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 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!

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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.

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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 –

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and then Boyana Church.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 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.

 

Travelling: 28th of July-24th of August – Part 8; Budapest, Hungary

10th of August. Monday.

I got the train from Innsbruck, Austria at 5am to Budapest, Hungary. The sunrise was beautiful.

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I thought I’d have to change but it turned out it was in fact a direct train. I had however misunderstood the instructions in Innsbruck and sat in the wrong section of the train, so I almost didn’t get to Budapest, and also nearly lost the train entirely when I jumped off at a random station to get into the right section. My minimal German had failed me.

As the train pulled out of Vienna it got very crowded and I ended up sat in the aisle. But I made friends with an Italian person I was sat next to. We played cards and I taught them the numbers one to ten in Irish (bhí mo phaicéad chártaí trí Gaeilge, buíochas le Foras na Gaeilge).  We parted ways at the station as they went to meet their friends, after helping me find my tram to Haller Utca, where I was planning to camp.

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It was 2,700 forint per night (or about €25 for three nights – with the fourth night free). They also had free Wifi and the showers were free. The camp managers had quite a laugh when I said I’d had to pay to shower in the camp-site in Munich, Germany. But Budapest is very cheap, especially in comparison to Munich.

The weather was even hotter than in Bruneck, Italy. So no need for the second layer on your tent most of the time. I did realise here that one of my tent poles had nearly shattered. It looked like it was weakened some how. It was sorted with some duct tape.

I’d visited Budapest once before for a fire-performance training course and had stayed in the hotel near the camp-site, so I knew the area quite well.

Unfortunately I realised I was running out of money and decided there to go straight to Berlin, and fly back to Ireland from there. I originally planned to stop in Prague on the way, and go to Belgium or the Netherlands from Berlin. I booked the flight on my phone for the 22nd from Tegel (cheapest flight). I took a short wander around that evening.

On the Tuesday I wandered over to the train station to buy my train ticket to Berlin. When I had looked them up online the cheapest has been about €80 but the site was difficult to understand so I decided I’d go straight to the train station to investigate.

I waited a long time (just shy of three hours) to buy a ticket. But while I waited I was given some bags of cold water, which was pretty fantastic.

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I had a problem with my card while trying to purchase a train ticket (which ended up being being €39) which meant my card was locked, making it unusable. I used up most of my phone credit trying to contact AIB and eventually went to the Irish Embassy so I could basically use their phone.

Long winded description of what happened with my card:
I ended up ringing AIB multiple times and was told twice my card had been unlocked. The third time I was told I could finish unlocking it by using the Pin Services on any ATM. However foreign cards can’t do this on local ATMs. I got some money out at a desk somehow. I decided to wait ’til I got to Berlin where I thought I’d have better luck dealing with their banks. This will be continued in the next post but long story short I had to very embarrassedly contact a family member and ask them to send me money via Western Union.

With hardly any money on me, I spent my last three days in Budapest wandering around looking at some of the art and enjoying the dusty heat.

I spent a lot of time reading and napping in the shade of a tree in the camp-site and woke up to some wildlife a few times.

I took one last wander around on my last full day, and promised I’d visit again and be more organised with my money.

I spent my last 350 forint (about €1.15) on lángos, a traditional Hungarian food, which is basically deep-fried flat bread, which you cover with cour-cream and cheese. A stall near the camp-site does it and it was something I was really looking forward to having all week!

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Finally, on Friday the 14th I packed up my tent for the last time. My cheap two person tent had done its job for the trip. I headed on over to the train station and hopped on my train at 10am, prepared for my 12-hour journey to Berlin.

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Travelling: 28th of July-24th of August – Part 2; Munich and hitching to Innsbruck

I flew into Munich, Germany, on the 29th of July, arriving at 11am local time (GMT+1). The weather was beautiful, and the country views on the train from the airport into the centre are lovely.

I Googled camp-sites in Munich while on the train and found Campingplatz München Thalkirchen (Thalkirchen Campsite Munich). It was within walking distance of my train stop so after getting off I tried my hand at my minimal German asking people “Wo ist der Campingplatz?”. I found it eventually, booked in for two nights (€25: showers cost extra, no WiFi), then found a wee supermarkt, and then took a nap. And that was the theme of my three days in Munich.

I had NOTHING I needed to do or felt obligated to do while there and it was glorious. I decided to stay off caffeine for the duration of my trip so Munich involved a lot of naps. I left one day to take a wander around the town.

On the 31st I got up at 8am, packed up my tent and got ready to leave Munich. I thought I lost my red-square marking my tent and almost got fined €25. Cue un-packing and re-packing montage. As I left I asked for directions to the main road to hitch hike to Italy. The cashier seemed very sceptical of my desire to hitch hike. I had the idea in my head from the EJC the year before in Ireland when all attendees from mainland Europe asked for card on the last day to hitch.

I got directions anyway – which turned out to be rather optimistic in their assessment of how far a walk it was. But it was nice out so I couldn’t complain too much.

After taking a few wrong turns (And realising I could’ve come a MUCH faster way…) I found a petrol station on the main road and stood there for a while. People were friendly as they drove by, even waving, and one person passing said I was very lucky to be travelling to Italy and to have a lovely time. After about a half hour a delivery person driving to Innsbruck, Austria, who didn’t have much English offered me a lift.

The driver and I chatted fairly minimally – through their broken English and my terrible German. But we managed to discuss out jobs and I talked about the EJC and working as a stilt-walker (including pointing out I had once worked for the company that made the van’s refrigerator unit, Thermoking).

The journey should’ve taken just short of two hours but took closer to three because of traffic. Later in the journey the driver started to get a somewhat too familiar, patting my knee an awful lot. My first time hitch hiking alone I would’ve been a lot more concerned, but fortunately there’s only so much a delivery driver can do while driving on the autobahn. I also had a friend in Berlin up to date on my travels to the EJC.

Upon arriving in Innsbruck I was pretty happy to jump out of the van. I immediately went to the nearest petrol station planning on asking about the best place to continue hitch hiking on to Italy. I was met by three very unhelpful workers who eventually passed me off to their manager who impatiently told me I should go back the way I came and stand there.

I stood for about an hour as people drove by and gave me very sceptical looks, some even going as far as giving me rude hand gestures. I became concerned that hitch hiking might be illegal here, and sat to try and look it up on my phone. Suddenly a jeep pulled up and beeped. I was sat down with my sign on the ground beside me so I ignored them. They beeped again so over I wandered. Upon opening the door I was asked
“Where are you going?”
What?
“Where are you going?”
Where are you going?
“It doesn’t matter, just tell me where you’re going.”
I’m not telling you where I’m going until you tell me where you’re going!
“*sigh* I’m just driving out of Innsbruck. I do this myself, I don’t mind giving you a lift.”
I’m going to Italy.
“OH! Well then you should let me give you a lift to the station because you won’t get picked up here.”
Is hitch hiking illegal here?
“No, but people don’t really like outsiders. You can stay here if you want, but you could be four, five hours waiting. I’m not going near Italy but I can give you a lift to the station.”

So I accepted the lift to the station – during which I got a telling off; “Hitch hiking? In a foreign country? Are you mad? On your own! A young woman! I’m dropping you right off at the train station, you’re gonna get a train ticket, go straight to Italy, no more hitch hiking… And go straight inside, don’t hang around outside, there’s a lot of strange people that hang around there…”

I would’ve been more upset but it turned out that – after knowing the train from Munich to Bruneck was €60 – the train from Innsbruck to Bruneck was only €18. So the journey continued.