, it sounds fascinating. Sounds like a good, like you said, three to four-day trip and I love culture and history. So I try to go to a muse if there is one in the place that I’m visiting because it’s such a great experience to kind of step back in time a little bit.

Rania: I agree we’ve got six or seven museums here, so I think you’re covered.

Karthika: Good. Now, one thing that I’m seeing, and perhaps this is something that you’re also seeing given, you’ve been traveling around the country a little bit, travel is changing and it’s becoming more sort of grassroots people wanting, off the beaten path, more like hyper-localized sort of experiences. Right? So these next few questions I want to, I want to get your perspective, I want to get sort of your insight. What is your favorite restaurant and why?

Rania: Oh, okay. So I recently got a new favorite, so it’s called Nama. Its sort of the depth of the old town hidden in behind the church. And it’s this unassuming little place that the creative, modern Greek cuisine is like they serve, they bring one dish at a time and with a bit of wine or a bit of, and it’s just extremely creative flavors. Like they will take a Greek fish, a Greek staple and they’ll just add pickled strawberries and avocado and some puree or other that is just like incredible. I’ve never had anything like that with like a Greek sort of theme to it. That’s a very special restaurant.

Karthika: It sounds interesting though, as a fusion of flavors, but keeping sort of the grassroots of recusing intact. What’s your favorite activity?

Rania: The waterfront. No doubt in my mind. So the water is spent like the whole city center. It would take at least an hour and a half to walk the whole thing from the port to whatever it is on the other side. I can’t remember now. It must be some, what is it some, and you just watch the boats come in and there are so many people and there’s all these musicians, local musicians. It’s just very lively. It’s very nice.

Karthika: Now, how about, sort of outdoor spaces, think like forests or like national parks, so things like that that maybe are more of a local hangout and something that we might not see in like a lonely planet or something, but it’s equally amazing and definitely something that we should think about this.

Rania: One place that would definitely not be in a guidebook is it’s a forest and to reach it, you sort of go through the neighborhoods and out like walk across the bridge from a moral way. And then you’re inside this huge forest and people just go there and exercise and have picnics. It’s not organized, but it’s gorgeous and you get great views of the whole city.

Karthika: Wow. Awesome. Now, talk about, sort of local experiences, things that I know you talked about, what a front-end and people watching are such a, again, such a great way to really get a glimpse of life, like, on the streets, local people doing local things, which sometimes as tourists, we don’t sort of put time on our calendars to do that, but I love people watching is very, it’s very, it’s a lot of fun. So tell me some other sort of, maybe activities or experiences that, if we were to come there and this can be, for your hometown or are you somewhere else as well in Greece that we should definitely think about, experiencing

Rania: The one aspect of it is very much grounded around food, trying to find local sellers that have authentic little like the Greek culinary. So that’s one aspect that I would say. And the other one, again, has to do a little bit about food and so you want to go to the most unassuming restaurant, no English menus, and that’s, that’s true for all over Greece, no English menus, just some tables and chairs under, in the veranda and sit and try most, most often they will talk, they will speak English to talk to the chef, to the yaya and that’s when you get the really good stories

Karthika: For sure. And, sometimes it’s fun. It can be intimidating. I think when you don’t know the language and you’re trying to kind of know all the food or, especially if you have any sort of dietary restrictions, I think it’s a lot of, it’s a lot of fun and, what’s the worst that can happen and you don’t find what you like pay you to get up and you go and you find something else.

Rania: Oh, I was going to say that that is sort of the classic Greek scene that you see in the movies with the yard. Like she drags you into her arms and stuffs you full of food. It can be fun, but it can be fun.

Karthika: I’m from India and I know that when I go home, of course, I have my sort of local restaurants and food, like our equivalent of food trucks were, you just go and you’re literally standing on the street and you’re having like snacks and dinner and things like that, but it can be a little intimidating to people I’ve taken on trips and it’s just like, trust, just trust the local. And it will be amazing. And, just go there, go with a local cause that they know best.

Rania: Yes.

Karthika: All right. So now let’s talk a little bit about your sort of travels. You mentioned earlier that you’ve explored the country quite a bit over the summer. So tell me, and this can be either in your hometown or, places that you’ve explored. Where have you gone recently and discovered something that perhaps was very new to you or maybe rediscovered something from when you lived here before

Rania: I have a great new place. It’s not in my hometown, but it is, it was an incredible experience. I was in Athens and I found out through my mother of all people that there, that there is this abandoned button factory. So it used to make buttons. And somehow the rumors on social media were that the button factory was in China. Well, turns out it was in my neighborhood in Athens. I woke up with my mother, and we kind of snuck into this abandoned building. And there was this incredible space that had been deserted since the sixties. It was the largest button factory. Like there was an explosion of death and it’s just insane. You’re just walking, you’re sinking into a pool of buttons and have been there for years. And I didn’t know about it. And it was like the most exciting thing that I did that month, even when you count that the fact that I visited three new destinations.

Karthika: Oh, well, that sounds fascinating. And, it’s, again, it’s one of those things that you kind of go and you’re like asking yourself questions. Like, what happened here? Why did it shut down? Who was working here? It’s just, it sounds absolutely amazing.

Rania: Yes. Another place is this peninsula. It’s a complex of islands, close to Turkey and a very interesting place because even though the locals do not promote it, it has a very rich history from world war two. And that was insane. And I have a very cool story about that place as well. So there I am, enjoying the beaches and the food and I happen to hear from a local that there is this place that not even the locals know about. And it is an abandoned place. It was a bunker from moreover too. And the exciting part about it is you walk in, it’s now being used as a sheep’s if that makes sense. But the officer that was in charge of that bunker in WWII loved paintings. So he has made copies of Bruegel’s very famous work of art. So there’s the peasant wedding and they are incredible copies of this artist. And then he has also painted pretty much most surfaces of the bunker and, it’s a real, you walk in and there’s all these works of art that have been painted by this, the German officer and been left there for years. Nobody has done anything about it.

Karthika: Wow. Oh my God. That sounds amazing. You have had quite a bit of an adventure. Tell me based on, based on your travels and I know this is kind of a personal question. So I want to hear your sort of personal perspective, as long as you’re comfortable sharing it. Where do you think travel is headed? Especially post-COVID, and even now that people are traveling, some people are not. So what are your thoughts on the travel industry?

Rania: Right. I love this question because I write about travel. I work in tourism or at least I worked until the great pause and the whole idea of localized and grassroots and sort of staying, staying, but the whole idea behind that, which has been forced on us with COVID, is very important to me and was important to me before the pandemic, because I think that a lot of people don’t have the means, to, to travel far and wide. And I think the tourism industry sometimes makes it seem like you have to do those crazy, incredible life destination trips. So through, I started something called mini-adventures and a blog where I write and the whole idea behind it was something that is relevant to COVID at the moment, which is wherever you are, whatever sport you occupy at that moment somebody’s used to, and somebody wants to travel to that spot to explore it.

Rania: So you can go deep, you can go deep into the language, the culture, the food, the people there’s always something to explore and it makes it even more exciting when you unravel all those areas of a place. And so I hope to go back, to the future prediction. I hope there’s more of that, but I hope it’s not forced. I hope people choose to do that. I hope people see that through this great pause. Now there are places here, staycations, local adventures, there are domestic destinations and you can have fun with that. So I guess, semi-positive view.

Karthika: I love it. And you’re so right in that, even though it’s forced on us, it’s sort of how you view it as an opportunity or as something that you kind of sulk about and, let’s face it. We’ve all done that we’ve all sat down and saw it and asked the question, Oh my God, why is this happening? Why is this happening to me? But it’s gone on for so long that we have no choice, but to kind of get up and, sort of dust ourselves off and say, okay, how am I going to go forward? And hopefully, it’s no longer a thing where I’m going to spend two days in Paris and two days in London and then, two days somewhere else. And it said doing longer trips, but even more than shorter, like localized trips, right?

Karthika: Like you said, look at the face, look at the culture, look at the muse. Most places, even small towns have some history or the other. And that is something, even if it is small like I know in a lot of the small towns here in the States, we have these little homes that have been converted to like small-town museums. And they are fascinating because they have one person who’s probably lived in their hometown for years and years, and they’re manning, the front desk and they just want to come. They just want to talk to you. They want to share. And pretty soon you’re, sharing life stories on a cup of coffee. And it’s incredible because you get to be a part of somebody’s day in somebody’s life.

Rania: It makes it very memorable

Karthika: For sure. And you remember these things more than you remember? I don’t know, wandering the loop for like two hours and then running out because you have something else to do, right? So hopefully there are some positives that come out of this and I know it’s gonna take a long time for the industry to bounce back. , but, and I love asking this question because I want to hear people’s perspectives. And because that, for me, that opens my mind to, on things that I might not think about. So thank you for sharing.

Rania: Thank you. I love that question.

Karthika: Now, what about your travel plans? I know things are on pause, but I feel like you’ve still made the most of it and you’ve still kind of explored your country. , share with us, what are your travel plans either within Greece or, when things open up, where would you like to go next?

Rania: Okay. So I, again, very luckily I’m traveling again in two weeks domestically to a new Island destination actually. That’s something to look forward to in the near future. And then on a whim, I went ahead and booked a flight to Armenia because it was a great deal. And that’s a country I’ve been meaning to explore. It’s for November. Okay. Who knows if we’ll be able to travel, but I’m very excited.

Karthika: Oh, for sure. I know we’ve all kind of had trips canceled and put things on hold. So to actually book something, just pushing that book button,

Rania: I just want it to have that feeling like, here’s your confirmation code for your flight.

Karthika: I know. I’m sure it’ll be fun. And, that sounds amazing that you’re kind of getting out and exploring the islands, so I’m sure you’re going to have tons of adventures all around. Thank you so much, Rania. This has been amazing, giving us a glimpse of the your part of the world, and I can’t wait to see some of the photos and to follow your journey. So thank you so much for coming on the podcast.

Rania: Thank you so much for having me and for this chat. It’s been incredible. I’ve loved discussing Thessaloniki.

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