Athens to Croatia: Don't Expect to go by Train all the Way!
June 6th to 10th
On the morning of June 6th, Meghan and I arrived at the port of Piraeus near Athens. After spending the week in Santorini, we decided to spend a night in Athens to see the sights and then carry on towards Slovenia and Croatia. We had to be in Slovenia by Friday evening to see my friends Simon and David as we had plans to spend the weekend out at David's parents' summerhouse in Croatia. That gave us time to stop in Athens, spend a couple days traveling, a night in Zagreb in Croatia, and then meet the guys on Friday. Meghan and I had planned it all out in Santorini.
Anyways... We arrived in Athens in the morning after catching a metro from the port, and made our way to the hostel to drop off our stuff. Then it was time to head out and see the historic sites that Athens has to offer.
One of our stops was the Acropolis, which has the Parthenon on top. It's a pretty cool thing to see. I am amazed at how they would have built it, as it is on top of a very large hill and they had to haul a lot of building supplies, especially marble, up to the top. Impressive in my opinion! And since things do start to fall apart after hundreds of years, they have been restoring the Parthenon, so unfortunately you cannot see it without all the construction going on. Oh well - it was still pretty cool. Just below the Parthenon there is an old open theatre, which we also got to see. I thought that was also really interesting, and think it would have been quite the site to see back in the Greek glory days - the large theatre with the Parthenon standing high above it.
Next we stopped to see some more ruins, and as I was about to take a picture, Ryan and Lauren appeared! They were also in Athens for a couple days and were out seeing the sites. We chatted to them for a bit, decided to meet for dinner, then went our separate ways again for the afternoon. Meghan and I had to go book our train tickets for the next day, which Lauren and Ryan didn't need to do, so there was no point in spending the rest of the afternoon together.
So... A piece of advice to any fellow travelers... Don't expect to get out of Greece by train. This was the lesson Meghan and I learned. We decided to go to the train station to reserve our train seats for the next day. We had looked at our timetable that Eurail gives out with the passes when we were in Santorini, and it said that there are night trains going to Sofia in Bulgaria everyday, and we decided this would be our plan out of Greece. Then from Sofia we would go to Belgrade and on to Zagreb. A two day trip by train. But when we got to the train station, the international tickets wicket was closed. We asked one of the employees where we could buy a ticket to Sofia, to which he replied "Athens - Thessaloniki, train. Thessaloniki - Sofia, bus." Thinking he misunderstood us, we said "But we want to take the train to Sofia." Again the man said "Athens - Thessaloniki, train. Thessaloniki - Sofia, bus." "So, no international trains?" "No trains." Time to figure out Plan B! Since we couldn't get a train out of Greece, we decided to go back to the hostel and figure out our next plan of action.
Back at the hostel, we googled trains in Greece and discovered that international trains stopped running from Greece in January, thanks to the recession and trying to watch their spending. We also figured it would take a really long time to take a bus from Athens or Thessaloniki up to Sofia, and didn't really want to sit on a bus for a long time. We also were not sure what the trains would be like once we got to Sofia - would we have to try find our way from the bus station to the train station? Would they accept our Eurail pass? (We heard it's hard to use in Eastern Europe.) Would we miss the train and be behind a day? And so on... So we looked at flights out of Athens, but they were more money than we wanted to spend. Then it hit us! We should just take a ferry out! Back to Italy! And then we could take either another ferry back across the ocean to Croatia or trains through Italy to Slovenia. With some help from the Internet and ferry websites, it seemed that this was quite possible based on the schedules. So that was that. The next morning we would try catch a bus to the Patras, another city with a port, and then take a ferry from there to Ancona in Italy. Once in Ancona, we figured we could reassess our situation. With a little more help from google, we figured out that the bus station was not that far from our hostel, so we would be fine. Or so we thought.
In the morning, we packed up early to go. We made our way to the place that we found directions to, but once we got there, there was no bus terminal. Problem. So we asked a bus driver who was stopped nearby how to get to the bus station. He mumbled something about a bus number and pointed in one direction, but we didn't really understand. So we stopped in a hotel to ask the reception for more help. Luckily, he was better help to us. He gave us directions, told us to buy a ticket at the kiosk outside on the street and we would be good to go. A while later, we were at the bus station! Success! Then, we purchased our bus ticket to Patras and was told the next bus was at 9:00 am. It was currently 8:30, so we decided just to go wait by the bus. As luck would have it, as we got there and looked quizzically at the parked bus that was there already, an employee looked at our ticket and told us it was for the next bus. But there were still open seats on the bus leaving now, which also happened to be the express bus, and we could just take that instead if we wanted. So we did! A few hours later we were in Patras, and a little while after that, we had our ferry tickets to Italy.
Being as cheap as possible, we have always purchased just deck tickets on ferries and we have had good luck with finding places indoors to sit. But when we got on this ferry to Ancona, we really were on the outside deck for seating. And it was an overnight ferry. Fun. We could have upgraded to a cabin, but decided we would tough it out on the deck of he ferry. There was also plexiglas around parts of the edge, which blocked the wind, so it was not too bad. We slept on the deck on the hard plastic benches, but in the end it wasn't so bad. We were a little stiff in the morning, but we had saved €30 so we were okay with that!
Once in Ancona the next morning, we made our way to the ferry offices and booked a ferry to Split in Croatia. It didn't leave until that evening though so we had some time to kill. We made our way into town, found some benches to relax on and pulled out our books. It had rained for a few minutes and we hoped that more rain would hold off until we were at least on the ferry since we didn't really have anywhere to go and we had our backpacks with us. Thankfully it didn't rain. Just a few drops. So we sat and read and eventually wandered around looking for a grocery store to pick up some snacks, and then sat some more. It sucks trying to get around when you have a backpack to carry so we were not really to enthused to try explore the town a lot.
That evening we boarded the ferry, and headed off to Croatia! We arrived in Split the next morning and immediately I liked the place. It was gorgeous to look at from the ferry and just as nice once you were on land. It is not a big city by any means, but it had a great feel. We wandered around, checked out the marketplace, and just took it easy. We only had one day there as we had to catch a train the next morning to head north so we could meet up with Simon and David, but the one day was good. It was the kind of place where you either had to plan on relaxing at the beach or do some excursions such as scuba diving if you were to stay for a while. But I am still glad we spent the day there!
On Friday morning we caught the train and headed up to Rijeka, a port city in Croatia. Simon told us they would meet us there rather than in Slovenia since it was close to where we would be spending the weekend. At the Split train station, Meghan and I kinda laughed when we saw the train pull up as it was only two cars long! Not exactly a huge train. And it went sooo slow. Oh well. Once we got there, we had some time to kill, so we dropped our bags off at the train station and went off in search of some supper. It was my birthday so we figured a nice dinner and a drink would be good. Which lead us to finding delicious calamari! And let me stress the word delicious. I am not really a huge seafood kinda person, but decided to try the calamari, and so we shared a plate. For about $8 CDN, we got a HUGE plate!! Sooo good! I still can not believe how much calamari was on that plate.
After dinner we wandered around some more and ended up back near the train station, where we decided to stop for another beer. It was getting later and we had to get our luggage out of the train station, so chilling at a restaurant and having a drink seemed like a pretty good idea. We had one, and as we were finishing the staff started cleaning everything up so they could close. Not wanting to be rude and stay, we finished our drinks and got our stuff to go. As we were just putting on our backpacks our server came over and asked if we wanted to stay longer as it was not a problem for them to stay open for a bit longer. (There were some other guys drinking still anyways.) Then, one of the guys from the other table came over to ask if we wanted to join them for a beer. Well, since we didn't really have anywhere to go, we figured why not. So there we were, sitting in a little bar, having a drink with four Croatian guys (two of whom were having an intense discussion - from what we gathered, one was a "lying, cheating b******" and the other "an a******." Interesting...) waiting for Simon and David to arrive. A small beer later, Simon called us - they were in Rijeka just trying to find the train station and were not having luck. Luckily (or so I thought) we just so happened to be sitting with four locals who could probably give him directions so I passed the phone over to one of them to ask for his help. Not helpful at all. But somehow they managed to find the train station and a few minutes later we got a text message from Simon saying they were there! Time for the weekend of fun to start!