You can’t come to Europe during an economic crisis and expect perfect sailing — or a perfect bus, subway or train schedule.
The day before we purchased our tickets from Interlaken, Switzerland to Venice, Italy, we learned there was a rail strike in Italy. Because of this, the Swiss ticket clerk suggested we only purchase a ticket to the Swiss border, since he couldn’t guarantee that the trains in Italy would be running for us when we arrived. Great.
In fact, he had no information about the train strike, except that it would last for 24 hours. Apparently the Italian government announces these strikes in advance, and the railroad determines which select routes it will operate. As Gracie said, “then what is the purpose of the strike if they tell you about it in advance? Isn’t a strike supposed to make things hard?” Not in Italy, which posts all strikes well in advance on the rail website. Very helpful.
All we knew is that we needed to get to Venice BEFORE the strike started at 9:00 pm on Saturday. And of course we were traveling on Saturday.
Best to take the earliest train on Saturday then, considering the 6-hour train journey to Venice. No surprise, the early train is sold out. We can only get seats on the 1:00 pm train. And only as far as Milan, Italy. We purchase these from the Swiss clerk.
Since the Swiss clerk doesn’t want to sell us tickets past Milan, we purchase train tickets from Milan to Venice online that night. We’ll have 45 minutes to change trains in Milan, and should arrive in Venice at 8:00 pm. One hour before the strike begins.
When we board the train bound for Milan, the sign says that service across the Swiss border may be disrupted and this train may only go as far as Domodossola. I cross my fingers and pray this is not true, because Domodossola is nowhere near Milan, let alone Venice. And we have booked accommodations Saturday night in Venice.
We happily sail through Switzerland heading south, and surprisingly don’t hear one more word about a train strike or a stop in Domodossola. We arrive in Milan 20 minutes late, but with enough time to easily make our next train. And before you know it, we have arrived in Venice, met our host at the train station and are settled into our apartment for the next 4 nights. Phew!
Come to find out, Greece isn’t much different than Italy.
When we arrived in Athens, we knew how to catch the train to our hotel. But wait — there’s a strike in Greece today. All trains, subways and taxis are on strike.
Only the bus is operating — and it will not go all the way into the city center, Syntagma Square, which is where we need to go to make the next subway connection to our hotel.
Since all arriving passengers are in the same predicament, we cram onto the public bus with our luggage — standing room only — and take the 30 minute ride into the heart of Athens.
Well, almost the heart of Athens. The bus driver refuses to drive his bus to the center of Syntagma Square because it is too dangerous. He offloads all of us just east of the center. Now where do we go?
All us travelers are in the same predicament. The poor bus driver acts as a defacto tour guide operator and gives directions as best he can with his limited English. I wait patiently for my turn, point on my map, and he points down the road and down a path. Ok, that will do.
Lucky for us, the bus stayed there for a while with all the commotion because when we picked up our bags off the sidewalk to leave, and counted the number of bags we had, we were short one. One very important daypack that held the computer and ipad. I run to the bus, bang on the door, and point wildly to the one backpack I’m holding and then point back into the bus. The bus driver understands, finds the backpack and opens the door to hand it to us.
This is the second “save” of the trip. The first save happened on the very first stop of our trip: Frankfurt. After the all night flight from Seattle, we arrived, very groggy, and had to figure out how to take the subway to our hotel. We put down our bags to make plans. We picked them up again and walked down the corridor and down the escalator, before I realized I had forgotten my small bag upstairs which had my wallet, passports, credit cards, iphone, camera — just a few important things — in it.
I almost threw up. I raced back down the corridor and in the distance I could see my bag sitting there all by itself. No one around. Like a little waif searching for its mother. “Are you my mother?” Yes I am.
But I digress…Now that the kindly Greek bus driver has retrieved my precious technology backpack, we head to the subway. The strike doesn’t allow subways to operate outside of the city, but it’s fine for them to operate inside the city. Don’t ask me why.
But it’s not this easy. It never is. Now we have to change from the subway at Monastiraki Station to the aboveground train to Omonia Station. Sounds harder than it is, but the killer is how HOT we are. It’s 80 degrees outside, and inside the subway station it feels like it’s 100. We are dying. My pack starts to feel very heavy.
We connect from the subway to the train, which is also able to operate only inside the city during the strike — and pop out at Omonia Square, a stone’s throw from the Acropolis.
Now….how will we get to our hotel? The printed receipt for our hotel shows no map. We have an address, but of course we have no map of Athens to show us where the address is. Quite frankly, it’s a miracle we’ve made it this far on this trip. Who travels like this anyhow?
The nearby kiosk vendor sees us standing there with blank looks on our faces and comes to our rescue. I point to the address and phone number on my piece of paper. He calls the hotel but gets no answer. He grabs a beautiful, large, multi-faceted Athens map from his kiosk, spreads the whole thing out on a ledge, and dutifully studies it before Opa! there’s our hotel.
He calls the hotel again — someone answers. They confirm his find on the map. He gives me detailed directions using the 5 English words he knows: Here, 2, Left, Then, There. He also counts to 13 in Greek.
We trudge up the road, get lost in 2 short blocks, and have another Greek man come to our rescue, “I am a driver, I can help. I must put my glasses to see the map. I am now a 52.”
Ah yes, it’s 13 blocks UP to our hotel. That’s why the kiosk man counted to 13 in Greek. I don’t complain (outwardly), I just continuing walking and walking and sweating and sweating. The most awesome part is that there are 44 large, steep, cement stairs at the end of the road, and our hotel is at the very top.
I love Athens.