So much has happened in the past three days, it’s almost unbelievable. But also incredible. First thing is first though… I saw another wedding on our way out of Murcia. How many weddings is that now?
We hit up a local supermarket to stalk up on food to last the day and night at the airport. Our layover in Milan would be seven or eight hours before we could continue on to Thessaloniki. We got the essentials only: apples, bread, cheese, chorizo (basically Spanish pepperoni), and CHOCOLATE COVERED GOFRES (gofre is the Spanish word for those fried waffle-like things that make your life a hundred times better). The bus ride was pretty short to the bus station, and immediately we sat down and gorged ourselves on gross stuff and people watched for the half hour before our next bus would leave for the airport. This has spawned some sort of game which is still going on: we are seeing how many attractive men we can take pictures of without getting caught. So far, I have a whole album’s worth, but those will be uploaded maybe after my trip…
Our first plane ride was only two hours long or so. But it was long enough that I knew I would have a giant mark on my forhead from resting it on the seat in front of me.
And there it is.
It was around midnight when we made it to Italy. It was in the low fifties, and after having been in Spain with seventy to eighty degree weather for almost two weeks, it was not so much fun to adjust. We ran inside the airport and found a spot that was more or less open for laying down outside a closed shop. The only thing one in the whole airport was the coffee shop at that point, but most people were sleeping already in odd positions.
Yeah, I’ll take the floor…
We met an Italian guy while trying to figure out how to sleep and had a full-blown conversation speaking Spanish and listening to his Italian. It was one of those really cool experiences that seems to happen a lot in Europe. I deeply regret not getting a picture with him and nearly went looking for him to give him our couchsurfing profile information, but at some point he disappeared and I was too lazy to go find him. Instead, I opted for laying on the floor, unable to sleep. Teresa fell asleep a couple times, but only for a few minutes. The thing is, after you’ve had all your things stolen, you don’t trust enough that people won’t steal your stuff while you sleep. Or that you’ll wake up when someone attempts it. I guess I’m ruined! So I didn’t sleep at all, and the plane ride was no different… Night one without sleep.
The flight to Thessaloniki left at seven in the morning and landed around ten local time (one hour ahead of Italy, eight hours ahead of CST where all you guys are at). Teresa and I could barely hold in our excitement, singing every chance we got, laughing raucously as we walked through the airport out into the fresh open air of Greece. When we realized we didn’t speak a single word of Greece, we downloaded a list of important Greek words that would get us through our rough transition. Neither of us has been in a country where we don’t speak the common language AT ALL before, and it didn’t hit me until we were already out of the airport.
We scrambled to read signs… “Okay, that’s an epsilon, which looks like a capital E with extra bits… Which makes the ‘s’ sound? Okay…” Realizing you can’t even read the language makes it even more stressful. Deprive yourself of sleep to add to the mix, and you’ve got the recipe for potential disaster. Fortunately though, we found the bus station right outside the airport and met an Italian woman who had been to Thessaloniki before to visit her friend (also the reason she was coming back). She spoke English very well, in addition to French and Italian, and some Spanish, which ended up being perfect. She was taking the same bus as us, taught us how a few letters sounded (she could read but not speak Greek), and let us know when to get off near the city center.
Also at the bus stop, we met Michael, who is from Brno, Czech Republic. He speaks English well enough and Czech. He was standing alone near us, looking down at the ground and wearing a huge backpack on his front and a smaller one on his back.
“Hey! You traveling too?”
And that’s all it took. He came over to talk to us, and we found out all about where he was from, what he was doing in Greece (some kind of youth exchange to do a project related to green living near a giant lake north of Thessaloniki), and the spots to go in Czech Republic if we ever decided to go there. We invited him to hang out with us for the day since he wasn’t going to meet his hosts until later that afternoon, so he decided to come along with us for the day!
The one smart thing I did before going on this trip was download a bunch of city maps where I knew I’d be going, and not only that, but the app I had for the maps also downloaded every Wikipedia page related to that city, so I’m able to look up landmarks, history, and shops just by searching on the maps regardless of whether I have Internet. So I had a map for Thessaloniki and we sat down for a couple minutes to figure out what all the landmarks in the city were that we could see in some number of hours. Everything that came up tht was remotely worth looking into was churches and a tower. The tower was easy becuase we could see it from our little seats on the street, so we decided to search out two of the main churches: Church of Sofia and the Church of Demetrius. Before leaving the street corner, we walked into the cafe there to use the restroom and refill our water bottle. Unfortunately, the doors to the restroom were locked with some kind of code. Since the sign that explained it was in Greek and English though, I was able to pick up a couple really useful words, like πόρτα for ‘door’ and κοδικου (or something like that… “Kodiko”) for code.
No one was in the men’s restroom so I couldn’t just wait for someone to come out and leave the door open for me, so when Teresa went into the bathroom as a woman left, she told me to just use tg women’s restroom. This is what the city counsil was afraid of in Kirksville, right? Well… Teresa is a genius, so I followed her advice. A mom and her daughter went into one stall and locked the door, and Teresa went “Hurry!” So I jumped in and ran into the far stall, finished as fast as possible, and went to wash my hands as the mom started coming out of her stall. As soon as I heard that door click, I jumped directly out of the bathroom, and Teresa came out laughing hard at me. 🙁
We headed in the general direction of where we though the church was and eventually directions broke down. We got distracted looking at cool things and crazy people that came at us trying to sell things (and one guy shook my hand and almost wouldn’t let go… Just don’t indulge them! Don’t even look at them or they will come at you! Oy). So… I knew it was time to start learning Greek. I looked at my word list and memorized a couple words, and found a couple women walking past us. There was no word for church on my list… But I remembered that there’s a lot of Greek in the New Testament, and I used to be a pretty big Bible buff. What was the word they used for ‘church’ a thousand years ago in Greece? Oh yeah! Ecclesia! My mother would be so proud.
“Signomi, pou ine ecclesia Sofia?”
“Δνφιδβσκφησισοαμαναηδθεβφβςιαοσνδνγγθτ,” they said (or you know, something like that), pointing up the hill. But it WORKED! Suddenly I had access to words I like ecclesia (church), exodus (exit), agape (love), and eros (sexual passion… not really useful in the current situation).
“Thanks! Er… Efharisto!”
Teresa started freaking out, and we were all laughing about how ridiculous the situation was that we didn’t even know how to say hello at this point and we were already asking directions. Gotta dive in at some point, right? Anyway, we walked past some ruins near the city center and continued up to the church!
Greek Orthodox Christianity is much different from western Christianity. It’s more ritualistic, more artistic, and slightly more mystical in the sense that there are saints with bones that perform miracles and stuff like that. But the art is exquisite, and you can tell they take the religion very seriously. The bones of a saint were supposedly housed within the church of Demetrius, and there were many people praying by them and kissing the protective glass over the cloth that his the bones.
One of the sarcophagi of an important person. I’m bad at history, sorry. Also, the sign was in Greek. What do you want from me?!
We also saw another wedding. ANOTHER. But it was hilarious; Michael remarked, “It’s like that movie, My Really Big Greek Wedding? Except maybe bigger.” It was true. There were sooooo many people there. And subsequently it was hilarious.
At first in the morning, we were upset we wouldn’t be able to see anything all day because of the intense fog laying over the city and the coast. Literally as we walked out of the second church, everything had cleared up.
Afternoon. Basically the same spot.
The water was really really gross near the city. This was the first time I was able to actually see the effect of pollution in a city and on the environment around it. There were red sloppy spill-shaped globs floating on the surface of the water and the clarity was visibly diminished by particulates suspended in the water. In the rest of the city, there were trash bins overflowing, graffiti on nearly every wall in the city, and stray dogs on every other block of the city. Greece is the first country I’ve been to where you can visibly notice what happens during an economic regression/collapse/αποκαλύπτει (apocalypse… I think). The unemployment rate in Greece was about 9% before the collapse! and is now around 30%, according to a local in Athens. It shows.
For the most parts, the dogs I’ve seen outside in Europe belong to the homeless. They are either there to keep them company, or because they draw more attention and money. The dogs here in Greece? They’re just stays. And they’re absolutely everywhere. Supposedly, it’s because they don’t have a service to come and collect them.
We weren’t able to find any shops to buy a Greek SIM card at because it was a Sunday and everything was closed, so we wandered around for a long time under the hot sun and eventually ran out of water and decided to find some at a cafe or something. On our way around looking for water, we passed a street where a woman was outside hosing off the street her her home. Good enough! I took my empty water bottle out and started heading towards her. As she was heading back into her building, a man stopped her and pointed at us with our enormous backpacks and my empty bottle in my hands saying, “σιγνομι! Νερό παρακαλό?” Sorry! Water please? They laughed and filled up our bottles, asking us where we were from in broken English.
“USA. He’s from Czech. Are you from here?”
“Oh, we are Syrian,” the man told us, pointing up at a flag hanging above his door.
“Oh, cool! Thank you! Εφχαριστο!” We had a mini conversation and when we were full of water and had had our bottles filled a second time, I asked “How do you say goodbye?” He didn’t understand so I had to mimic walking toward him and waving, and then walking away and waving. It took him a minute and he consulted the woman that was with him before understanding and his face lit up. “Ανδριόσας.”
“Thanks, ευχάριστο, ανδιοσας!” We were getting better at this whole Greek thing. Also, if you speak Greek, I’m sure my orthography is incorrect, but it’s more or less phonetic so I just write what I hear…
Also, I think war is stupid. I want people to know that meeting other people and learning about other cultures is the most important thing you can do to understand yourself and life on a bigger scale. Things are skewed no matter where you get your information, and by getting the points of view of other people, or even just asking for water from them out of your hose, you can learn to appreciate the humanity in everyone. Okay, getting off my soapbox now.
Michael suggested we go for frappés, and explained that Greece was famous for them. Teresa and I had no idea, but now we know why. They are AMAZING. We found a nice cafe/bar (there are a lot of those here) called the Hangover Bar with cheap coffee and got three of them for €7, as well as free water (yay! A luxury in Europe…) and got wifi to catch up on couchsurfing requests, email, and the like before moving on.
Literally the only coffee-related drink I’ve actually ever enjoyed. It was explained to me that “things go slowly in Thessaloniki and they like their frappés.”
Sad to see him go, but good luck on your program, Michael!
Teresa and I resolved to take the train that night to Athens. Both of us were pretty much over Thessaloniki and it’s apparent dirtyness (not to mention it was pretty tiny and we’d already seen a large portion of it). We followed some signs that were labeled “TRAIN” but ended up at a train graveyard. At that point, we had to ask a local who was working at a gas station where to go. Eventually, though, we did make it. Except all the tickets were sold out for the cheap trains for the next two days.
I started freaking out and feeling anxious. There was no SIM card in my phone for Internet to search for things, no tickets under forty euro, I didn’t want to take a six hour train during the day and miss all that potential exploration, we were dehydrated and sleep deprived, there were no good hostels in the area, etc. etc. But Teresa had this wonderful idea to look into buses. Somehow, it all worked out that there was an 11pm-5:30am bus to Athens. It was twice as expensive as the cheap train tickets, but with 10 days in all of Greece, neither of us wanted even a little bit to stay in Thessaloniki another day, and after factoring in that we wouldn’t have to pay for lodging, it seemed like an alright decision, and basically the only one we could make. We bough our tickets and decided to walk around the city some more until our bus was scheduled to arrive. City exploring time!
Not sure what’s going on here. I have now seen a total of three of these stores throughout Greece.
We went to hang out on one of the piers in the city, where all the cool people (meaning teenagers making out by the water) were. By the time the sun had gone down, the sleepiness was starting to get to us. The drain on our sanity was noticeable.
Around 9:30 we couldn’t think of anything else to do, and sitting down sounded like the best idea in the world, so we went to hang out at the bus station and watched that one movie with Katherine Heigl and Gerard Butler with no audio and subtitled in Greek.
“To agno dioti echo kefia.” Dunno what it means, but we can read it sort of! Yay!
I told Teresa to make a really angry face.
Oh, and we people watched.
The bus ride was miserable. I couldn’t sleep because the guy in front of my moved his seat backwards and the girl behind me put her shoe between the window and my seat, so I couldnt move mine back. Instead, I hung out on the stairs (it was a double decker) and attempted to nap there. Impossible. Night two without sleep.
Then we arrived at Athens, promptly before dawn.