First things first: if the small speaker icon at the top right corner of this page has escaped your attention until now, I would advise you to try and click it! You would have the chance to listen some of our recordings while reading this article.
Two weeks ago, we were leaving Albania to enter Macedonia. With an almost brutal change of landscape, we can feel we’re now in a richer country: the smooth, well painted roads cross large plantations in which farmers work actively to reap the apples.
Our goal for this afternoon: cross the natural parc of Galičica (or rather Галичица, since Macedonians use the cyrillic alphabet). To do that, we have to go through Baba’s pass, 1568m high; going up takes more time than expected, such that when we finally start the descend the night is upon us. We set the tent on the shore of the Prespa lake, in a hotel which offers free camping (oh yes).
On our way to Bitola, we meet two spanish cyclists, Marta and Juanma: they too are gone for one year, and try to meet with schools on the road. We share an enormous meal in Bitola’s main street before we meet Natasha, who willo host us for a few days with her family. Her son Georges takes us for a tour in this small but lovely city, along its central street crowded with always-full cafes, its old bazaar and its numerous mosques and orthodox churches.
And we eat. A lot. Mousaka, baklavas (layered pastries oozing with sugar syrup), boza (thick and sparkling drink made from yeast), pšenkarnik (cake made from corn flour, stuffed with cheese and covered with yogurt), bureks, sarma (folded wine leaves stuffed with rice), lutenka (a hot sauce made from paprikas and peppers, eaten with bread) and for breakfast some bread cooked in scrambled eggs and covered with kaymak (something between butter and sour cream). Natasha’s husband is an incredible cook and gives us an extensive taste of serbian cuisine! We kept some recipes.
Our stomachs being contended, we can leave Macedonia to enter Greece, following without knowing the old via Egnatia. An ancient roman path which went from Dyrrachium (now Durrës, Albania) to Byzantium, that is to say Istanbul! The roman colonies which were set along the paths became the great cities of today, in which we will stop on our way to Turkey: Edessa, Thessaloniki, Kavala, Ipsala…
First town on our way then: Edessa! Rains “compells” us to spen three days here with Chrissi and her two little daughters Margarita and Magdalena, cooking and reading french comic books.
With the sun finally back, we head for Thessaloniki (or should I say Θεσσαλονίκη). We’re welcomed by Alex who shows us around the district of Kalamaria, with its small port and its cafes along the shore. He also introduces us this pressing question who divides the country: where does Alexander the Great come from? The Republic of Macedonia (the country) argues with Macedonia (the Greek area in which we are at that time): one one hand, we have ourselves visited the antic city of Heraclea in Bitola, founded by Alexander’s daddy. On the other hand, it would appear that the great conqueror was born in the Greek city of Pella. Because of this matter of tremendous importance, Greece has for a long time disagreed on the very name of the Republic of Macedonia. As a consequence, the latter entered the United Nations with the official name “Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”.
Well. We decide to let this problem aside and continue East. The weather is very sunny and we enjoy several of our meals on the beach. The coast, which is probably crowded with tourists in the summer, looks deserted during the winter.
As in the other parts of Greece, we encounter a lot of dogs running free in the streets, and whose favorite entertainment appears to be chasing cyclists. A good occasion to practice our dodging techniques :
- Technique n°1: pedal with all your stengths. Not so efficient, they only get more excited.
- Technique n°2: stop all of a sudden and shout: “Don’t come near me!”. They are so surprises that they usually stop instantly.
- Technique n°3: turn one of them. During lunch, let a dog come near you and pet him a bit so that he becomes your friend. He will follow you for at least one kilometer and bark at any other dog that would like to chase you. We tested it, it is not that efficient but absolutely hilarious to watch.
We soon leave the large beaches of Macedonia to enter Thrace, a region where tourism is supplanted by agriculture. A vast plain covered with cotton fields stands before us, punctuated with small villages. The only problem with plains is that there is no obstacle to stop the wind, which is hard when it comes from the front (as it will for two whole days).
We watch tractors carry cotton freshely reaped from the field, we hear the songs relayed by the tower of the orthodox churches. The latter are progressively replaced with small mosques and their minarets as we approach the border with Turkey. We climb ontop a few hills which stand between us and the coast and there we are: Alexandropouli, the last big Greek city before the border.
We spend our last day in Greece fighting against the wind to pedal the last 50 kilometers before Turkey. We are worn out before noon and stop seeking comfort in a wonderful pastry, where we order two big baklavas dripping with sugar syrup. Yummy!
A few hours later, we enjoy the satisfaction of pedaling passed the dozens of trucks waiting at the border to have their shipment controled. We have to show our passports at least four different times in the most militarized border we have ever seen (we’re a bit intimidated) and that’s it, we did it, we’re in Turkey! Rather proud of having pedaling all the way from France! Tonight, we’ll sleep in Ipsala, first town after the border.
I’ll leave Salomé tell you about our adventures in Turkey later. For the moment, jusŧ know that we are in Istanbul! We’ll probably stay there for at least one more week, time for us to get our iranian visas. We’ll use that time to rest a bit, visit this enormous city and have a taste of the delicious turkish delights.