Day 1 reflections

After my second full day in Thessaloniki, I feel like I’m finally able to begin processing what has happened so far.

First impressions: The city is beautiful. I want to pet all the stray animals even though Carlene told me not to. Greek is a really hard language to pick up.

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Thessaloniki is the second largest city in Greece. / Photo by Olivia Arnold

We kicked off our first day yesterday with a walking tour around downtown Thessaloniki. We met at 8:20 a.m., which I would normally consider brutally early, but I was completely fine for considering I had been up since 6 a.m.

I had gone to bed the night before at 9 p.m., shortly after returning from our welcome dinner in which I struggled to keep my eyes open while scarfing down pizza at Casa Bianca. I felt particularly lucky that morning as other students complained about grappling with their jet lag—waking up at 3 a.m. or only sleeping a couple hours. Meanwhile, I slept comfortably for nine hours throughout the night without even stirring.

I remarked to Carlene that, after feeling close to passing out from exhaustion the night before, I had never felt so alive. My morale was high as I hopped onto a public bus along with the rest of our group to head downtown and meet our tour guide.

The walking tour was a wonderful chance to take in the atmosphere of the city. I found my eyes bouncing all around, hoping to catch glimpses of passing people and snippets of their conversations (even though I mostly couldn’t understand the language).

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A man stands near the edge of the waterfront. / Photo by Olivia Arnold

The tour featured an inside look at the Rotunda, a monument constructed in the early 4th century supposedly as a mausoleum for Emperor Galerius, though it never fulfilled that purpose. Instead, it was transformed into a Christian church, then a Muslim mosque and then a Christian church again. Today, the Rotunda is a museum and the oldest monument in Thessaloniki.

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The purpose of the Rotunda changed several times throughout the centuries. / Photo by Olivia Arnold

In addition to checking off seeing the Rotunda on my Thessaloniki bucket list, I was fascinated throughout the city by the preservation of ancient monuments in the middle of bustling urban areas. The old structures looked out of place amid their modern surroundings.

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Ancient structures coexist with modern buildings in Thessaloniki’s downtown area. / Photo by Olivia Arnold

I also noticed graffiti covering nearly every surface in the city—businesses, residential apartments, street lamps. Much of the graffiti conveyed anti-police or anti-capitalist sentiments, reflecting local frustrations amid Greece’s ongoing economic crisis.

Most importantly, Thessaloniki has the most adorable stray cats and dogs all over the place. A couple of dogs started following our group around and when I looked into their sad eyes, I really felt like we had a connection. As I mentioned earlier, Carlene specifically instructed us not to pet the animals, so I refrained—my most difficult task of the trip thus far.

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A stray dog with sad eyes followed our tour group around. / Photo by Olivia Arnold

After our walking tour, I sat down with a couple others to grab gyros, Greece’s classic on-the-go meal. It was my first gyro since my trip to Greece last summer, and it was just as good as I remembered (even better, since I was tired and hungry after the tour).

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I’m all smiles just before devouring a gyro, my favorite Greek food. / Photo by Paxtyn Merten

Though these experiences were enough for us to call it an enriching day, we didn’t stop there. We headed over to the U.S. Consulate, where Consul General Rebecca A. Fong gave our group a presentation about her career in diplomacy and then fielded a wide range of questions about Greece’s economic and refugee crises. She spoke about dealing with the unpredictable nature of President Donald Trump’s foreign policy objectives, but upholding her patriotism throughout years of changing administrations.

The talk was incredible, and I was pleasantly surprised with how candid Fong was with our group and how much time she set aside to talk with us. I was also honored to be in the presence of one of the few high-ranking female diplomats.

Overall, the day was perfect. If the first day is any indication of how the trip will go, I can’t wait for all that I will learn, see and experience. 

This blog post also appeared on the Northeastern University School of Journalism website.

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