Tuesday, November 04, 2008


Greece. Instead of spending more time in Bulgaria, we decided to approach Turkey from Northern Greece, ThessalonĂ­ki to be exact. Ideally, we would take a boat from here but it's way too expensive and not entirely clear if any of the ferries go where we want to go. Instead, we booked the night train to Istanbul tonight. Kent and I are wandering independently today. He's at the War Museum and I'm checking out the internet and trying to write a little. Since time is running short, it will be a very little.

The bus ride here was easy enough and a little amusing. We were told that the bus would leave at 9am but to meet at the office where we bought the tickets at 8am. We went out with some Aussies on Saturday night and even though we didn't stay up too late and I didn't drink very much, I was pretty damn grouchy on Sunday morning. My stupid cold was still playing it's tricks and I felt lousy. Still, we did get moving in a decent amount of time and made it to the little office by 8am. I was desperate to get a bite to eat since my stomach was a little unsettled. The ticket guy insisted that I didn't have time but I ignored him and got a roll anyway. On the bus, I noticed that it was only 8:20. I didn't understand what the big hurry was. Ten minutes later, the bus left. Thirty minutes early. I have no idea what was going on.

We made one stop on the road at a lonely little Bulgarian chain cafe. We and the rest of the passengers took seats at the outdoor tables and without saying a word we were served a sour yogurt drink (like a lassi) and, a few minutes later, some grilled cheese and ham sandwiches. Kent and I shrugged our shoulders and ate up. Was it free? Part of the bus ride? Nope. A few minutes later, a check was put on our table for 3.36 lev--that's about 1.15 euros--maybe 2 dollars. Nice. I really wanted coffee so I asked for it. The waitress looked at me like I was crazy, took the check away and brought us two espressos. When she brought the check back, the charge was exactly the same. Okay. We paid and spent the rest of our lev in the little shop--a beer for Kent and a chocolate bar for me.

The rest of the trip was uneventful. In ThessalonĂ­ki, we had a bit of a hunt for the hotel recommended by the guidebook we borrowed in Sofia. A friendly man on the street saw us studying a map and offered to help. He called the hotel for us but got no answer. He guided us to the street where he thought it was and we found it--then he bid us farewell. At the hotel, we were told two rooms were available and asked if we wanted to see the first one. I said yes and the clerk handed us the keys. Kent and I climbed a couple flights of stairs and found the room. When Kent opened the door, a smell came out that was so horrible that I couldn't step inside. He went to the window and looked out and I said, "I can't do it." We walked back downstairs and I told the clerk, "It has a terrible smell." Kent asked about the other room. The clerk shook his head and said, "It's even worse. You will find another hotel on the main street." We thanked him and left. Kent said, "That was pretty grim. It's good you didn't look out the window--that's why it was so bad. The alley was full of all crap. It was never going to air out." Yikes.

We stopped in at another place right around the corner. We were quoted the same price and shown to a small non-smelly room. We took it and spent a couple of pleasant nights there--well, except for the mosquitoes. Oh well. At least there were no bedbugs and it didn't stink of mildew and garbage.

ThessalonĂ­ki is big and very densely built--mostly high rise apartments from the 50's-60's-70's with balconies and air conditioners retrofitted. Everything is slightly crumbling due to the sea air and general neglect. Cafes abound and you can see people sipping their iced coffees (frappes) all day and night. It's quite warm here--one could wear shorts though hardly anyone does. The historical parts of the city include several Roman ruins, a lot of an old Roman wall and many, many Byzantine Churches--mostly recently restored but still quite impressive. I could easily spend many more days here, but it's time to move along.

Yesterday, we took a long walk, visited the Archaeological Museum and the Museum of Byzantine Culture. In the evening we went to a free brass band concert--they were quite good, though it was a tribute to someone and we couldn't figure out who or why.

Tonight, we take the train to Istanbul--and we have real sleeping berths reserved! I'm excited about that. It may not be a great night's sleep, but at least I won't be awoken by cigarette smugglers. Heh.

Grateful for
: decent accommodations.

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