In an hour or two Kim and I will be boarding a bus that will take us east to Istanbul. The journey is about five hours from where we are now at Alexandroupoli. Yesterday we left Thessaloniki after a week and decided to break the journey here as it’s more or less half way to Istanbul.We know Alexandroupoli from last year. It’s where you take the ferry to get to Samothraki and we spent two weeks on that rocky, steep, goat-inhabited Aegean island last summer. Alexandroupoli is low-key. Any Greeks we’ve spoken to don’t seem to rate it much but, maybe for precisely the reason that there’s not much going on here, Kim and I like it. There’s a lighthouse on the promenade, a bunch of restaurants on the seafront and a small funfair on the scraggy beach. The ferry port is tiny and gives a sense of how, for Greeks, getting a ferry must be like catching a bus for the rest of us: no fuss, if you miss this one there’ll be another coming along soon enough.
The weather has turned here the last couple of days. It’s cool, cloudy and a bit rainy. I don’t have a jacket so have been turning my rucksack out, trying to find any extra layers so I can rug up. I’m not too worried as the weather will probably improve again soon, but I feel solidarity with friends and family back in the UK and what they’ve been telling me about the autumnal grey skies there.Given the weather and how ill-equipped I am for it, there hasn’t been much to do in Alexandroupoli other than sit in a cafe and drink a last, or maybe a penultimate, Greek coffee. A few months ago I moved to the ‘without milk’ coffee camp. It’s something I’d been steeling myself to do for ages for a whole host of reasons and it’s proved to be good timing as I’ve been able to appreciate the Greek coffee: small, strong and black. It’s different from an espresso as the grounds sit in the bottom of the cup. I’ve noticed I always want to take just one more sip, at the risk of having a mouthful of the dry grounds: a tiny, caffeinated lesson in knowing when to let go, maybe.
I’m excited about going to Istanbul and also aware that I have a slight nervousness at the prospect of leaving Greece and entering Turkey. It’s been so easy to be here. There are plenty of overlaps with other parts of Europe, yet enough difference for it to be interesting and stimulating. Despite the ongoing economic crisis, people seem to go about their day from a place of ease which rubs off nicely during those daily interactions in shops, cafes, museums and the rest. I understand there’s more to it than that, but from what I’ve experienced, the ubiquitous ‘Keep Calm…’ message has little relevance for Greek people. The general vibe feels relaxed and down to earth. People seem to be getting on with the small pleasures of life that are still possible – spending time with friends, eating and drinking good quality produce, playing cards, walking along the sea front.
I’m happy for the next leg of the trip, for the upcoming sights and sounds of an evermore eastern flavour; and also a little sad to be leaving this welcoming country. I plan to come back, though, to make new friends and meet up with old ones, to see ancient sites, to walk up pine clad hills and down windy roads. And I’ll be back for the coffee, made on a small gas stove: black, strong, diminutive, with the grounds at the bottom of the cup, and served by someone with a friendly face.