Interrail day eleven – Igoumenitsa to (hopefully) Alexandroupoli

8 May

The “hopefully” is because the information on the internet about buses to Alexandroupoli is a bit vague (“every four hours”) and I won’t be able to get more details until I reach Thessaloniki (or Thessalonica, or Selanik, according to your preference).

My voyage from Bari was much more comfortable than I had envisaged. I did have the four-berth cabin to myself the whole night, which meant I could conveniently nick some extra covers off another bed to counteract the fierce air conditioning. I slept well, as I tend to on ships (it’s the rocking motion) and didn’t feel too awful when I was wakened shortly after five by an announcement saying we were docking in 30 minutes and all passengers should assemble on the public deck. Having travelled on Greek ferries before, I knew there was no hurry, so I got cleaned up, dressed and packed, and still had time for a bit of breakfast at the bar before disembarcation started.

Arriving in the port of Igoumenitsa

A port security woman opened up the arrivals hall, shooing away the enormous dog that was blocking the door (it had a name, so it was probably supposed to be there) but all we did was walk through and out the other side – no passport check, no luggage check, no nothing. Maybe drug smugglers don’t use ferries.

There is nothing in Igoumenitsa, apart from some cafés and stray dogs. It’s a place you go to get somewhere else. I found the bus station (harder than it ought to be – no signs to it and the building itself is unobtrusive. I think they’re trying to drum up trade for the taxis at the port.) and bought a ticket to Thessaloniki, and then had two and a half hours to kill in a nowhere town.

When I say there’s nothing in this town, there’s not even a bench on the front so you can look at the sea. I found a bench on the other side of the road from the water and sat there for a while until the police came and opened up the station the bench belonged to, and I thought of better push off. There was quite a nice bakery I’d passed (Greek bakeries are great) so I got a spanakopita (pastry with spinach and cheese) for second breakfast. The pastry was nice, and I started to come to life a bit more, but while the bakery covered all the bases from bread and pastries to cakes and ice creams, it was let down by an unclear and complicated payment system and a horrible toilet (why do some men think it’s OK to pee all over the seat and just walk away and leave it?) with one of those automatic lights that shuts off and leaves you in total darkness. The toilets at the bus station were nicer, which is saying something.

The best thing to do on a long bus ride is sleep, which I did for a while, and woke up to beautiful views of dark green mountains, the furthest ones snow-capped, when we weren’t in a tunnel. A woman who spoke Italian got out her seat and managed to get a decent photo.

Mine was not as good.

At the comfort and refreshment stop, I tried talking to her, and it turns out she is Russian but speaks Italian and is going to her sister’s in… Alexandroupoli! And her sister has a (Greek?) friend in Thessaloniki who will show her where to get the tickets and the bus for Alexandropouli, so he shows me too! There is only an hour to wait for the bus at Thessaloniki, so we take turns watching each other’s bags while we go to the toilet and buy refreshments. This is all quite handy, even if we can only communicate as far as my limited Italian allows. Every time she speaks on the phone to anyone she explains to them that I don’t speak Italian or Russian, just to rub it in 😂

She doesn’t speak Greek, though. Trying to be helpful, I go to check if the bus that is loading luggage is the one for Alex, and am told that yes, this is the three o’clock bus to  Alex. I convey this to her, adding that my Greek is like my Italian. This does not fill her with confidence and a minute later she sidles off to check for herself 🤣 I can’t say I really blame her.

They can’t be bothered to write Alexandroupoli in full either. It says ALEX/POLI.

The second bus drove along the coast by the fingers of Thrace, so the views were quite different.

The route goes through the Egnatian Pass and along the Egnatian Way, a major route in Roman times, and the one that the Apostle Paul would have taken on his third missionary journey.

Courtesy of conformingtojesus.com

This bus had a 20-minute pit stop, too, at a place where they sold Amita Motion! It’s almost worth coming to Greece just for that 😉

Mmmm 😋

The bus seemed to take forever and I kept dropping off, waking up hoping that time had passed, only to find that it had been five minutes. But we got here in the end, and both hotel and town are lovely. The hotel sells beds on the side, so the bed is huge and comes with aromatherapy sachets. They also sell toiletries at reception so the bathroom is full of delightful miniatures. It’s all very luxurious, even if it’s a shame for them that I’m not going to buy everything required to reproduce the room at home!

Meanwhile, Alex is the exact opposite of Igoumenitsa as a port town. It’s full of life and bustle, with interesting shops and a big amusement park for kids right on the front. They realise that people might actually enjoy being next to the sea and have not only benches but nice parks and walkways along the shore. They also have bike lanes, but as far as I can see, they are mostly used for the evening promenade by pedestrians.

I have to catch the morning ferry tomorrow, so it will be a quiet one tonight I’ve started watching A Room with a View, which I’ve been wanting to do since visiting Florence, but I’ve been waiting for decent WiFi. Already I’ve had lots of fun “I know where that is!” moments, I’ve realised that they’ve cheated on the view, because it is from both sides of the river 😂 But I also recognise too much of myself in the opinionated novelist, Eleanor Lavish. She even says Florence has a unique smell, although she didn’t say it was composed of leather and medieval drains 😉

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