Getting from Newark, NJ to Thessaloniki, Greece, was an effortless and event-free trip, the highlight of which was getting three seats all to myself and actually sleeping on the “long” overseas flight. (The flight from NJR to LHR was under 7 hours – a mere flit by Aussie standards. ) I had a nice nap.

But my arrival in London was shocking. As we were descending, the pilot told us that it was “very warm indeed – going up to nearly 80 degrees F.,” and he said we should look out for Wimbledon on the left. Thinking of my mother, who would not forgive me if I neglected to do so, I dutifully moved from my couch in the center row and took a window seat for a while, but I saw only one tennis court, unoccupied, and it clearly was not the seat of the world’s premier sporting event.

After a drama-free pass through immigration, I headed for the bag claim and had an experience so unusual as to be almost supernatural. I ascertained the correct carousel number for my flight and, after procuring one of those luggage carts that are luxuriously free in international terminals and parking lots yet cost $3.50 or $4 anywhere else, I trundled to the correct place to await my bags. The black circular carrier was going around, but there was almost no one standing nearby and no bags in sight. I decided I must have been one of the first to get through and resigned myself to a long wait -– but lo! There was one -– count it, 1 –- bag on the carousel, and it was black and bulky and it was MINE. I don’t know what happened to all the other bags nor to all the other passengers from my flight, but I didn’t hesitate to claim my bag and go. Total time from touchdown to leaving the airport was under one hour.  I  occasionally lead a charmed life; who am I to dicker with the gods of international arrivals?

Heathrow Airport was virtually empty. I would have suspected a bomb scare / terrorist attack except that every hundred metres or so I saw a blue-uniformed employee or two who pleasantly directed me to the trans-airport express bus, picked up my water bottle when I dropped it, and help me buy a ($40) ticket to Gatwick. When I got outside to wait for the coach (less than 10 minutes), the sun was shining and there was a bright warm breeze blowing. I thought I’d got off at the wrong place!

My flight from Gatwick also left on time and I again was blessed with an empty seat next to me and, even better, a kind English-speaking matronly woman as my neighbor in the aisle seat. I asked her if she knew how much a taxi should cost me from the airport to the Hotel Tourist, near downtown, and she estimated 20 Euros, more or less. She asked what was bringing me to the area and I said that I was going to Macedonia, and did she perchance know about trains from her city to there? She did not, but she assured me that Macedonia was a part of Greece. “It is a county,” she stated.

No signs of strife in sunny Thessaloniki, except for the traffic caused by football crowds, which my taxi driver told me was “Katastrophica!” and I knew what he meant. He also told me it was due to “football” and the “polis” were there for “hooligans.” I said, “English football hooligans?” and he said, “Greek hooligans!”

I didn’t see any hooligans, but most of the vehicles were moving a little more swiftly than I would have liked. My driver waved his arms pejoratively at the little cars that cut him off, informing me that the drivers were “Al-Qaeda,” and “Mafia,” and “Cosa Nostra.”

When he was not abusing the other drivers I asked him how much it would cost for him to drive me to Macedonia, in case there were no trains or buses. I was hoping that Miho’d be right and he’d offer to take me the 250 kilometres for $100 US, but in fact his lowest offer came in around $180 Euros, or about $250 US. I guess Miho and I had not accounted for inflation in our Plan B strategies. The taxi driver’s English, while infinitely superior to my Macedonian, was extremely limited, and it took considerable gesticulation and exchange of written notes and some shouting for us to exchange information. At one point, he said, thumping his heart, “I Macedonia here!”  I thought that he was trying to use future tense, telling me about how it would be when we were both in Macedonia tomorrow after he drove me there all night, so I said, “Yes? Yes? We Macedonia tomorrow?” and he said, “I Macedonia now! Now!” I took his phone number and promised to ring him so he could ring his friend to take me in the morning if there was no public transport, because he himself could take me that very night to Skopje, but had other plans for the morning. At least, I think that’s what we said.

Next time: The family, the twins, and the general strike and some  misinformation