Both Astrid and I were pleased to be back in Greece, as it was one of our favourite countries on our way to London. It certainly didn’t disappoint this time round either.
While the last time we had pedalled through Greece it had been the beginning of spring, we were now in the final throws of autumn. The landscape was a faded brown, the last of the leaves clinging to the trees, the sky a washed out grey. Our riding days were cold, but at night we were able to build fires to keep warm. In Greece there is space to be free. This my spirit could really feel, and we embraced our nights by the fire surrounded by nature, our last wild days of Europe.
As we headed south towards Athens, the weather changed. The cold – but until now dry autumnal days became wet, and the riding became tough. It rained and rained, descents were painful – water in eye, half blinded, hands gripping in sodden gloves. Cafes and Tavernas were our haven, and on one day we decided to drink tsipero to make the bleak, cold riding more fun. It certainly worked, and we got more than we bargained for when the locals kept insisting on buying us tsipero. Greek hospitality! We certainly left that taverna in better spirits than we entered it!
The rain was so constant and we were so soaked that we began staying at hotels. They were such a haven and to have somewhere to thaw out at the end of the day and to dry clothes was such a treat. It made the rain soaked days bearable.
Our final day into Athens, the rain had finally ceased. We’d had our last wild camp of Europe the night before and were ready for the Greek capital and Astrid’s birthday celebrations. First we had 130km to pedal and our day was rather eventful. Firstly, the secondary road stopped and rather than take an epic detour we had opted to try our luck on the motorway. This was totally illegal of course and we were soon being shouted at by a highway police kind of person, he was especially irate at me as he had seen me cruise passed an exit and ignore his frantic gesticulations from the other side of the motorway. Oops. In the end, we achieved what we had set out to do, as he made as get off at the exit we were going to take anyway. After that we basically ran out of food. There were no shops anywhere, the many cafes indicated on the map were closed. Luckily we were finally saved by a guy in a fast food van who happened to be the Greek voice over guy for Donald duck. I mean of course we would meet someone like this! Not only did he refuse payment, but he also made us a sandwich to eat later. The Greek people are so kind. The last part of our day we pedalled through the suburbs of Athens in the dark, having sneaky sips of tsipero for fun. Rolling up to have a beer just beneath the Acropolis felt epic; we’d made it.
Some of our friends were already in the city and we joined them for much needed food and probably not so much needed more alcohol. We were both exhausted but very happy.
The following day more of our friends began to arrive and we moved to an epic three storey apartment we had rented to celebrate Astrid’s 40th. Now we were able to settle into some serious celebration. I was also finally able to give Astrid her giant vegan cheese wheel, which had taken quite a combined effort to make it to Athens. Before we’d become vegan, Astrid had always said she wanted a giant cheese wheel for her 40th. Initially, I thought that it wouldn’t be possible, but with some research I was able to find a vegan cheese maker in East London (of course!). She took on the job with much enthusiasm (she’d never before made a giant cheese). From there Abi took over as cheese delivery coordinator; an east london motorcycle paramedic was commissioned to pick up the cheese and it was then stored in a fridge at an ambulance station before finally being brought to Athens by Abi. I could not have done this without help! And the look on Astrid’s face made the whole thing so very worth it.
Our days were filled with a lot of fun; we had a roof top barbecue, champagne breakfast, went on a walking tour of the city, explored the Acropolis, ate delicious Greek food, drank too many beverages of an alcoholic nature, danced, talked, had a house party, made friends with the owners of a local bar, and generally behaved like silly adults. It was so wonderful to see our friends again, for while this life of travel is wonderful, I do find myself missing conversations and shared moments with the other people that make up my world. There was so much hugging and love and joy. We are truly very lucky to have these amazing people in our lives. A deep and heartfelt thank you to all of you who were able to make it to Athens for Astrid’s birthday.
Everyone leaving was of course quite difficult. Astrid and I both felt sad, even though we were excited too, as the next leg of our journey was soon to begin. First though, we had a mountain of life admin to do. Our bikes needed work, this blog required updating (moderately successful), we needed to research our route, visas, vaccinations to name a few. What we needed was a base. This is where hanging out at the same bar a few nights in a row comes in handy! We’d befriended the wonderful owners of Pspsina and they had offered to rent us a room opposite the bar. Perfect.
Our days in Athens began with coffee and breakfast at the bar, reading and writing, before beginning on all our chores. For lunch we almost always went to the falafel place around the corner, and in the evenings we always dropped by the bar for a chat and at least one drink. We were probably less productive than we could have been, but it was delightful to have a base. I even managed to go running a few times, and it was an incredible feeling just being able to marvel at the Acropolis as I passed by. We explored Athens a little, spent time talking to George and Evi and everyone at the bar, watched films and generally settled into life in Athens. It’s a city I will always remember with much love and warmth; the street art, the bar, the slight edginess, mildly crazy traffic, casual ruins of the ancient world, being offered drugs by the same guy for two weeks and gradually getting to know the neighbourhood we were calling home. Mostly though it was our wonderful ‘Greek family’ at the bar that made time in Athens so memorable though. Evi and George, John, Bobby, the other John and Carlie.
For a treat, and to celebrate 9 years together, Astrid and I took a ferry to the nearby island of Agistri. Turns out, Greek islands in November are almost deserted. We did manage to find a hotel that was open and one taverna nearby where we ate every night. In a way, even though it would have been more vibrant in the summer, with more choices, we kind of loved it. Our days began slowly, with breakfast overlooking the sea, and we then went running and hiking over the island. On one day we found a deserted beach, built a fire, cooked lunch, drank whisky and went for a skinny dip in the still warm Mediterranean. Pretty idyllic, and certainly not possible in the high season when this beach would not doubt be packed.
Our island adventure over and our bikes almost ready, the time to move on was almost upon us. We’d wanted to try and find a yacht to take us across the Mediterranean, to avoid flying. This in theory is possible, and we know of many people who travel like this, by boat and bike. However, we now have a dead line as to when we want to be back in Melbourne, and finding a boat can be time consuming (it was also not the most popular time to be sailing across the med it seemed). With more than 12,000km in Africa to pedal, and then another few thousand across Australia, we were conscious that we need to keep moving, unless we want to rush the cycling, which we didn’t. So we compromised and booked a flight to Cairo for the 18th of December.
So, this is how our first leg of the journey draws to a close. Our last evening, we did of course have a little party at Pspsina, saying a heartfelt goodbye to everyone there. It has truly been a wonderful experience living in Athens and getting to know all these wonderful people. Thank you!