Traveling is something that exists since the first man in this earth. Perhaps, it was only possible by walking for very long time. Then we started to use animals like camels and horses. In 21st century, Traveling became much easier and cheaper than ever. Thanks to technology, people can travel for a few hours to somewhere which used to take couple of days in the old times. Plus, we have internet which makes things much easier. You can search, get to know about places, make reservation and start traveling. Although, the way we travel change a lot in centuries, passion for traveling did not changed.
That passion of traveling and idea of exploring new places took me to Balkans in the first month of 2018. First seeds of the idea started in late 2017 and I hit the road on 22 january: Destination Balkans.
This series of blog posts will tell you about my first solo-trip adventure. The intention is to reflect my thoughts and feelings of the 17 days adventure. I am going to describe this amazing experience through this writing experiment.
Lets start from the route to give you better understanding. I flew from Cyprus to Istanbul then took the bus to Thessaloniki. My route was something like a line from Thessaloniki to Belgrade which included Skopje, Ohrid and also Negotino. There are a lot more to see in Balkans of course, but I took this journey as a beginning of a deeper exploration.
In total it was 6 cities, 4 countries and 3047 km by bus. The plan was to stay in each city for a few days, to wander with a curious mind in each of them, getting lost in the streets, photographing places for memory and talking to people as much as I can to understand the way of life, while eating some delicious local food which was both familiar and unfamiliar at the same time.
Ah and also, let’s not forget visiting Elena Tasheva, a friend of mine that I know from the camping club in Cyprus called ‘K99’. I was going to meet with her after one year and half in Macedonia.
I arrived to Istanbul in an early and rainy January morning with full of excitement. After a while, I was buying my bus ticket to Thessaloniki. But it was a night bus which gave me a full day in İstanbul. I wandered around the city in a rainy and cold day while waiting for the bus at 21.00.
The journey to Thessaloniki lasted for 10 hours which is really a lot for a Cypriot. In our little island, the longest journey will take maximum 3 hours. But I was prepared with my book and snacks. We arrived to the city at 05.30 in the morning. It was still dark, 1 hour before the sunrise at the central railway station in a city that I never been before. Reception in the hostel was opening at 08.00. There was no choice,I waited in the bus station in a half-sleepy and excited mood. The water that came together with a cup of tea in the station was the first surprise of the trip. Apparently, that was the way in Greece.
I started to take some notes and look around after feeling a bit warmer: First solo-trip, first time in Thessaloniki and early hours in the morning.
Each city that I arrived was a different taste. Thessaloniki amazed me with its relaxing energy and familiar Mediterranean soul. The city offers beautiful sunset at YediKule (ΓεντίΚουλέ), a tower in the upper hills of the city.
The view from the tower
I find the opportunity to learn more about the city via a free walking tour offered by George who is a passionate person about his city. He told us that most of the old center of the city was destroyed by the Great Fire of 1917, which was started accidentally by an unattended kitchen fire. The only part that survived from the fire was ‘ano poli’ area in the upper parts which still keeps the Ottoman architecture. I stayed in ‘ano poli’ and streets of the neighborhood gave me a very familiar feeling. I was almost feeling like walking in Nicosia. On the other hand, Rotunda was the most obvious sign of multicultural past of the city. The magnificent structure was first builded as an ancient temple, then it was a cathedral church during the Byzantine times, mosque during the Ottoman times and finally a museum in today’s Greece. What a journey for a building !
I was wandering around in my last evening at the city. Suddenly, I saw a small coffee shop on the corner. I entered to give a break. Apparently, the old lady in the shop was not speaking any English. That was the opportunity to practice my Greek language abilities. It was a funny conversation with couple of words of mine which can only form short sentences and her long replies in a way that I cannot catch what she means. Probably I only understood thirty percent of what she said, but the whole conversation gave me a great joy.
Next morning was the time for going to Skopje. I packed my bag at night and had a good sleep before the bus at 08.30.
The next post will talk about Skopje, Ohrid and Negotino. After that there will be a third post which will tell you about Belgrade and conclusion of the whole trip. I want to conclude this post with a quote that I felt a lot during this adventure.
“Travel makes one modest. You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world.” Gustave Flaubert