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    If you go to Thessalonica for business - - don't read on, you don't have a choice. However, if you go for pleasure, you may want to change your itinerary.

    When you think of Greece, you visualize sea, islands, rocks, etc. Cities, however, tend to be as ugly as you can possibly imagine.

    As you drive from the airport, Thessalonica presents row after row of buildings which, judging by the style, have all been built between 1950 and 1970. Translate: unspeakably ugly and dirty. A forest of TV aerials sticks out higgledy-piggledy on every roof. Occasionally, very occasionally, an older building survives - be it a church, ancient ruin or just a couple of old shacks with shops.

    I stayed at the Capsis Hotel, considered on of the best in town - 32000 GRD a night for a single room. Grandiose entrance, lavish common areas - crummy bedrooms. A mini-bathtub - with no pélug - a shower would have made more sense. But the shower had to be hand-held, as the wall attachment was of the wrong size.

    The TV offered  lots of advanced options, like checking for messages. Except that after a while it changed channels and, eventually, switched itself off - couldn't watch a single programme.

    You don't need to worry about forgetting things in the room safe - there isn't one.

    You don't need to worry about sleeping, either - you won't get much of it: the builders never heard about soundproofing. However, they must have borrowed sound propagation techniques from ancient Greek theaters. The floor tiles clatter, the doors, slam flushing of toilets can be heard from rooms all around. And the locals, coming back to their bedrooms at any time of night, like to have a loud chat before slamming their bedroom doors shut.

    The waiters must have all frequented the famous Soviet catering school: they can ignore customers better than anybody else in continental Europe. Sullen and unhelpful, they certainly have never heard of service with a smile.

    I must admit, I opted for a chocolate bar and a drink from the bedroom mini-bar. The look of the city and its restaurants seemed just not worth the bore of sitting in a smoky restaurant for hours, waiting to be served.

    Thessalonica exudes boredom and mediocrity. Skip it.

    However, Greek islands are a different business.

    If you don't smoke, in Greece you do. The smell of cigarette is everywhere - in streets, restaurants, hotels. Never heard of non-smoking areas which, if they exist, are ignored. Just can't escape it. On the other hand, why would you not smoke, when Greek cities are among the most polluted in the world.