Our carefully layed plan was to take the train from Athens to Thessaloniki in order to see more of mainland Greece. We knew there was a general strike scheduled for that day but one never knows ahead of time what will be affected. So it was not a surprise but a disappointment to see the hand written note on the ticket window--"No trains today or tomorrow." We asked about buses and were directed to the main station 4 km away with the warning they probably would not be running either.
Our hotel clerk directed us to a travel agent next door who directed us to a bus stop around the corner. It took awhile to find it as there were no buses and no station; it was a small storefront with one cluttered desk and two chairs. The man inside had enough English to say Yes, there would be a bus tomorrow for Selonica (the old name) at 9 A.M. Just show up and pay the driver. We were not confident but had no other acceptable alternative.
The rest of the story is told in Karin's evocative style:
When we left our hotel we told the girl not to clean our room until after 10:00 AM just in case this "bus" trip did not happen! She seemed surprised to know there was a bus just around the corner...not too promising. Well, we did get tickets, and because we were early, thought we would get right on the bus that was waiting in order to get good seats! Wrong! Only about 5 or 6 seats left in the entire bus! (We found out later the route started at Piraeus.) So we plunked ourselves down and waited, and waited (seemed a long time because the driver had the radio on and it was rap! Oh, My God, I thought.....he had better turn it off when he starts because my head is going crazy and we have about an 8 hour trip ahead of us!
Two young (cute) men were sitting in front of us and told us they were from Hungary (Transylvania); they had been working in Santorini and were now going home for the winter. They ended up being very helpful as one spoke 4-5 languages; the other 3.
OK, so off we go....music is different, not too bad. Wove ourselves out of Athens and took part of the same highway we were on when we went to Delphi last spring but we kept on the same National Highway going towards Thessaloniki. What did we see? Lots of cotton fields! Pistachio orchards. Lots of pretty villages which are completely different from Paros. These had red tiled roofs, small gardens, large villas. Everything from tiny to big.
Turns out this bus is headed for Romania. It is a Romanian bus, Romanian driver(s), Romanian crowd except for us, the Hungarians and 4 Koreans. When the music was to their liking, they laughed and sang, and clapped! We were a very happy bus! Amazing! Fun! Loved it!
This bus stopped at many stops. I had been worried because I hoped to go to the loo a few more times than probably the driver might like. But no worries! He stopped every 1/2 hour (or so it seemed!) Lots of coffee breaks, and a nice long lunch break.
When we did stop for lunch, the bus made a few funny turns and ended up behind a typical truck/petrol stop/restaurant. But he could not get in as the gate was locked, so someone had to go find someone to let the bus in! The man who came had a trailer full of grapes, so he unloaded his stuff before even opening the gate for us! Only in Greece; no fuss, the attitude is that he has a job to do and you (the bus) can wait, I guess.
One other break was at a German outlet store called Lidl. I saw them in Ireland, now they are everywhere. The bus stopped at the store, the two drivers went inside and bought a load of sodas! They put them into a built-in ice chest for future use? Don't know. Weird.
But the weirdest of all was stopping for 4 men at the side of the road in the middle of nowhere! These men had about 6 to 8 HUGE bags (with zippers) that were very heavy. They got on the bus, but WHERE to put their stuff! The large luggage racks in the lower level were already jammed full. Well, I did not know there was a toilet on the bus, they unlocked it and stuffed it full. We were across from the back steps to go out, they also filled the entire stairwell! So much for security!! Michael and I decided this bus was no ordinary bus...and maybe these men were moving contraband! Ha,ha.
Some of the mountains we crossed had crags like Oregon/California where there are some real rocky mountains. At times they seemed like Swiss Alps with chalets and mountain streams, sometimes forests as well. The scenery and atmosphere drastically changes once you get into Macedonia. The houses look almost like Russian dachas, the countryside has deep canyons, heavy clouds above mountain tops. In one mountain village there was a marvellous castle/fort on top of the hill. We started seeing planted rows of trees that looked like birch saplings. (sort of what you see in pictures of the French forests). We passed through a huge delta and lush agriculture areas.Michael was disappointed when we passed beneath the famous Mt. Olympus because it was totally obscured in heavy clouds.
As we entered Thessaloniki, Michael looked at his map and decided that we should ask the driver to let us off as close to the train station as possible. (Since we were SUPPOSE to be on a train, we had planned a hotel near it - and also because we were to leave from it the next morning.) Well, we got one of the young men in front to ask the driver and so off we got....!!!! A bit daunting to be standing at the side of a street in a huge city (2nd biggest city after Athens) without much idea where to go next! I managed to ask in Greek a lady in the shop how to find the correct street and understand her directions! YES!
By the way, those young men shared goodies they bought along the way, we shared our cookies, and I had a nice chat with one of the Korean girls (her English was not very good, but we managed). It gave us both a warm feeling when they all waved goodbye as the bus drove away.
- At June 15, 2009 7:43 AM 70-294 exam said...
Thanks for guide.The story is really very interesting .I am feeling I am with you in this journey.very good written and you explained each and every thing.I think real travel guide means to discuss each and every thing even very tiny thing in a very summarized way.As you have discussed about rap music I like rock during journey.