There’s something to be said for a long bus-ride through a country. It’s like a sneak peak into its landscape. Your bus takes you through a magical ride: small villages and bustling cities, rolling mountains and lush fields, ghost towns and farmer’s markets are all there for your eyes to see, simply for the cost of your bus ticket.
Tim and I have had many bus rides over the course of the past 10 months, and most of them have been memorable for one reason or another. Overflowing toilets, water seeping through the ceiling onto our heads, bananas thrown at our feet, touts selling viagara, people playing fiddles, people throwing up in the aisles, the bus stopping for 45 minutes to serve breakfast along the side of the road only 20 minutes away from our final destination, stomach aliments during 24-hour bus rides with only one overflowing toilet available and no toilet paper in sight. There’s something romantic about it all, like the old train journeys of yesterday.
And so, you can imagine, that Tim and I were very much looking forward to our upcoming 24 hour bus ride from Istanbul, Turkey to Athens, Greece. Yup, we were looking forward to it about as much as one can at the prospect of being trapped in a long metal box with sniffling and snoring strangers for 24 hours.
Several months ago, we had checked out prices for a flight from Istanbul to Athens. It was then that we discovered the price for one airline ticket was $600 USD, versus only $85 USD for the bus ride. And so there was absolutely no way we could justify spending $1200 for a 1 hour flight when we only had to pay $170 for the bus…even if the bus ride would be 24 hours long.
We experienced nine lovely weeks in Turkey, and it will undoubtedly remain one of our most favorite countries. And all throughout our travels in Turkey, we knew what was in store for us at the end of our nine weeks: that 24 hour bus ride from Istanbul to Athens. The words overwhelming dread come to mind.
Now, it’s not that Tim and I can’t do long bus trips. We can, quite well in fact. There was the 40 hour bus journey (yup, 40 hours) from Argentina to Peru, via Chile. And the 24 hour bus journey from Ica, Peru to Cuzco, Peru, via the Andes mountains (and trust me, nothing says fun like switchback turns over a giant mountain range when you’ve come down with a violent stomach problem).
So we’ve done them and then some. And, in all seriousness, we do actually enjoy long bus rides. They can be a lot of fun, and you do see a lot of the countryside. But it’s still nice when you can avoid them.
When we arrived back in Istanbul, we were getting mentally prepared for the long bus journey ahead of us. We discussed what food we would bring with us, what clothes we would wear (layering is key on long bus journeys), and what time we would arrive at the station. We were prepared.
And then one afternoon, purely on a whim, I checked out the prices again for a flight from Istanbul to Athens. And was surprised to see the price had dropped from $600 to $147.
Seeing this, our minds quickly did the math: this new price meant that both of us could fly, a quick little one hour flight, for only $294…instead of riding in a bus for 24 hours for $170. So, for less than double the cost we could gain back 23 hours of our lives…not to mention we wouldn’t be exhausted the next day.
Romantic bus rides be damned. It took all us all of one minute to reach the decision that we were going to fly to Athens, instead of drive there.
When Tim and I first started planning our round-the-world itinerary, we imagined spending a few months in Greece and Italy. (In fact, I believe the Month by Month Map still shows this route.) But as we learned in Spain, the Euro would be our downfall and our itinerary had to change if we hoped to have enough money left over to visit Southeast Asia at the end of our trip. And so Italy, the Greek Islands, and most of Greece were cut from the schedule.
Athens was not cut though. In fact, we had to get to Athens in order to catch our flight to Bangkok, Thailand. We had booked that flight a few months earlier in order to avoid last minute price increases due to the holiday traffic around this time of year. (As a rule of thumb, we usually don’t book flights ahead of time, but thought it wise in this case.) And so although we would miss out on most of Greece, we would still be able to experience Athens.
From my reading, it seems that not too many people have good things to say about Athens. They’ll mention the Acropolis being fantastic, of course, but they generally write-off Athens as a pretty nasty little place to visit. The Lonely Planet guide says Athens is a sprawling and polluted city. One online account that I read says that “although Athens doesn’t have the urine-smell common to South American cities, it’s still very dirty.”
(Quick aside here: Tim and I visited and lived in somewhere around 25 villages and cities in South America during our 6 months there. And I would never have thought of using the words “urine-smell” to describe any of them. It’s simply not true. There are, however, many parts of our beloved Philadelphia that smelled of urine, and sometimes when we’re out walking we’ll say to one another that something “smells like Philly” in a reminiscent sort of way. But to describe all South American cities as having a “urine-smell”? I see that as highly misleading. Anyway…back to Athens…)
Even though many of the reviews we read weren’t positive about Athens, we were still very excited to visit it. I mean, first of all, it’s Athens, home of democracy and history and men who wore long white gowns. Who wouldn’t enjoy that? Second, Athens is in Greece…which means we would be eating Greek food (and reliving our days back in Philadelphia when we would visit our favorite restaurant, Effie’s, which served Greek food.) Third, Tim and I love cities and have often loved cities that many people don’t like (Quito, Ecuador and Malaga, Spain spring to mind immediately). So, yea, we were excited.
And guess what? Athens hasn’t disappointed us one bit. We arrived here on Friday (via that lovely little one hour flight from Istanbul), and have enjoyed every minute of it.
I’ve been looking for the pollution and the trash and whatever else it was that people tend not to like about Athens. And I honestly can’t see it. Perhaps it’s because it’s low season right now and there aren’t nearly as many people here…but wherever I look, I see cobblestone streets, romantic little tavernas (restaurants), and friendly Greeks. Sure, parts of it are bustling with activity and can be a bit overwhelming like any city can be, but turn a corner and suddenly you’re surrounded by quiet. Beautiful houses, gorgeous churches, white lights twinkling in trees…all of these things, in my eyes, create a wonderful place to visit.
And, of course, there’s also that little thing called the Acropolis sitting high above the city too.
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