As you can see (hopefully) above I’ve finally got my Garmin maps downloaded – the ones that I didn’t accidentally overwrite that is. For all you sceptics I just hope the photos are enough evidence that I really have been cycling all this way! Below is the first of my catch-up posts, more to follow. Sorry for the lack of photos, but there are plenty of new ones on flickr to check out…
After leaving Vagia the flat terrain of the valley made progress easy and I enjoyed the views up into the snow-capped mountains throughout the day. By 6pm I’d covered 80km and was looking for a place to stay and buy some dinner. Just as I thought I’d spotted a hopeful little track into the shrubby fields at the base of the mountains, and decided to return once I’d found some food, I was confronted by an oversized touring cyclist vision heading down the road towards me. It turned out the Hindrick, an impressively massive 198cm German student, was also looking for a campsite and spot of dinner so we retraced his tyre tracks to a little village off the main road while we got to know each other a little. We should have been prepared for the spot-a-tourist prices in the only village shop when we realised that nothing was price labelled, but determined to make the most of our costly provisions in true style by cooking them by campfire. It turned out the little track I’d found really did lead to camping heaven, hidden away from the main road and beyond a small but rutted field was a circle of grassy land surrounded by scrub that obscured us from the road but provided open views of the clear skies and nearly-full moon. We made camp, ate like kings and slept out under the stars before waking to a cool but calm morning.
The ride out of Athens was complicated by my GPS’s decision to place me 30m away from my actual location – meaning that what should have been a straightforward (but certainly not pretty) ride out of the city ended up taking me on a mystery tour through delightfully unselubrious districts until I decided to ignore the little black box and point the trusty steed in a generally northern direction and set pedalling.
This was my first ride over any substantial hills (although at 630m, it paled in relation to many of Greece’s proper mountains) and I was looking forward to gaining a new perspective on the city. In the end I was too busy admiring the view to get any photos of Athens, but made the upwards ride much more bareable.
Once over the top I sailed down towards to eastern coast, ignoring the now dubious GPS advice to take a ferry over to the island of Evia and cycle the west shore back to Halkida, where I was spending the night with couchsurfers Geoffroy and Lambross. a 10km detour later down random little dirt roads that led to the cheaper beach front (and not-so-beach-front) development strip proved that the GPS does occasionally get things right. Still I continued to ignore it and, rather than face the high-speed narrow lanes of the new 200m bridge into the heart of Halkida opted for the old road that took us on a 8km detour round the bay.
Arriving 2 hours late, I was delighted to be met by a cheerful and not-at-all put-out Geoffroy who carried the weary steed up three floors and deposited us in his airy flat.
After a quick shower amd dusk tour of the castle we were joined by Lambros, a local journalist and fellow CS’er. A ‘Greek Special’ Dominoes pizza (on account of all the Slouvaki restaurants being closed for Holy Week) refuelled us as we swapped stories and Lambros made notes for an article in the local paper. The next morning, after being given a feast by Geoffroy before he headed off to work, I managed once again to be late for a photo rendezvous with Lambros, who plied me with good things to lunch on despite my tardiness.
Despite reservations I followed Lambros’ advice and (walked) the new bridge out of the city before taking the main dual carriageway road back to the main route north. It was such a pleasure to ride on smooth asphalt with wide hard shoulder and minimal punture opportunities that I kept on the E1 up to Thives, despite the occassional horn and one random fire cracker thrown from a cab (but not, I think, at me). From Thives it was back to the lumpy bumpy narrow roads with the constant threat of being dislodged by one of the articulated lorries and sight of road kill in various stages of disintegration.
The trunk road improved and turned into a flat wide road that swept the plains between Thives and Lamia, but offering few intersections of villages to sit out the heat of the day and enjoy a little lunch. By 2pm I’d done 55km and was getting ready for a rest. I braved a strong headwind to take a ride into the hill villages, which turned into a slow and relentless ride until I eventually arrived exhausted at a little shady square abutted to a couple of Tavernas.
Immediately I man came running out armed with water and coke, which I initially refused until I was beckoned into the bar for a tasty Mezze of local cheese, fish and salad delicacies washed down with coke and water. Despite my plans to keep cycling, the offer of a bed for the night and dinner convinced me to stay and make up the distance the next day.
Machios, who spoke only Greek, put me up at his house overlooking the city and after a siesta and mimed series of communications his nephew turned up to reluctantly translate for the evening. We drove over the hills to the southern coast for another delicious meal, oiled with Ouzo and greek music that had us dancing into the morning.
I woke the next day worse for wear but keen to get on with my ride. After a mis-communication that had Mazios drive me 10km along my route before I could persuade him that I really did want to ride it myself, I was dropped off and began a full day’s ride along the valley with snow-capped mountain tops and lush green fields lining my route.