Travelling Summer 2016 – Part 10: Athens, Greece

The last leg of my journey in the summer of 2016 was to Athens, Greece. Just shy of midnight, on Friday the 19th of August, I boarded a night-train from Sofia, Bulgaria to Thessaloniki. I had a compartment to myself. This seemed great at first but then I found myself a bit more concerned by something happening than if I’d been sharing with people. Though nothing happened other than one passport check at 3am.

Arrived in Thessaloniki on time at 6:30am, despite leaving Sofia, Bulgaria late. I was travelling his whole time with an interrail ticket.

imag4664

So I hopped on the next train to Athens which turned out to be at 7:04am. It was very sunny and warm so I slept most of the way.

imag4638

However, I discovered reservations, after tickets, are mandatory on trains in Greece. I should’ve checked this out before but the ticket-checker was obviously used to this. They said they’d come back around after a while to get €20 off me – which turned out to be the reservation fee and not a fine!

I found out later upon waking up again that I was in fact sat in someone else’s seat; no need for reservation signs if EVERYONE reserves.

Arrived in Athens shortly after 1:30pm and hard time figuring out the Metro. Eventually got the Metro to Omonia and walked a bit through a rough looking area to a nice looking hotel.

I’d managed to save some money while travelling and had decided to stay in a hotel for my last stop. But in actuality this hotel was not much nicer than any hostel I’d stayed in. I also ended up being a bit bored and lonely. All the activities advertised in the hotel were for people who travelled with a lot more money than me. A good lesson though!

imag4641

That said, balcony views are always nice.

The next day I took the tram to the coast – which was definitely where I should’ve stayed instead! I found a beach bar. I’d forgotten my swim wear but it was nice to sit and watch the water in the shade, eat pasta for breakfast and see cats.

I then visited the Sea-Turtle Centre.

imag4649

It’s nice to see sea-turtles! But also sad as they’re all injured and sick, and mostly on purpose by people. My tour guide did tell me that most of them make a full recovery and get released back into the wild.

My tour guide, upon finding out I was ravelling alone, invited me to come swimming with a group on them that evening. I ended up taking the wrong tram and being totally delayed, but I did luckily get to find them the next day!

imag4663

Monday, I visited the flea market and bought some gifts to bring home, before meeting up with the sea-turtle tour guide.

imag4659

They took me for a drive around Athens, up the mountains and to a coffee shop. We then picked up another volunteer from the Sea-Turtle Centre and drove out to Poseidon’s Temple. It was crazy hot, between 35-40 degrees Celsius all day. The road out was also very windy, but it was worth it!

On the way back we stopped in a different beach bar. It was a bit postcard-like.

The evening I packed and prepared all my stuff to fly back to Ireland the next day.

The bus to the airport from Syntagma was a nice journey. It was nice to see the landscape and mountains again.

Travelling Summer 2016 – Part 9: Sofia, Bulgaria

Wednesday, August 17th: On the overnight train to Bulgaria myself and the British couple I was sharing a compartment with got woken at 3am by border control. We were meant to arrive in Sofia, Bulgaria at 8:45am but actually arrived at 9:20am.

The British couple and I said goodbye, and then I immediately found myself walking towards Makedonia street with some Belgian and Swiss travellers. We departed after a while and some people along the way gave me directions until I bumped into an Italian traveller looking for the same hostel!

imag4610

Here I found myself before travelling to Greece.

Hostel Mostel – whichs turns out to be the nicest hostel I’ve ever stayed in.

Dropped off my bags and decided to join the Free Sofia Walking Tour at 11am as I was too early to go into my room. I’d never been on a walking tour before and expected it to be really lame and touristic – but it was actually great! Our guide was a very funny historian who was super enthusiastic and made it amazing. They also had lots of other tours to suggest to see more of Bulgaria.

On the way back I walked through a market selling communist era memorabilia and Cathedral of Saint Alexandar Nevski.

imag4420

Took a walk to the train station and around town for a while before chilling in the common room with the Italian traveller I’d met.

Thursday the Italian traveller and I decided to go on a hiking tour to the Boyana Waterfall. The hike up took about two hours, with a ten minute break, and was super beautiful.

Boyana Waterfall –

imag4457

and then Boyana Church.

imag4492

It was a small group and everyone was very friendly.

The tour guide was also very enthusiastic and chatted with us about lots of stuff.

imag4479

We made friends with some other travellers on the tour, and after, four of us got a recommendation for lunch from our tour guide; the national archive.

A somewhat imposing building, that you can’t enter without giving passport details, turns out to have a café on the top floor with a 360° view of Sofia.

So you can see the weather coming a mile away!

We decided to go to dinner together, too, to a traditional Bulgarian restaurant; Manastirska Magernitza.

 

One of the other hikers turned out out to be staying in Hostel Mostel so we returned to shower and nap before heading out again.

We all wandered around town after, taking pictures and discussing travelling – and then had to bid goodbye to one of our party. This was surprisingly sad as we’d all known each other less than a day!

We walked back after and went to bed.

Friday I headed to Rila Monastery, a tour which was arranged through the hostel.

They had drivers who drove the two hours out to Rila, which is a lovely drive through some small villages. Going with me were two German and one French traveller.

We stopped into a short hiking route – a short pilgrimage in fact to visit the cave of a monk.

And it turned out you couldn’t come back out from the cave – you had to climb out a small hole in the roof of the cave.

This was actually spectacularly terrifying, even to small woman experienced in circus. But the five of us, including the driver-come-tour-guide survived. We then visited a small chapel dedicated to the mink.

We then carried on to Rila.

imag4591

We had two hours to walk around.

There was also a lot carefully preserved frescoes.

Also some traditional clothing and information on farming inside some parts of the building.

imag4594

We left a bit early, as everyone was quite tired, and it turned out it was the driver’s last day before holidays so we figured they wouldn’t mind finishing early.

The next day I would realise I left my travelling partner of five years, Günther, in that car.

imag4601

The last picture I have of him, looking at Rila.

I went to the train station and reserved my space on the overnight train to Thessaloniki, Greece. I spent some time before the train in the hostel talking to a Welsh family who’d moved to Bulgaria. When I returned to the train station I bumped into three of the French travellers who’d been on the hiking tour. We chatted until the train arrived – at 11:55pm, 25 minutes late.

I had a compartment to myself this time, which at first seemed great – but then was actually a bit unnerving. But did eventually get to sleep.

Travelling Summer 2016 – Part 8: Beograd, Serbia

I shared a compartment on an overnight train with a German family of four from Zagreb, Croatia, to Beograd, Serbia, Friday night the 12th of August.

We were woken up twice by border control between 3am and 4am which was a bit terrifying. I did however get my first ever stamp on my passport. I had also almost made the mistake of bringing only my passport card with me on my travels, forgetting that Serbia is not in the EU.

imag4268

We arrived at 6am, and I went straight to my hostel, Downtown Hostel, which turned out to be right across the road from the train station. I was five hours early for check-in but figured I’d be able to leave my bag there and wander ’round.

Upon reaching the building, which could be spotted by the banner up on the sixth floor balcony, I became afraid I had made a bad booking choice. I rang the buzzer and was let into a foyer that looked like it had long ago been abandoned. The elevator didn’t work so I climbed six flights of stairs with about 15kg of bags on me.

However, after checking-in my fears were allayed. The staff were incredibly nice and apologised numerous times that they couldn’t let me into my room – despite the fact that it was me that was five hours early. They locked my bag in a storage room, gave me a map, gave me some history about Serbia, suggested some places to go, gave me lots of coffee, plums and the local spirit, Rakia.

imag4314

The view of the station from the balcony.

During my first morning, someone came up to me and repeated “Kalemegdan” while pointing down the road to what turned out to be a large park surrounding Beograd fortress.

I took a relaxed stroll around it and then went and got food from Tribeca.

I made my way back in the direction of the hostel, booked my next train for Sofia, Bulgaria, chatted to some of the other people in the hostel, and finally retired to my room for a while – all before midday. I then napped til 3pm.

The rest of the day was relaxed. Visited a super market, sat near the station watching people, walked along the waterfront.

imag4309

I’d been told by the staff in the hostel that Beograd was very safe – at night and for women. I found this to be true.

I returned to the hostel again, chatted to some more of the residents, had more rakia, and then went to bed.

I woke up the next day, Sunday, around 10:30am and headed to the Nikola Tesla museum around midday. The next English tour was 2pm so I walked back towards the Orthodox Church of Saint Sava. It was of course unfinished at this time, because all the coolest places have unfinished churches.

I was also accidentally present for a baptism.

Walked back to the museum for the Nikola Tesla tour which turned out to be a bit lame. The tour guide really went for it but it’s really just one room rather than a museum. In their defence I hear all the good stuff is in the states.

Found the Bohemian Quarter.

Also the National Theatre off Republika Square. It was closed, which was a theme with national theatres on my travels.

I was on my way back to the hostel, quite tired, to read a book and go to bed. I decided this was a bit lame and decided I would at least read my book in a bar or café for a while before simply returning to the hostel. This turned out to be a good choice.

I stopped into a very quiet bar/café near the hostel which was empty at the time. I got talking to the barman for a bit, who was local, and he recommended up stairs for reading.

imag4358

As I was about to go upstairs another tourist, from France, entered the bar demanding orange juice and company outside. So myself and the barman went outside.

We got into great conversation and then started coaxing unsuspecting people who wandered in to come join us. We were a god while doing this when two other tourists joined us! Another from France and the other from Finland. They had met in their hostel and had been looking for a different bar but we convinced them to stay with us.

It turned out it was the barman’s last night working this bar, as he’d gotten a new job on a cruise ship. After much deliberation and negotiation the four tourists convinced him to join us in going to a night club to celebrate!

It turned out Beograd is known for it’s night-life, and has a great many all-night nightclubs on the river.

The first French tourist departed early, as they were getting up early to leave the next day, but the rest of us stayed out ’til about 4am, and then exchanged contact details to meet up the following day.

imag4367

The view under the bridge as we left the night-club.

Monday, myself and the French and Finnish tourists who’d met in their hostel, had a beach day – if you’re allowed call an artificial lake, contained in a river, a beach.

 

Ada Ciganlija seemed like a place you could spend a few days with its many restaurants, play-parks, bars, a zip line and many other activities.

As it started to get dark – and buggy! – we walked back out to get the bus back to the city centre. We met up with another tourist, from Denmark, for a few drinks, before the Finnish tourist and I departed as we were both leaving the next day.

Tuesday was history of Serbia day for me. I packed my stuff up, paid my bill and met the manager of the hostel on my way out and had a surprisingly tearful goodbye. I dropped my bag off at the lockers in the train station and proceeded to get – not exactly lost – but unsure of my way as I walked towards the Museum of Yugoslavia History.

This museum actually turned out to be three museums; 25 May Museum, House of Flowers and the Old Museum/Old Storeroom.

All three museums relate to the history of Serbia and Yugoslavia and Josip Broz Tito. I’d highly recommend it.

imag4398

I found a bus going back to the city centre, went to the train station and spent the last of my Serbian dinar on postcards and snacks and sat reading a while. The French tourist found me and we chatted for a bit. I boarded my train around 9:40pm somewhat sadly.

imag4402

Travelling Summer 2016 – Part 7: Travelling to Zagreb, Croatia

To get to Zagreb from Dresden involved many train trips. I boarded a train to Wien, Austria about 9pm, Tuesday August 9th, and arrived there about 7am the next day.

imag4102

I’d had my interrail ticket taken upon boarding and had it returned to me, along with a chocolate croissant and a coffee (I’d been asked upon boarding did I like orange juice or coffee).

imag4101

My temporary travelling companions, two Danish people I’d shared the compartment with, parted ways. I checked I was on the right platform, made the most of the station Wi-Fi, and then boarded a train to Celje, Slovenia.

imag4109

My new temporary travelling companions were a couple from Belfast, who were travelling to Slovenia. Went between chatting with them, napping, playing a card game and wandering around the car. Later two older Austrian people joined us and gave out about our luggage arrangements.

Arrived in Celje a bit late.

imag4135

But made the next train; on to Đurmanec! Got checked by border control twice on this tiny two-carriage train, one of whom seemed somewhat suspicious of a lone Irish person travelling on small local trains to Zagreb.

Arrived in Đurmanec – and hit the language barrier hard. There was a lot of miming and pointing involved in telling me my next train would be here soon for Zabok.

Another small local train. I was the only one on it for the first few stops, travelling through the Croatian countryside. Then arrived in Zabok and straight onto the last train of the day for Zagreb. I was joined by a German person for this journey who happily entertained me and my poor German.

Arrived in Zagreb around 5pm! Here I was staying with a penpal I had met five years previously. We’d been in and out of contact through letters, Facebook and LinkedIn. They were in work when I arrived so I took some time to catch up via Wi-Fi. I also tried to use the bathroom in the station but sadly got shouted at for not knowing the currency correctly.

Got through to my pen-pal and got to their house after a few stops on the tram. We were both pretty tired so went to bed early after catching up.

imag4236

The next day, Thursday 11th of August, started with getting slightly lost and ending up at Jordanovac. Eventually found the number 9 tram and went a few stops and found my way again.

imag4233

Found the Dolac market and Zagreb cathedral.

Then casually followed a tour group from the cathedral to the Naive Art Gallery.

Then found the Botanical gardens which was the highlight of Zagreb for me.

Sat in front of the gallery in the green space and looked up a vegetarian place to eat.

imag4198

The internet recommended Zrno, which did good falafel and great pudding.

Friday was my last day in Zagreb. My penpal was also packed that morning to go on holidays in Budapest. I wasn’t feeling very adventurous that day so I stayed in my penpal’s apartment and tried to eat some of the food I’d been told to bring (as it would only go off while they were away), read Sandman and packed.

At 6pm I got the tram back to the train station and sat out in the green ’til it got buggy. I went inside the train station and soon had some stranger talking to me, trying to convince me to go on holidays with them and trying to buy me a drink.

I bought some books from the book stall in the station and sat down for a while to read, and got talking to someone from Poland. They were amused to hear that the biggest juggling convention in the world would be in Poland the following year.

imag4247

We boarded the train to Beograd, Serbia, late at night. My temporary companions in sleep were a German family of four.

imag4252