Travel Istanbul to Athens
9. Re: Bus Athens to Istanbul
For everyone attempting Athens->Istanbul by train/bus. We had a very hard time working this out, could not book online or remotely - although we could have probably rung up and booked tickets in advance at the train station in Athens its our understanding that we would have to pick those tickets up within 48 hours of our booking.
So you will always run the risk of the train being sold out, which happened to us. Our trip coincided with Easter in Greece (which was at slightly different timing to Easter in the UK). The day we wanted to use the train was the Tuesday following Easter weekend. (This was unexpected)
As soon as we arrived in Athens we went to the train station, were told there were no seats on the overnight filia express and the lady suggested train to thessaloniki then catch a bus to Istanbul.
This threw a big spanner in the works, we spent a couple of days trying different approaches - rental car was out of the question, bus was impossible, ferry too hard, flights too expensive.
We found the Greek tourist assistance to be unhelpful, unconcerned and bordering on rude most of the time - not sure if this was due to our lack of Greek? But nowhere we went did we get good tourist assistance for travelling.
We finally booked the train from athens to thessaloniki, after a total lack of directions and help from Thessaloniki train station as to where the international bus station was (it was right outside the station but the lady at tourist information stuffing her face with chocolate cake did not seem to know where it was) we found the bus ticketing area and were told there were no buses to Istanbul for months.
A taxi driver helped us, his motive being he wanted to drive us to the border - very fortunately we came across a freelance tourist operator from Turkey who was in the same predicament and spoke Greek, so we taxied from Thessaloniki to the border with 4 of us in the back seat including our friend the Turkish interpreter. 3 hours and £270 later we were at the border, had to get another taxi to take us across the border and then a taxi on the Turkish side to a small town 30kms inland, where we slept the night and caught a bus to Istanbul the next day.
I would not try this again, and advise anyone to look at dates of national holidays closely before attempting it. Not one of the officials in Greece was helpful without the prospect of personal monetary gain.