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Wednesday, Dec. 12th, 2001
Tracy and the snowy bus to Thessaloniki
I rushed through my breakfast & made the two trains to the bus station.
It was a 12 hour trip, and I enjoyed every minute of it. I had the seat next to the hot woman on the bus.
Tracy was Australian, and had lived in Turkey for four years, teaching English. She was on her way to a one-day visit to Greece, so she could get a new visa to stay in Turkey. She was very clever. I liked her a lot.
First, she taught me about the tricks Turkish hustlers use to try to get you into a conversation. By "hustler" I mean someone who is either selling something in their hands or wants to get you back to their uncle's carpet shop.
My favorites were: "you dropped your book", "you dropped your map", "good morning" (if it is night), and "hello madam", (if you are a man). The last two may engage you by getting you to correct their
English.. and a conversation may result in a sale.
Next she gave me some background on the Turkish leader Atatürk, whose statue I had seen everywhere. He was the greatest hero to survive the Allied invasion at Gallipoli. He was credited with ignoring his German commander and acting on his own battle savvy to withstand an bewildering offensive. He became a friend of the sultan & a kind of super-patriot. As his legend grew, he made bold statements, and later laws, to transform Turkey into a successful republic. He helped get women the right to vote, declared them equal to men, encouraged young people to be innovative,
coalesced the national language and alphabet, and finally, discouraged the fez in successful attempts to modernize Turkey.
She filled me in on a few points of Turkish culture, good and bad, and walked me through the rigorous customs formalities at the border.
When you enter Greece from Turkey, they check everybody's passport, then they have everyone stand outside the bus in the dirty snow, with their bag in front of them on a long table. They open them up in front of you and have a look. It was a tiny bit scary, smuggling 3 boxes of black
pantyliners into Europe, but I kept my cool.
There were great big piles of snow on the road outside.
I showed Tracy some of my better photos (less than a thousand). She liked the foot-in-concrete photo, but questioned my course of action with this line, "We could have saved your foot if you hadn't stopped to take that photo.."
She also translated the loud comedy that erupted when a giant woman thought she had left one of her bags back at customs.
I really liked Tracy, and when she got ready to exit at Alexandropolis, I wanted to get off the bus with her. Definitely the best bus ride on the trip.
I stayed on for another six hours, typing out the laptop battery. When the bus stopped in Northern Greece for a meal, I didn't have any Greek Drachma yet, so I asked if I could use US dollars. That would have been fine, but the $20 bill from my shoe was too worn out for them. They thought it might be fake.
I made a quick exchange with a warm-hearted Canadian guy on the bus named Eric, and I could eat. He filled me in on the merits of Calgary's "plus 15" skyway system. It sounded great! There is a movie about it apparently. If you want to read more about my growing obsession with urban catwalk networks, read the Minneapolis Travelogue.
Finally we were out of the snow, and then into Thessaloniki. The streets were richly decorated with lights, signs and nativity scenes. Suddenly, it was Christmas! Santa was everywhere. It finally hit me that I had been missing out on all of this while I was in Turkey. I found a cheapy hotel & went out on the town before it hit midnight.
I couldn't resist the allure of my favorite internet cafe. Turkey had been a 3Kb/s nightmare where all the keyboards had a hidden comma and a faux "i" right where the real "i" should be. This resulted in outgoing emails that appeared as though I had "a foreign accent" or "the death metal filter" locked on.
Drinking cappuccino in a toasty internet cafe, I felt like royalty.
Istanbul appears to have as many taxis as New York...though not in this photo
Handgun clock near Turkish/Greek border
There was something foreboding about this sign
Welcomed by the Christmas lights of Thessaloniki
Thursday, Dec. 13th, 2001
Costas and the train to Athens
The cheapy hotel was nice. I had a big room, although the beds, at 70 inches long, were a little shorter than I am.
I woke up and took a look outside to find that snow was coming down. I had two days left before my flight left, and although the snow looked inviting, I had nothing to do but wander around getting cold and wet. I made plans for Athens. Within an hour I was on my way to the train station, then onboard a non-stop to Athens.
The train quickly filled up & I had a seat next to a nice Greek guy named Costas. We took turns enjoying views of the snowy landscape and the parade of beautiful passengers. He was really funny. He was the first person to realize and mention that he himself would be mentioned in the story I was writing. I carefully wrote his name down and noted "the big jerk", just to mess with him.
I had recently found out that Turkish maps refer to Greece as "Yunanistan", and Costas told me that Greek maps call Turkey "Tourkia".
Again I tapped the laptop dead. The snow faded from the landscape revealing the well-used city of Athens. This was my city of departure.
I said goodbye to Costas & headed out fully burdened to find a hotel. I opted for something a little nicer this time... a room with a television.
In the streets there were Christmas shops EVERYWHERE, but the regular stores were closing up.
Boarding my train to Athens
The snowy landscape of Northern Greece
On the hotel television in Athens
This giant Santa had shaking hips