They told us not to do it. But what did we know, young lads out on our prime adventure? They said getting from Greece to Bosnia was too dangerous, the remnants of the war too flammable. But did we listen? No. Did we take to the shelter of the Adriatic ferry? Not a chance. Our path would lay inland, through the Macedonian mountains and into the heart of Serbia.
4pm Eastern European Time, November 15, 2004.
We say goodbye to Greece after two long weeks of great exploration. We three kings turn our eyes to the north. Our wait at the Thessaloniki train station comes to a bittersweet end as Paul and I finish our masterpiece: a makeshift checkerboard on which to arrange our new plastic chess set. The vagabond’s pleasures are, after all, simple and light. We double check the timetables again and board our train from Greece to Skopje, Macedonia, destined to arrive at 6.45pm.
We find our car, and as two and a-quarter hours pass, Paul poises himself to deal the final check-mate. Our watches tell us we have arrived. “That was quick, I said to Mark.” So, gathering up our bags and supplies, we do what now seems like the most foolish choice. We hop off the train, despite the fact that the Macedonian capitol looks strangely like the countryside. Then falls our first stroke of fate. The car master, as the train begins to inch away, yells out to us, “SKOPJE!”. We point to the ground beneath our feet with great pleasure and call back, “SKOPJE!”. He urges us back to the train, “SKOPJE!”. Now, nerves beginning to bubble, we raise our hands to the sky, and plead back, “SKOPJE?” Then, in a genius act of inter-lingual transcendence, the master stretches his arms like a desperate grandfather: “SKOPJE!”, he cries. Our light-bulbs light. And with out hesitation, we bust our move back to the train, calling out our unnerved praises, “SKOPJE!!!!” While we boarded the moving train, we had no idea that our second stroke of destiny was peering out his window watching three ignorant lads get a second chance. By the way, did you know there was a time zone on the northern border of Greece? Yeah, me neither.