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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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!

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

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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 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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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Travelling Summer 2016 – Part 6: Berlin and Dresden

I arrived in Berlin 10:22am, Monday the 8th of August. I was tired after getting two night trains from Amsterdam after the European Juggling Convention (EJC) with an interrail ticket – and as soon as I stepped off the train in Berlin Hauptbahnhopf I realised I’d left my hat on the train!

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It’s a hat that belonged to my dad, of the cowboy style, which he gave to me after I pointed out how many of these he had. It made for a great sun-hat. I was only a few stops away from the hat’s final destination, Berlin Ostbahnhopf, so I followed it and found their lost and found. I explained as best I could in German that I’d left my hat on the train, filled out their lost and found form (knowing exactly what train, what time, which carriage, which SEAT even it was located above) hoping I would somehow be reunited with it.
SPOILERS: I was not reunited with it.

I returned to Berlin Hauptbahnhopf, and had breakfast there

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I also  made some reservations to begin the journey to Zagreb, Croatia, the following night. I originally thought I’d see some friends in Berlin but of course most of them were still travelling after the EJC!

So I wandered around Alexanderplatz, got talking to an Italian person who had just arrived in Berlin looking for work. They pointed me in the direction of some Wi-Fi and we parted ways, and I went in search of a hostel for the night.

I found The Circus Hostel – which is fine but I wouldn’t recommend if you’re looking for anything circussy other than the name.

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Though they did have a David Hasselhof shrine!

While the day should’ve been a day of juggling – it was just a day of laundry, buying yet another towel (the second of this trip so far – spoilers, this one also gets left behind), nice pasta – though I did eventually meet a friend for a drink.

We went to a hipster-esque bar nearby, Haus am See – like the Peter Fox song!

After which I went and slept in a bed for the first time in two weeks.

Got up the next day and packed, had disgusting scrambled eggs from a place called Godot, on my way the tram.

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Also it turned out I was in Berlin at the wrong time!

Got on the M12 (Berliner Allee/Weißenesee-Am Kupfergraben) to Friederichstraße. The ticket machine on the tram only took exact change, and I thought I’d be alright until  got to Friederichstraße but at the very first stop six ticket checkers got on! Tried to explain the ticket problem and one of the ticket checkers hurriedly tried to give me change for a €1 coin and ended up giving me 90c, and my €1 coin back.

Got the S-Bahn from Friederichstraße to the Hauptbahnhopf, and went to go buy a train ticket for Berlin to Dresden. I made a mistake in doing so. My interrail ticket allowed me five days of travel out of 15 days, which I had already planned out. Thinking Berlin to Dresden wouldn’t be so expensive I decided to buy this ticket. What I should have done was used a journey for this ticket and bought one of the later tickets, for example, Zagreb to Beograd. The train extremely buys though.

Arrived in Dresden at 3pm, and just wandered the city for a while.

I went to visit what was advertised as the Japanese Palace – but was not actually converted into an exhibition of dinosaurs. The people working there seemed as confused as I was.

The courtyard was the only part that would suggest what had been before.

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I took my time wandering back i the direction of the station.

There was a science exhibition going amongst the beautiful buildings.

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After buying food for the journey, doing some juggling on the platform I boarded my second night train for Wien. I didn’t have my passport taken as expected but instead had my interrail ticket taken. I was then shown to a six bed compartment I was sharing with two Danish people. They were very friendly and we chatted for a bit before going to sleep.

Travelling Summer 2016 – Part 5: Night trains to Berlin and the start of interrailing.

The morning of Sunday, the 7th of August, was a sad affair. The nine days of the European Juggling Convention (EJC) were over for another year. Camp Ireland, including some of us who’d been here two weeks, many at least twelve days, had to pack up our tents and head on. Most people weren’t leaving until at least the next day, one person was staying on for the take down, and many of us were to continue travelling before going back the way we’d come.

I woke up a lot between 6am and 10am and finally made the decision to get up and start packing. There were decisions to be made about what to keep, what to leave, who should take what home now, who could use that half bottle of shampoo best and who would make the most use of leftover food.

The ticket machine in Almere Poort only takes coins or card – no notes. When I arrived at it I was, of course, met by a huge throng of people. Eventually it transpired that  the ticket machine was no longer accepting coins – then no longer accepting cards. With some people in a rush to get to the airport and main train stations, people began climbing the gates – after taking pictures of the machine’s angry, uncooperative screen.

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I made it to Amsterdam Centraal early thinking I’d soon be on a train to Berlin. I was told I would have to wait until 8.28pm, take a train to Karlsruhe (south west of Germany) wait an hour and then go to Berlin. So I ended up sat in the station a long time. After bidding godbye to everyone back in camp Ireland I was t spend another few hours with me companion and a friend of ours who had a few hours to kill before heading to the airport.

After they left I went and sat at my own platform, 10b, and immediately had someone ask me “Did you enjoy the EJC?”. So there I sat an hour with a German juggler, who’d apparently spotted me simply because I looked a bit odd (I didn’t have any juggling equipment tied to my bag).

The journey to Berlin was long. It was my first time interrailing and for this journey I hadn’t thought to book anything beyond a seat. As well I did because it turned out to be quite busy and there was plenty of people sat on the ground for hours. I slept on and off, made an exciting journey through many carriages to buy water (somewhat Snowpiercer-esque).

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My alarm woke me at 3:30am. I gathered my stuff and got off in Karlsruhe just after 4am.

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I would’ve been more excited to be somewhere that had held the second largest EJC were I not wrecked and confused as to why I’d had to come this far south and not simply gone as far as Duisberg or Dusseldorf.

Got on the 5am ICE 1092. Was sat in a six person carriage that appeared to have only one other reservation – so slept on and off .

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I arrived in Berlin at 10.22am, Monday the 8th of August.