Jan 18, 2015


I'm sitting on the terrace of a fantastic hostel (www.littlebighouse.gr/) in Thessaloniki, feeling somewhat dislocated.‎ 

This morning I was up early, and arrived at Agia Skepi in Edessa shortly after Matins had begun. This large and beautiful church is not even a five minute walk from my hotel, and the proprietor is a parishioner there. I'd made it to Vespers there last evening and introduced myself to the priest afterwards, indicating my desire to receive Communion. (Not a problem, thanks in part to the letter of introduction from Fr. Iskander.) It was all in Greek, of course, but I'd gone over the ‎Scripture readings for the day, and the Liturgy is the same no matter which language it's celebrated in. (To date, I've been to services in English {of course!}, Arabic, French, Old Church Slavonic (Russian style), Greek, Albanian, Finnish, Spanish, Romanian, and Macedonian.)

My intestinal discomfort on Saturday didn't last long, so by noon I was out on the streets exploring the old city of Edessa. The only church I found that was open was full of school age children, and the priest at the front had just begun what I assume was a catechism class. He smiled warmly at me as I slipped in, but I thought it best to remove myself lest I prove too much of a distraction. 

I wandered through the narrow mediaeval streets for a bit, and then found a narrow set of stairs leading down the cliff towards a viewing area for the waterfalls. They were quite nice, although of course ‎Niagara Falls has set a standard that's hard to beat. Rather than head back up the long and steep set of stairs, I decided to follow the road that led in the direction of the train station in the hope that I'd find another way back up the cliff. The road went from paved to gravel, and from gravel to two dirt ruts in a grassy trail leading between small fenced-off gardens. I kept going, and when I saw a man getting out of a car that was pointed in my direction, I asked about a road up to the city. Instead of answering my question, he said, "Come with me."

I followed him into the last property at the end of the road and saw a small shelter set up over a table and chairs, with a brick oven. An older gentleman was bringing a large pot to the table, and I was told to sit down and join them. Georgios and Nickolaos shared the chickpea and homemade sausage stew that had been cooking overnight, and then brought out another,larger pan. This had more veggies, and the tongue and cheeks of a pig. Never having eaten either of these delicacies before, I was curious but slightly apprehensive. I needn't have been - it was delicious! The homemade wine Georgios was pouring may have helped my appreciation somewhat. We sat in the warm afternoon sun and ate and drank and talked for three hours, Nickolaos acting as interpreter.

Finally they announced they needed to head back, and offered me a ride back in to town. (It turns out that Nick is from the same village as Vasilis, the hotel owner.)‎ My belly was full of good hearty food, and my heart was warmed by the free and easy hospitality I had been shown. I was very grateful I'd spent the extra day in Edessa, instead of walking the 45 kms that I'd planned on. After stopping in at the hotel briefly, I headed to the train station to check the schedule, and was back in the neighbourhood in time for Vespers.

After Liturgy this morning, I was delighted to see Georgios. He had shaved, and was dressed like the retired banker he is, rather than the simple farmer I'd met the day before. He introduced me to his wife, but I declined their offer to join them for lunch. (Probably my loss!) As it was, I made it to the train station with minutes to spare. Within minutes of settling in to my seat, I was asleep. (Another reason I prefer self-propulsion.) When the train arrived in Thessaloniki, I pulled my pack on and started walking across the city to the hostel I'd located online the night before. I stopped in at the Basilica of St Demetrios, and once again I was overcome with awe as I stood before his fragrant relics.

And now here I am. The hostel is a lively place, with Americans, Greeks, and Bulgarians staying here. For €13 per night, I have a bunk in a six bed dorm room, which I'm sharing with two American guys. And yet, the lack of continuity between this morning in Edessa and this evening in Thessaloniki feels odd. I experienced a similar feeling on arriving in Durrës and encountering a new language and culture, but at least there I was expecting it.

I'm booked in for the next three nights, and then I'm planning to hop a bus to Sofia, Bulgaria. From there it should be about a three week walk to Istanbul, where I'll pause again to evaluate my options. At this point, I think I'll walk to the Mediterranean coast, catch a ferry to Cyprus, and then a flight from Larnaca to Haifa. From there, it's on to Jerusalem!

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