Thessaloniki is a seaside town in the northeast of Greece. This area is considered the Macedonian region of Greece. I give you this background because it is key in understanding some of the logistic issues of the trip. Trains and buses are the name of the game in Eastern Europe. While there are cheap regional airlines, a checked bag quickly inflates the cost. For an extra 1-2 hours, a train or bus does the job with a great view. I am writing this blog entry from a bus taking us from Thessaloniki, Greece to Skopje, Macedonia. There is train service on and off on this route due to political tensions between the two countries. The country of Macedonia falls within part of the former Yugoslavia. “Macedonia” is a region in Greece that boasts ties reaching back to Alexander the Great. They deem the naming of the country as “Macedonia” to be offensive and possible suggestion of Macedonian historical right to northern Greece. So, the bus ride is 4 hours to Skopje.
Back on topic, Thessaloniki was interesting and akin to Athens, though smaller. It was an overcast day with occasional rain droplets spattering the pavement. Hannah and I have been hitting these cities with miles of walking each day and poor sleep in cheap Airbnb apartments, averaging about <$20 per night. We took it a little slower today. We saw historical squares and arches. We walked inside the Greek Hagia Sofia to see the now familiar reflections bounce off Eastern silver and gold iconographic depictions of saints. In a country so obviously struggling financially, it is such a stark contrast to witness the staggering opulence of Greek Orthodox churches and icons. While beautiful, I often wonder whether the Greek Orthodoxy ever finds itself disconnected from the community due to this.
Throughout Greece, stray animals are seen block to block. Ancient ruins pepper those in between. 20 years old vehicles putter away, churches rise from valleys and atop hills. Snow capped mountains roll outside the cities. Unemployment sits at 18%, churches are clad in gold. It is not uncommon to hear the wooden click-clack of dice hitting a backgammon board as old men try their luck at something aside from a life of economic downturn and political tensions.