I often talk about getting off the tourist path and finding those hidden gems most people never see. On a recent trip to Greece with a couple of companions, we decided to get away from the city of Thessaloniki and see what the country side had to offer. Having rented a car in Macedonia and driving to Greece we had the foresight to get a GPS with the rental. A GPS is a life saver when traveling in unfamiliar areas, helping you to get to your destination, looking up various places of interest and just having that overall fuzzy feeling that you’re not lost. That is sometimes.
After deciding to explore the coastline and check out some towns I was put in charge of the GPS while sitting in the front passenger seat. Having full faith in my expert navigational skills and aided by Mr. Garmin, what could go wrong?
Heading out we soon found ourselves driving down back roads and in some cases alley ways and dirt roads through farms. We discovered a Ford Focus is not really designed to travel over dirt farm roads. At one point we found ourselves driving though a neighborhood that could best be described as rural. Seeing one of the many religious shrines that people have on their property we decided to stop and take a few photos.
This is where we met Elena and her son Kosta. Elena came out from a neighboring property where she had been looking after her vineyard. Not speaking English but very friendly she wanted to know who we were and where we were from.
She soon scurried off to bring back cold grapes from her basement for us to try and yelled for her son. Kosta it turns out had studied Music at Berkley many years ago and told us of his time in a band.
I had noticed a gentleman walking past us earlier and waved to him but he seemed disinterested and walked off. Now this guy comes back and begins waving his arms and telling us not to take photos and leave.
Elena begins scolding him as he starts pointing to the license plates on our car then us and yelling “Skopje!”, this in reference to the capitol of Macedonia and where we rented the car. I guess now is a good time for a history lesson on the Greek Macedonian conflict.
Taken from the history of Macedonia ,since they can tell it better than I ever could.
Greece alleges that:
1. The Macedonians should not be recognized as Macedonians because the Macedonians have been of Greek nationality since 2000 BC.
2. Those Macedonians whose language belongs to the Slavic family of languages, must not call themselves Macedonians because 4000 years ago, the Macedonians spoke Greek and still speak nothing but Greek.
3. Macedonia has no right to call itself by this name because Macedonia has always been and still is a region of Greece.
The people of Macedonia affirm that:
1. The ancient Macedonians were a distinct European people, conscious and proud of their nationality, their customs, their language, and their name. The same applies to the modern Macedonians today.
2. The ancient Macedonians regarded the ancient Greeks as neighbors, not as kinsmen. The Greeks treated the Macedonians as foreigners (“barbarians”) whose native language was Macedonian, not Greek.
3. Macedonia was never a region of Greece. On the contrary, ancient Greece was subjected to Macedonia. In 1913, modern Greece and her Balkan allies partitioned Macedonia. If today a portion of Macedonia belongs to Greece, it is by virtue of an illegal partition of the whole and occupation of a part of Macedonia.
Now we return to our regularly scheduled story.
While the old guy is yelling and pointing at our car, we attempt to explain it is a rental and we are not from Skopje. Of course he wants to hear nothing of the sort and begins shaking his finger and yelling “NO!, Skopje!”. It seems with some people in Greece this is a real sore spot.
Elena is doing her best to tell him other wise and begins yelling for her son Kosta, who had went back inside the house, to come and help. Between Elena and Kosta they are yelling at the old guy, he is yelling at them and us, but just as quick as it started he turns and walks back up the street. Thinking it was probably a good idea not to advertise our Skopje Car in the neighborhood we head back out.
After heading down a deserted road past abandoned buildings and getting looks from the few people on the road that seemed to say “You guys look lost”, we see a sign for the Riveria Beach Club.
Now who could pass this up? Having a cold beer on the Riveria is just what we need. Driving down the beach road until it dead ends we discover the Riviera is closed, of course, but it does offer the opportunity to snap a few photos.
Heading back Mr. Garmin is telling me to take this route so we soon find ourselves heading out once again over dirt roads through fields and narrow paths. The Vacation Wanderer, having been nominated as the driver begins to feel the frustration of driving on a dirt road when a perfectly good paved road is within sight nearby.
Finally out of frustration he says “why are we on all of these crap roads?” I cleaned that quote up a little. It was at this point I had to come clean. I admit to my fellow road warriors that I have been just pointing to a place on the Garmin Map at random and that is why from time to time Mr. Garmin had said, in his robotic voice, “Now heading off road”. After quite a bit of laughing from the back seat and some unprintable words from the driver, I explain, “But then you never would have met Elena”.
So sometimes just striking out without knowing where you are headed can result in a memorable experience. As J.R.R. Tolkien said “Not all those who wander are lost”.
How about you, ever had a memorable experience while wandering?