Athens was a bit of a turbulent ride, a lot to be told. Traffic was not as bad as anticipated, and the taxi drivers weren’t anticipated to be that bad. Random people on the street yelling at us in English to “Be careful” was a bit unnerving, but obviously they were not cyclists.
For the first two days upon our arrival, Sylvain and I were able to stay with Antinea. Unfortunately, on Monday morning, she had to go to one of the islands for work. We had found another guy to stay with on Monday night, so we spent the day about the city looking for maps. Finding maps of the middle east was more difficult than expected. In the main square of the city, we went to retrieve the bikes where we’d left them sheltered from the pouring rain. I pulled out my laptop, to see if I could get a wifi signal. An older fellow walking by, stops to make chat. He asks us if we’d like to come up to his workspace, drink a coffee, and use his wifi. Happily impressed, we roll the bikes over to his office.
His name is Stavros, and he tells us about the workspace. It’s called CoLab and is shared workspace for people who only work part time in Athens, and entrepreneurs who just need a space to grow. This office is what you would expect a web 2.0 office, lots of space, flashy deck with view of the acropolis, and free coffee.
Shooting the breeze at the lab, we struck up a conversation with a Spanish programmer, Pere (in the foreground) who had some rather funny ideas on blogging travel. Personal favourite was the naked photo shoot. It kind of reminds me of the traveling gum guy, the fellow who has everyone dance with him where ever he is.
Opening the computer, I soon discovered that our host canceled on us. It was presently 430pm, raining very heavily outside, and we’d nowhere to stay. I threw a post on couchsurfing to see if someone would host the two of us on such short notice. I had not expected this to work, having forseen a cheap hostel instead.
Yiannis was the kind soul who replied, so we made tracks for his place. He was only able to keep us for a night, but was more accommodating than I ever could have imagined. We cooked a meal, where upon two of his friends showed up and joined us. Despite the fact that it’s Monday night, Yannis takes us out to a local bar. I’m impressed that the guy is getting up at 630am, and is out until 2 am with us at the bar.
The following day, we find yet another host in Athens. Niko had previously offered to host us, so we rolled over there. He lives in Nea Ionia, which is a good 15km from the city center. Niko is a French Greek, preferring to speak French rather than English. Unfortunately, this is the only photo I have a Niko.
Almost uncanny, that we’ve met so many French speaking Greeks along the way. We stayed there for several days, running some errands around the city, and taking it easy for the most part.
I had resolved to make sure everything on my steel horse was tip top, ready to ride into the rising sun of the east. As it turns out, components are more expensive in Istanbul than they are in Athens. My iron horse now has 15,000km on it since it was brought into the stable, and it will soon need a new drive train. This is something I’m picky over, as having the correct gear ratio to power up those steep hills with 70kg of baggage is important. I should also be known as the destroyer of bottom brackets, as the new one I got in Rome only withstood 2500km of my torque wrenching quads. Pitiful performance. We found a small bike shop, where I found a mechanic who sold me on what looks to be the toughest bottom bracket I’ve ever seen.
Aside from nearly giving me the bottom bracket at a discount, he went out of his way to conduct some routine maintenance. Fenders were reinforced, brakes were adjusted, and racks fastened. Free maintenance rocks.
I needed to find a good pair of new shoes, as the old ones I had gave me a nasty bunion. This will be one my my last stops for a decent pair of cycling shoes, so I had to be certain of the decision. I want to get at least another 10,000km or more out of these. A lot of people ask me why I ride with SPD shoes and not platform pedals. They are far more efficient than platforms, and personally, they make me feel more like one with the bike. When you weave through traffic, powering up to the speed of traffic, braking to swerve and miss that taxi, balancing at the red light, it’s a glorious feeling to have that kind of control over the bike.
I believe Sylvain and I visited almost every bike shop in Athens, or at least a significant number of shops. It turned out that the bike shop across the street from Yiannis’ helped me out the most. The guy working at the shop, John, was even kind enough to refer us to his competitors. In the end, he had the best prices, and a good selection. We went back, and he give me a great deal on a new pair of shoes and a bunch of other gear. He even went as far as to change my cleats and put them on the new shoes. For this, I was glad, as I had stripped the screw on one of them earlier. Good thing he had a drill, I like his method.
I was very happy with all of the help John offered, going well out of his way. If you happen to be cycle touring in Athens, his shop topcycles is likely to have what you’re looking for. Thank you John for helping us out so much.
Later in the week, I jumped ship again, and found myself staying with Vanessa, one of the people I met at the CS party earlier that week. She’s one of the moderators for CS athens, and devotes a lot of her time making resources available to travellers in Athens. She’s hosted a great deal of people, and has travelled a great deal herself. It’s a pleasure meeting people who have such a wide view of the world.
I resolved the leave the next morning, as I’m getting anxious to go east. There is no deadline, but there is a rough timeline. I want to go to Syria and possibly Lebanon, and it’s not really a cycle destination in the late spring or summer. More or less, I’m trying to follow the weather. Speaking of weather, hindsight told me that I shouldn’t have been in such a rush to leave. One beautiful day riding out of Athens, and the weather turned.
I will anticipate the questions. Why didn’t you just get a hotel? Why didn’t you get on your bike and leave? Let me answer those questions. The first night out of Athens I camped in a field, 300 meters from the highway. The weather was nothing short of perfect, so finding a sheltered site wasn’t a high priority. In the early morning, it began to rain. I decided I would wait for a break in the rain, and continue. By midday, the rain turned to hail, discouraging my exit from the tent. Having enough fuel, food, and warmth, I decided I would just wait it out another night. At 3am, I awoke to a wildly trashing tent and a large snowbank steadily reducing my interior real estate. By daybreak, there was 20cm of snow outside, and the storm just didn’t let up. Thankfully, I found myself a tarp in Athens, and it was used to cut some of the wind.
Unfortunately, leaving was going to be very difficult. I would have had to carry everything out (including the bike), as the snow was just too deep. The route I needed to take to Thiva involved going up the pass, which involved a 50km/hr headwind, a lot more snow, and likely a lot of Greeks who don’t know how to drive in it. I journeyed down to the next small village, hitching a ride in the back of a vegetable truck. I think these farmers were astounded to see someone walk out of a field, over a snowbank, and on to the road in this weather. My foray into the snow resulted in a coffee with the local police chief, and several locals who were lamenting the heavy snow. In the end, I trudged back in the snow to the tent and waited another day.
When I finally emerged, I was able to roll the bike to the highway and begin my ride north. As I was working my way up over the pass, I spotted a police tow truck careening down the pass, arms waving out the windows, horn blaring. It was the same copper I had met earlier, and now that he was seeing, he was believing. Unfortunately, I did not get a photo of this, as it happened too fast. I did snap a couple photos of the snow on the way up…
At the end of this majestic valley, I climbed another small pass and descended into the valley of Thermopylae. There is a thermal spring, running from the mountain into the river. The place is also again made famous from the movie 300. It’s one of the locations where Spartan controlled Greece was invaded by the Persians. Leonidus’ Spartans defended the narrow pass between the mountain and the sea from the onslaught of invaders. There is a monument to Leonidus at the location.
Pretty badass, eh?
The history is interesting, but the hot spring was even better. Having spent two days confined to the tent, sitting in a hot bath was beyond appealing. There are several baths, but I found the best one to be a waterfall emptying into the main pools.
In the waterfall, there’s a couple ropes to hold on to, so you can climb in. The water has eroded the rock creating several “seats” suitable for the bum. There is one seat in particular I found to be my favorite. At the base of the waterfall, you can sit and lean back. The flow of water is so strong, that you do not fall back against the rock, you simply float in the water. It gives the best massage ever.
There were a couple of things worth mentioning about this place. At first, I wasn’t sure about camping there, as there seemed to be a lot of Roma very close, a few meters down the river. Not to discriminate, but the thought of leaving all my gear and having someone steal something while I bathe was not appealing. Eventually, I found that they all left in the evening. Perhaps they were just there for the day.
The freeway going north from Athens passes within a couple hundred meters of the thermal. Truckers seem to find the place a great location to stop and conduct matters of personal hygiene. They stop to shave and bathe in the river, hop back in their trucks and continue down the highway.
Once I was north of Lamia, and over the 800M pass, the landscape became very flat. Snapping my rear brake cable and having no replacements made the decent even more interesting. There was still snow lying around in some places, but it quickly disappeared. I made good time, and camped in a field near Trikala.
I believe this is at the top of the list for wild campsites. A quietness permeates the hills, broken only by the sounds of the owls. At night, the sky was clear, and I sat and watched the stars for several hours. The night was very warm, likely around 6C. In the morning, I awoke to the sound of monks singing in the monasteries, and had breakfast in the warm sunlight. I believe this may be as serene as it gets.
That morning, I hid my baggage in the trees, and took the bike up for another tour of Meteora. I wanted to visit some of the monasteries. Some of them were closed, but I was able to visit the Holy Monastery of Varlaam.
I rolled around to every monastery, and was lucky enough to have fantastic weather. With +20C and a perfect blue sky, I had a very difficult time leaving.
I have yet another story to tell this week. It’s embarrassing, serendipitous, and amazing. When I was on my little cycle tour of Meteora, I stopped to write in my journal at one of the view points. Two Japanese tourists insisted on a photo with me. We chatted for a time, until I wished to leave. I then rode back down to the bottom, and loaded the bike. Since it was already 2pm, I was earnest to put some distance behind me, and only stopped briefly in Kalabaka and Trikala. I rode 70km, pitched my tent, and began to cook.
It was at about this time I wanted to continue writing in my journal. Oh shit. No journal. No passport. Commence freak out. Power through all of the small things I did since I last had the journal. I conclude that the passport and journal are still up at the viewpoint in Meteora, 70km from whence I came. I decided that I would ride all the way back the next morning, to at least look for it. At the very least, I could inform the police of a lost passport.
So I get up a 530am, only the bike by 730am, and arrive back in Meteora around 10am. I toss my baggage in the bush again, climb up the 500m pass, and to the view point. To my utter astonishment, the goods are still hanging in the plastic bag I left them in the day before.
This is embarrassing for me, as it’s the second time in 8 months that I’ve lost my passport, and recovered it. I’ve now escalated to a new level of paranoia over it, keeping it in a safer place.
The rest of the journey to Thessaloniki was not nearly as exciting as the previous days. I ended up camping north of Larissa the day I recovered my passport, and was in Thessaloniki the next day. They were mighty long days…170km the first day, and 160km the second. I really wanted a shower and clean clothing, 10 days and smells begin to get a little strong.