So, the hour wait at the airport becomes a mad research of places to stay in Thessaloniki. At Thessaloniki, I guess I look sufficiently lost to the bus ticket seller that he takes pity on me, waves off the people waiting behind me, and writes a detailed list of what routes I need to take to get to the hotel I had just booked that morning. The 1 hour, 2-bus trip to downtown is occupied by a rush research of the sites my friend had suggested and I arrive at the hotel with the determination that I would remain only a night and then move on the next day to Meteora.
After I drop off my bags I walk to the train station to buy a ticket, and HELLO TO QUEUING AS A CLOSE-CONTACT SPORT - two people simply walk up to the ticket window ahead of me before I realize that the line drawn on the ground is merely a western artifact of the station's construction and is in no way an indication of where the queue actually starts. As soon as I leave only 2 inches of space between myself and the back of the person currently at the ticket window, people understand I am next, I don't have to make angry faces at anyone, and yay it becomes a win-win situation overall.
Then I try to buy a ticket. And I am told I can't. Because the trains are going on strike tomorrow and so there are no tickets being sold.
I gape at the lady behind the glass while the people waiting behind me shuffle impatiently, and ask when the last train leaves for the day.
I've seen enough of Thessaloniki on my bus ride into downtown that I think I would vastly prefer to be out in the countryside (especially after literally 2.5 weeks of being stuffed into hotel rooms, conference rooms, with people and meetings and lights). So after 10 minutes of hand-wringing and emergency searching of B&Bs near Meteora, I make a mad dash back to the hotel, pay a cancellation fee, grab up my bags (so glad I hadn't unpacked yet and oh god it still haunts me I accidentally stole the room key when I stuffed it into my back pocket to free up my hands for my bags and forgot to return it) and beat it back to the train station in time to catch the last train. (I don't even have the satisfaction of getting reimbursed for the cancellations by my trip insurance, since my journey has to be interrupted for 24 hours and heck if I want to wait that long on an 8 day vacation.)
Of course, as the train starts chugging out of the city, that's when I realize my utter insanity as 1) there is not enough bandwidth in middle-Greece to do more than map the fact that I am currently inside the country and 2) my phone is down to 9% battery and I still need it once I reach Meteora - hours later - in order to call a place to stay. I have no paper maps on me, and I can't even read my train ticket without breaking into a cold sweat over Physics-related PTSD.
I sit in two wrong seats in order to take advantage of their power outlets, and pretend (haha 'pretend' - it was totally true) I'm the poor illiterate foreigner when the people who actually reserved the seats show up. When the train finally fills up completely, I start skulking up and down the train car until I find an empty cabin (the one reserved for handicapped) in which there is an outlet into which I can plug my phone. Then, not to look like I am totally taking advantage of the empty handicapped section, I leave my phone propped into a cranny and nervously pace up and down the car corridor during the whole trip, twitching nervously whenever someone passes by it, afraid that they might spy the unattended phone and take it.
At every stop, I hold up my ticket and motion, 'do I get off the train here or do I stay on?', and THEN I bother with, 'do you speak English?' This manages to get me to Paleofarsalos, where I have a half hour stopover before a connecting train arrives.
The evening is absolutely BEAUTIFUL with the bugs chirping and the humid spring air. In spite of all the extra anxiety of traveling blind with no method of communication in a country I have literally only done a collective hour's worth of research on, I'm beginning to feel really glad that I jumped the train *wink wink* rather than waiting another two days ...
Thessaloniki and Kalambaka | Meteora, Greece
AND LOOK LOOK I'M EATING A GREEK SALAD IN GREECE. It's kinda weird, like the palm trees in Israel, where I'm experiencing something ostensibly in its native habitat and yet all I can think of is the California yuppie/hippie/Hollywood culture.