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Michael’s Travel Diary

Friday, 21 Apr 2006

Location: Thessaloniki, Greece

MapEntry 25 - Thessaloniki and the trip to Istanbul (April 14th - 19th)

Leaving Athens, this time for longer than just a day or so, I made a great start by heading to the wrong bus terminal (well that's the best idea that Stef and I could come up with). I headed to the same terminal I had been at a day earlier, on my way to Delphi. I was under the impression that the two terminals were split north and south, and given that Delphi sits higher on the map than Olympia, I instinctively headed to the Delphi terminal. When I got there, with 20 minutes to spare for the 130pm bus, I was told that I had to catch a bus to some town I'd never heard of, and it wouldn't leave till 3pm. Damn.

The terminal in the middle of nowhere, I had no choice but to sit for 2 hours, waiting for a 6 hour bus ride in which I'd also be sitting. I looked around for any reading material in English to keep me occupied, but of course, it was all in Greek. The thing that I could find was a Soduku book. No words, only number puzzles. Damn whoever gave me that idea, cos that shit is addictive. Seriously, next thing I look up and I'm in Thessaloniki.

I stayed at the only hostel in town, and it was cheap, not just in price but in every sense of the word. It was a nasty little hole of a joint, with the reception only manned for a couple hours each morning and evening. The doors are kept unlocked at all times, and the sign on the door says "come in, in no-ones here, drop your bags and come back when reception is open". It might as well say, "come in, take what you want."

Thankfully I only had to stay there one night. The place was an old crowd, with me being the only one under 32 that I met. One of the guys was a 35 year old (it was his birthday) American para-trooper that was on 2 weeks leave from his post in Italy. We headed out to the club district and got there around 11pm. The american was a huge metal fan and we headed to the 8Ball Club. When we got there, the guys out the front admitted it was empty, and let us in to go have a look. There were chains and shit hanging from the roof, black leather couches, and red lighting inside.... looked 'interesting' and a metal club if I had to picture one.

We came back a couple hours later after wandering the town, along the promenade, and headed into the pub at about 115am. The place was PACKED, and only getting busier. The music wasn't as 'dark' as I had imagined it was, and it sounded more like 80's retro than hard metal. Things were to get more wierd tho! As the music wore on, and we'd been there for about an hour, things became more shocking. All these people in black doc martins, tatts, dog collars, chains, black hoodies were actually enjoying the music, and it kept getting more pop-ish. Then the straw that broke this camels back - Step by Step, by New Kids on the Block. And they kept dancing? At that stage, we left.

The following morning my saviour cam and I bailed on the hostel as quick as I could. Stef had left the army base for a few days of leave, and he said I could crash on the floor at his palce. Given I hadn't seen a familiar face in almost 2 months, and hadn't seen Stef in almost 2 years, it seemed liek a good idea. Well, it quite literally was crashing on the floor! But Stef, you are the man. The dude was the most incredible host of all time. He went out and bought a blow up matress (and TV and DVD, but I'll tell myself that it had nothing to do with me) and stocked up the fridge with food and drink. I seriously couldn't get a dollar across the counter to pay for anything.

Even after I said that I was going to take him out on the last night for Chinese (a buffet no less), he still wouldn't let me foot the bill. On a good note, the food must have been okay, cos I managed to avoid the absolutely HORRID toilets on the Turkish train. It is apparent that a number of people could hold, and decided it was safer to shit on the floor than sit on the seat... charming. My fortune cookie also unveiled some interesting sentiments: "Many possibilities are open to you - work a little harder". Well sorry, but I don't plan on doing any work for at least the next 3 months, so that one will have to wait. Also, my lucky numbers are 1, 21, 33, 39, 44, and 45. So if anyone out there wants to put those numbers down for the next tattslotto mega jackpot I'd be very appreciative!

The days generally went pretty lazily, just wandering around the city and enjoying the Greek culture. We went out and had a huge Greek lunch one day, man, that food was good. We were pretty lazy at night, and being that most of the stay was during the week, and in the middle of the school holidays (it's a uni town, and a lot of people had probably headed on holidays) the nights were pretty quiet. We headed to a couple of bars on one night, drinking overpriced beer, and trying to fit in with the beautiful people - well at least thats how I felt. It appears that the clothes that I have packed are not exactly the ones people would wear in Greece to try and 'blend in'. Apparently I'm even further off the mark for what is expected in Italy. The drinks though - damn. They looked more like the Summer Party drinks, with 90% spirit, and soda for coloring. The Rum and Cola was rum.... lets not beat around the bush, the cola was for color, and the lemon slice was for taste. Also had a wine that we mixed with Coke. Shit you not. Apparently you are sposed to mix it with any soda. Tasted pretty good too!

Everyone is walking around in suits, well at the very least a suit jacket, and here I am wandering around in shorts and a hoodie! Also, if Greece (and Turkey for that matter) is anything to go buy, Red is the new, whatever the old color was! Everyone has red, and it is on every manequin in every shop window (well, for chicks anyway). And trust me, there are a lot of shops. Outside of drinking coffe, the only thing anyone does is Thessaloniki is shop. Between clothes and shoes shops, there isn't much room left in the city for anything. It's safe to say that my clothing, my distinct hate for coffee, and dislike of shopping all alienated me from the rest of the locals.

What else... Internet is HUGE. We were at the bus terminal at 615am, so I could head to Turkey and the internet cafe was chockers. But not internet actually... LAN games. People playing games on the network against each other, which gets VERY loud, and there must have been 30 of them at 6am.... on a Wednesday morning? But the computers are also set up, ready for you to download music! How cool! So I threw a heap more songs on the iRiver, and now have 5455 to listen to in total (update - I'm listening to the You Never Heard Compilation, song number 1659 right now.) The song I have heard more than any other since being in Greece is by far Galvanise by the Chemical Brothers, they can't get enough of it, and played it a couple minutes ago in the net cafe. One I heard the other day, and saw the dance to in a club, was Cha Cha Slide by DJ Casper.... like a cross between the Hokey Pokey and The Nutbush, and the way the locals were dancing to it, seems to work as an aphrodesiac too!

Speaking of internet, there's a guy watchin porn next to me now, guess Turkey isn't as strictly Muslim as the countries I've visited so far!

Porn.... well, the Greek love it! You can go to any little shack and pick up porn mags and DVD's on any street corner. Right next to the daily paper. Waiting for the 14 hour train ride to Istanbul, I was crazily looking for something to read, and was coming up empty handed everywhere. It looked like I'd be relegated to porn, and couldn't even say - I like it for the articles! I finally found a place that sold English stuff and stocked up. XXL hip-hop mag, the 100th issue of Maxim and Dan Brown's Angels and Demons. By the end of the train ride, I'd read 2 mags, cover to cover, and half of the 580 page book.

The train ride was long, but made longer when they kicked us off the train at Alexandretta and said something about the line being out. We jumped on a bus, and we're at the Greek border in a flash. The resulted in a 2 hour wait at the Greek border for the next train to come (we left when we were due to leave, even though the bus got us there quicker) followed by a 20 minute train ride, and another one hour stop at the Turkish customs. Crossing the border is a bit anti-climatic actually. There is a steel bridge across a river. The upright steel posts are painted blue on the first half of the bridge, and then they are painted red, signalling our entrance into Turkey. At the end of the bridge, there was a sign in Turkish, I assume welcoming us? Or perhaps threatening us... dunno?

Anyway, made it into Istanbul at 930pm, well and truly after nightfall, and finally found a place to stay... but more on that next time.

Thanks heaps Stef, I owe you big time. Give us a yell when you get out of conscription and If I'm still chillin in London you are more than welcome to crash on my floor! If I'm not in London, get in touch anyway, and maybe we can do some travelling.

To everyone else, here's hoping the next few days go smoothly in Turkey and I'll give a full report on the Anzac Day trip, and the days leading up to it, as soon as I can.