Last bit of Macedonia
Onto Macedonia (Greece)!
We are leaving Macedonia today to go to Macedonia! Confusing right? Well, it goes like this: The Former Yugoslavia Republic of Macedonia is where we are, and we want to go the the Province of Macedonia in Greece.
This whole naming thing has created headaches for us for a while. The countries too. The Greeks are objecting to the name Macedonia, instead preferring FYR Macedonia. Macedonia on the other hand is claiming they are the true descendants of Macedon even though they are mostly Slavic.
Here is not the place to debate this, but the whole thing is very touchy to the Macedonians we have met. Greece has had blockades, and according to people here are doing everything they can to thwart their entry into the EU. It will be interesting to see the Greek point of view.
So this morning we came down from our room to find breakfast. It was apparently included in the room price when we asked last night. There was nobody around, and no signs of a kitchen or eating area. When we found the lovely lady that owns the place we asked her where it was, and were promptly taken outside and just down the street where she bought us a couple of Bureks at the local bakery! I think she must have taken pity on us and decided she would shout us breakfast. A nice gesture, but after a few weeks of eating the thick greasy pastry filled with white cheese or mince, it is no longer something we look forward to.
Leaving our bags for a while we set out to discover this important archaeological site nearby. From the sound of last night it is amazing, and still being extensively excavated by the Americans.
Just outside of town, over the river and between the highway and the water. You can’t miss it after a nice stroll along the Vardar River.
As we made our way to this exciting place we stopped off at the railway station to find out if there is a train over the border. No. No trains. Blame Greece.
Over the road the bus station is conveniently located, so we went and asked there. No, no buses. This threw us, as online we found references to buses, but no concrete details. Blame Greece. So how do we get over the border? Catch a taxi to the border and get a bus or taxi on the other side. Good to know.
That sorted out, we again set off to discover the ancient unknown. Making it to the outskirts of town, we found a sign at the bridge proclaiming the site of Vardarski Rid. We had almost made it, and were going in the right direction!
Crossing the Vadar the bitumen lead directly to one of the many casinos in town, but there was a fork and a dirt road leading down around it along the river. Taking this branch, as we assumed it was unlikely there was an ancient Macedonian ruin under the glass floor of the casino for you to look at when you were sick of feeding the pokie machines.
This road did take us along the fast flowing river. The water had travelled all the way from Skopje to here, and only had another kilometre or so before hitting the Greek border and freedom. It started out well. A few river trees and fields on the other side. Then grape plantations and reeds were next, finally the garbage dump. We have gotten used to garbage within Macedonia. Not as bad as Kosovo, but still a lot of stuff is dumped everywhere. This however was on another level. It was an official land fill. Sections and everything. OK, you need to have these in places but right on the banks of the river where the tractors can push it directly into the water! This also cannot be the site of an archaeological dig. Going further, we were almost at the countries border with nothing in sight, so we turned around and headed back. Disillusioned but not that surprised. Back at the bridge we thought we would ask at a nearby cafe if it was in the other direction. Even if there was no road. It turned out that the cafe (On the town side of the river) was the entrance! That bloody sign was the entrance sign, it just looked as if it was pointing you over the bridge.
So now that we had found it, we had better have a look around. The area is apparently three different towns built over the centuries, and inhabited from about 1300 BC onwards with a section supposedly built by Phillip in the mid 4th century BC.
The site is built on and around a hill. On top of the hill is an old obelisk built under communism with a wide staircase going up. This has now been partially removed for the excavations and the obelisk itself has been badly damaged and vandalised. The foundations of the buildings were pretty bad, and there is very little here. Practically nothing. The intensive excavations that we had been told about must have finished years ago as the trenches were all collapsing and good sized trees growing out of them! Still we had made it out here to see it for ourselves. If you are planning a stop in Gevgelija to see this, don’t bother. Really!
So we walked back to plan our exit from Macedonia or FYR of Macedonia if you prefer. Finding a taxi we got a quote for a trip to the border. He was pretty reasonable at 120 Dinar. That sorted we then faced the next hurdle of exchanging our left over money. We have been stung by this in every country since Bulgaria on this, and not again. The first bank we went into refused. OK, next. The second had the exchange rates up, and were pretty reasonable, so we asked if we could exchange our Dinar into Euro. No problem, can you give us your passport? Fine. Oh, you are not Macedonian, we can’t do it. WTF? They would only exchange it if we were citizens! I wonder when they worked out we weren’t. Was it when we entered speaking English, or when they looked at the passport? We had been forewarned that Macedonian money was worthless outside the country, but I had never expected it to be so worthless within the country that the banks would not accept it. Our only chance now was to find the one foreign currency exchange in the town and hope they don’t screw us too badly. We found it and they didn’t! We even got a better rate than the bank would have given us. Although I am still shocked and amazed by this. In fact I think I have been confused on the entire Balkan peninsula.(Mostly in a good way though) But we are heading to Southern Europe today.
So everything was done, and we could grab our bags and go. The taxi driver had disappeared with a different fare, but the next one in the cue was willing to take us with a bit of negotiation.
We had a good trip out along the road just above where we had walked and ended up at the border knowing all about his sister and her husband in America. He was apologetic that he could not take us over the border itself as he didn’t have the right paperwork and waved us goodbye. As we walked up, we found there was nothing for pedestrians, so we stuck to the road and got checked through one of the car slots. Again neither of us were stamped, so officially we are still in Serbia! Hopefully Greece won’t mind. About 200m further on is the Greek border control, and we made our way over to them. It was no problem, and we were stamped in. Although they were very surprised to see two people walking across. Continuing on we were stopped by customs. Asking if we had any alcohol or tobacco, I declared the bundle of tobacco I had picked up in Skopje and got it out for them. I don’t think the guy had ever seen natural tobacco before. He was not sure what it was and looked at it, smelt it and dug around through it. This was only the start. The rest of my bag was gone through, my coat searched in minute detail to see if anything was hidden in the seams, I had to show I was not carrying any packages strapped to my body and prove I had no injection marks on my arms. This whole process was demeaning and humiliating. I was being treated as a heroin junkie just because I did not have the decency to own a car! My one bit of mirth at this process was when he found my portable hard drive and thought it was a portable needle kit and couldn’t work out how to open it. (I don’t think he would even know what a computer was, let alone a HDD). After half an hour or so, we were allowed to leave.
Now that we were in Greece, we needed to get to a town. There were supposed to be buses occasionally or something. Asking around we were told to wait for a taxi, as one may turn up at some stage. We waited. Trying to hitch was a non event. Everyone stared at us as if we were freaks and kept going. So hitching is apparently not a common thing here. This was getting us nowhere slowly, so we started walking. Finding a street sign, we worked out that the town we wanted to get to was about 20km away, but there was a closer one about 5km further on a smaller road. We could do that. Finding a Hotel/Fuel station we stopped in to ask our options. We could wait for the bus,or catch a taxi for 30 Euro. The bus sounded good, so we asked when it was. In the morning. You can stay here for 40 Euro and catch it out the front though. Ha!. He then offered to take us himself when he got off work in about 3 hours for 20 Euro. No thanks, we would keep walking.
Arriving in Evzonoi, we found a small town where everything was shut or vacant. There were plenty of shop fronts with nothing but graffiti and broken glass. The hotel here was supposedly open, but locked up tight. Finding the one open cafe in town, we asked about buses. Yep. The one in the morning is the only bus. However we could get a taxi for 20 Euro to Polykastro, the bigger town in the area. By now it was only 15km away. Still, it is a long way to walk with two dying bags held together with masking tape. We took the taxi. When it finally turned up it was just some guy in a car. Still, it would get us there.
In Polykastro we were dropped at the bus station. This is also not what you would expect. It is just a side street with a shop front that sells the tickets. It was the right place, although you would never have known it. Getting our tickets we found that we had just missed the bus to Tessaloniki and would have to wait a few hours for the next one. No problem, at least there is one. We dropped our bags and went for a walk. Again everything seems closed or vacant. There are hardly any people on the street and it is Monday afternoon. Making our way to the Orthodox church we stopped at a memorial to Alexander the Great, with a good quote saying it did not matter if you were Greek or Barbarian, just your Virtue. Should have known that one in FYR Macedonia as we could say that their beloved idol didn’t give a fig where you came from, just how you are.
The orthodox church was light and airy. Still under construction, and very simple. No big screens blocking off the alter from view and could have almost been mistaken for a reformist church apart from the architecture.
Town done, we headed back to the bus station to wait.
The bus turned up, and we set off.
Tessaloniki: Arriving at a massive domed building that the bus drove up to then inside to discover it is the station. This place is huge and can easily fit the 15 or so buses already inside.
Then out to the local buses to catch one down town and find a hotel. We were a bit worried, but where we got out, there were plenty to choose from. Finding the first one to be ok, we checked in, and went for dinner. Day done, and I even typed it up today! (So the blog is majorly behind. It will get there though. Maybe when I am back in OZ)