Published: April 25th 2012December 30th 2011
Originally I had planned to spend some time in Thessaloniki . As it happened, on one hour's sleep, I found myself in a mad scramble to get to there from Athens in order to try to get the last train to Skopje, my new year's destination and where I was to meet my friend Andrew who had made his way there from Sophia, Bulgaria.
I was completely hung over and I really don't know how I did it, but I managed to get to -Thessaloniki somehow. Despite the fact all the trains were booked for the day and hence untakeable with security monitoring possible overloading overloaders, and inspite of the fact that it took me an hour and a half to find the magical bus stop in the middle of loonyland that was to be my departure point.
I really don't know if it was due to the state that I was in, but alcohol is not usually a hallucinogen and what I saw on the outskirts of Athens was eery and quite disturbing. There were what looked like half-starved, broken and petrified African and Indian immigrants pushing carts around trying to sell useless goods to nobody on the streets, like for example balloons and stuffed toys, everything was run-down, a real authentic underclass.
Maybe due to the fact that the Greek who had guided me from the train station to the bus stop to go to the magical bus stop, had just informed me about it, I noticed it. Or maybe being completely hungover brings you to a state of awareness, that your not otherwise privy to. Whatever the case it was one of the weirdest morning's of my life. When I left the hotel I had slept at, I had about 7 beggars come at me like zombies off a computer game I used to play, the only difference being I didn't have a shotgun. Scary stuff and something that Greeks are talking about openly. I.e, what happens now that there are no jobs and you have thousands of immigrants who have come to Greece for a better life and work opportunities, only to find that there is no better life and work opportunities and that they can't go back to where they come from, even if they want to. I for one think that selling balloons and stuffed toys on the back streets of the outermost suburbs of Athens, where everybody with any money is too scared to venture, is a solution that has a very limited shelflife.
Once in Thessolinki, the main thing I was to learn is that there are some political issues between Greece and Macedonia. What this meant or means is that two cities that geographically are not very far from one another, are no longer connected by train. Yes even though both countries are right next to each other and not at war, they don't allow trains to go from one country to the other, the main bus station wasn't any better/different. I think from what I heard a lot of the bad blood comes from whether or not Alexander the Great was Macedonian or Greek, although I'm sure the political problem is in one way or another related to power/money. So with everything going to be closed the following day, i.e New Year's Eve, nightfall fast approaching and my friend waiting my arrival in our pre-booked hostel what was I to do. Luckily on finding a free wifi spot, on wiki travel, I found mention of one private Macedonian bus company that leaves every evening except for public holidays such as New Years Eve at 5.30pm to Skopje. Problem being that it doesn't leave from the bus station, but some random street in the middle of nowhere. It was 5.14pm and the day before New Years Eve.
Despite the fact I had slept one hour, been to zombie land and spent 6 hours chatting to a lovely old lady on the bus about her yester years in Australia, I found the energy to sprint to a taxi stand. The only problem being that I had sprinted in the wrong direction. I then sprinted back to where I had originally started and then to where someone told me the taxi stand was. It was raining and all of the taxis were full. I was ready to dropkick my backpack, when a taxi driver turned up out of the blue. A great guy that spoke English about as well as I speak Greek, who somehow managed to understand where I needed to be and that I needed to be there pronto. He charged me a ridiculously low price and I think for the first time in my life, I tipped a taxi driver. I arrived at the bus at 5.29pm. They told me that I couldn't buy a ticket on the bus, but that I could buy one from the office accross the road. So I held up the bus for 10 minutes and then we were off to Macedonia.
On the bus a couple of Macedonian guys struck up a conversation with me. They were perplexed as to why I was going to Macedonia. Infact, I hadn't thought of why I was going to Macedonia and the result of the conversation was that I began to question myself as to why I was going to Macedonia. In actual fact while organising the trip, Andrew had said to me that he would be able to fly to Sophia from Germany, where he was going to be, most easily. As I was going to be coming from Athens and I had already been to Sophia and Belgrade, the spot on the map, logistically most convenient to cross paths at, had happened to be Skopje. Since making that decision, I hadn't thought of why I was going to Skopje for New Years until the two Macedonian guys had asked me. So I spent the rest of the trip with a pounding headache asking myself the very good question the two affable Macedonian gentlemen had asked me, that was to be asked by equally bewildered borderguards who decided to single me out for a ten minute interrogation at the border, which was in keeping with the oddity of the entire day. However I was sent off on my merry way having learnt and forgotten the words for Happy New Years in Macedonian/Greek or something for the first of many times...