This is a continuation of our recent journey to Turkey. The previous episode ended with us at our Thessoloniki hotel near the train station. That evening we went to buy our tickets for the next day; no luck as the strike was still on here. We were told to come back after 5 A.M.
So we got there about 6:15 for our 7:15 train but the agent would only sell tickets to Constantinople(Istanbul to everyone outside Greece and Cyprus) on the evening train. We did not want to do that because the purpose of not flying was to see the mainland of Greece. I asked about the connecting train at the border town of Pithion; she replied with a wave of her hand and a shrug of the shoulders and said, "Maybe?" So I relied on my internet info about the connection and bought two First Class tickets to Pithion.
The rest of the story is by Karin.
When we walked out to the platform to get on the train, I was SHOCKED to see a dusty, run down looking dark blue train covered in graffiti! Some of it actually could be called interesting...but still! Michael looked at me looking at this train and said, "I did go ahead and get first class tickets". Well, good.
Our car was one of those European types with an aisle running down one side, and glassed in rooms with 6 seats inside and a door. We spread out our stuff so people getting on might think our compartment was full...and it worked!
When the train pulled out, we expected to go East...but went West. Oh my gosh, were we on the WRONG train? Nothing to do but wait and see what towns we went through and find them on the map. I thought I had a pretty good idea the towns the train would go through....Kavala, where St. Paul landed from the Holy Land, and Apallonia, a place he also stopped. I thought it would be nice to just realize that he had been in this area so long ago.
After heading West, the train swung North and as towns sped by, I realized we were going to go East eventually, but first we had to go far North, up to and along the FYROM(We both received "Welcome to Macedonia" messages on our cell phones.) and Bulgarian borders (except for a huge mountain range between us we could have looked at our neighbors!)
The train was quite comfortable, so we relaxed, and while Michael read some, my nose was glued to the window as I ticked off towns on my map! We rolled along through fields of sugar beets, some towns with industry. The towns were quaint, and very Eastern Europe looking! Very rural.....not a lot of real modern equipment...but more large wooden carts, some even with horses. Some of the tractors looked ready for retirement! Many village houses had large quantities of wood stacked for the winter. It had that "old country peasant" look. The day was beautiful, the sun shone down in rays as the clouds lifted from very rugged mountains.
The train was only about 5 cars long, only one was First Class. My goodness, coach class was pretty sad. A gypsy family was in one car. A heavy set man needing a shave was snoring with his head bobbing out into the aisle! A lady with a mop was cleaning.....and keeping her eyes on the gypsy kids. She wanted to keep them in their car and not go elsewhere, which I was glad of. The snack car...how to describe it? I have seen pictures of Russian women going to the store and the shelves were empty! That is what I saw....a lot of shelves with about 5 items on them. A long stand up counter along one side with dirty cups and plates. A "not very sharp looking" man behind the counter to take your order! Oh boy! Glad we had some food with us. Not much, but more than what was on offer here! I ordered coffee and it was terrible, so threw it down the toilet. Toilets...pretty stinky. Say no more.
We passed through the town of Drama...which has a nice name, I think! Lots of open fields, saw a sheepherder and his dog, fruit trees, olive trees. I suddenly thought..."California"! We saw some lovely lakes, some lovely valleys, really a great journey.
We arrived at Alexandropolus about 2:30 PM about an hour late. Plus we had about a 1 hour wait for the connecting train to take us to Pithio (the border). While standing on the platform, waiting, a young German backpacker on his way to Australia by way of Istanbul joined Michael and I for a chat.
The next train was a REAL shocker! A very short train and so ugly with horrible graffiti this time. No first class....everything about our trip seemed to change. On the other train, the countryside was wonderful, the seats comfortable, the windows clean. Now the villages seemed to all have military patrols. Men with rifles watching the train pass. On the map it appeared we were on the border of Turkey and heading North again. We were following a river with patches of forest, (a bit like Sauvie's Island along the Columbia River in Oregon) and directly on the other side was Turkey. It felt unfriendly, and I thought...."Russia".
Five minutes before our station another passenger, who we guessed worked for the railroad, urged us to have our bags by the door and ready to get off quickly. So when the train stopped and the conductor opened the door we were there ready...a couple of men (station masters?) from the Pithio Station come up...not to help us off, but to start shouting that we should not get off the train! Because of excitement, because of language differences, and confusion, we did not understand why we could not get off! "No get off, No train! Stay on train"! No matter how many times we told them we had to get off, that this was our destination, we kept being told that there WAS NO TRAIN, and to stay on! If we had stayed on, we would be in Bulgaria!
The conductor was only interested in getting us off! His duty was to get us onto the platform so the train could continue. Well now, this was becoming bewildering. The conductor won. We got off and he jumped back on the train, and the train started moving immediately. Meanwhile, the Pithio Station Masters did not know what to do with us. What we found out they were trying to tell us is this: The train we were to connect to...had left 2 hours previously, there was no train until 4:00 AM the next morning! Just what they expected us to do if we continued to Bulgaria is anyone's guess. At least they would be rid of us!
The only other person to get off with us was the young German back packer, who, being German and use to precision was totally stunned at the looseness of schedules, the lateness of trains, etc. Welcome to Greece, young man!
What do we do for the next ten plus hours? That is the best part of the story. Tune in for the next post!
Clue: We did not spend the whole time in this waiting room with the switchman's motorbike.
- At November 17, 2008 12:12 AM Lauren said...
That is a fantastic building though. Won't see anything like that in the United States. Although I'm sure waiting wasn't too fun. :)