Bye Bye Greece, Hello Istanbul

Since our last post, we spent 2 nice quiet nights in API Call ErrorDelphi, the site of the famous API Call ErrorTemple of Apollo. The ruins were much the same as many that we’ve already seen, but each site still has something unique about it. There were a couple of buildings that were interesting, and an interesting stone wall. The downside was that though there is a little train that supposedly runs between the site and the town, we’re not convinced it actually goes to the site – we saw it several times around town, but not once on the trek to or from the site; so we ended up walking a fair bit more than we expected to. As a side note, we have both lost enough weight that our pants are too baggy!

The town of Delphi was nice; we arrived around 9:30 at night, and decided for a change not to rely on the guide book, and just wander around to find a nice pension, which we’ve found to be nicer and of better value than many hotels and hostels. Indeed, the youth hostel in Olympia, which is recommended by the Lonely Planet as being “above the Greek average” (we still haven’t figured out what that means), was a dive (and located on the main road which led to it being quite loud). We stuck it out for 2 nights rather than trying to find another place that might be affordable, but in Delphi we just had to find something better. The first place that we found, on a back road, was cheap (35 Euro), cheaper than the hostel in Athens, had a very large, clean room, nice balcony with API Call Errorgorgeous view, and included breakfast. One thing Greece does have going for it is that the breakfasts are a fair bit better than Turkish or Arab breakfast. We had wanted to stay another night in Delphi, but of course the mess of a transportation system lay scrap to that plan. We chose not to travel on Friday, since it seems that in Greece, many things operate on Friday with a Sunday schedule, meaning we couldn’t have left Delphi until 3:30pm. Despite the bus system having issues with Fridays, the train system does manage to run the same schedule daily.

From Delphi, we had another long bit of travel to API Call ErrorMeteora, an area where several API Call Errormonasteries were built high among some interesting and remote rock formations. They look a little bit like the fairy chimneys of Cappadocia, but larger and formed in a different way. The tiny village of Kastraki, which is actually closer to the site than the larger town of Kalambaka, was remarkably untouristy – we assumed the closer village would have more tourists, but we were grateful to be mistaken on that count. We also had a restful stay there. The API Call Errorone monastery that we did visit was quite interesting, different than anything else we’ve yet seen on this trip, and had several API Call Errormuseums and displays, similar in style to that of Fort Edmonton Park – much more an example of daily living than a traditional museum. Many tourists were pilgrims, awestruck by the fantastic murals and artworks (the sanctuary was truly remarkable, but no photos allowed, of course), and secluded lifestyle of the API Call Errormonks; but many were also typical tourists insistent on ignoring the ‘no photo’ signs and then getting yelled at by attendants. Sigh.

We took a taxi to the top, and then walked all the way down. There were footpaths that may have been faster and more interesting than walking along the road, but of course, in true Greek fashion, they weren’t even remotely marked (we didn’t want to risk getting lost, which was a possibility), so we hiked down the road, staying out of the way of passing tour buses, and by the time we got back to the pension, we were about as tired as we’ve been on this trip. And sore – despite taking more energy to walk uphill, it’s actually easier on the muscles.

From Meteora, we decided to take a train to the Dadia Forest Reserve, in the far northern part of Greece, near the Turkish border. We thought a train might be a nice change, we could get a sleeper, as it was an overnight train, and save some money on accommodations. Nope. It was just another big hassle. The first train was fine, despite oddly not being allowed to buy tickets until 10 minutes before departure, but once it had dropped us off in the middle of nowhere, where we made a connection onto the Athens-Thessaloníki train, the real trouble started. Apparently, we couldn’t purchase a sleeper ticket until Thessaloníki. We didn’t understand why, we assumed the sleepers were all full until that point. No, it turns out that they don’t add sleepers until then. Actually, even that isn’t true – they had sleeper cars, that were being used as regular cars (they can be converted from benches into bunks), but apparently it’s more efficient to spend an hour ditching a bunch of sleeper cars, and then adding just one. That’s older and more decrepit than the ones they just ditched. So by the time we actually managed to figure out what was going on and how to get a sleeper bunk, (an extra €8 each) it was almost 1 am, and we arrived in Soufli, the station closest to Dadia, at 7:30. To top it off, what had been a fairly smooth ride to Thessaloníki became very bumpy and jerky afterwards. Not the best train experience we’ve had.

Dadia was worth it, though. We took at taxi to the reserve, were shown a room in the ‘hostel’ which turned out to be one of the nicer rooms we’ve had. And it was quiet. We would have stayed another night there (3 instead of 2), but we didn’t have the foresight to take out more cash…there was no ATM or place to cash our travellers cheques in the village. 🙁 The reserve is beautiful. It’s home to 36 of 38 European API Call Errorraptor species, and smaller birds and reptiles and mammals as well. They have an observation cabin which looks over a feeding area (they provide food for the raptors when natural prey is in short supply); we saw a couple of large birds, but they mostly seemed to be in hiding while we were there. It was a very relaxing place to spend a couple of days, though we had to be careful not to read too much, as our reading supply was almost depleted – Greeks don’t believe in book exchanges, so we had to buy all our reading material while we were there, at exorbitant prices, naturally, at the few places that sold English books, which we hadn’t found any of on the mainland. So we had to make we had last until Istanbul where we figured we’d have less trouble finding books again. (This turned out to be true, though we did have to make use of a used bookstore which did not give us a very good credit on the books we traded in.)

Another interesting, though generally less stressful train ride, and we are now in Istanbul. We got in pretty late last night, but still managed to go out for a good meal, as we had too many days in Greece (at least on the mainland) where we didn’t have a single good meal. The Greek bus and train stations have very little to offer in terms of food. The Turkish stations are much much much nicer by comparison (and cleaner – public bathrooms in Greece are just nasty! I couldn’t bring myself to use the one at the border – I waited until we were on the train, whose toilet was actually cleaner). One thing we have remarked about Greece, is that they appear to have little pride in maintenance. Many buildings in many towns were abandoned, falling down, in shambles, we stuck to using restrooms in the hotels and restaurants only, museums occasionally…

Greece was certainly an interesting place to visit (I would say it has more than its share of UNESCO World Heritage Sites), but it’s not an especially easy destination as an independent, public-transport, reliant traveller. I can certainly understand why there are so many package tours, and so many car-rental places. Having a car would certainly have made things a great deal more convenient, but more expensive in a country which drained our funds pretty fast as it was.

And now on to Istanbul!

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