On the rickety train we were happy as we had our own compartment with little curtains to shield us from the prying eyes of other passengers and room enough to fit our ton of luggage. Why do I feel sleepy the moment I sit on a bus, train or plane for a long journey? Instantly we fell asleep. Opening the door and the curtains for fresh air we could see the fields grow into hills covered in wildflowers swaying around tiny farmhouses. An crusty man stinking of cigarettes and rakia spied Paloma playing on my lap and grabbed her out of my arms while fishing in his cracked leather wallet for a photo of his own gorgeous two year old son. ‘Sonce! Sonce!’ I was able to reply and watched his face beam with pride. Still, Ben and I looked at each other with that niggling parental worry, ‘What if he’s crazy and throws her out the window? What if he runs off with her!’ Every mother and father, no matter how adventurous or intrepid, has these thoughts about their child, even if they are safe in a room with no windows and a locked door. Its a dark thought, almost always irrational but at the same time quite normal I suppose.
Crossing the boarder into Greece – this was the only way for us to get to Istanbul from Skopje – the landscape and architecture changed instantly. Omega signs were everywhere! The boarder guard’s profile looked straight off the back of an ancient coin. The weather was warm and the scent of the sea on the breeze added to the excitement of our travels.
Lugging our cases off the platform at Thessalonikki station we were dusty, dirty and tired already. Ben traipsed off to find out about the train to Istanbul and I fed Paloma on a bench amongst the waiting throngs. ‘There’s no train’ said Ben and I looked shocked. ‘None for the next whenever, problem with the rail or something.’ There’d been nothing on the web about this of course. We are hungry and tired and decided to jump into a taxi and head to the sea. Passing the entrance to the station we saw an enormous excavation pit spanning its length. Under the main railway station at Thessaloniki part of the ancient city was being uncovered, images of beautiful plates, jewellery, statues and sculptures were plastered up showing the treasures already found.
Thessalonikki boulevard is reminicint of the grand beach parades which became so popular at the turn of the century. Huge ornate apartment buildings, over run with blooming bouganvillea and little wrought iron balconies facing the sea from which to watch ocean liners, fishing trawlers and tall ships pass with their sails up by day and night. ‘There is our one!!!’ I cry. How I love a tall ship!
Today is Monday and a public holiday, everyone is out and on show, sipping huge iced coffees in trendy cafes cramming the roadside. When in Rome…well, Thessalonki at least…we find a little café out of the way playing hit’s of the ‘80’s which I sing to Paloma, to Ben’s embarrassment. The boulevard has no railing, just a worn sandstone edge dropping into the sea, we wander back and forth, finally sitting with our legs dangling over the edge as black clad Greek mummas break their back to touch Paloma, spitting on her all the while. African touts selling fake designer sunglasses and Louis Vuitton hand bags mumble a sales pitch in the ears of passers by. What are they saying! It could be anything? Flashing open a silver suitcase filled with enormous grotesque watches I wonder if they really think one would suit me?
After getting our fill of sunshine, food and fun we head back to the station, decide to catch a plane instead but find out the last plane to Istanbul has already departed. Thinking we could do this on the cheap, we realise it is getting more expensive minute by minute. ‘Please take us to a cheap hotel’ Ben asks the taxi driver. He stops out side ‘Hotel Vagina’ which is next to ‘Hotel Sex’ which is next to ‘Erotic Strip Show and Theatre’. Mmmmm I’m not sure Paloma is interested yet, but thankyou! Finally we settle into a very cheap hotel reminding us of our travels in India, the bare light bulb hanging from the celing, the Aim toothpaste green walls.
Later that night we weave our way through the alley ways and cobblestone lanes, sighting Negropointe a restaurant, former brothel and cabaret club now filled with hip young Greek’s and stray kitten. A trellis of vines winds over our heads and the Greek raki is flavoured with aniseed and the calamari is melt-in-the-mouth-delicious! A mariatchi duo serenades Paloma while we devour yoghurt, honey and walnut desert. Not even five months old, Paloma dive-bombs our plates, snatching our glasses out of hands and eyes the food we bring to our mouths with desire. Sitting on our laps at every meal it is hard for us not to offer it to her, we have manners you know. Watching the sun set across the broad bay, cranes and masts black shilouhettes in the distance, the grey of Skopje is blown away.
After more travel chaos at the airport the next afternoon we finally board a plane to Istanbul. The small Greek Islands shimmer in that unmistakable blue of the Mediterranian sea as we fly into a misty sunset.