Catching the Train
The plans were in constant flux, nothing was for certain, but one thing was known – we wanted to go to Athens while we were in Greece. Between school and more school, finding the time to do that was like trying to properly tune the parameters of a genetic algorithm… tricky. The first suggestion was to rent a couple of cars and cruise down at our own pace, perhaps taking in some of the sights along the way. Not a bad idea, but as the term drew to a close we found ourselves with less and less time and more and more to do. And once we were finished, Nenad had to leave in search of a Spanish visa.
Back to the drawing board, it was decided that the train would be our means to whatever end we could find. And with our “class trip” to Vergina on Thursday 23 March, it was thought that leaving Friday morning on the first train would be optimal. It would allow us to see the country between the two cities and get us there in time so as not to lose the whole day. Enrique (Q) had dual purpose for the visit – he needed to pick up his temporary travel documents. And since Saturday was a Greek holiday, our coordinators suggested he get there earlier if possible. So he was going to go Thursday night and the rest of us would follow in the morning. However, on Thursday afternoon when we went to buy our tickets we were told that there was no room for us on the cheap train for Friday. So after a bit of discussion, we opted to go on a late train on Thursday – that very night. So with only four hours until departure, we all scurried off to prepare for the trip. And thus it began.
After stopping at the lab to warn the world of my absence, I returned to my apartment to shower and pack. After stuffing three days worth of clothes into my backpack and making the decision not to bring my laptop, I was more or less ready. I made sure that my cameras were ready to go and that I had the necessary charger, batteries, memory cards and other accessories so that I wouldn’t be caught short in the field. I grabbed some snacks for the train and headed out. I met up with Daniel and then we headed to the lab where we had all agreed to meet. There were six of us in our party: Max, Daniel, Pablo, Sissi, Q, and myself. There was also another party of five Erasmus Mundus students going on the same train as well, but since their plans diverged from our own, we were really two separate groups. We caught the number 14 bus in front of the university once we had all gathered and headed for the train station. Our train was scheduled to leave at 22:40 and we had about 30 minutes to wait, but everyone was quite excited. By this point, the photo taking had begun and I can’t even imagine the sheer number of photos that were taken on this trip – personally I took 627 photos and 8 videos. I suspect that Q took twice that number with Pablo, Max and Daniel falling somewhere less, but my rough estimate now is that close to 3000 photos were taken by the six of us (and Sissi didn’t have her camera).
The train arrived a little bit after it was supposed to in traditional fashion, and we were initially confused as to where we were supposed to be given that we were in car number 8 and the cars of the train ran from one to six. But within a couple of minutes they maneuvered two extra cars onto the end and we boarded without incident. The particular car we were in was apparently one of the nicest and I had ample leg room. Because of where Daniel and I were positioned, we couldn’t recline our seats and the head rests were not the most suitable for sleeping. We prepped ourselves for the seven hour journey as best we could. Most of the people sitting around us were students as well and we met a couple of women from Athens and one from New York. Sissi made good acquaintances with the two greek women and they invited us to a club where one of them would be DJing on Friday night. They also invited us to hang out with them on Saturday night, thereby determining that we would be staying at least that long. The thing was at this point, we did not have return tickets booked, nor did we have any knowledge of where we were going to stay, so we were pretty much flying by the seat of our pants (as the expression goes).
Sleeping in vehicles is not one of my specialties and as such I didn’t get much sleep during the overnight trip – maybe an hour in total, but I was very tired and I didn’t have much of anything to do. I took out my iPod and found that I had an audiobook on there that I had not listened to yet. I settled in and listened to that for a while until I found that my infrequent dozing was causing tiny plot holes in the story and I had to stop. Somehow, the time slipped by and eventually we arrived in Athens – at 5:30.