Catching Catching Catching Up! Lake Ohrid to Thessaloniki to Kavala to Istanbul July 15th to July 24th
As always we are weeks and weeks behind on the blog and the guilt hangs over us like the awning we keep planning to make for our Hajji. Tomorrow we are off to Sziget Festival for over a week and again the madness will will us to the edge of perception. Lets talk about saner times....
After the Hajji-Disaster (outside of Skopje) the mood was a funny funky vibe as everyone was expecting trouble to descent again. Ben took our phoenixian motorbustrain for a testdrive and all seemed ok. Everyone in. Lucky the time was on our side and everything came together to get Latif and Paul to the airport in Skopje for their flights. Goodbye my sweets. Our crew down to 7 (Ben, Marcus, Lauren, Adam, Tannis, Jilal and Serbian Milan) headed into Macedonia to the picturesque Lake Ohrid.
On route we had our first run in with the law, the Macedonia police tried to stop us for not having our lights on and we cruised past, much to their dismay. A single officer took the chase and stopped us not far up the road. Milan immediately assured us that there would be no trouble (it is quite clear to us now that police serve a much different role in Eastern European countries). He first tried to stitch us up to the bill of 300 euros but quickly reduced his demands to dinner and beers for him and his partner. While we were discussing how much we should give him (if any at all) he decided we weren't worth the effort, gave us a thumbs up and drove off. Hah! Yet again, having a native Serbian on our side prevented an almost-certain financial setback. Later on the road, we missed our turn and my immediate instinct would be to head to the next turnoff and turn around and head back. Milan was utterly perplexed by this and shouted "Pull over Pull over" on the large and extremely busy highway. After pulling over, he commanded me (I obliged) and we backed up down the shoulder of this massive motorway about 500m to the missed turnoff. Isn't this illegal I asked??? Milan was surprised that you would get into trouble for doing this in North America, and doing so seemed completely natural to him. We arrived in Lake Ohrid quite late and had some beers and kebab on the water and found a nice parking lot to camp out (parking lot camping out = sleeping in and around the van on the ground in a parking lot). The next day we awoke and got to see the majesty of the lake.
Lake Ohrid was absolutely beautiful and certainly a highlight of the trip. The water (fresh water at that) was perfectly clear and warm, our campsite was right on a beach (albeit busy) with a number of bars spread down the rocky coast and connected by wooden bridges which dipped out over the water. It was the longest camping we had done (spending 3 nights was easy at 9euros/night split 6 ways) and most of our time was spent laying on the beach and playing in the water. We ventured into town and took a boat tour of the lake with a hilariously old little Macedonian man (who demonstrated the cleanliness of the lake by repeatedly scooping up and drinking its water), made a massive bbq meat feast one night at the Hajji, went to a hip hop party, swam under the moonlight, and drank a bunch of beers. It's a Hajji Lifestyle.
After Lake Ohrid we continued our journey south (sans Milan after dropping him and Laurens shoe at a street corner in Ohrid) and along the way were signaled to pull over by some wild Macedonia party boys who saw our Dutch plates and thought we might be able to sell them drugs (we couldn't). They told us they had just come from a party (it was 3pm on a Sunday at the time) and were heading to the afterparty (which had slides and a pool and everything they said, what "everything" meant we did not known) and that we should accompany them. Never to say no, we followed their erratic car through the coutryside to the afterparty....which turned out to be a public pool. At the afterparty they sat in the corner smoking cigarettes and trying to speak to young women who walked past. It was obviously not our scene, and after a quick dip and a couple of free jars of beer we touted elsewhere. South! To Greece!
We headed across the border into Greece (Welcome to Hellass! the signs said) and found a campsite about 40km from Thessaloniki. Arriving late we opted to camp for free out front of a nice beach side restaurant (the proprietors were quite friendly) and set up camp in a proper site the next morning. After some sun-soaking (a very common activity for the group) we headed into town in a futile effort to get our greasy little eyeballs full of Harry Potter cinematics. Sadly it is released in Greece a month later than all the other countries we are visiting so we decided to postpone it (this is foreshadowing). We decided to reconnect with the world at an internet cafe. Wham! Suddenly big news was all around us, Cous's sister Caroline had just popped out a little baby named Maggie Jean down in Australia! He was an uncle! We ran to the nearest supermarket and bought out all their cheapest champagne and celebrated in the streets (and in the theater at Bruno which was a disappointment). Our last night in Thessaloniki we bought a kings share of sardines from a local fishmonger, borrowed our neighbors bbq and made yet another feast. Sardines with salt and lemon, massive Greek salad, hot piping rice, bottles of Ouzo....ooooh. A sweet Scottish mother came over and was so happy to be hanging with younguns like us and listening to our stories. The next day her and her husband made us a sweet lunch and gave us beers to send us on our way. They also had a great/crabby old British friend named Peter who made us all sign his giant thatch sun umbrella.
With Thessaloniki in our rear-view mirror we headed east along an absolutely stunning coastal road on the way to Kavala, which is a little tourist town spread along the coast and much nicer than the bigger bustling city of Thessaloniki. Jalil's flight was early the next morning, so after briefly checking out the town we drove straight to the airport (getting lost numerous times) and set up camp in a ditch near the tarmac. During the celebrations (it was Jalil's last night, for which he got three wishes 1. Internet, 2. Breakfast for Dinner, and 3. A Cooler full of Ice and Burr) we were interrupted by a couple of Airport Commandos with full body armor and large machine guns. They were not happy at finding us in their ditch, but after telling them our situation (in proper friendly Canadian fashion) they were quite nice and let us spend the night. We sucked on ouzo until the wee hours of the morning. Jalil made his 6am flight with 10 minutes to spare. Down to a slim 5 people in the Hajji (the lowest since ages ago in Western Europe) we headed back into town for an afternoon of beach sleeps. Another afternoon of beers at the water (me and Cous snuck off and got a much needed replacement for our MP3 Player - Tape Deck adapter, the gift of music was again in our ears) and we even splurged and went out for dinner. Having a taste for free camping on our tongues we snuck the Hajji under the shadow of a tree and slept in the loins of La Plage.
Next morning (Friday, July 24th) our crew (Ben, Marcus, Ren, Adam and Tannis) packed up and continued east. With nearly 5 weeks being spent in Europe it was time to play our hand in another continent, the bridge between the East and the West, the majestic land of Turkey, the Occident and the Orient in one neat little package, truly a city unlike any other we had been to.....it was time for Istanbul.