Hints of Winter
Before we get on to Thessaloniki, a few words about Veria. After the huge freewheel down from the top of the mountain from where Kostas dropped us (1200m plus of uninterrupted, glorious descent over 10km all soundtracked by the unearned beeps of drivers thinking we'd actually climbed the beast - Did we feel guilty? What do you think?), we arrived in the picturesqueak town of Veria. The modern suburbs give way to a centre full of trendy cafes and a gently decaying old town, concealing churches from which streamed black-clad ladies clutching chunks of bread.
However, the nation had been shaken recently by the abduction of a young Georgian child from the town. 5 children confessed to the murder, but the body has never been found. Accused of complicity in the kidnapping, the reputed crime boss of Veria is said to have responded "No. We don't steal children that old". Interpol have also recently reported that the town is a focus for child abuse and the case has caused massive debate across Greece, with many suspecting that the accused children are covering for adults involved in the abduction.
Moving on towards Thessaloniki, increasing hints of winter are in the air - snow on the distant hills, shops selling Christmas decorations guarded by inflatable santas, streets garlanded with fairy lights and even the local ski team loading their van to head for the slopes. Will our legs get us to Istanbul before Christmas? "At my back I always hear, Time's winged chariot hurrying near".
Thessaloniki (or Salonika as it is also called) is the cosmopolitan capital of Macedonia, buzzing with life and energy. R's fears of a smog-filled metropolis, a la Athens, were allayed by the many pedestrianised areas, filled with dahlias flowering orange and yellow in the glow of the Christmas lights. The sound of bouzoukis spills from the cafes and tavernas, where locals play backgammon at a furious pace. The remains of the city's heritage are sprinkled throughout the centre with many churches sunk below street level, engulfed by the march of modernism.
While stocking up on painkillers and anti-inflammatories, we got talking to the pharmacist who, having established we were Scottish, enthused about Scotland's green grass but was less impressed by the dampness and the "how do you say?...barbarism of sectarianism in Glaswegian football" Who are we to argue?
Day 84.5km (Total 2981.1km)