OK, so we are on the ground at a remote train station on the Greece border. Now what? Next train is 4:00 AM tomorrow and it is now 5:00 in the afternoon. How will we spend the time? Looking around at where we were was a bit of a shocker! An ancient old wooden building, painted in the atrocious boring colour of gun metal grey, seemed to be our home for the next 11 hours! But the Station Master said he had to leave and would be closing! (See photos in previous post)
It turned out he closed his office, but left the waiting room open. Not that it was much of a room. One long wooden bench, and a few hard chairs, a motor scooter and a HUGE weighing machine! Michael and Martin, the German backpacker (we finally realized we must introduce ourselves if we were to be "best friends" for the next 11 hours), decided to leave me at the station, while they walked up a road that went up into the hills. Behind the station was the remnants of an old abandoned village. Interesting, but eerie. Broken windows, empty rooms, very interesting wood houses. I suddenly felt frightened and alone, and nervous. My gosh, I was directly on the border between two countries that are not the best of friends, having a pretty violent history not so long ago. Hmmmm..... I started pacing. And looking around.....
Next to the station I discovered a smallish building that was a little snack bar and had some booze inside and a man nearly asleep--decided to ignore him. While I know I am not young anymore, my mind starting working, and I was nervous that since he was old, he might not mind that I was old, and "come on to me". Ha, ha. Still.....it was only us. My protectors (Michael and Martin) were gone. And they seemed gone so long....I tried calling them on my mobile after 40 minutes. All I could hear were dogs barking....were they attacking my protectors? Would night come and they would not be back? It was starting to get dark.....Oh, what to do....Woe is me! Etc.
Suddenly, I saw them. I was mad and happy. Decided to be happy and let mad go. They had found that the road went to a village about 20 minutes up the road. While they did not actually go into the village, they saw it. So the decision was made to walk there and spend some time, finding food and warm shelter. Michael went into the snack bar and the man told him he was leaving! Leaving? Maybe going to the village? Yes? Great! So we asked for a lift up. The man really frowned when he realized he had to put 3 people PLUS luggage into his car.....but he remained friendly. (Editor: Karin charmed him.)
Once up at the village, he told us to wait in front of a restaurant. It was closed, but we understood him to say it would open soon! And it did. Two young women came, welcomed us in, and from there it only got better and better! We ordered a nice dinner. Then free drinks started arriving, free snacks, a dessert were all offered! The owner came in with his cronies and some young men were watching a football match. The atmosphere became like a huge party of laughing, drinking, and talking back and forth. We were included and made to feel like honoured guests! About midnight, we decided that we must leave, or we would be too drunk to make it down the hill! It was dark outside with few lights to find our way back down the road to the station.
Once in the station, Martin promptly laid out on the bench and Michael and I sat and nodded off, waking up, dozing while sitting up. We walked around, we felt chilled, we wondered how it could seem so long and only 15 minutes had passed. We felt like we were in the twilight zone. Then a man arrived and opened the office--without even a glance at us, he proceeded to start his paperwork. Imagine, coming to work at 3:00 in the morning! We envied him his coffee.... We did buy our required sleeping car tickets from him.
Then a train pulled in....a beautiful Turkish train. A man got out with a briefcase full of passports of the lucky sleepers on the train. While they processed the passports, we sat and watched. As they finished, and were about to leave we heard another train pull in. This was the train to take us on to Turkey but we could not get on it yet. We sat, we waited--for about another hour until the fancy train from Turkey left. A very official looking policeman came along and asked us for our passports, taking them with him. That is a weird feeling, to relinquish your passport and have them leave with it. Next we were told we could get on the train. We collected our things, and had to walk and pull them over 3 tracks with weeds to get to our train. I felt like a refugee leaving a communist country for freedom! It just felt unreal.
The sleeper car was weird. It had that little narrow aisle way that European trains have, but then you entered the sleeping compartment by going up two stairs! Once in the tiny cubicle you climbed ladders to get to the bed which was about 12 inches from the ceiling! Twins, one for Michael and one for me. The luggage was on the floor or on a rack over the door. It felt claustrophobic! I was telling myself that I must close my eyes and PRETEND it is big and spacious! We lay down immediately, only to have to get up and answer a knock at the door to retrieve our passports.
In a few minutes the train started to move!!!!!!!! Oh boy! Finally, at 5:00 AM we are leaving! The train moved VERY S L O W L Y....and crossed the bridge of the river dividing Turkey and Greece. Soldiers outside with guns, barbed wire, bright lights! And then....the train started to go faster but soon stopped again.
Another knock on the door with another official asking for passports. He looked at them and said, "Come with me." Oh, oh, what's the problem! Then we remembered that a Visa was required at a cost of 10 Euro each for Irish, 20 for Americans.The German lad did not have to pay anything. It didn't take long to pay and we were back in bed drifting asleep. We heard knocking on doors and it got louder as it got closer. At the knock on our door, we answered and got our passports back--pretty Visa stamp inside.
Soon the train was moving again and we were racing through the night across Turkey.