Detours East and West

Our last update left off right before we arrived in Heraklion, a port city in Northern Crete. Luke and I loaded up on the ferry in Piraeus, not really sure what to expect from the cruise ship-like vessel. In our desire to be as low cost as possible, i.e. cheap, we opted for general deck tickets rather than book a cabin for the overnight trip. We rationalized that we were young and pliable, so we could fold up comfortably and nap somewhere. By the end of the ride, I realized my knees were not as young as I thought.

But we disembarked in Heraklion early Tuesday morning and trekked to the hotel I booked for the night. After a quick nap in an actual bed, we wandered around the city and local market. Our first stop was the imposing Venetian fort flanking one side of the port entrance. It was a perfect setting for the visit- slightly overcast (excellent for Luke, given the slight burn he picked up in Athens) and windy enough to make the flags capping the structure flutter. The inside was filled with different chambers containing artifacts from the old Venetian Loggia in Heraklion, as well as items pulled up from the sea around the island. We climbed to the top of the building and looked out the Cretan Sea and ships sailing in and out of port.

The rest of the day was spent buying a warm sweater and eating a massive gelato because we are nothing if not a walking contradiction.

Wednesday was the first museum stop of our trip. We began the morning at the Heraklion Archeological Museum, which contains artifacts and artwork recovered on the island dating back some 10,000+ years ago. It was a history-sensory overload, but certainly one of my favorite parts of the trip so far; in part due to all the intricate objects to view (like the Phaistos Disc!!), but also because Luke and I as a couple flourish at museums. It may be a goofy thing to be excited about, but I love that we can sync up and move through a museum at a coordinated pace, each enjoying reading the information cards while side-grumbling about the person who touches the pottery with the Do Not Touch placard. We may challenge each other’s patience at a store or market, but pop us into a museum and we become the power couple of reading and nodding.

But I digress.

After the museum, we boarded a bus to visit Knossos Palace- aka the reason I booked the tickets to Crete. When we first started planning this trip two years ago, Luke made an offhand comment about how cool it would be to visit Crete and see the old Minoan ruins. I filed it away to see if it was something we could manage, and lo and behold, we made it. As we hopped off the bus at the archeological site, we were greeted with not only the ruins but peacocks. Several loud, and loose, peacocks and peahens. Their calls did add to the eeriness as we followed the footpaths around the site. One particularly adventurous male joined us at a café afterward for fresh juice.

We ended our trip to Crete not too far from the port at an outdoor restaurant simply named Fish Tavern. Luke quickly made friends with a stray cat he dubbed Twitty and fed her grilled sardines off his plate. While I initially mocked him, I was eventually slipping her shrimp under the table as well.

Our ferry back to Piraeus was set to depart Wednesday night at 21:00, but just prior to departure, an announcement was made in Greek that had everyone around me running for the stairs. Luke asked me if I knew what was going on, but neither of us heard an English announcement. We were approaching reception when the crew announced there was a bomb threat, and everyone needed to evacuate the ship in an orderly fashion. After an hour at port authority, the boat was cleared, and we once again settled into the bar for a long night.

Our boat docked in Piraeus Thursday morning, we went straight to Larissa Train Station to see if we could make it to Thessaloniki in hopes of catching subsequent trains to Sarajevo. Luck was (maybe) on our side and we barely made the 10:00 train.

Thessaloniki was not on our original itinerary, but we ended up spending a night in the city while we struggled with our train routes. Our original plan was to catch a train to Belgrade and transfer to go to Sarajevo. But when we arrived at the train station, we were told all the rail lines in Serbia were closed until July. We were offered an alternative route- travel by train to Sofia, catch a bus in Sofia to Nis, cross Serbia via bus, and arrive in Sarajevo this upcoming Sunday. In our lemming-like state, we panicked and said “Sure.”

IMG_7202We spent our night semi-confident in our plan and eating at one of the best vegetarian restaurants ever. Honestly, it was one of the best restaurants ever regardless of the type of fare. After a week of the pita, potatoes, and Greek salads that seem to grace most menus in Athens, the entirely vegetable based meal left us with a spring in our step. We walked the boardwalk up to The White Tower of Thessaloniki and sat by the water’s edge before returning to our hotel.

To get to Sofia on Thursday, we needed to be at the train station at 6:00 to ride to the Greek border, board a bus to cross into Bulgaria, and then board a train to the capitol. The train ride through the countryside was gorgeous, but by the time we made it to Sofia, we were exhausted and beginning to question our plan to get to Sarajevo. After realizing how many days it would eat out of our rough itinerary, our stress hit an all-time high trying to find a hotel to map out our options. We tried multiple bus counters, all of which told us it was not possible to get to Sarajevo by bus, or that it was possible but offered conflicting routes. We walked to the closest hotel and, after having a moment to recoup lying facedown on the bed, admitted we needed to scrap Sarajevo and fly to Zagreb, the next location on our itinerary.

Back through Ataturk Airport we went

I will admit I kept stubbornly trying to make Sarajevo work (hence our detour to Bulgaria). That was a Luke-centric point of the trip I didn’t want to lose. We put aside more time to tour Rome, which I haven’t seen but he has. I wanted to make sure he was able to see somewhere he was passionate about. But being the ever-supportive partner that he is, Luke told me how much he loved visiting Crete, and every other stop, because he was able to experience with me – even as we debated historical narrative and political influences while getting repeatedly turned around. We ~ideally~ have several years of travel ahead of us and we will make it to Sarajevo at some point, just not by two days of rumored and consistent bus travel.

IMG_7238So here was are in Zagreb. Our flight was expedient and uneventful, which was unbelievingly welcomed after the past two days of cobbled together plans. We not only made it safely, but we found an amazing, inexpensive little studio apartment to stay in right off the city square. Zagreb Cathedral is right around the corner, the city’s spring festival is in full swing in the park across the street, and there is an amazing cocktail bar five minutes up the road. If we didn’t miss our family, friends, and the holy triad of Bird/Sid/Watson so much, we might not ever leave.

***P.S. I started uploading some photos under a new gallery tab. You can check it out here!***


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