Hop on board a PERLA bus, which we quickly discover has a broken AC unit—not so welcome news in the hot summer weather, surrounded by chainsmokers on a 15 hour bus ride for Greece. (We had to take a bus because Greece’s international trains were protesting… no one should ever intentionally ride one of these PERLA buses…)
After a crazy long night on a cramped, smelly bus, we arrive at Larissa and take an hour train ride to Volos. There we wait a few hours for a boat ride to Skiathos. Arriving at Skiathos I was amazed at how incredibly beautiful the island, its town, and its water was. We found a good deal at “Maria’s Rooms”. We stayed more in the town on a random back street but it gave us a clean bed. We soon took a bus across the island to Koukonares Beach and stayed there a few hours and soaked up the sand and sun. The water was great but the beach wasn’t amazing. I’ve seen much better beaches (and water) at the Dominican Republic.
The next morning we did some shopping (bleh) and Ronella and I hit another beach for about an hour before showering up and getting back on the ferry for the mainland.
Back in Volos that night, we rented a car and took off on our first driving experience in Europe. They didn’t drive quite as crazy as we expected. We arrived at Kalambaka that night and got a room at “Elena’s Guest House”. A great hotel but we worked her down since it was so late and got a good deal. We had an awesome view and it was clean.
Kalambaka is the village outside Meteora. Meteora is a place of sheer cliffs with a total of 7 huge, ancient, Greek Orthodox monasteries sitting on top of the cliffs. The sights were absolutely stunning and unbelievable. We drove around and we toured two of the monasteries. We really were blown away over and over again all day by the sheer beauty and wow-ness of people building such things on top of cliffs 500 years ago. The interiors were equally impressive with museums and fully painted vaulted ceilings etc.
After we had had enough, we hit the road again and drove a few hours. Joey and Ramona dropped us off in Litochoro where we stayed at “Xenonas Papanikolaou”. This was another cool hotel right in town with a killer view from the rooftop and extremely nice management running the place. They were full that weekend on account of the “Running with the Gods” race… a 44 kilometer dash up Mt. Olympus and back down.
Ronella and I walked out of the village into Mt. Olympus National Park, and we hiked through a gorgeous canyon up onto Mt. Olympus.
All in all we ascended almost 800 meters (about 2,600 feet), and hiked over 24 kilometers for over 9 hours making it one of the hardest hikes I’ve ever done. On the other hand, I’ve hiked all over Tennessee, North Carolina, Colorado and Utah and I gotta say, this was one of the prettiest ones I’ve ever been on. Fortunately, there was a restaurant at the top for us to get refueled before heading back down.
On top of all the massive mountains, cliffs and insanely beautiful creeks we saw, we also saw another ancient monastery, built by St. Dionysius himself in the 16th century. The Nazis we’re kind enough to blow it up, but they are still in the slow process of rebuilding. When we finally walked back into Litochoro at 8pm that night, we were complete zombies.
The next morning Joey and Ramona picked us up at 8:45 (instead of 8 ) and we started back to Volos to return our car and catch a train for Athens. Well, we returned our car but we definitely missed our train and had to catch the next one a few hours later. But that train only took us an hour towards Athens, and at that point, all the trains going to Athens were full. So we were forced to get in another bus. Unlike our hellish trip from Bucharest to Greece, this bus was actually really nice with nice folks to ride with.
It was about 7 pm when we finally arrived in Athens and got to our hostel, “Athens Easy Access Hostel”. Our hostel was located in one scary part of town with prostitutes and folks strung out on drugs all over the place. But our hostel was really nice and clean for the price. A ten minute walk took us to a view of the beautiful, lit up Acropolis and the best meal of our entire trip right in view of Hadrian’s Library.
This day was a little frustrating for me because although I woke up early, I ended up having to wait for a few hours for the crew to get ready. Anyway, Ronella and I walked to go see the historic Baby Grand Hotel and National Gardens (not impressive). Then we all ate and walked up to the ancient Agora and then the Acropolis. This was an absolutely incredibly experience. After that we saw the ancient theatre and the Aeropagus. If you’ve ever read Acts 17, it mentions the Apostle Paul interacting in the Agora and preaching on the Aeropagus—right where we stood! I read Acts 17 to my peeps. It was pretty neato to read it and stand exactly where that took place.
After that we did some shopping, ate dinner, and then commenced on the most miserable journey in my entire life… the bus ride from Athens to Bucharest. Just imagine riding for almost 24 hours with dozens of other chainsmoking, loud, gypsies, watching loud, cheap, cheesy, gypsy music videos for 19 hours straight, breaking down, and getting stuck in Bulgarian customs.
Back in Bucharest and happy to be “home”. One of the best vacations possible!