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Tuesday, July 7, 2009

A Week Aside or a Short Escape to Halkidiki

Two weeks ago I had to go to Skopje, Macedonia for the launch of the national environmental investment strategy to which I modestly contributed last year. It is very strange when a past project which is already silent suddenly comes to life. Your mind has already moved ahead but then you have to switch to reverse gear and go back in time.

Never mind, this was an opportunity to go back to my beloved 'Skopje Desire' hotel where I spent so many weeks in 2008. Skopje Desire hotel is not a brothel: it is a normal hotel with a name which means 'pleasure' in Macedonian and 'kind of sexual desire' in Bulgarian (the original name is Skopski Merak). So much for the proximity of Bulgarian and Macedonian languages. Anyway, 'merak' is a Turkish word which has had separate semiotic trips in two different regions of the Big Empire (the Ottoman Empire).

This time I did a crazy thing: I took my son Boris with me intending to go camping for some days in Greece close to where some of my friends were staying for a week.

However, first Boris had to spend a day with my colleagues in the office while I was busy with the launch of the strategy. It was funny to see the surprise on his face when he first heard Macedonian language. Boris is a trilingual Bulgarian-Serbian-Hungarian and nothing can scare him linguistically but at first he was a bit confused. Later things got better and he had a great day with Marina at the zoo watching the monkey pee and the tiger eat.

On the next day we woke up to the sound of thunder and heavy rain but nothing could stop us from hitting the road to the sea, the Aegean Sea. It is a short two-hour drive to Thessaloniki along the beautiful Vardar River. We were supposed to meet my friend Zhulieta who arrived by train from Sofia and while waiting for her we had a nice walk in the centre of the city.

The centre of Thessaloniki is quite chaotic: it is one of these ancient cities which have seen everything, where everybody is just passing and where the ethnic map changes every hundred years or so. It is like an old attic full of bric-a-brac which simply cannot be orderly. It is also a city where the erotic index is so high - streets are bustling with life, people are drinking, eating, kissing and selling stuff.

Here is a charming abandoned house. This is Prometheus street where I parked my car, parallel
to Odisseus (Ulysses) street, parallel to Aristotle street. That's Greece after all.

Abandoned House, Thessaloniki

A cool structure very common in the Ottoman Empire. It is the precursor of the modern mall and hosts a number of small shops.

Bezistan, Thessaloniki

This is a large renewed pedestrian street that leads into the sea.

Seaside Feeling, Thessaloniki

Vourvouru is a charming little village on the Sithonia leg of the Halkidiki Peninsula. I fell in love with the place last year and wanted to come back soon. That's the bay at dusk while the fresh fish is on the grill and the fresh salad is being cut.

Peaceful Evening

Another angle to the bay - the drinks are already poured, Boris is playing hide-and-seek with half a dozen kids and an evening of talking and joking has already started.


Last year Jelica and I escaped from the kids for an afternoon to a secluded beach that used to be called Porto Paradiso. There was a great beach bar where one could sip the omnipresent Frappe while listening to Cesaria Evora. I really wanted to go back there but I couldn't find it. Then I realised that it was rebranded to Banana Beach.

Banana Beach shortly after Rain (ex Porto Paradiso)

This is my friend Zhulieta with Boris on a boat which he called the 'dead boat'. Boris features his newly learned monkey signs. Yes, I forgot to mention that in the Street University of Skopje (i.e. from my Macedonian friends) he learned the art of winking and the art of doing monkey signs. What precious knowledge!

Zhulieta and Boris by the Dead Boat

During this man-to-man week Boris was very attached to me and didn't want to go swimming on his own. Finally, he dares to do it the last day of our stay.

Boris finally dared swim on his own

So we had a great week two of us: we didn't bother about anything and we lived the days without initial planning, we ate when we were hungry, we slept on the beach, we moved between different cute bays, we ran a kite, we talked with our friends and we listened to good music with the car windows open. We only came back to the tent after midnight when we collapsed undisturbed even by the noisy Greek wedding that was raging on the last night.

However, as we were missing the other half of the team, i.e. Jelica and Andrej, we set sails to Budapest - 15 h of driving through Macedonia and Serbia. Of course, what can one do on such a day? Visit a beautiful and peaceful monastery for a quiet hour. Days after that Boris was telling me: 'It was so quiet in the yard of this monastery, wasn't it?'

Gate of Prohor Pcinski Monastery, Serbia

And that's the quiet yard where cats chase the shadows of the walnuts and the linden trees.

Prohor Pcinski Monastery, Serbia

Going away from the monastery and the beautiful Pcinja Valley.

Prohor Pcinski Monastery, Serbia


Jennifer said...

You are a brave man!! This brings back great memories of my trips to Thessaloniki and Halkdidi during my Skopje days...

Ruslan said...

Jennifer, it was surprisingly easy to travel with Boris. I would repeat it soon. Yes, if you think of it Skopje is quite well-positioned. And it seems to me that there are still some great places on Halkidiki, at least on the Sithonia leg.

B said...

What a great time with your son! I love how free your days were...
I love the photo of the Monastery, it reminds me of big haciendas in the south of Spain somehow

Polly said...

Sounds like a great escape for father and son, sleeping on a beach is the kind of memory Boris will keep for ever.

And great pictures, fresh fish and salad in Vourvouru sounds like heaven.

julochka said...

i love, love, love this post!! because i love thessaloniki and your description of it is so spot on it makes my heart beat a little faster and i want to book tickets right now this very minute. i love the notion of its erotic index being high. that is just so so true.

it sounds like it was a marvelous trip for boris too--i love that he kept bringing up the monastery days later. that's magical.

more, more please!!