Macedonia (F.Y.R.O.M.), Stories, Travel

It was a very rough night, I must admit. Our “beds” were right next to the road (see photo below), not more than 50 metres away. Anytime a car would pass its headlights would be straight in my face (that’s the side I normally sleep on, so I faced oncoming traffic). Turning around wasn’t much better as the cars were obviously very noisy. I put headphones on, but once or twice cars stopped in the carpark (also about 50 metres from us). I didn’t know why did, but obviously that woke me up and I kept an eye on what they would do.

Moreover, I had overestimated the temperature and had my clothes on and was in a down sleeping bag, inside a bivvy bag. Soon it was like a sauna and I had to undress and remove the bivvy. However, around 2am it became much colder (as it does normally) and I had to put the bivvy back on.

Eventually the morning arrived and I was glad and eager to get going.

Vangelis had told us that his father comes in the morning to open the restaurant around 8am. It was around 7am and we were packing. Luckily, the camp was done by the time he arrived.

It was chilly and we had a long day to go to Thessaloniki, so we decided to not waste time and roll down to Edessa for breakfast.After going through most of the town we found a pastry/cafe shop in the centre and settled there for a feast (and a loo).

These pastries with feta and spinach were phenomenal! Some of the best so far.

The food combined with some coffee were much needed and now that we felt more human again (still stinky) we decided to explore the town a bit before heading out. Edessa is positioned strategically on one of the highest hills in the area, the last one before the flats heading towards the coast. It is beautiful!

We went through the old streets, a park and ended up on the edge of the old town overlooking the valleys in the distance. The streets were very steep in places and all cobbled and narrow.

Somehow I got us lost again, but that brought us at a waterfall and a dead end. Edessa is well know for it’s mineral waters and generally the abundance of water. I believe it is because it is situated at the lower part of the mountains and all of the catchment passes through there.

They also have a very well organised irrigation system. The water is collected and stored up on the hill and then distributed through dug-out canals in the plains.

Water storage in Edessa, most likely used for irrigation

We descended fast, very steep, winding roads and soon we were rolling on the flat roads among endless seas of plantations from all crops imaginable. There were cotton fields, harvested cherry and apricot trees, vines, pomegranates, olives. We say that the Greeks are lazy, but in all those 100km to Thessaloniki we didn’t see a single abandoned or uncultivated field. Every now and again we would overtake or see a tractor carrying boxes for the harvest to be store din. 

The roads were quiet in the beginning and totally enjoyable. But then the routing options narrowed down and eventually we had to go on the main roads.

We put our heads down and with the goal clearly in sight our main focus was to make as much progress as fast as we could. The main roads were exhausting to ride. Trucks, cars, dirt, noise, smoke, dust, it was relentless, constant, every other second. I didn’t like it and Sasho didn’t seem to enjoy it much more. We had experienced every type of road on this trip and this was just another addition to the notches.

Eventually, we got tired of this monotonous and stressful riding and stopped at a petrol station for a coke and some snacks (and a loo of course). 

There were of course a few friendly faces around that came to greet us.

A bit reluctantly, we got back on the bikes and moved on. It was hot, but not too much, still the sun was shining and the weather was good for cycling… just the main roads weren’t.

We decided to make our next major stop at Nea Chalkidona, 30km from where we stopped at the petrol station. A solid hour and a bit of cycling, then we would enjoy an energising meal and do a final push to Thessaloniki of 40km more. The end was in sight.

Exhausted from the main road, we made another decision to take a detour that would add 5km to our trip, but would take us on smaller roads. Roads that Google Maps deemed fit for cyclists. Well, this is what they started to look like very soon after:

Screenshot from Google Street View. An example of the small dirt farm roads we were on.

The smooth asphalt turned into a nicely packed dirt road between fields. But then the dirt turned into gravel and I could definitely feel the vibrations from all the stones through my tired hands and behind. It was definitely more pleasant than the main road, but it was slower, much slower. All the inertia would be killed by the vibrations and the muscles had to constantly be engaged to carry you forward.

Screenshot from Google Maps. We were somewhere in there.

After about two hours we finally made it to Nea Chalkidona and stopped at a doner place. Absolutely starving at that point, we collapsed on the chairs and ordered a round of chicken doner kebabs with a salad, some beer and coke.

The first set of doners quickly disappeared, so what could we do, we couldn’t keep the table empty, we ordered another set.

Finally, a coffee and some water and we were almost like new.

The rest of the road wasn’t much better. The detour was over and we were back on the main road. Cars and trucks passing nearby, dirt, noise, no conversation, we just focused on ending this torture as soon as possible.

The only little oasis we got to see.

We started to see some buildings on the sides of the road. They turned into large industrial warehouses, machinery, building materials. The dust levels now were incredible, I could taste my mouth absolutely packed with dirt, my nose was full of it as well. The number of trucks increased as well as the traffic.

We didn’t want to stop, we had to keep going. It seemed like a never ending tunnel of suffering. It was like in cartoons, where character would reach for the desired object and that would constantly move further and further away, no matter how much the character’s hand would stretch to grab it. Like a mouse running on a spinning wheel.

Eventually, we entered the city. The traffic there was even more. Dashing through the streets and boulevards, we just wanted to get to our AirBnb address. Finally, after over two hours we made it.

The bikes on the balcony of the AirBnb

We could breathe again (although some very dirty air).

The room was fabulous, it was simply beautiful. Shame that we were as dirty as we could have been. I felt sorry for whoever had to clean after us, but there was no other way.

Sasho went out and got some snacks and a few beers to celebrate. We stayed on the balcony for quite a while, watching the sea in the distance, procrastinating the inevitable – showering was overdue.

After a good shower and a new change of clothes we decided to give the city some exploring. Our train was leaving at 6:30am the next morning, so that was our only opportunity.

We went to find the train station first, to make sure we have tickets (specifically asking for train tickets to Sofia with bike tickets included). Then we headed out to explore the city and aimed for the coastal promenade.

Graffiti in Thessaloniki #1
Graffiti in Thessaloniki #2
Graffiti in Thessaloniki #3
Graffiti in Thessaloniki #4

An impression quickly settled on us – Thessaloniki had the most cars any of us had seen in a while. The traffic was horrendous too and maybe, most noticeably, the drivers had no common sense, specifically when it came to parking.

Beautiful parking skills on a busy junction in the centre of the city.
Some more spectacular parking and of course, a sea of cars.

This made the city air extremely polluted. We could constantly smell the fumes and diesel in the air. A headache was forming. So, to try and escape we headed to the water.

It was much quieter and more beautiful there. Getting hungrier, we decided to sit a place near the water, but soon after exploring the prices on the menu, we changed our minds and left.

Trip Advisor was of help here and we managed to find a good restaurant, not far with decent prices.

The restaurant had a great atmosphere and the prices were good. The only problem was that it was right next to the main street (which was between the restaurant and the water). It must have been the busiest street so far. The traffic, noise and pollution was incredible. In most coastal cities and towns, the area near the water is usually a pedestrian zone or at least traffic is limited so that people can enjoy the water and the food places near it. Not in Thessaloniki unfortunately. It was simply impossible, or as a minimum very disturbing to sit outside, so we went indoors.

We decided to share a whole fresh fish, some salad, olive oil and plenty of bread. It was absolutely delicious!

After dinner we went to see one of the main monuments nearby (on most post cards) – the White Tower:

The White Tower of Thessaloniki

Overall, I wasn’t impressed much by the city so far. It was industrial, very very polluted and dirty. Noisy, with much traffic and little historical places or area where you could escape the business and noise. I really couldn’t wait to just get out of there.

We headed back to the apartment which was about 40mins away. Crossing the whole of the city centre and finally we found ourselves in bed. It had been an incredibly long day, with little rest the night before and an early start to come. I was tired and fell right asleep.

All you need is the plan, the road map, and the courage to press on to your destination.

Earl Nightingale

You can see the trip on Relive here:

Relive ‘Edessa area to Thessaloniki – horrible main roads and dirt’

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