2014/11/19 – 2014/12/03: From Igoumenitsa to Athens
We’ve spent about two weeks making our way across Central Greece from the Ionian Sea to the Aegean. Our pace across Italy slowed as we dodged the rain. Here we’ve had much better weather, but we seem to be in a mode of travel that is getting softer and lazier all the time. We haven’t camped since France, unless you count a night on the floor of the boat, and Chris carefully checks weather ahead, pushing for a second night in a warm hotel if it looks bad. Our daily mileage is dropping.
Longer term followers of our travels might notice that we no longer say how many kilometres we’ve ridden each day. I think we’ve stopped caring.
We arrived early in the day in Igoumenitsa, and spent a while pottering about getting a SIM card. The next day we rode a pretty coastal route to Parga, a town that a fellow we’d met on the boat — Alexandros– had suggested was worth stopping in. Here we got a tiny apartment with a balcony, and nested for four days. We worked on bikes, wrote emails, got our hair cut, read, and looked at maps. A lovely place!
When we set out southward from Parga, we knew there was uncertainty about finding a way to get through Greece’s only undersea tunnel at Preveza. Bikes are forbidden, but there is a rumour on the web of the tunnel authority providing long distance cyclists with pickup rides through. The account of such service told of getting a ride northward from the toll booth at the south side of the tunnel. We approached from the north, and followed signs for the tunnel control room on that side.
No sooner had we pulled up at the building, when a face appeared at an upstairs window, and we were asked in impeccable English if we wanted a ride through. We said yes please, but we were not in a hurry. Our hero George, however, said “I’ll be right down” and apologized for not having a second truck available as he loaded both our bikes into a shiny pickup. As he chauffeured us, he chatted to us about the dynamics of Greek communities overseas. His sister lives in Toronto.
We made our way to Vonitsa that evening, on the south shore of the major inlet called the Ambracian Gulf. The next day, we rode a short day to Amfilochia, where we spent two nights as the weather looked grim. Moving again, we rode one of our longer days to Antirrio at the north end of the Rio-Antirrio Bridge which spans the Gulf of Corinth to Patras. We had heard of this bridge from a Canadian friend involved in its funding. It is almost 3 km long, and was completed in 2004 ahead of schedule and under budget.
Part of this day was faster riding than usual on the smooth paved shoulder of a highway. Another part involved sharing a narrow road with far too many trucks.
A long day of coastal riding with a headwind took us to Itea, and a 500 m climb brought us to Delphi the next morning. We spent the afternoon seeing archeological sites and the museum.
Next morning, we climbed another 450 m to Arachova, a mountain town with several ski shops, and with fur rugs and rustic wooden walking sticks for sale. No olive orchards here — at this elevation we were surrounded by pine forest. A cold and fast descent brought us to Thiva where we spent two nights to allow unsettled stomachs to settle, and to get Chris a new saddle. His had met a sorry end as he leaned his bike against a tree.
From Thiva, a few more climbs and fast descents brought us within sight of the Aegean. These were smoother and straighter descents than we’d had in a while. There wasn’t much shoulder, so I “took the lane” as I gathered speed, causing a few cars to wait behind me for a moment of two. As I slowed a little, a blue minivan that had been behind me pulled alongside, and a group of Orthodox nuns grinned broadly and waved.
There weren’t many viable backroad routes we could see, and this ride was not all about postcard Greece. Some was industrial, with closed up factories bearing witness to difficult economic times. There is roadside litter at the level we have seen in countries which are at a much earlier stage of development. As cyclists we see learn of local fauna by surveying roadkill, and there must be a lot of foxes in Greece! Our overall impression is of a functional and friendly country to travel in.
We approached Athens by ferry-hopping across the island of Salamina, and rode through the docklands of Piraeus in the dark. Looking back, there are times I wonder why we are still alive. We scrambled onto a Blue Star Ferry to Syros, the capital of the Cyclades.
Goodbye for now to mainland Greece. We are on our way to Istanbul, Norway, and Crete.