28.07.2011 - 31.07.2011
We left Lesvos with a heavy heart but a full stomach to board the weekly overnight ferry to mainland Greece. On our last day we were treated to a lunch banquet by our new couchsurfing friends in Lesvos. The meze dishes were flowing from pumpkin stuffed with feta to fava, wild spinach and aubergine... With 20 minutes before the ferry was due to leave they announced we would have dessert. Reluctantly we said we needed to go... They all laughed raucously.
'plenty of time!' they said. We looked at each other uncertainly....
'We only have 20 minutes...' I trailed off
'You are so ENGLISH! relax. You have to stay for dessert'
And so we did. This delicious Greek twist on a baklava but with almonds instead of Pistachio nuts and doused in icecream that was infused with sweet pine nectar which tasted like a forest smells. Racing for the ferry we made it about five minutes before it was due to leave, and then waited on board for another 2 hours before it actually DID leave.
We paid an extra Euro on top of the basic price of a ticket to get a airline seat which we though was pretty good value. As we boarded the ferry most of the passengers were writhing and thrashing to mark out their territory on the boat using anything from teatowels to portable carpets. We were very bemused watching this chaos as we sat serenely on the top deck secure in the knowledge that we had reserved seats. It all became clear a couple of hours later when we went to find our seats and our seat numbers didn't seem to exist. When we asked at the reception we were told in so many words that it is basically a free for all and the numbered seats mean nothing whatsoever. Ah. So the next couple of hours were spent prowling round with our panniers trying to find two seats together amongst the bodies that had sprawled themselves out over ten seats. Note to self for next time...
The next morning when we arrived bleary-eyed in Thessaloniki we were met by Ariadni, the girlfriend of a friend of a warm showers host, so quite a tenuous link even for us! She was one of the kindest and warmest hosts we have been lucky to have on our trip. She took us round the city, to deserted beaches and for a trip to her boyfriends soon to be permaculture farm. Ariadni lives close to the White Tower which has become the gathering point in Thessaloniki for protesters who are demonstrating peacefully about the economic crisis in Greece. It has been interesting cycling through Greece at this time as the feeling that people can bring about change is palpable. Reflections from Greek people have been quite diverse. We have met some who have been quite resigned to it and feel that the people of Greece have brought it upon themselves, compared it to gorging at a restaurant that you can't afford for many years and then suddenly being presented with the bill. However others feel a strong sense of injustice and firmly believe that the government is wholly to blame. Although people seem very politicised everyone we spoke to lamented how fragmented it is. Everyone wants to have their voice heard but individually not as an organised whole. Speaking to Ariadni's boyfriend Vasilios he was hopeful that now that people are mobilised to react against what is happening that there will be a more lasting positive outcome beyond the anger of 'how does this affect me?' Perhaps people who have lost their jobs will think about whether spend spend spend is really the answer. Maybe they will go and work on their family's land, perhaps seek a simpler life or at least a life that will make them happy. We will see.
After two days in Thessaloniki we were keen to get back on the bikes and cycle towards Edessa, a small town on Northern Greece on our way to Macedonia. We were met by our exuberant couchsurfing host Evangelos and his friend Elefterios who is a cycling fanatic and proudly took us inside his shop to make us tea and show us his three bikes that were stuffed inside the souvenir shop that he runs.
Evangelos explained that he had arranged our accomodation for the night, as we were unable to stay with him, to be in the local consumer council office, a little cottage style building on the middle of the highstreet. As we inflated our thermarests on the marble floors next to the piles of magazines and office desks we reflected that this might just be one of the most unusual accomodation types of our trip so far.
Edessa is a very pretty little city, unspoilt by tourism with beautiful waterfalls right in the city, however we were not planning on staying more than a day to explore it. My kidneys however had other plans as just as we were packing up our sleeping bags in the morning I was hit by a thunderbolt of nausea and pain and collapsed on the office floor. We needed to be out by 8am as the office opened for business at 9am so Rob shuffled me out onto the pavement where I curled up shaking and occasionally vomiting in the bin, much to the disgust I am sure of people passing by but I was in too much pain to care. The cavalry arrived in the form of Evangelos who raced me down to hospital in his car. I can't remember the last time I went to hospital in the UK so I can't make a comparison but within an hour in this small hospital in Edessa I had blood tests, urine tests, xrays and an ultrasound to determine that I had a kidney stone. I was then put on wildly hallucinogenic painkillers and remember very little except visits from Evangelos and Elefterios who came down from work to check on me. Luckily despite the crazy dreams the painkillers worked a treat and I was out of hospital that afternoon. Evangelos was keen to look after us and bent over backwards to accomodate us (another night in our little office hut) and he plyed us with food - or at least plyed Rob with food as I couldn't hold down food for another couple of days.
So after three days, longer than we had planned in Edessa, we were finally ready to cycle again, albeit it gingerly as bumps on the road were painful on the kidney, heading towards Florina, our last stop in Greece before we cross into Macedonia.