Any travel guidebook can give you the basics about where to go and what to see when you visit a new city. But there’s nothing like having a local friend – a very cultured, well-connected friend with good taste, impeccable social instincts, and a special knack for surprises – to show you her town.
For Thessaloniki, a totally charming app, “In The Loop: Premium Curated Walks”, is the next best thing, or maybe even better. Its creator, Tania Vlachomitrou – archaeologist, museologist, and tour guide – gives visitors that kind of authentic, personal experience of the city, introducing them to Thessaloniki’s vibrant cultural scene through the people who create it, and sharing some of the city’s secrets and stories along the way. She has gathered a team of friends (archaeologists, museologists, art historians, journalists, tour guides, videographers, designers, and narrators) who are all equally passionate about their city. Together, they’ve designed three multi-faceted curated experiences that you take at your own pace.
Apart from the play on words about being well connected (which you will be), In The Loop experiences are more or less circular routes (the ‘loops’), taking you through the center and the historic neighborhoods at the edge of the upper town. You have the luxury of taking in the places at your own pace, even over the length of your stay. All the loops come with lots of extras – tips hints, and coupons (free drinks, discounts and the like).
It’s like a private tour with as much personal interaction as you want. The experiences are creator-driven. “All of our partners share our philosophy. We visited many, many places, and included those that were the most engaging, the most welcoming. These also turned out to be the most interesting destinations.” There are interviews with the people behind each spot, so you have a back story, an introduction. That introduction goes both ways – they are expecting visitors using In the Loop, and welcome your interest.
Get in the Loop
Each loop has a map, with all the practical information on the destinations that you need (opening hours, etc.). Plus, along with the interviews with the creators, there are photos, videos, sometimes even a recorded narrative. We loved these: listening to someone tell us a story got us more deeply involved with the destinations. It was a more privileged, intimate introduction than we could have found in a book, and it enhanced our appreciation of the destinations inestimably.
We listened to a narrative of the glamorous, adventurous life of Alexandros Iolas, the larger-than-life persona behind the Macedonian Museum of Contemporary Art, whose spectacular collection forms its backbone. It was an absorbing, poignant tale; we found ourselves still very much under his spell when we entered the museum.
This was part of the art loop, which introduced us to the museums, galleries, artists, and art shops that make Thessaloniki’s contemporary art scene so vibrant. The artist team Kalos and Clio – of whom we were already fans – shared thoughts about their creative process. We left enlightened, energized.
We continued our loop, enjoying conversation and insight at three galleries, and at the shop of a street artist (and DJ). At each place, we experienced a fresh aspect of the creative culture of the city, and took in a lot of work. At our last stop, the gallery Nitra, we saw some paintings that were deeply tied to the city itself; Maria Paschalidou’s richly textured abstract paintings were actually made using pigments and materials from the rubble of a beloved and condemned house in Ano Poli – urban history on canvas.
We then sampled a few of the spots from the night loop. It’s hard to go wrong in Thessaloniki after dark – the city’s nightlife is famously good. Yet even with these high standards, the night loop’s selection of friendly and unique places stood out, spanning the city’s broad range of delicious offerings.
Tucked into stoas (arcades) and less-explored streets, there are some you might not find otherwise, and that would be a shame. The vinyl-friendly poly-space Pikap (Greek slang for “turntable”) was a hit with us. And the modern classic Coq au Zen – an insider favorite hidden behind velvet curtains in its petite, elegant stoa – will make your evening.
We were famished by the time we ended up at Kitsch kai S’efaga. Playfully kitsch as promised, it had a contagious sense of fun. It had been a day of happy surprises, so we hated to break the streak. Given that they seemed to know what they were doing, we handed the menus back and asked them to bring whatever they like best. We loved everything.
More to Come
In The Loop is still fairly new – the initial version includes the night loop and the art loop (€5.99 each), plus the welcome loop (free) – a selection of classic sights and contemporary spots in Thessaloniki’s center. But the app will be updated with new content soon, to include a food loop (Thessaloniki is a great food town) and a family loop. The app also works offline so you don’t have to worry about extra data charges.
Even as locals, we found that the Loops are continuing to help us get more out of the city we love, and thought we knew inside and out. A nice surprise.