The first 500km in Greece

The first week of January, I finally arrived in Greece. A month later than expected, which doesn’t really matter so much, as I’m not even sure when I’ll come home. I took the ferry to Igoumenitsa, with plans to ride south to Patras. Sitting at the port, drinking a coffee, I noticed the ferry to Corfu.
Venetian fortress, Corfu
Kind of seems silly to be here and not go to Corfu, why not?

I knew that I likely had a place to stay in Corfu town. As it turned out, the girl I was to stay with left for a music festival, but I was invited to stay in their “squat”. I had no idea what to expect, and this is what I found
Corfu squat house

It’s an old school, abandoned, and occupied by university students. The place is well furnished, with a kitchen, several bathrooms, and the classrooms have been converted into dorms. Rather than discretely squatting, they advertise it. It’s kind of a refuge for anyone who needs it. Several evenings, they cooked for the poor, and fed 15-20 people.
Squat food closet

I took the opportunity to cycle around the north half of the island, and come back to the squat house. A 140km roll around the north brought me to some truly beautiful places. The first evening, I made it to Paleokastrites to enjoy the sunset.
Paleokastrites, Sunset

The following morning, there were some big climbs to get to Aghios Georgios, the next town along the way. However, as usual, the climb is always worth it.
Agios Georgios Pagi, Corfu

It’s really a strange feeling being in one of the largest tourist destinations, when there are no tourists. The place is empty, the shops closed, and the roads empty. For me, this is perfect.

Returning to the squat, I met a couple other cyclists that Katarina was hosting as well. I ran into a guy from the Czech republic, who was working his way to Turkey on this:
Another cycle tourists bike
I believe he had just started hitchhiking, and picked up a bike along the way. Amazingly, this guy didn’t have a tent. He’d find old buildings to sleep in, abandoned cars, really anything. Crazy.

At the squat, I also had the good fortune of meeting Sylvain, a french cyclist on his way around the med.
My new riding partner, Sylvain

Sylvain is busking his way around the med. He stops in larger cities, and juggles for tourists. I’ve been watching him for a week now, and it’s amazing to see how fast he is learning Greek. Since he plans to busk, it’s really important to know at least a few key words in the language. For me, Greek seems to be a hard language to learn, and it’s impressive to see Sylvain pick it up so quickly. It’s been a great experience travelling with him, as it’s eye opening to see how thrifty one can be. It’s always easier when we are two, we can split the tasks, cook food together, economize a little more.

The road from Igoumenitsa to Patras follows the coast most of the time, and has so far offered some of the most spectacular riding yet. The climbs are only of the 200M gain variety, and they are not steep. Some of the views afforded by these climbs are breathtaking.
Greek coast

The first night of camping, we were looking for a place down by the beach. Since it’s the winter, most of the hotels are closed. We worked our way down to this little cove, where a couple construction workers were renovating the hotel. They didn’t seem to mind as we rolled down, rolled back the fence and pitched our tent on the patio next door. I think they were curious to see two guys on loaded bikes in the middle of winter pitch a tent on the beach.
Off season camping

The view wasn’t bad either, waking up to this
January flowers

The following evening, we stopped along the sea again and made a campfire. Roasting fish over the campfire, we watched a rather aggressive storm move in.
Grilled fish
Oddly, this was the first campfire I’ve made on this trip. Usually I cook with my stove, so I don’t bother with the fire. Since most of the camping is generally not legal, I also don’t like to advertise myself with the smoke and the fire. However, after this pleasant experience, I think I will make campfires more often.
Camping at Preveza

The following day, I think we found the most beautiful road in Greece. There is a road from Preveza to Astakos, which is cut into the side of the hills along the sea. It is absolutely stunning.

Preveza to Astakos

Astakos, GR

The best part was the complete lack of traffic on the road. I think we saw less than a dozen cars…
Sunny road :)

When we rolled into Astakos, we found a bunch of kids who wanted to show us around. They showed us their mad bmx skills and guided us to a gas station. Sylvain pulled out the juggling pins, and began to entertain…
Fun with children at Astakos

We found a suitable campsite across the bay from the city. Waking up to this, we found it rather hard to leave punctually.
Astakos, GR

The final day of riding to Patras was just a lovely as the previous three. We had a chance to stop and take a swim in what turned out to be a salt lagoon.
Ionian Sea

It turns out, that the Ionian sea is just as cold as you would expect it to be in January. We took what could only be described as a quick dip.

The rest of the ride into Patras was mostly uneventful, but still amazing…
Beautiful riding

Road to Patras

Road to Patras

Crossing over to the Peloponnese, there’s a very large and beautiful bridge. We had the fortune of crossing it, just as the sun set.
Rion-Antirion bridge

Rion-Antirion bridge

Rion-Antirion bridge
Apparently, stopping on the bridge is not allowed. Sylvain wanted to stop and take in the sunset. We were quickly escorted off 🙂

Arriving in Patras, we hung out in the city center, awaiting our host. There were many north Africans hanging around, and we struck up a conversation with a few of them. Most of them are trying to make it to Italy or France, for what they would describe as a better life. For them, there’s a mixed sense of hope and desperation that is inspiring and revealing. We struck up a conversation with a Tunisian, as he was able to speak French quite well. He made it into Greece on a truck, smuggled in the undercarriage. This wasn’t his first time either, he’d tried earlier and was caught, and deported. Given the current situation is Tunisia, I understand why he would want to get out.

Tomorrow Sylvain and I are going to head south and head to Athens. We’re going to take the long way around the Peloponnese. I’m about a month behind schedule, but the schedule was never meant to be followed precisely 🙂