Travel to Greece Scrapped
It took some doing, but I'd actually arranged for us to spend the tail end of December and the start of 2009 with two different CouchSurfing hosts in Greece. Some days before and after Christmas would be spent with a family southwest of the large coastal city of Thessaloniki. New Year's Eve (and some days before and after) would be spent in Thessaloniki itself. Afterward, we'd have to hightail it out of Greece so that we wouldn't overstay our allotted time within the European Union (just 90 days for every 180), and so that Tatiana could see a few days of Istanbul before flying back to the Americas with Aidric. (No ticket has been purchased yet, but flights originating out of Greece are significantly more expensive than those from neighboring Turkey.)
Things were looking great, but there were some lingering logistical complications that had been bugging this past week or so.
We arrived in the mountain town of Devin two nights ago, on the evening of the 15th. I was quite happy to have shed ourselves of our hosts in Plovdiv, with whom we really had no conversational chemistry or similar interests. Despite Ivan having a Web development job that I thought we could relate on at some level, he turned out to be a hurried know-it-all that agitated easily—we certainly didn't jive together well. That, and after four nights I was sick and tired of sleeping on a concrete floor with Tatiana's winter jacket as the only cushioning available.
CouchSurfing is wonderful because it connects you with people that you'd normally never speak to. Conversely, CouchSurfing can also be a trying experience for the very same reason. Sometimes you get lucky and make a friend out of someone you'd otherwise never engage in conversation, and sometimes you find yourself living with someone you'd rather not be around. No matter how much time I spend looking at profiles beforehand, it really just seems to be luck of the draw.
So, getting back to Devin and Greece…
Although Devin's way up here in the middle of nowhere (taking us some three or more hours to get here from Plovdiv), it's a supposedly a pretty popular tourist town. But by the looks of it, that reputation only holds for the warmer summer months (as it's cold, gray and devoid of activity here now).
There are supposedly a bunch of spa resorts in the area that visitors frequent because of the hot springs and "curative" mineral waters (which have been claimed to treat and heal a variety of maladies: conditions of the skeletal, peripheral nervous, cardiovascular and pulmonary systems, skin disorders, etc.). There's also a brand of bottled water in Bulgaria that sports the same name as the village.
But these aren't the things that attracted me to Devin. I came here primarily because of our host's interesting profile (Georgi had lots of CS hosting experience and is the designated 'ambassador' for the town), the possibility of some snow, and because it seemed a decent place to jump into Greece from.
Unfortunately, Georgi confirmed what our Plovdiv hosts and my Internet research had also recently told me: There's no bus service that passes through the Rhodope Mountains. The only vehicles that move along the road we needed to travel to get to Greece are private cars. (intended route illustrated below)
Now, if this were the middle of summer, with warm days and ample amounts of sunlight, I'd probably consider hitchhiking this route, even with the family in tow. But since it's freezing outside with little daylight, I fear such an attempt would only bring ample amounts of misery to all three of us.
The alternative path to Thessaloniki is one that's nearly as arduous. It'd require us to go all the way back to Plovdiv, then travel all the way up to the capital (Sofia) so that we could take the train that'd deliver us into Greece. The problem here being not only the time and expense of going in the opposite direction of where we need to go, but that the timing of the transport departures couldn't be worse (that long train ride either departs in the middle of the night/morning and dumps us there mid-day, or leaves in the morning and dumps us in Thessaloniki near midnight). It's just a real mess of a situation.
I also get the added bonus of having to coordinate our exit strategy from the country. For us to travel to Turkey from Thessaloniki, using bus or train will take over half a day and cost in excess of 100€ ($130) for a pair of seats—double that if we tried to fly.
So, after some serious soul searching and thought regarding what was personally desired and what was best for the family and our financials, I decided today to scrap our plans to travel to Greece. I've sent word to our soon-to-be disappointed hosts and apologized that we wouldn't be making an appearance in the country this year.
It would've been a lot of fun, but a couple hundred dollars in hurried expenses and countless hours of exhausting bus and train travel are just mentally and financially prohibitive.