Long story short, last week we found out our Turkish residency permits wouldn't make it until October 21st, exactly 5 days after our tourist visas expired. So, we had to make a quick visa run. We looked into plane tickets, but they were all super expensive last minute, so we opted for a train ride. Sofia, Bulgaria and Thessaloniki, Greece are both about a 14 hour train ride from Istanbul. We asked around a bit and were told that a train ride to Sofia can be risky, as the odds of us being placed in an old Russian train are quite high. So, we opted for a day in Thessaloniki instead.
Our train left Istanbul at 10pm on Tuesday night. We were stopped leaving the Turkish border and had to show them our passports, etc. at about 3:30am. We were stopped a second time at the Greek border a half hour later, when they came in our room and went through our bags.
We woke up around 7:30am and enjoyed the Greek countryside. We saw everything from tall mountains to farmland, to rivers.
We arrived in Thessaloniki around 11:30am and began reading the Biblical account of Paul's visit to the same city almost 2000 years ago in Acts 17.
Thessaloniki has a rich history, though the entire city burned down in the early 1900's, so the few older buildings that were there had basically been reconstructed from the ground up.
We walked into the town and had lunch at a bakery, complete with both bacon and parmesean cheese (neither of which we can find in Istanbul). Then, we walked down to the water and walked along the Thermaic Gulf (a gulf of the Aegean Sea) toward the White Tower.
The White Tower was originally part of the city wall and served as a prison at one point. Now it's a museum where you can climb to the top and see the city.
We also wandered through a couple of squares and pass a couple of churches.
Soon, we found ourselves at the Aya Sofia, which was built to resemble Istanbul's much larger and grander Aya Sofia.
The church was closed all afternoon for services, so we settled down on a bench in the park and enjoyed the birds.
After the church, we walked back along the water and found a Starbucks. What can I say? Old habits die hard.
There were quite a few Orthodox priests walking around, though this was the best picture I got.
Also lots of people selling knock off watches, purses, DVDs, you name it.
Finally, we walked back to the train station and continued the tradition of enjoying a delightful dessert. We had about 10 euros left, so we settled for a 2 euro meal, and spent the rest on dessert. Definitely worth it!
And we finished off the night sampling Mythos Beer, brewed and packaged in Thessaloniki. The can even claims it's "The worlds most famous Hellenic beer."
We woke up the next morning to the Turkish countryside. It reminded me a bit of the American mid-west.
On our train ride home, we met some other Americans who were spending a couple of days in Istanbul, so we met them for dinner last night and showed them one of our favorite areas to hang out. They asked us a lot about the Turkish sights and food and we were ashamed to confess that they, having seen the Blue Mosque, Aya Sofia, and Grand Bazaar, had seen more of Istanbul than we had! This means we need someone to visit us so we can show you around!
All in all, it was a good trip. Neither of us loved Thessaloniki and don't really desire to return, but we are excited to explore more of Greece someday.