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View from Acropolis, Athens, Greece
COUNTRY FACTS Pop: 10,688,058 Area: 131,940 km2 Gov't: Parliamentary Republic Religion: Greek Orthodox 98%, Muslim 1.3% View Map
View from Acropolis, Athens, Greece, November 23, 2003  

Greek Flag GREECE


November 22.  PRISHTINE - THESSALONIKI We got up early to head off to the bus station.  Our buses didn't leave very far apart, Leslie going north and we going south.   The train from Skopje to Thessaloniki didn't leave until 5:00 but we hoped to find a bus or other option into Greece sooner.  The trip back into Macedonia was less eventful than the trip up and before long we found ourselves in the same familiar bus station along the river in Skopje.  It was a gray day and we quickly retired to the Irish pub.  

There we sat over lunch and considered our options.  We could take a taxi to the border of Macedonia and Greece and hope we found adequate connections on the other side.  The buses left sporadically throughout the week for Greece and none fit with our demand.  It seemed that the train was our most reliable option.  We just had two days to get down to Athens to catch our flight and weren't going to leave anything up to chance.  So we whiled away a couple of hours at the pub before moving our things over to the dreary train station.  

The train station was a relatively modern and unattractive addition to the city with the tracks raised up above street level to cut across the city.  It was still early in the afternoon but we wanted to make sure we got tickets, not a really worry but it didn't hurt to be safe.  A taxi driver tried to interest us in a ride to the border and it was tempting to just leave and avoid more hours of sitting around.  But it was the more expensive option and there was still that lingering concern about what transport would be able to take us to Thessolaniki on the other side.  We bought our tickets and settled in a corner of the cafe beneath the station.  The sipped bitter lemons and drank coffees to kill the time.  A mini mart next door supplied junk food for the train ride.

When it was about 20 minutes before our train was to arrive we climbed the two flights of stairs to the platform and waited.  We waited and waited while our scheduled train time came and went.  A woman standing nearby spoke some English and translated the information that was broadcast over the loudspeaker.  The train would be 20 minutes late.  The 20 minutes came and went as the sky got darker and the weather got colder.  A mob of people were assembled at the center of the platform, all anxious for the train to arrive.  We had met with late trains before but the pressure we were feeling to get across Greece and into Athens by Monday morning was slowly mounting.  What if this train had a problem and didn't show up today?  Taking the train the following day wouldn't get us to Athens on time.  We jumped up and down on the platform to keep warm and kept craning our necks in hopes of seeing a light coming towards us.  We got excited as a headlight came into view but it chugged past us, just an engine heading who knew where.  Finally, the train did arrive and everyone clambered aboard.

The center carriages looked like there were going to be packed with people and loads of luggage.  We knew when we got on the end of the train that we were probably not in the second class carriage but since it was entirely empty we decided to park ourselves in one of the compartments and see what happened.  The warm velveteen seats were so comfortable.  When the carriage attendant came by he peered in and asked for out tickets.  He looked at them and gestured that this was a first class cabin and pointed to our tickets and then to the rear of the train.  Rob gestured back to ask how much more for the first class seats?  The man thought for a moment and said "Five euros".  Rob passed him the money and he stuck in his pocket.   When the ticket checker came through he looked at our tickets and back at us as the carriage attendant whispered something in his ear.  The man shrugged and moved on to the next cabin.  We had our nice warm velveteen compartment all to ourselves.  Confident that we were unlikely to be joined by anyone else, seeing as how the rest of the carriage was empty, we stowed our packs overhead, adjusted the seats, took off our shoes and stretched out.  The train made a few more stops but nobody else came into the cabin.  

The train made a long stop on the Greek side of the border.  They came to collect our passports and took them away for processing.  Three jolly stray dogs were working the train for food and I tossed them some of my chips out of the window. A heavy Greek man that worked at the station gave me a leering look and snapped at the dogs.  When he wasn't looking I gave the dogs more chips.  Much time had passed and our passports had not been returned. It was approaching a record in passport control turnaround.  Rob got restless and went to see what was holding things up.  He found a queue of people lined up at a small window in the station and when he investigated he found everyone collecting their passports.  Ours were the only two left.  We are not sure what would have happened if Rob hadn't gone to collect our passports.  

The train finally pulled away from the passport control station and we were officially in Greece.  The train chugged along for a good while longer before stopping in the middle of nowhere.  We watched from the window of our cabin as the train engine detached and disappeared from sight.  A while later it reappeared traveling in the opposite direction and passed us. It disappeared from sight again but we supposed it was reattaching at the other end.  We must have been getting close to Thessaloniki and the train was getting ready to pull into the station.  Sure enough we rolled into the city not more than a half hour later.  

We planned to spend the night in Thessaloniki and head on to Athens the following day, now that we were in Greece it would be easy to get from the country's second largest city to its capital.  There were supposed to be many trains a day of various speeds.  Before leaving the station we went to buy our tickets but were told that all trains between Thessaloniki and Athens for the following day were sold out!  We could show up early the next day and see if anything became available or stand for seven hours on a local train.   What had caused this demand for travel?  Apparently it was some holiday weekend and everyone had come to Thessaloniki but naturally our guidebook had no mention of a holiday around that time anywhere in Greece.  This was what our buffer day had been meant to protect against but we had sacrificed that in Kosovo.   As we talked over what to do the midnight train to Athens pulled away.  It was the last train for the day with sleeper compartments.   If transport leaving the city was booked out we figured that the hotels were probably not much better and regretting our slowness arriving at this decision we bought tickets for the 2am train to Athens.  We would be sitting the whole way but we would be in Athens early the next morning and in arms reach of our flight home on Monday morning.

Our stash of junk food was sitting heavily in our stomachs so we left the station in search of some food.  Surely there would be a gyro place near the train station, we thought, but didn't find anything but a fast food stand.  Fast food on top of junk food was not very appetizing.  We sucked it up and went back to the train station to wait for our train.  When we pushed on the door into the train station it didn't open.  We moved down and tried another one with a heavy push and heard something go clang on the other side as the door swung open.  An angry old man came yelling at us, gesticulating that the station was closed.  This seemed odd considering we had tickets for a train leaving in two hours.  We showed him our tickets and he quieted down.  He looked defeated not to be able to kick us out and just gave a conciliatory waive to tell us we could stay.  There were only a handful of people inside the station. We found a bench to ourselves and sat down.  A man across from us was stretched out on his bench with his head on his bag.  The little irascible old man came bellowing across that station, rousting the sleeper from his comfortable position.  He checked his ticket and again looked defeated but proceeded to give the tired man a quick lecture on not sleeping in the station.  The bleary eyed man sat up straight.  Since there were many more seats than people to sit in them it was hard to see what harm his sleeping had been doing.  The unfortunate result of an unpleasant personality wielding his little bit of power.   But, in general, we hadn't felt a warm welcome in Greece.  From the grumpy old man at the border, to the snappy and impatient woman at the ticket window, the indifferent man at the information booth, and now this bossy old guard.  So far we had just encountered a string of unhappy people.

It had already been a long day of sitting and waiting and the extra two hours in the Thessaloniki train station was the least of it.  I took the opportunity to call home which killed some time and before we knew it was time to head to the platform.   The train was only a bit late.  It was a modern express train with reclining seats.  We could have faired worse for our nightlong train ride.   

SLOVENIA Ljubljana Oct 7-8 Piran Oct 9-12

CROATIA Istra Peninsula Oct 13 Split Oct 14-15 Hvar Oct 16-18 Korcula Oct 19 Dubrovnik Oct 20-29


BOSNIA Sarajevo Oct 30 Oct 30 Nov 1

SERBIA Belgrade Nov 2-3

ROMANIA Bucharest Nov 4 Suceava Nov 5 Nov 6 Cluj Napoca Nov 7 Sighisoara Nov 8-9 Brasov Nov 10 Nov 11

BULGARIA Sofia Nov 12 Nov 13 Nov 14

MACEDONIA Lake Ohrid Nov 15 Nov 16-17

KOSOVO Prishtine Nov 18 Nov 19 Nov 20 Nov 21

GREECE Thessaloniki Nov 22 Athens Nov 23 Nov 24