Macedonia!

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Awaking early, the great debate about whether to stay another day began. We were both eager to get out of the city, but leaving Thessaloniki threatened to be a long slog of industrial suburbs and traffic, making for a long day on the road, not to mention that we didn’t want to wait for a grocery store to open. Still, it seemed worth a shot- we were excited about going to Macedonia!

We got to packing up, and shortly thereafter, I headed out on the street to find food. The grocery store wasn’t open yet, but a bakery around the corner supplied some fresh bread, yogurt, cheese, and chocolate milk. The baker, with flour still on his hands, threw in a sesame pretzel thing on the house.

We ate in haste and then loaded up and headed out back into the wild city traffic. We rode the same exhilarating pace as yesterday, dodging cars, buses, potholes, and pedestrians on our way out of town. Only fifteen minutes in, we came to an open grocery store and I sent Ben in to restock our food supply.

Finally, we were on our way out of town for real. We took a short jaunt through industrial sprawl and heavy truck traffic before the roads turned to wide open grasslands with random rock buttes, looking an awful lot like Wyoming. The roads faded to near silence, leaving us to enjoy the happy clouds sprawling across the blue fields of sky with only the ever present headwind to keep us company.

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The riding was so good that we re-routed ourselves through quiet country lanes for the rest of the day, avoiding the busy highway. This route led us up and down the hilly landscape instead of sticking to the flatter main road. Normally, I’d have minded, but the weather was perfect and poppies and tiny towns lined our way. The only trouble we faced involved the enormous guard dogs people here keep, growling and nipping at our heels all the way down the road as we rode full speed away.

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As we climbed up one hill in particular, a small car passed us. The enthusiastic driver was honking madly and fanatically waving at us all the way down the road. I can’t help but think how odd we must look with our enormous, brightly colored bags hitched to our bikes, riding through the middle of nowhere. We laughed at his fervor, and then, within a minute or so, he unexpectedly turned around and came back. He pulled over next to Ben, rolled down the window, and handed him a small box, announcing “A souvenir from Greece!” before driving away. Inside the box, literally printed with the word “souvenir” all over it, was a small bottle of ouzo and two shot glasses printed with scenes from Greece. We were both charmed by the intense hospitality we’ve found here and bemused by the fact that he had a souvenir kit from his own country just hanging out in his car. Greece has been so, so good to us.

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After a few hours, we’d finished about two thirds of our intended distance, so we pulled over for lunch near a church. As per the usual, we ate bread, cheese, salami, wafer cookies dipped in Nutella (yes, seriously), peach juice, and a shared pear before carrying on. I was sure glad we’d stopped for groceries early this morning. We hardly saw another shop all day.

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We finally rejoined the highway, and our kilometers disappeared rapidly, even despite the wind. The road had, a bit strangely, signposts every half kilometer, which seriously only takes two minutes to run on foot, much less drive or bike, so I felt like I was getting a live progress update as we went, which was good for my morale. The GPS is on Ben’s bike, so normally I never have any idea how far we’ve gone.

With only a few miles to go before the Macedonian border, we hit our final pass for the day. The going wasn’t all that steep, but the wind was growing more fierce by the second. Halfway up the hill sat a collection of huge, power generating windmills that were blatantly demonstrating just how windy it was. Their colossal arms swam toward us, a visual representation the oppression we were facing. Finally, we crested the hill and steamed down the other side of the hill, watching burdensome grey clouds marching toward us. We cranked hard until the rain started to trickle and we pulled into the Macedonian border.

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The Greek side of the border was quite an affair, the border guard carefully inspecting our passports and cross examining us. Where had we come from? Where did we fly through? How long had we been here? Where were we going? (Uhhhh…Finland?) He demanded to see our airplane tickets, which we obviously threw away in Athens after we got all our bags reclaimed, and he lectured us on how we needed to have kept them. It all seemed a little odd, since we’ve barely been in the Shengen zone for two and a half weeks, well clear of the 90 day visa limit, but eventually he did stamp us out. Entrance to Macedonia, on the other hand, was a snap.

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With the sky dripping even more earnestly and our rain jackets buried in a hard to get to place, we were ready to find a place to stay for the night. Heading into Dojran, a touristy town on the edge of a lake, we rolled along a road thickly lined with trees, moody in the rainy afternoon. We passed a campground that was clearly closed and a couple of very communist looking hotels. The rain finally started to let up, so we stopped to withdraw local currency, soon realizing that we had no idea what the currency was or how much it was worth. Ben took a stab and pulled out 2,500 somethings (note: the currency is dinar, being worth 70/1 on the dollar) before we found an information booth about the area.

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The nice guys in the tourist booth directed us to not one, but two campgrounds in town in addition to the one we’d already seen. The first we tried was closed. When we circled back to try the other one, the guys from the booth were both outside waiting for us, now handing us a map to help us figure out where we were going. With their directions and a map in hand, we rolled up to what looked like a prison camp to me, decorated with rusty barbed wire and looking awfully deserted. An odd peacock crowed nearby.

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A guy was sweeping near the entrance, so kind of in jest, I pulled in and asked if the campground was available to camp, knowing it was probably time to find a hotel. Ben needed to get connected for work, so on a long shot, I also asked him if there was wifi available. Strangely, he answered yes to both, asking a mere 5 Euros for the night. Then his entire family fluttered around to make sure we had everything we needed. The far side of the camp is a bit nicer, and though we seem to be the only ones here, we’re happily pitched on the lawn next to the lake with wifi inside the tent in Macedonia! What a cool day!

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3 Responses

  1. Debbie says:

    Nice to have a private campground!

  2. Kirk says:

    More kindness from the locals. Most likley one of the three Nephites…

    Although not sure he would have left you a bottle of Ouzo. Make sure you mix it with some water. It will kill whatever foreign germs that have taken up residence in your body 🙂

    I of course loved the pictures of the boats. Hope all is well. Hopefully you will see more Nehpites along the way!!!

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