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82km New Vrasna Beach to Nea Iraklitsa

Posted September 29th, 2007

The famous lion of AmfipolisThe wonderful thing about this little trip of ours is that every day is different. Earlier this week we were in the chaotic city of Thessaloniki and just a short distance down the road we arrived at a relaxing beach house – in a totally different world. The beach house was owned by our new friend Harry, someone we met through the Hospitality Club website. Harry, a Greek who grew up in Germany and will soon be moving to Canada, was a wonderful person to get to know. Over the couple days we spent together we chatted a lot about his upcoming move to Vancouver, really enjoyed his specialty drink – the Pick Me Up, a mix of Bailey’s and coffee – and also swapped quite a bit of music. Harry, we really wish you well for your move to Canada and thank you so much for giving us a home away from home.

It’s visits like this that remind us how lucky we are to have been on the receiving end of so much hospitality over the past year, and how much we will have to return when we get a house one day. Everyone reading this is welcome to come and visit when we’re settled again!

After we left Harry, we cycled along the coast towards the city of Kavala. We didn’t quite make Kavala, stopping instead just outside the city. The coastline really stood out throughout the day with its clear waters, shimmering all colours of blue and teal. Even though it’s late in the season, the temperatures are still quite high during the day and the beaches are far from deserted. Germans especially seem to be out in great numbers.

It was warm enough that we felt the urge to stop midway through our trip for an afternoon frappe, a combination of iced coffee, milk and sugar that is our new addiction. Today we got ours at a little Kantina, or a roadside refreshment stand. They are everywhere here and the one we stopped at had little tables and chairs overlooking the beach. Gorgeous. If we’d had more water on board at the time, we might just have pitched our tent right there for a few days.

Looking at the map, we realise we’ll soon be in Turkey. Just three more days and we’ll be across the border. After spending the best part of the past year exploring Europe, it’s hard to believe we’ll soon be leaving it behind for quite some time to come.

88km Thessaloniki to New Vrasna Beach

Posted September 27th, 2007

A lonely fishing boatWhat is it about cities that makes them so hard to get out of on a bike? Urban planners in Thessaloniki obviously never considered that anyone would want to leave their fair city by the sea with anything that doesn’t have a motor. Our pedal-powered flight from Thessaloniki started with busy and bumpy roads, covered in tar patchwork, and another stretch on a motorway. We gazed longingly at service roads alongside the motorway, which looked much more appealing to us but were completely inaccessible. An hour later and not so many kilometers down the road, we finally emerged on the north side of the city and turned along a slightly quieter route for our journey further east. Much of our path from here to the Turkish border will be along the water but Thessaloniki sits on a penninsula so we had to cross it first and to be honest, if there’d been a bus or train that would have let us and our bicycles on, we probably would have taken it. The scenery is little more than scruffy fields, filled with rubbish thrown out of car windows, split up by villages of the knackered one-horse variety. A strong headwind also made the going hard. The landscape only really improved for the last few kilometers as we rolled through a forest and then stopped in a seaside village to stay with friend we met through the Hospitality Club website. We really enjoyed our evening with Harry – a Greek man who grew up in Germany and is soon immigrating to Canada, so welcome him warmly if you’re in Vancouver! He cooked us a wonderful supper and we chatted quite late into the evening before crawling into our comfy beds.

121km Dolichi to Thessaloniki

Posted September 26th, 2007

Mount OlympusWell, after our “firsts” from yesterday – two flat tyres – we continued with the trend today by fighting off our first sheepdogs and hitting the motorway.

The sheepdogs were an early wakeup call, not far down the road after we rolled out of our tent at the base of Mount Olympus. The pack of five dogs were quite fierce, baring their teeth and trying to circle around us, but we kept our bikes as a barrier between us and the dogs and after a few minutes of barking the shepherd came out and called them off. We got another scare a bit later in the morning when a dog on the road, which we thought was asleep or had been hit by a car, leapt to life just as we were going by. Once again we used our bikes as a barrier and slowly walked by while keeping eye contact, which seemed to keep the dog just far enough away for us to pass.

In the afternoon it was time for another adventure. We never thought we’d be singing the praises of a motorway on this trip but our experience on Greece’s road to Thessaloniki was rather successful. Normally we avoid motorways at all costs. In fact, most times we aren’t even allowed on them. But this time we had little choice. There are simply no viable alternative roads to Thessaloniki from the south, unless you want to make a significant detour which, on a bicycle, would mean a whole extra day.

We briefly thought of taking the train, having no great desire to bike on the motorway, but the train wouldn’t take our bikes so instead we ran our bikes up the ramp and put our heads down for the journey into Greece’s second biggest city. We had our work cut out for us since we’d already put in almost a full day getting from our campsite at the base of Mount Olympus to the coast but with the wide shoulders and gentle grading of the motorway we made excellent time and covered 70km in less than three hours. (more…)

61km Mega Eleftherochori to Dolichi

Posted September 25th, 2007

First flat tyreAndrew and NikoWell today was, as always, with its own special challenges. First off, waking up on the dance floor of the bar makes for a good story but in comfort terms it wasn’t all that much different than any other wild camping site except for the loos nearby. The real bonus though came when the owner returned with a few things in tow. Some milk, bread and warm ham and cheese croissants. We wish most camping experiences were like this!

Just before we took off, Niko took us on a two minute climb in his truck to see what awaited us for the day. Mount Olympus.

After repeatedly refusing any more cold iced coffees we rolled away with our panniers full to bursting from all the goodies Niko gave us to take on our journey.

All went well until lunchtime when we picked the wrong spot under a tree. Just a few meters up the road after we’d finished our meal and Andrew discovered a puncture in his back tire. Yes, the first flat tire of the whole trip. (more…)

62km Meteora to Mega Eleftherochori

Posted September 24th, 2007

Iced Coffee, our new addictionOur day was a fairly ordinary one until early in the afternoon when a red pickup truck ground to a halt beside us, as we were walking up a large hill. First a stream of Greek came from the driver, a short, dark-haired man in his 40s, followed by a smattering of German. The usual questions followed and then we asked about a cafe in the next town. We’ve gotten hooked on iced coffees and were craving one as we pushed our bikes in the hot sun. Immediately the invitation came to have drinks with our host. At first we tried to politely refuse but there was a certain twinkle in the eye of this man that we couldn’t resist so – for the first time so far on this trip – we allowed our bikes to be loaded into a vehicle and rushed a few kilometers up to the village sitting on the peak of the hill.

The ride itself was rather funny: us with our two bikes, all in the back of the pickup truck (something that would be illegal in Canada), flying up a hill and around bends, bracing to steady ourselves for each curve. When we got to the cafe we realised we hadn’t just been invited for drinks. (more…)