We took an all-night train from Athens to Alexandropolis. Every seat was taken in the train, so Susan and I could not lie down and rest, as we had on other trains. With the new austerity programs in Greece, they have cut back on railway schedules. So one should expect full trains on long trips.
We got to Thessaloniki at sunrise. There the train thinned out. Now we could spread out and have a leisure ride through the mountains of eastern Greece. To me, there is simply a great joy in visiting the rural areas of new countries by train. Many of the routes are over a 100 years old and have been cut along ancient routes. This run was full of tunnels and long climbs. Ahead I could see the diesel engine barreling down as we slowed to 20 mph on the climbs. The views were great. Once, cedar forests had stood here. But long ago, an army of goats and sheep had forever removed them. The mountains were now left with grasses nubbed to the ground, and all the corollary erosion that came with it.
At 2 pm, our train backed into the coastal town of . It turned out that we had just missed the bus to Istanbul and would have to wait 12 hours for the next one. We were a bit tired, so we went to a nearby hotel and negotiated for a room for 12 hours. When the desk man looked at my passport, he said “We see you last night! On ‘Locked Up Abroad.'” He then ran next door and got a few friends. They looked at my passport, then me, and agreed that I was the same guy as the one on TV the night before. They all laughed and shook my hand and offered a toast. This was all a bit odd to me. It had never happened before. But clearly, the service improved.
We grabbed a 2 am bus and made it a point to get in the back seat. There are five contiguous seats there, and if the bus does not fill up, we can lay down. Off to Istanbul.
The annoying part is when they wake you up at 4 am at the Turkish border. There you must stand outside in the cold night air for over an hour while they completely search you and the bus for arms and explosives. All buses must go through a special scanning machine. Whatever it does, it lights up the sky around it.
We we get aboard and get to Istanbul at about 8 am. One taxi to the old center of the city. Within 5 minutes, we have found an acceptable room near the Blue Mosque for 40 euros. As with the rest of the trip, getting rooms in the off-season has been easy and reasonable.