Boom da da boom da da

Thessaloniki - 25/08/2010

Despite being roused from sleep by (what seemed like) hourly passport checks, an otherwise decent night's rest was had. We woke to golden Elysium fields of wheat blanketing the land. We passed through them knowing that the only noise left behind us would be the gentle swish and rattle as the wind passed through the swaying stalks. A sparse, sun-baked landscape provided such a stark contrast to an Istanbul so profuse with water. We have picked up some extra carriages overnight, they have slowed us and made us behind schedule. Two hours late into Thessaloniki in northern Greece meant an extra urgency in seeing the sites, thankfully as we discovered, these are few. We first happened upon some fine orthodox churches with well kept icons and impressive iconostasis, pictures were taken. We each lit a devotional candle to Hermes, the god of travel and implored him to bless our journey and keep us safe. A seafront that Milton Keynes would be proud of in its concrete-slabbed desolation drew us along the coast calling a halt at a gold-domed church.
The Aegean sparkled in the sunlight but the city`s tourist set-up did not, curious for the country`s second largest. We found our way back to Athonos Square in search of some sign of life. Lunch was taken, however, at a pleasant little place in the market. The ancient characters forming the language in the menu were near indecipherable but what arrived via the infatuated waitress largely resembled what we thought we ordered. Anything not consumed went straight into the bags in the name of all that is good and frugal. The mandolin strumming and old boys wailing along increased authentic experience levels by 56%.
A stick or twist decision presented itself, Thessalonian campsite or Albanian bus north? The dearth of the former persuaded us as to the virtue of the latter. Mike, it must here be noted, did sterling work in the location of the ticket office. With some time on our hands we were able to make a kiosk owner very happy with our repeat business of refreshments, and assuage our doubts that the backstreet before us was in fact the bus station. Once the doors had been loaded onto the bus and live chickens had not we were free to divest ourselves of our bags. The relative calm and organisation ceased at this point and all became wonderfully haphazard and in the case of the bus driver, fighty. Mike's seating partner flat out refused to sit next to him and so the bus became a sliding tile puzzle of seat swaps until calm was restored. Seating capacity is an indeterminate and loose concept on Albanian buses, there is always room for more plastic stools in the aisle.
Cross-dressing is Albania's national sport (current national no.1 - G. Harwood) or so their television shows would suggest, their dubious quality invaded sleep. We reached the border at Kaphticë sometime around 11PM, a welcome opportunity to use the facilities (by facilities I mean bushes, but better than the high street alcove employed in Veria) since the onboard toilet was doubling as a storage locker. We were joined in this by a fellow passenger whose English was limited (limited by its non-existence) but seemed nonetheless happy to have our acquaintance, verbal though it wasn't. Thankful I therefore was for the seasoned traveller seated next to me who had made this journey more than once. By his mastery (and, un petit, mine) of the international language of gestures he regularly conveyed to me the progress of the bus and conveyed to the driver his dismay at the lack of progress of the bus.
The hours had taken their toll on the passengers and no-one was any longer in the mood for a standup argument by the time we reached the Albanian border. I had even grown to accept the toddler 4 rows back breaking into nerve-shredding histrionics with disappointing regularity and the passenger seated across the aisle from me playing Pussycat Dolls at indecent volume. The border crossing was eventually breaching despite the best efforts of Eastern European efficiency and we slalomed up Albanian hills and onward into the night...

No comments:

Post a Comment