Thoughts and tales from the saddle - on my own in Europe.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Day 170 - Kavala - North-East Greece

I've got a confession: I hired a car and drove 300 miles. And I'm not ashamed to say that, as I cruised effortlessly up hills, surrounded by cool air, I thought, 'I'm glad I'm not riding this'. The miles flew by and I revelled in the fact that the only effort I was making was to press my right foot down slightly - no burning thighs, cramping calves or sweat dripping off my face , running into my eyes. No need to continuously consume endless litres of water or worry about my energy levels. A tank of petrol and an engine put all that behind me, for six days.

My (supposed) 'loyal band of blog readers' (not my words) may be relieved to learn that I dropped the car back at the place where I picked it up from and, two days ago, continued riding, after a ten day break, from the hotel I arrived at (on the bike) ten days previous. I had a visitor, you see, and we've been on holiday, around the coves and beaches of Halkidiki, a peninsula just below Thessaloniki. Nice it was, too - we spent our days on the beaches and in the crystal clear sea, and our nights on the same beaches, eating by the waves in local tavernas.

Unaccustomed as I am to relaying useful or interesting facts about the places I've visited on this blog, the 'third finger' of Halkidiki caught my imagination sufficiently to relay the following: Halkidiki consist of three 'fingers', or pensinulas, extending from the mainland. The Western most is considered the 'party finger' (think Falaraki/Aiya Napa, but not nearly as lively), the middle finger is 'the quieter one' and the third finger...well, this is the interesting one. A few facts about it: Women are not allowed on it. It is inhabited by monks who live in a collection of monasteries. There are no roads (I don't think). If you want to visit it you need a few things: A penis (whether this specifically has to be a naturally occurring one or not I don't know - any post-op transsexuals out there ever tried to get on there?), a permit or pass (which takes weeks to organise, apparently) and three days spare. You buy the permit and are allowed to stay three nights, one each in a different monastery. You are dropped off, and picked up, by boat. You can, I assume, if you want, while you're there, climb the 2033 metre mount Athos that makes up most of the finger. The closest women can get is 500 metres - any tourist boats carrying inquisitive women must stay that distance from the shore. Another fact about this third finger - they produce wine. Now, I don't know, maybe I'm just a cynic or a sceptic or something, but this all sounds a bit like the worlds biggest men's club to me - no roads, no police, wine, beaches, sea, mountain (which, incidentally, probably provides a very good climate for growing a certain herbal plant, in summer)...I've got images of deeply tanned men lounging around the beach, drinking wine, passing joints. 'Quick Nickos, put your robe on, there's a boat coming!'

Another thing I feel inclined to mention is guidebooks. My visitor brought with them a copy of 'Greece' by a certain well known guidebook publisher...actually, sod it, I'm not the BBC - it was a Lonely Planet guide. It was the first guide I'd looked at on this trip (see 'Avoiding Europe' explanation, err, somewhere else on here) and it was crap. Well, the section on 'The North of Greece', that we used, was, anyway. Apart from being completely wrong about a lot of things, it was written with such a snobbish hand that I was inclined not to take any notice of its recommendations anyway - avoiding europe indeed. There is, apparently, a breed of traveller who refer to themselves as 'Independent Travellers' ('Hi, I'm an Independent Traveller'), and they, according to the guidebook, sneer at 'fast food' establishments (which here means the local gyros place that most locals eat from), bars, clubs, people on holiday...pretty much a lot of the things the rest of us consider elements of that mystical thing called 'fun', and spend their time entirely searching out museums and historical sites and monuments. I actually read, in the description of a delightful little place we stayed in, 'There is little for the independent traveller here'. Good, piss off then.

Anyway, riding again after the ten day break has been pretty hard - the heat is taking some getting used to again, my body not entirely happy about the resumption of the dehydration/rehydration pattern and I now realise what resilience I must have built up in a certan aspect of bike riding - after three days in the saddle my bum hurts.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Day 155 - Katerini - Sort of in the middle bit, by the sea

My initial enthusiasm for Greece has abated somewhat in the last few days. The landscape is very nice, the people are, on the whole, very friendly, the food is good...but nothing happens! The height of excitement in all of the nightlife I've seen is when someone orders another iced coffee. They don't drink, they certainly don't know what draught Guinness is, they don't listen to music (well, not decent music), they don't dance or make fools of themselves, they're not particularly open to conversation. They just sit around drinking iced coffee, or playing computer games and smoking.
I have found one bar here - a 'Rock Bar'. Regular readers may remember Day 56, somewhere in Spain. That involved a Rock Bar aswell, along with enough vodka and bacardi to render my legs, amongst other things, useless. That was a proper Rock Bar. This Greek one is a bit different. It has all the hallmarks of a proper rocker's bar, standing out from the surrounding neon lights, trendy sofas and well-groomed patrons of the normal cafes with its dark, gloomy interior, pub-style chairs and tables and, of course, heavy guitar music booming out. The front tables are filled with fat guys with long hair, goatees and black t-shirts with things like 'Theatre of Destruction' printed on them. They look sullenly on the passing 'normal' Greeks making their way to their chosen trendy-cafe. Unfortunately that's where the Rock Bar, and typical rocker-mystique, part ends, because they all sit there sipping delicate glasses of iced coffee through straws! The barman does smoke a pipe, however, so he gets a bonus point.
I go to Thessoloniki soon, the second biggest city (after Athens, obviously), so maybe that will change my view a bit. It can't be any worse than the third biggest city...


Friday, August 10, 2007

Here he is (somewhere)...

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Day 150 - Kalampaka - Central Greece

Today I saw a tortoise crossing the road in front of me. Like, a wild one. Not one from a box in someone's garden that sleeps all the time. It made me laugh. I like tortoises.

Here's some TouristTube for you, with a (very) brief appearance from 'The (New) Beard', especially for I.T. (and yes, I know, I still need to work on my camera skills):


I've also been forced into this Facebook thing. One plus side is that I can share photos with non-members. Here's some random views from the bike for you:


Monday, August 06, 2007

Day 147 - Metsovo - in the Greek Mountains

My first day in Greece was something of a baptism of fire. I rolled off the ferry at 9.45am and headed East, towards a place called Ioannina. Eight hours, 60 miles, well over 1000 metres of vertical ascent in 40 degree heat and seven litres of water later, I arrived. It was without doubt the hardest day I've ever had in the saddle. I came close to complete physical exhaustion - I was consuming everything I could get my hands on at one point, in an effort to stay upright. My clothes were rigid from the salt in my sweat, once they had dried out. I had to have a day off yesterday to get over it.

I rode to Metsovo today, a ski resort, in the Winter, apparently, but how often they get decent snow at 1100 metres I don't know. I'll be riding over a pass tomorrow, at 1700 metres, then down towards the coast.

The biggest surprise for me has been that I am thoroughly enjoying Greece - I didn't think I would, for a variety of reasons. But I am - I like the mountains, I like the little stalls in the street that sell drinks and food at all hours, I like the trendy cafes with their funky sofas. I especially like the fact that I have been tooted at, waved at and generally encouraged by far more people since I've been here than in any other country so far. Struggling in the heat two days ago, numerous people slowed in their cars and lorries to check I was doing ok, had enough to drink, wasn't going to collapse. I actually was at one point, but I waved them on and gave a thumbs up, so determined was I not to 'give in'. Today, on two occasions, passing cars slowed and the occupants actually applauded me through their open windows.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Day 143 - Ancona - on the Adriatic

Made it.

p.s. Here's some West-coast Italy for you: