Athens to Korinthos 88kmMy aching bum is worth the ridiculously stereotypical sea hugging, hair raising Mediterranean coastline I rode today!I just dipped my plum painted toes in the pristine Grecian Mediterranean ocean for the first time in my life. After sleeping a few hours under the dappled shade of a eucalyptus with the sound of children shouting a universally gleeful dialect in the ocean just a few meters away, I have managed to scrape myself up and am now seated on the open deck of a restaurant on the beach savoring a Greek salad topped with a piece of oil and herb drenched feta the size of my face. Never fear though, I have worked hard to reach this slice of sunny European paradise.
Flying into Athens less than 24 hours ago, I met Brenton, a Sydney boy whose first time it was on a plane. Therefore our energy and adrenalin levels were equally soaring as we flew over the sand covered, rock jutted Middle Eastern countries, followed by the Greek Islands, trying to pinpoint on the flight map which one was which. We came up with the idea they should hang out a huge sign of shave into the ground the name of each island so you can decide which one looks best to visit. At the airport I waited with baited breath for my new best friend to arrive on the luggage belt; my super cute women’s Specialized vita hybrid bike I’ve had since year ten. It was the biggest thing I had ever purchased at the age of 16, and I have managed to spend more than double on it since then. She arrived in the big cardboard box dad and I packed her in just a few days ago in faraway Australia. I think I should call her Pos, because she is the vital element making this adventure possible. Brenton and I found a taxi and zoomed through the dry and industrialized outskirts of Athens to the most southern tip of the city- a port called Piraeus. The taxi driver didn’t know where Brenton’s hostel was so he dropped us at the port and we used a tiny google map printout with about one street name. I pushed my bike and Brenton wheeled his bag while the sweat streamed down our backs as we trudged along the streets we were about to get very well acquainted with searching for hotel Delphini. When we did find it, I got a hostel bed, nervously left my bike behind and went searching for the other, possible even more, crucial element of my trip than Pos; a GPS system. This beautiful little device is now situated on my handle bars, and eliminates the biggest dead of this Mediterranean expedition: having to rely on my own sense of direction. Ocean on the left is my motto and it hasn’t been all that simple so far. We had too many beers at the hostel waiting for Brenton’s friends to arrive from Ibiza and Croatia, so I crashed at 11 only to be woken up at 1am when they arrived and we all stayed awake bantering for the rest of the night. I’m not even joking. Combined with Jetlag because I force myself to watch as many new release movies and not sleep because I have to stay awake to enjoy what I have payed so much for, this is not a trivial matter. Lack of sleep is my cryptonite. Anyway, I woke up with a facade of alertness at 8am and set off, cycling round and round Athens for at least an hour before my GPS took me back to the street of my hostel. Maybe everything I touch is geographically doomed. I went up to the bike shop for some directional clarity and the guy from yesterday started pointing this way and then saying turn left at the second statue while accidentally motioning right- when he saw my eyes glaze over he grabbed a bike from the shop and zoomed me through the confusing streets for about two kilometres until it was clear where I had to go. Now that’s my idea of a GPS! I thanked him and set off into the unknown, all alone with Pos, my dumb blonde dud navman and thoughts that I hold probably have registered with smart traveller. The roads were predominantly outer suburbs to start the day, with people waiting at bus stops, food outlets dotted along the road and a steady flow it traffic; I will get onto the Greek road rules in a few days when I understand what sense they have in their lack of indication and use of road lanes. At the moment I am focusing on staying put in the right hand lane and maybe investing in getting a sign made that says ‘you hurt me, my parents will hurt you’ in Greek. The emotions have been mixed so far. There are so many factors which determine your mood on a bike. Long, hot And slow uphill climbs where I can feel every kilogram of my clothes and gadget laden panniers irrevocably bring on waves I heaviness to the soul, bleakness and pangs of doubt. It’s okay, I’m not depressed. When you get to the other side and experience the swooping downhills you feel as light as a feather and stronger than the engines of the vehicles around you. Waves of ‘holy guacamole I’m in Europe alone riding my bicycle in the middle of godknowswhere- is that truck going to be too close? Stuff it I don’t care if I die right now, this is worth it life is amaaaazing’ surges through my body and brain. Tiredness and wind direction are other extreme emotion drawing situations, which I will highlight during the more eventful cases which will doubtlessly occur over the next five or six weeks. So I have ridden half way to Korinthos this morning, and after that siesta and long lunch I should probably get back on the road. Not that it’s a drag- I chose the old national highway which snakes along the coastline with ups and downs an less huge, eager to arrive at their destination type vehicles. I can see and hear the new highway carved into the mountain a bit above me. I think I am going to be in this real deal Mediterranean scenery from now on – Athens is 40km behind me and the next biggest city is Tijuana in Alabania. Here we go again! I arrived in Isthmia last night at 7pm about 4 ks before Korinthos because I really needed to get off the bike and chill out. I walked into the prime Isthmia hotel grubby from grease and covered in salty sweat down my fluro pink top and leopard print blue cycling pants. I brought pos up to my room for the night, washed myself and my clothes in the shower, got into bed and just woke up after 11 hours of energy boosting sleep. The views for the rest of the day yesterday literally blew my mind to the point of screaming my lungs out on the downhills. Hidden gems like beaches and bays were only evident from a few cars parked on the side of the ride and I would go over to look over at the pristine combination of clear water and palm trees with a couple of caramel tanned bodies sprawled out. I so wanted to join them but had to keep going because I have to be at the top of Greece in seven days to meet Marie, my cyclist partner in crime. I can’t wait to see her because I had a dog chase me and about ten trucks pass me on an ultra skinny section of road where I had to get off my bike, suck in and lean against the cliff edge which left my heart in my throat and my brain eager for a companion. Also just to share all of the incredibleness with someone! I better go and eat something delicious and check out the huge gorge which divides Korinthos from the mainland of
Day two cycling Korinthos to Diakopto – 82kms. Settling into the swing of things – early morning starts, long lunch siestas and late night sunsets. The day started with navigating my way through Korinthos with the help of some very helpful Greeks. Pretty much everyone I have asked so far has given me detailed directions (of which I understand only the hand signals and nod my head politely anyway), and the few people who can speak passable English even give me tips on the best places to eat and stay! Hugging the coast but just unable to see it for the first part of the ride, I sensed I was in a pretty low socioeconomic area. The roads were crumbling and peeling on the edges and people looked old from years of work in this hot sun. So far I haven’t felt lonely on the Athina national highway- when you pass through one village there is a sign with the name and a Red Cross over it to show that’s the end of that suburb and almost immediately a new sign pops up with another village name and another lot of unique housing and coastline. There is more than one church in each town, my favorite are the bulbous electric blue and white ones. I even saw a priest completely in dark blue robes out the front of a more western looking one with a funeral taking place – Greek Orthodox maybe. On these poorer roads I passed by no joke a horse and cart (only one- he might be an eccentric like the guy who walks a ferret on a leash in Moruya), tractors, countless squeaky push bikes and weird looking lawn mowing machines. At about 9 the road literally sat on the coast with not even a house between Pos and I and that lapping emerald blue goodness. It is that funny milky blue colour like the lakes and rivers in Nepal and Switzerland – must be the calcium right dad. it was wonderful to ride by just observing peoples daily lives- no one smiles back at me but they are probably just in shock from the glare of my neon shorts or maybe wondering what the girl is doing all loaded up on a bicycle in the heat. So many times I wanted to stop and capture moments so I have moved the camera to a front pocket on the bike- groups of old men drinking freddocinos, smoking and discussing serious business pause to look suspiciously as I cycle past. As midday approached people started disappearing off the roads and onto the beaches- that’s one of the ways you can tell the sun isn’t as harsh as the Australian summer blister inducing sun. I have been in the sun all day ( with sunscreen on) and have only gone the faintest bit brown. Thank God because I am not keen for this male-repelling sleeve and thigh tan! After pushing out the final hour before lunch against the my worst enemy the wind, I arrived at Derveni and found a cafe that had a deck out onto the beach. The truly friendly waitor urged me to try the rice and meat stuffed dolmades, and then gave me all sorts of positive road advice. The road should be like this all the way to the ferry terminal to Corfu about 300ks from where I’m staying tonight. Woohoo! I came to Athens because I found a cheap $800 one way ticket from Melbourne and then decided I may as well bike ride over to Spain for exchange. I have hardly done any research except for putting faith in the fact this school teacher from London, Andrew Sykes, has just ridden the same route (kind of following the Eurovelo 8) and about to publish a book about it. We sent a few emails and he told me it’s all good but I couldn’t have imagined it to be this good and easy- book your tickets people! After a 2 hour siesta overlooking the most brilliant untouched Mediterranean scene, I continued on with more hills and breathtaking views of the mountain layered coastline. I arrived in the town I thought I might stay in a bit early in the day, so came to Delkopti and along the road there were signs for Chris Paul hotel. I decided before I even got there that I would stay in this Chris Paul hotel because they are the only ones forward thinking enough to advertise their hotel along the road. I got here and it’s absolutely gorgeous. I have spent the past two hours in the pool speaking English with the owners 18 year old son. The owner himself has lived in Australia for 20 years and he just came over and started our chat with g’day mate. There was also a cafe I passed today called Tasmania and a yellow sign with a picture of a kangaroo saying ‘Australian road sign’ (sure is). Not so far from home after all! Illyis is about to take me out for some good Greek food, and I am still just lounging by the pool in the sun at 8pm. His dad came back to Greece because he thought Australia has gotten a bit caught up in the rat race – too right Dad! A 9pm sunset wouldn’t hurt everyone back home though. Loving life, planning to post every day so stay tuned family and friends.
Day 3 cycling Diakopto to Andira. 53kms. I am lying under a palm tree tanning back on the mainland of Greece. It is the most glorious day but way too hot to ride so I have just been swimming and using the wifi here for the past few hours. I am always keen to find the best, most beautiful place to stop, but I am learning that even little cafés away from the beach in the mountains are fun, especially because they are so interested in foreigners which probably rarely drop in. This morning was Hot. Like walking in the dessert for days craving an oasis of water hot. But for me it was riding a bike craving a juice, not my boring water, hot. So I stopped at this little workman cafe and got the most refreshing juice ever and then got into conversation with a mid 40s bearded man who wanted to know everything about my adventure. We had a great talk and I rode away smiling, with him wishing me luck and warning to be safe just like a father, reminding myself that everywhere is a good place to stop- despite the view or the style of the place, it really comes down to the people you meet. I left Diakopto this morning with a complimentary packed breakfast and lunch and comments like ‘watch out for the speed cameras’. It was the homiest hotel I have ever stayed at- I went out to dinner with Hlias last night and we ate overlooking the huge, bare mountains on one side and the ocean on the other. His friends turned up and we drove around stalking the older man one of them is in love with, it felt like being with friends from home (except Hlias is the only one who speaks English). This morning, the roads were away from the coast and more hilly, but I am feeling fit – probably has something to do with the wind being on my side and the sun perfectly placed behind me. I was high above the med with a new vantage point every big turn. The mainland I could see on the other side was getting closer and closer, and when I got to the huge bridge that connects Peloponnesus with the mainland of Greece, it was literally a massive effort to ride over this concrete, boiling, super straight bridge. Supposedly the biggest in Europe? I got to the other side and freaked because I was on the major highway, and it turns out that’s absolutely the only option for this afternoons 40 km ride. Peloponnesus was such a great two days and I got kind of overcome with emotion in the water just before- I just feel so blessed and lucky with everything so far, and coming back to the mainland is kind of like reaching the first milestone in my mind. India at the beginning of this year was like a learning curve in the way I want to approach travelling – I know you have to keep yourself safe but I literally felt like there was a wall in my mind (fear?) which was blocking so many good opportunities of meeting amazing locals and having a good time. I had an awesome time, but I am working on being more open (if someone wants my money then so be it, I will enjoy our relationship regardless), and I think it’s really making a difference to my enjoyment levels already. I don’t have regrets about my mindset while travelling before, if I hadn’t done that then I wouldn’t realise that I wanted to change. Enough sharing of personal reflection for today, maybe I just want to express it unless the ride on the major highway doesn’t go so well this arvo- jokes mum. Will write more later, dripping from just laying here and need another soak in the med which is colder (and more refreshing) than I imagined Europe in summer! Okay so I just stood up to go and there is roll of intimidating dark clouds and thunder over the mountains- waiting out here to see how bad it is because there is nothing between here and Messolongi. I could ride in the rain but not so sure about the big highway. That was at one, now it’s six and I have spent the arvo in this tiny town getting hounded by all of the local taxi drivers and cafe owners not to go on the highway in the rain. I decided I would catch a bus just to get past this major highway because I can get back on to the quiet roads again tomorrow. I sat there at the basic station for a over an hour reading Andrew Sykes book about cycling Europe before the lady at the station profusely apologised that my bike wouldn’t fit on any bus. All good. I kind of didn’t want to ‘cheat’, but I have to keep my feet grounded in terms of safety- this trip is about seeing the best parts not slogging alongside trucks on a full blown national freeway. I settled into the only hotel in town, with an amazing view of an old fort, the water lapping at concrete just out the front like Clovelly baths and the huge bridge looming over everything. A group of animated Greeks befriended me because one of them spoke English and became our translator. She lived in Australia until she was 17 and then came back to Greece to marry the cheeky man sitting next to her with his foot hardcore plastered and bandaged all the way to his knee. It turns out some granite fell on his big toe. He spoke extremely fast at me despite the amount of Greek wine, and his wife translated it to things like ‘so you rode over the ocean from Australia?’ while he laughed his head off. He was a pretty classic guy, Will try and get a picture. Now I’m at the beach at 7pm drinking a $3.50 500ml Heineken in my swimmers- I just swam out as far as I am brave enough to and I can still count over 20 people in the water. I am glad nature slowed me down today so I can properly soak up some of this whimsical Grecian coastal lifestyle. I just rode down to the beach on my bike completely bag free- when I came over on the plane, my bike plus all the weight plus water is about 30kgs. It seriously makes a difference without the panniers and backpack, like taking off your pack at the end of a days hike. I can’t explain how amazing it is to have nothing on my back while I ride- I feel physically free and mentally carefree and only remember my panniers when I run into something when I forget how fat Pos is or when I see my reflection. Just had the best chat to am army officer and his wife about the best path to take tomorrow!
Cycling day 4; Andira to Amfolouchia ? 110km I’m sitting in the shade eating a plump pink peach and listening to the voices singing in the Sunday church service in the tall, butter coloured cathedral across the road. It’s only 9am, but it has been a day to go down in the history of my memories. I woke up at 6 and swung by cafe delight on my way out of tome for a free hot chocolate from a cafe owner I met at a pizza restaurant last night. After leaving the beach at sunset yesterday, I met a group of 20 something locals who assisted me with ordering my yeeros (Greek kebab). I sat with their jolly crew and they talked with me, introducing me to about half the town as people wondered by, including a teenage boy who can make an exact replica of a cat meow and a police siren. It was Xfactor worthy talent and spot on. It’s good learning about The country from the mouths of the locals- I haven’t chatted to a tourist since Athens. The guys were ridiculing the Greek president and laughing about politics, which is a very tender point in the recently economically stressed country. Over the past few days people have often made comments about how difficult it has been for the past ten years and the corruption of greedy politicians. The banks gave out more money than they could afford, no one paid it back and the country went into chaos- and it’s not getting any better. The chat was mostly a light hearted one with lots of laughs though- these people know how to have fun. I left for Messolongi this morning about 630 and enjoyed my way winding up the steep mountain, thanking god that I wasn’t on the other side where there was no space for the bike whatsoever and the edge of the road dropped straight down to the misty ocean far below. The view was so damn good with the sun rising pink over the lowlands and the silhouette of the long bridge, and I wanted to go and peer over the edge but I heard my actual voice say to me ‘don’t do it jess it’s too dangerous’. Wow! So many levels of consciousness. It happened again when I went to get my camera out and film the ride down a mountain I knew would be incredible. I got higher than I knew I did because the ride down the other side of this mountain was mind blowing. I don’t know if the tears streaming down my face were more from the speed or my ecstatic excitement. I rolled down at 50ks, and miraculously hardly a single vehicle passed for the ten minutes or so down and I could just enjoy the luscious green mountains and water infused view to myself. My mind was beyond alive, and I think I realised this morning that I want to challenge myself for the rest of my life and I want to ride a bike for the rest of my life. Dad reminded me yesterday to save the best feelings and store them away in the grey matter for when times are hard. It’s a really good idea- I just came to three big dogs on the highway and all of a sudden the awesome feelings of being invincible were gone and I saw a pile of ripped up jess on the roadside in front of me. The dogs were fine (and actually playful) but I need to relax and take some of the wild untamed courage for times like that. The wind has been with me all morning, and I have pumped out 50ks before breaky. I bought two juice boxes and heaps of fruit, my body is clearly sending a distress call for sugar! Going to head on and make the most of this wind- if it turns against me I might be going backwards! So after having that crazy happy morning I got all the challenges thrown at me on the ride to lunch in Agrinio. The road changed direction immediately after breakfast and began blasting me (I may be prone to slight exaggeration but it was literally hammering me) while I went through the most dramatic gorge with eagles circling above the vertical, colourful cliff faces. When I stopped to catch my breath and admire a church built into the rock high above, a dog leapt out of nowhere and lunged at me from nowhere. It was completely Snow White and was running straight at me barking and lips quivering above gums. I had just written this morning about courage, and before I had any time to think and just said a weak ‘it’s okay doggy’, a car sped at us and the dog turned backward on itself and scampered to the other side. My intestines proceeded to turn inside out as I fled as hard as I could peddle against the wind and the mountain and the wild dog. Woah. My mind came up with a couple of things that the most organised, prepared touring cyclist should carry. On a Lara croft style belt I would put in a silent dog whistle so I could silently blow the ears off the snarling dogs, some pepper spray for baddies and screen shots of the directions of how to fix all the parts of your bike. I would be so ruined if something happened to pos- I don’t know if anyone here would stop to help me- even the broken down truck drivers don’t have much luck. I rode through some fresh bitumen on the way through the wheat fields and farming area leading into Agrinio. The sticky stuff stuck to my tires and I picked up all sorts of stones on the wheels, flicking it mostly onto my mudguards, but I was imagining that it might set hard like on the road and all of a sudden pos would freeze like a statue. This is my bike knowledge, so pray for me guys. Not that divine intervention is going to help- I was lovingly looking up at the church when Snow White went to attack me.. Maybe the fact that he didn’t get to me is gods hand. Moving on. So Agrinio was a really big town with lots of narrow, gorgeous European streets and bars with people overflowing and enjoying freddocinos. I stopped at a few and asked about food, and I literally had no luck, maybe it was a bit early for lunch. I went to a burger place and got a huge chicken salad while reaping all the information I could from the great English speaking waiter. With my bike and my bright clothes I feel like a spectacle- I am also super grubby compared to the ritzy people in these streets, so I decided to move on despite the fact I was 70ks down and the sun was at it’s hottest. There’s not really much point staying in a place with no ocean, so I want to get to Amfilouchia, the next decent sized coastal town. I am now a further 15ks down the road stopped at a shady roadside cafe where guys are playing a board game next to me, dramatic Greek music fills the background and no one really cares where I put my bike. Feeling strong and healthy and happy and superstitious- what a
Vónitsa, Greece ·
Kyposelli- Vonitsa 68kms Staying with a Greek fam and acting hostess at their annual village festival, loving this country! I just had my first much needed swim in the Ionian Sea and now it’s late arvo relaxing under a wooden beach umbrella with a couple of French Greek teenage girls. Today was boiling hot and I rode through the middle of the day, stopping only for a baby lunch break of homemade Greek pastrami and water sessions because I left late this morning. I can hear you asking why I was riding in almost forty degree European summer at midday and why I had another packed lunchbox? When I was writing at that cafe yesterday afternoon, a man came up and offered to pay for my drink to say thankyou for visiting Greece. Cool. He had seen my smile and had a good feeling he said. Then he offered me to sit with his group of mates, so I took the offer because of his striking and friendly blue eyes. Then he told me I happened to arrive on the day of the annual village festival. Okay. Then he offered me to stay with his family for the night and come and celebrate with the entire village of Kyposelli. Despite years of being told not to trust strangers and my heart skipping a few beats, there was no way I was missing out on an awesome Greek fest and a free bed, so I cycled 4ks down the road to his village and he showed me into his gorgeous family home. Inside the big, welcoming family house, I sat down to a plate of pasta bake, cheese and filo pie and an iced coffee. Bill’s sister was visiting from Canada, so we talked away the afternoon. I showered and then helped prep the food for the night, stringing chunks of fresh pork onto razor sharp thick metal skewers and weighing out beans. I had a nap at seven to prepare for the night, which they warned me would be a big one. The night started with a church procession and the church bells donged loudly while a congregation of priests and townsfolk walked around the entire village (which didn’t take too long). People were dressed to the nines, with all the women in daring bright colours and high wedges, pulling off what older Australian women just don’t even try. I helped in the kitchen with bills wife and sister, cutting about 40 loaves of bread and stacking plates with spinach pastries, minty meatballs, freshly cut potato chips and then dessert. The desserts were out of this world, with creamy, hairy textured, sugary, nutty cakes and polenta and almond slices. I walked outside and watched some of the professional Greek dancing out the front of the church, with men in red bands around their chests then white linen pants and black shoes holding hands and gracefully jumping around. The women wore restricting black bodices and dresses with stockings and heels, adorned with silver jewellery over their backs and necks. I couldn’t help but bounce along with the energetic orchestra while I helped cook the hundreds and thousands of souvlaki skewers with bill and the local vet in huge cages things over hot coals with heavy duty gloves on. The smell pretty much summed up my idea of heaven. Bill had told me earlier that the vet loves a cycle, and once rode 450ks in less than 24 hours. One look at his calves and I didn’t doubt a word of it. I worked hard for my night of accommodation, standing there handing out bags of souvlaki and bread to the people, with old women berating me in Greek about who knows what and thinking I was just stupid when I didn’t understand. In my mind I was smiling my head off- who knew this would come along. With my hands dripping in meat juices, bill told me to have a break and I was taken over to sit and eat with a friendly group. I ended up dancing out the front with the hoards of people that had taken over from the professionals. Everyone was joining in, linking hands or putting your outstretched arm onto the next persons shoulders. Most of the dancing involved really simple in and out foot movements and generally a lot of really fast shaking up and down while keeping your spine and head stiff. People don’t smile either, I must have been the only one laughing my head off. The whole night, the village conspired about who they will marry me off with, so that everyone can visit Australia and have friends to stay with. After lots of smiling communication, plastic cups of chilled beer and more meat than my stomach can process for about a week, we headed home at 2am. I slept soundly after kicking one of the poor kids out of his bed (I tried to convince them I would take the lounge instead of the son but they wouldn’t budge) and woke up at ten. My typically thoughtful Greek hosts wouldn’t let me leave without about a kilo of pastrami pasta bake to weigh down the bike, an iced coffee and my favourite thing of all- a little blow torch. Bill thought I might need some protection, but little does he know I will probably accidentally blow up a town with this powerful gas tube fire breathing device. If any dogs come at me from now on, they’ll be hotdogs. And if I get my hands on a cow, I won’t be needing to go to a restaurant for a steak! Watch out world, I’m armed. A bit of background knowledge unless you don’t understand the danger- I broke like three unbreakable steyr rifles while at army recruit training and generally have a bad track record with flares etc. Today has been pretty rough in the heat with a lot of scary narrow corners and the wind against me, but I’m in a good frame of mind. I’m thinking about getting a metal spike and sticking it out on the left hand side of my bike so people ensure they don’t come too close. Like one of the ones the guys on horseback used to fight with. It’s funny, I don’t mind people driving to close to me when I’m in a great mood or in the afternoon, I kind of think ‘oh it’s all right bud spud I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt you weren’t aiming for me’. But when I’ve just woken up or feeling tired my thoughts are a bit more sinister toward the driver. Especially when people overtake coming from the other direction and a car is speeding towards my shaking little self like in some kind of bravery test where they throw a dart at the apple on your head. The views today were quite amazing, lots of mountain uphill slogs with rewarding ocean and farmed lowland views while speeding downhill with drivers beeping at me and sharing in the excitement on the way down. There were Lots of unusual plants on the side of the road today- mean ones that grab onto you and don’t want to let go. At one stage I was going past blackberry bushes which looked beautiful like a frame on the side of the road, but they left me with sticky blood running down my legs the same colour as the tight bunches of fruit. I just moved away from my beach umbrella and came across the road (literally) to book a room in the only hotel because I am loving the small town feel of this place Vonitsa on the coast and am on track to meet Marie in Corfu in two days time. Better go and do some yoga on the beach before the sun goes down, my thighs are begging for a stretch. Over and out !
Párga, Greece ·
Vonitsa- Parga so far 82kms The mountains have begun! I’m sipping my caramel milkshake from a twisty straw, overlooking the pastel, staggered houses of Parga to my right and the ocean front dotted with weekender boats and tanned international tourists snapping memories before me. Buzzing Parga, where you can hardly find a space on the beach, is a world away from chilled out Vonitsa which I left about 630 this morning. The hotel gave me the chain spray like Spirio asked them to. Spirio is a Greek guy that looks like Jesus. We met last night and chatted about all sorts of things, and being a mechanical engineer he wanted to check out Pos and make sure she’s in a good condition. Is it just a natural male instinct to want to be practical? I don’t mind, I love it! For example, if dad didn’t research external battery packs for GPS and order bits and pieces to make Pos ready to tour Europe, I probably wouldn’t have the confidence that I do about riding her here. It’s all pretty simple anyway; I have more things than I need in my panniers and I just wash my clothes every night in the shower. One week in the same shirt is starting to stress the female image interested subconscious in my head though. Will all of my Europe pictures be in this bright pink shirt just like Bart guaranteed to wear his blue shorts in the Simpsons?! When Marie arrives tomorrow, she has made some Cycle for Peace shirts for me to add to the portable wardrobe, can’t wait! Back to Spirio- he is a typical Greek guy, which i have gathered is emotionally open. People talk about the way they feel and psychology in general a lot over here- maybe it’s the Socrates blood in them. I really like it and it definitely complements the overwhelming emotions that have been surfacing with this ride so far. This morning was wild, with hair raising turns that make my legs turn furiously and pray there will be a break in the traffic just for that moment. It was also wild in terms of population density- I went through large expanses of land without any signs of human habitation or land use. The 20 km stretch from Vonitsa to Preveza this morning was all misty lakes and barren mountains, then farmlands and herds of goats on the road and tractors chugging past. I got to a big underground tunnel I had to go through and silently slipped past the toll point because they were busy collecting money and I thought I could just go through. So I was in the 2km long eerily lit passage way and some boys whooped at me from their car which is weird for Greece , and then the loudspeaker started shouting Greek. I just ignored it and took some selfies of myself going through the big tunnel and smiled and waved at people and then when I got to the other side there was a serious looking man striding back and forth next to an orange flashing truck waiting for me. Apparently the loudspeaker thing was shouting at me that bikes aren’t allowed in the tunnel, they must have been watching me on a video camera taking pictures! So in a panic I threw my flame thrower at him and rode off. Just joking, he realised I had no idea and let me go. I laughed and thought of the other day in Australia when I looked at my phone while filling up with petrol. The loudspeaker said ‘get off your mobile’. I looked around to snigger at the person who had been speaking on their phone and went back to glance at my phone when the voice boomed again and I realised she was talking to me. I could tell you more embarrassing stories but back to the ride. After the bridge it was pretty flat and I needed some juice so stopped at a servo and sat and drank while about ten men just stared at me from their tables. I smiled and their expressions didn’t change, they just craned their necks to watch me go- maybe they knew what fun I was in for on the mountains ahead. It all started with a 4-5 km uphill stretch, and then the ups and downs were like a roller coaster for big kids until i arrived here. The time flies and I hardly concentrate on my music because there is so much to see; I even got off my bike and ran across the road a few times to dangle myself over the edge and get covered in spiderwebs in the process. Everyone says the animals in Europe don’t hurt you so I’m not worried about snakes or bugs, but still can’t swim out as far as they do because of an inbuilt appreciation of the ferocity of sharks. When I say I’m from Australia everyone says ‘argh, crocodile Dundee’ or ‘many sharks’. Great associations. We also have this amazing salty black stuff we put on bread and just can’t get enough of, a nice bridge and a big rock in the middle but that’s what they know us for. So back to the views- draped silhouettes of cliffs spilling out onto the ocean with the roads carved into the sides like someone has used their fingernail to scrape lines out of clay. I feel like I’m getting inside of the man who makes the roads- he is sensible and generally opts for the flat option, but when there’s no other way to go around, he just creates a theme park of hills and bends for the users to enjoy, heightening their senses with straight cliff drops to the side and precious views of the mighty coastline. I think he’s having a mid life crisis and showing his wild streak. Such a fabulous day!
Parga to Corfu- I couldn’t write last night because my hands were shaking- probably from the 115km ride from Vonitsa to the raved about sivota! I’m very proud of my legs- they are feeling absolutely fine. I probably won’t be able to fit my thighs into any of my jeans when I arrive in Spain but it’s all worth it. I should keep a thigh diary of pictures and sell the secret like a miracle diet- eat and drink more than before, drink alcohol, choose the steak- just ride a casual 80km a day in summer. I think I will have sweated an ocean by the time it’s all over. I left parga late afternoon yesterday because when I was laying on the beach with pos, a dodgy looking, overly tanned, chain wearing Greek and asked me to pay for my sun bed. ‘Three euros you pay’ he said as he looked around nervously. I kind of knew I didn’t have to pay this scammer but I stood up and said ‘oh okay you’ve just given me a reason to go’. He looked mortified that he had been the one to cause this young girl to leave the beach, and I tried to convince him it was all good and I needed to leave anyway. A tout with a conscience. And then it happened again today- Marie had her gopro stolen from under her clothes when we went swimming. We decided to go back to the place where it was taken a bit later and it was sitting there propped up against a wall near where we left our stuff. Her $400 brand new camera. We are pretty keen to upload the pics and see if they took any good ones while they temporarily stole it. Back to leaving the beach at Parga! The climb out was extreme- I guessed it would be after having so much fun coming down into the valley. But it just seemed never ending- I pushed one revolution at a time, and smiled up at some guys who shouted that ‘not all the men can do it, go go!’. I kept going, licking my lips for some electrolyte salts and going wild from the sound of the bugs. The millions of bugs in the bushes have perfectly perfected the sound of damaged bike spokes. So many times over the last few days when I’m all alone and there’s no other sounds except my breathing, I look down to see what the problem with my wheels is. But it’s the insects! Clearly someone rode past with a crappy old bike and they liked the sound of their broken clanging spokes and now they imitate it and it plays with my head. I’m not going insane- Marie will testify this once we get on the road around Corfu tomorrow. So the road yesterday was so sparsely populated I was careful with my water. Going down on the other side of the mountain for kilometres was all for Pos and I to enjoy- untouched, pristine bays formed in something like a kids squiggle making the coastline far below me. It’s incredible how fast the road climbs up. I have heard people say they don’t like the down because it means more uphill later, but I am beginning to get excited with every turn where I see it’s still more twists to the top. At 730pm after stopping at stunning viewpoints along the way, I arrived in bustling sivota and took half an hour to find a bed. Down on the water it was just apartments overhanging the restaurants with comfy cushioned chairs balancing over the cobblestones. I had to go back into town and up the hill again, and finally found a little family run hotel. The Greek owner sat out the front with his overflowing stomach and one finger pointed at me barking in Greek. He made me sit down and asked me questions in pure Greek and seemingly got frustrated we couldn’t communicate. He must have had the place for years though! Even until i rode off this morning, he never stopped trying to communicate and force his words like I might understand more if he says it louder and with more ferocity. It wasn’t exactly hospitality at it’s finest but I just jumped on my bike and spent the night on the waterfront moving between restaurants to get the feel of the place. Tourists from all parts of the world joined me in tasting gyros (kebabs) at streetside bars while people watching, followed by licking on1 euro icecream while calmly browsing the souvenir shops and postcards. I felt like a normal vacationing tourist for the first time this week (except for wheeling along Pos and my weird cycling clothes tan instead of the typical tiny bikini tan). This mornings ride of 25km no joke consisted of 5km up and then the same down and so on. It was such a joy ride, and I felt excited to be seeing Marie so the morning flew by. I saw a sign for the ferry port igoumenitsa which said something like 12 ks to go and it was more like 5. It made me think of yesterday when I was riding to parga and the sign said 58 and then the next minute it said 38 and I thought I was just killing it with the riding. And then the next one said 48. What?! So I’m taking the road signs with a grain of salt now. And the lack of road signs! Normally they have loads of those black and white arrow signs to indicate even the slightest corner. Then last night when I was going dangerously fast down a hill, a huge U bend appeared without any markings and I almost ran into the side of a bus coming the opposite way. That would have been pretty classic- spending all this time worrying about getting hit and then I run into them! So mid morning I caught a ferry to Corfu for ten euros and Pos was free. The boat over was beautiful, and arriving on the island after lunch I had a smooth gps directed ride to Marie’s hotel. The lady at the desk told me to go upstairs to 45, and I carried my panniers and backpack up there, buzzing with excitement to meet my cycling partner. She wasn’t in the room and I was standing there dripping with sweat and started getting undressed in the hallway to change into something cooler. Then a cleaner magically appeared an unlocked the door for me (isn’t that rather dangerous?!) and I came inside and had the best shower of my trip in this fancy hotel with a jaw dropping view of Corfu fort and northern ocean looking over the beckoning mountains of Alabania. I met Marie and we have jam packed so much into our day that I can’t even stay awake to tell you the rest. So in love with this island though- speak soon
Saranda -Piqeras 30 km Albania is blowing my mind!! We got off the ferry about midday yesterday, exchanged some Albanian leks and admired saranda, a large coastal town with buildings, people and even terrain remarkably different from Greece. The buildings are bright and cheaply made with lots of flimsy scaffolding unlike the concrete fortresses of Greece. The people are friendlier than I ever could have imagined after being given so many cautions from the greeks. After a long lunch at a cafe with warm and helpful staff and some wifi to confirm there are hotels in the direction we are heading in, Marie and I set off on the hot, steep and winding hill leading out of commercial saranda. After puffing out way to the top, the city quickly fell away from us. And then there was nothing but puffy cumulus clouds and cluster beyond cluster of rock embedded, pale green mountains. I felt free and alone, but so happy to have the company of Marie with me along with the feeling of desolation shouting from this new and foreign environment. We tackled hardcore hills and wind gusts in the heat immediately, and we just take it one push at a time. I am feeling very strong and it helps to have a clear head and just be present to enjoy these spaces. We stopped for an icecream in a town of about fifteen houses, which are few and far between. We quickly learnt the essential words; hello and thankyou (should probs learn ‘hey can I get a lift towards Spain’ as well). It is nice to be back in a country where the signs are not a completely foreign alphabet, but even when I write the correct name of a town into my GPS it isn’t likely to know it so far. I really wanted to go to Piqeras but it didn’t exist on my GPS. So we just kept riding. Along the scenically spectacular road to Piqueras, we passed energetic goats, lazy donkeys, hungry cows, work horses and even mating wild boars and squealing piglets. What we have found here so far couldn’t be more heart warming, with almost every car beeping, shouting, peace signing or just nodding their approval as we glide past. Glide might be a bit of an exaggeration, because the uphills have been beyond anything I have ever experienced on a bicycle. It might be more accurate to say while we desperately crawl past on the uphills with each breath sucking up all the available oxygen like it is going out of fashion. We rolled into Piqeras, the town that didn’t exist on the GPS, about 6. For $10 each we stayed in a family owned hotel with a postcard worthy view of the ocean and sprawling mountains. The artwork of a sunset while digging into freshly grilled lemony fish and Greek salad made with oil from the garden made me have to slap myself for a reality check. An old woman plucked long beans from bushes below us, and donkeys and goats walked obediently on leashes around the little town. Round mountains surrounded the stone built town like a photo frame, and on a walk through I found a beautiful lemon quartz crystal which will be my material souvenir from Albania. We bought a whole watermelon for 25cents and shared it with everyone on the rooftop restaurant of our hotel. What a start to this country where my preconceived ideas have just been shattered into oblivion.
Mountain hut- Avisto 85km I am laying on a wooden table watching the mist envelop around me, with pin pricks of moisture swirling like smoke. It’s 6am and the sun is already poking through the sky like the light of a ship in an eerie and still ocean. I am listening out for the sound of a tiny kitten I rescued on the road yesterday and brought to the hotel. He was sprawled out helplessly on the road so I scooped him up after a quick check for fleas and mange and put him inside my pannier to nestle. He had one little slip on the way but otherwise made it safely here and I put him in the garden. In my mind he will forage for food and grow strong and maybe find a stray cat mum and live happily ever after in wild cat heaven. But now I can’t hear him and Marie says that at least he has made a fox happy. The ride here was a good sturdy one. Yesterday we slept in a wood hut and didn’t realise the windows were completely barred up for darkness. So we had a little sleep in then set off down the humongous hill. Pos had some serious issues with steering and breaks so she wasn’t exactly the downhill joy ride you might be picturing. She was more like a quivering, screeching nervous wreck. But the views were beautiful and very different to the other side. After following four different sets of directions in the first town we came to, we found a bike shop but no one was there. The people love to do the name association thing, so one guy hooked us up to go and see his brother in vlore, another 30 ks down the road. ‘Just go left past the university and then after the hotel akrivadi turn right and then there will be a blue door with some tools out the front’. Alrighty. The road to vlore was apparently the Albanian Mediterranean tourist haven. All along the coastline, people in bright board shorts and sunburnt bodies lay under beach umbrellas which required mathematical equations to allow them all to fit on the beach. Our eyes didn’t know where to look- summer holidays in Albania is the place to be! There are no waves of course, but people buy floaty whales and rings from the roadside stalls on the beach and look hilarious reading their book 200m offshore. It’s a really different, more relaxing atmosphere to the roaring waves and dramatic expanse of ocean in Australia compared to the bays protected by mountains that you find here. In vlore we got SIM cards registered because Vodafone were handing them out for free. Then we went on a mission for the bike shop, which was exactly where the guy had described. Except it clearly wasn’t his brother working there as he had described, because this guy was Italian through and through. Even with hands black from grease, the mans tortoiseshell glasses and warm smile held this air of grace that go with the fluid Italian language. He took pos for a ride after replacing break pads and still shook his head like I was in grave danger. Out the front of this tiny workshop shack, he stripped the handlebars and put oil everywhere then flipped her upside down and tinkered some more. Half an hour and $10 later she was good as new, and we spent the afternoon chilling at a cafe out of the heat of the sun. Leaving for fior on a hardcore highway stretch, we pumped it out through farmland for 35 Kms and stopped for some green grapes at a roadside fruit stall to slow our beating hearts. There are fruit and vegetable stalls everywhere, with tempting watermelons, stone fruit, grapes, garlic and pumpkins thoughtfully strung up on corrugated iron. Time was flying so we thought we might have to stop for the night in this big city, so we sat in the main square watching hoards of old man squabbling over outdoor scrabble. I even had a beer, but then we decided it wasn’t the place for us to rest our loins of iron so we raced against the sun to the next village about 15km along the road. With the dusk settling in, Marie had her tail light flashing and we sat next to each other on about 35 km an hour, unsure whether the racing cars could see us and unsure where the next town might be. The little village we did find had one hotel and it was up a mountain which made us deserve dinner! I am writing to you now from a hardcore house music beachside fest at durres in Northern Albania looking at 90% Kosovo tourists escaping their country for some sunshine, tattoos, fake and tanned boobies, and that maths equation of how they fit all the beach umbrellas onto the beach again. We just finished our picnic laying next to an oiled up man to share his umbrella, so I better go and have a swim to wash the Nutella off my hands.