Tuesday morning, after saying my goodbyes to my fellow Monsooners, I woke up ungodly early to catch a bus to Greece. I had done extensive research ahead of time to find a bus to Athens because I already had a flight booked out of Athens on the 31st and I didn't want to risk something getting screwed up. I eventually found Crazy Holiday Tours which advertises a bus from Tirana to Thessaloniki departing 3:30 AM daily with a stop in Trikala where I could easily get trains and buses to Athens. They had extremely responsive and helpful customer service who reserved a seat for me. All I had to do was show up at their Tirana office to pick up and pay for the ticket. My initial plan was to just spent a few hours in Trikala, then head on to Athens, but when I read about Meteora, I decided to stay a night and booked a hostel.
Well when I showed up to buy the ticket, the person working said they didn't offer any bus stopping in Trikala. I was extremely confused but didn't have time to argue because this happened while the rest of the group was waiting for me illegally parked with our rental cars. She instead offered a 5:30 AM bus to Larissa where I could then get a train to Trikala, which ended up being cheaper overall and let me sleep in a little bit. So it all worked out.
Eventually 5:30 AM rolled around and I was on the mostly empty bus getting comfy and dozing off. About an hour in, we made a stop in Elbasan and the bus completely filled up. So much for having two seats to myself. I still managed to sleep the vast majority of the trip with the exception of the excessively annoying border crossing where we had to unload all of our luggage and have it searched. Twice.
When I arrived in Larissa, I had about an hour until the next train to Trikala and quickly discovered that there was nothing to do in this city so a quick snack at a cafe was in order. Upon arrival in Trikala, I realised I don't get signal here, I forgot to download the directions to my hostel, and no one I asked knew where it was. Oh and a thunder storm was creeping in. So using my great problem solving skills, I spotted down two people who were clearly backpackers and discretely (or creepily) followed them to the hostel because I knew from my research there was only one hostel in Trikala. And it worked. Sure, I could have paid for a taxi and it would have worked out in a less stalker-ish way, but why pay money when I don't have to?
At the hostel, I ordered pizza for delivery because by now it was pouring rain and I was too tired to go out. The next morning I explored the city a bit before getting a bus to Kalabaka to hike around Meteora. Within Trikala, there are only a few sites to see, but it's definitely worth the max one hour to wander around and see...
The Statue of Asclepius...
Agios Nikolaos church....
The Archeological Site of Ancient Trikki...
And the view from the castle.
After finishing up the main sites in Trikala, I made my way to the bus stop to head to Kalabaka to see Meteora. Meteora is a UNESCO protected rock formation in Thessaly, and on top of many of the rocks are precariously built monasteries. There used to be over 20 of these monasteries, but WWII destroyed many of them, and now only six remain. Hiking to the monasteries is relatively easy, just long, as there's a paved road looping around as well as footpaths in many locations, allowing you to see all of the monasteries. It's truly a breathtaking place, and I only wish I had longer to more fully explore the monastaries and surrounding nature.
Time spent in Trikala: definitely worth it. I ended up staying two nights because I couldn't tear myself away from this beautiful place in time to catch a train to Athens.
The next morning I woke up early to get the train to Athens. I knew that by spending more time in Triakala I was sacrificing time in Athens but I was able to rationalise this is a few ways. First, there are so many other places in Greece I want to visit that I know I'll end up back here some day. Second, Athens is expensive. Third, my exhaustion was beginning to win and I knew that even if I had more time, I would be too tired to fully appreciate it.
I arrived in Athens around 11:00 AM and took the metro to Monastiraki Station so I could leave my luggage at the nearby Athens Lockers and easily pick it up at the end of the day on my way to the airport. First I wandered through the flea market at Monastiraki. It's more like a bazar than a flea market, but regardless it has a nice vibe to it.
Next up was an attempt to see all of the ruins I could without paying. Given the importance and popularity of sites such as the Acropolis, it's actually pretty reasonable if you are able to get a reduced ticket (students included) or go during winter: €15 for seven sites and is valid for 5 consecutive days. But given I was there for only a few hours, I decided to forgo paying because I'm on a budget and didn't think the cost would be worth the time I had.
And it turns out you can actually see a fair amount of the different sites from the outside so I wasn't disappointed in my decision.
After the ruins I made my way to the Panathenaic Stadium. It is the only stadium in the world built completely out of marble, and was the site of the opening and closing ceremonies for the first modern Olympics.
I did a bit more wandering through the city but soon it was time to head to the airport to catch my flight to Malta, where I'll be spending six days. I'm so looking forward to it because I've been moving so fast that a nice change in pace will be much appreciated.