Without realizing it, Jonathan and I saved our favorite European destination for last. Our goal was to get back to Italy from Turkey so that we could fly back to the States from Milan. The most practical route seemed to be taking a trip through Greece so we had no choice but to do a little Hellenistic exploring along the way.
We traveled by bus and train in Greece because even though we definitely prefer train over bus the railways in Greece were currently under construction in places. Also, a warning to fellow travelers in Greece: most train stations do not stay open 24/7 unlike the rest of Europe so do not plan on setting up camp for a few hours after hours until your next train because you will be kicked out. (We learned this the hard way as you will see.)
We only had 2.5 days to spend in Greece before catching a ferry back up to Ancona Italy which wasn’t nearly long enough for exploring this beautiful country but we did our best to fit in as much as we could on the go! We spent our first day in Thessaloniki which is a northern costal city that underwent a lot of destruction during the 20th century. A fire in 1917 swept through and burned down a large portion of the historical city centre and then another large part was destroyed during bombing attacks during World War II. As a result, modern day Thessaloniki does not have a lot of architectural history to visit and most of the buildings are uniform off-white complexes built in the 70’s. While I read some negative reviews from different travelers about the esthetics of this city, I found the buildings very charming in their own way and the waterfront was our favorite place to explore for the day.
The Thessaloniki waterfront is about 5 kilometers in length and is a beautiful place to walk, run, or sit while soaking up the warm Grecian sun and views of the sea. There are many gardens along this strip as well as sculptures and the White Tower which was built in the 15th century to guard the city against invasions by sea.
We had planned to travel by train overnight to Athens where we would explore for a day and also had an Airbnb booked for the following night. However, when we got to the train station to get our reservation for that specific train, it was completely booked. Our only other option was to leave on an earlier train which would have us arriving in Athens around midnight. We got on that train deciding that we would try to sleep some on the ride and then at the train station until the sun came up and we could start wandering around the city. The countryside from the train was beautiful but soon the sun went down and we started thinking about the unpleasant 5 hours that we were about to spend in the train station.
We got off of the train and started getting situated on benches so we could catch a little sleep when a security guard came by and told us that we had to leave because the station was closing. We found ourselves on a random dark street in Athens with nowhere to go and unfamiliar surroundings. Luckily we found a tiny park across the street and pulled out our hammock and strung it between two trees. I barely closed my eyes for the next few hours because I was afraid that our things would be taken and then the sprinklers kicked on around 5 AM and drenched us so we took down the hammock and went back to the station (which was open again).
We were so exhausted from no sleep the night before but we were in a new city and we really wanted to see all that we could of it since we only had 1 day in Athens. We dropped off our luggage at the cutest Airbnb (Petaluda House is highly recommended) and started hitting all of the places we wanted to see on our list. We visited Monastiraki Flee Market, the National Gardens, Place Neighborhood, Hadrian’s Arch, Acropolis, Little Kook Cake Shop, The Parthenon, Panathenaic Stadium (where the first Olympics were held), Yarrakios Central Market, and also watched the changing of the guards at Parliament.
Even though we only experienced one day in Greece, it was one of our favorites. The locals were friendly, the food was delicious, and everything we saw along the way was laced with history and beauty.
Early the next morning, we took a train from Athens to the little coastal town of Patras where a ferry would take us across the sea to the coast of Italy. Even though we didn’t get to see much of Patras because we headed straight for our ferry, we took a spontaneous swim in the sea near the harbors. The water was clear and cool and across the strait, the mountains seemed to touch the surface of the sea.
The ferry that we took lasted two days and was more comparable to a small cruise then American ferries. If you want to travel between Italy and Greece, I highly recommend the experience. Also if you have an active Eurail Pass, you get discounted tickets without using up multiple days of the pass.