My first night in Thessaloniki I decided the best way to get a feel of the city was to follow the crowds. So follow I did. The crowds led me along the beautiful waterfront where people were starting their night by imbibing local ouzo and listening to surprisingly familiar music (is there any country that doesn’t listen to Lady Gaga?) They led me past Aristotelus Square where children bought giant animal-shaped balloons while their parents tasted delicious gelato. And then they led me to the White Tower, the most iconic symbol of Thessaloniki, right by the coast. Beautiful in and of itself, the Tower was clearly the place to be, with families packed around the glowing walls. But the real surprise came when I started to look a little closer.
Surrounding the tower were brightly-lit stalls, and the crowds were so thick I could barely see what was being sold. Jewelry? Food? Cheap busts of Aristotle? Well, what else would people be shopping for at 11pm on a Sunday night, but books. Literally, hundreds and hundreds of books on display in a seemingly endless line of stalls. I walked for about 15 minutes before seeing the end of the line of booksellers—only to discover it continued around the corner (I admit, at this point I gave up trying to see the end). Everything was on sale, from Greek Stephen Hawking (surprisingly like the Anglophone Stephen Hawking except I am pretty sure instead of space he was talking about dolmades) to Greek Stephen King (actually exactly like the American version). Children’s books, language books, everything was on sale, and the people FLOCKED! And, yes, Thessaloniki has a number of bookstores, so these stalls are just the icing on a very literate cake. I may not have been able to understand the books, and I missed the opportunity to barter as I normally would at an outdoor market, but I did get to watch the local population partake in a very peculiar and completely unexpected nightly ritual.