A ride through Greece, and we briefly call Athens Home.

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.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_10fd0

Winter is nearly upon us. Always good place to camp in Greece though.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_10fd1

The slightly barren landscape

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_10fd2

so much space to wild camp

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.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_10fe0

Hot springs!

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_10fe1

There are a lot of smooth roads in Greece

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_10fe2

This is more like it

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_10fe3

So nice to see the sun

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_10fe9

The voice of Greek Donald Duck. Awesome guy.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_10fea

Feeling shattered on our ride into Athens. Taking a 5 minute nap

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_10feb

On the outskirts of Athens, time to drink Tsipouro!

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_10fed

Made it!! Beer time

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.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_10fee

Dinner after making it to Athens

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.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_11036

Handing over of the cheese..

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_11048

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_11045

Happiness is a giant vegan cheese

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_10ff4

More cheese glee

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_11049

It was so delicious

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.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_10fef

Breakfast before we moved to our epic place

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_10ff1

Our lovely apartment

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_10ff2

Hadlee and Abi on the roof

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_10ff3

Afternoon drinks, day one.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_11039

Birthday breakfast

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_1104a

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_10ff6

Astrid, Ally and Jo looking out over Athens

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_10ff7

The Acropolis

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_11040

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_10ff5

View over Athens

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_1103b

Abi showing off her house

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_1104b

Most of the team

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_1103f

More stunning architecture 

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_1104e

So happy to see this one

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_11047

Being a zombie?!

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_1104c

Abi, Bec and Javier are excited about ice cream!

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_11034

Daniel and Erica

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_11046

Phoebe, Pat and Christina 

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_11041

Javi and Abi 

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_10ffc

Wine in a blanket

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_1103aUNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_1104dUNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_1103d

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_1104f

Dancing and hugging at Pspsina 

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_11042

Hadlee and I

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_10ff9

Freaking out about giant bread

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_11038

Ally and Astrid

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_11037

Astrid looking super cute

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_11043

Hangover face

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_10ffaUNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_11051UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_11050

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.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_11026

Pspsina at night

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_11006

‘Our’ street

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_11004

Mornings of writing and reading

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.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_11021

Astrid looking cute and feeling a bit ill

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_11008

It felt good to rest and we were less productive than we perhaps could have been

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_11009

Soup and wine!

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_1102a

Felafel house, we ate here every day

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_1100a

Relaxing in our room with Asian soup

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_10ffd

Back to cooking cheap dinners in the bathroom…(:

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.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_1102e

Final night at Pspsina

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_1102f

we need to get these bikes and our boxes on the metro…

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_11030

Getting to the platform proved epic

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_11032

Waiting for the train

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!

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_1101e

And we are off to Africa!!

Glorious Greece

DSC_0608

We reached Europe!!

Ipsala to Kakavia via Thessaloniki, Vergina and Meteora

Screen Shot 2015-08-13 at 10.15.05 AM

DSC_0001

How else would we celebrate but with wine in a cup?!

Entering Greece was always going to be epic. Although we had been on continental Europe for about a week, we were still in Turkey. Now, as we pushed our bikes up to the final passport check and were stamped in, we had officially cycled from Australia to Europe. It felt surreal.

DSC_0073

Loving the Spring!

I must admit I knew little about Greece, and even less about northern Greece. The news was all about the economic crisis, much of what we had missed because of our limited access to media. We more or less went in blind, without a Guidebook or any idea of what to expect. More and more I am finding this the best way to travel. Even though it is nice to read about a country’s history too. Especially when you visit ancient sites. I guess ultimately it’s good to have an open mind and a balanced approach.

DSC_0008

Camping on the beach, loving life

DSC_0026

The view

DSC_0030

No one seemed to mind our campfire – not that there were many people around!

DSC_0035

Enjoying the view along the small roads we took

DSC_0037

Backroads are the best

DSC_0040

We find ruined churches

DSC_0043

And ancient trees

Greece was also where we finally said goodbye to the Muslim world, which we had more or less been in since Western China. I was going to miss the call to prayer, which at its best can send shivers down your spine. Now it was time for church bells and religious shrines on the side of the road. Greek society immediately felt different, somehow more open. More people on the street, more women out and about, more life spilling out from cafes and bars and suddenly alcohol freely available everywhere. Although Western Turkey is not that conservative, it was still a marked difference.

DSC_0048

Beer is cheap. And has a funny name.

DSC_0049

Who wouldn’t love a country where the bread is bigger than your head?

DSC_0050

Back roads sometimes have challenges..

DSC_0051

But there is always an alternative.. Well, in Greece anyway.

DSC_0054

Perfect places to camp

DSC_0059

Amazing sunsets

DSC_0061

Flamingoes

DSC_0118

They are so beautiful

DSC_0127

DSC_0067

Lakes

DSC_0068

Funny trees

Then there was the beauty of Greece, which utterly astounded us. Barely a day went by when we did not exclaim, “what is wrong with this country?! It’s so bloody beautiful!” This was intensified by the fact that we really had left winter behind, everything was green and the sun shone almost everyday. I felt alive and so happy. Anyone who has spent a large part of the winter living in a tent, cycling through the elements with day after day of rain, will know what I mean. Spring I think brings joy to all of us but for me this year it was even more potent.

DSC_0071

Lovely lunches by a river

DSC_0072

DSC_0079

DSC_0083 Our camp kind of on a cliff edge

DSC_0085

But we had a stunning view

DSC_0089

Morning swims!

DSC_0094

Abandoned towers

DSC_0095

Amazing views

DSC_0099

This was our lunch beach

Our first few days were spent cycling along the coast. With Brooke’s excellent navigation and use of google maps we found the tiniest dirt roads, with sweeping views out to sea. We camped on beaches and built fires and no one seemed to care. Our route took us through deserted holiday villages (the off season or the crisis?) and along high cliff roads. One day we found hot springs, now deserted due to the economic situation. We luxuriated in the hot water and Brooke even managed to catch a fish. It felt like we were on this endless blissful holiday. There were always plenty of places to swim, the drivers had markedly improved, the roads were good and the tiny villages really rather picturesque. And to us Greece seemed so clean! It is a sad fact that most countries since we left Australia have a trash problem. Here we really noticed the shift in attitude and it was a relief to not see rubbish everywhere. Europeans we met said that they thought Greece had quite a lot of rubbish around compared to their countries, but to us it was a huge improvement.

DSC_0104

More of the beach we had lunch at

DSC_0106

Pushing the Fairy up from the beach

DSC_0112

Free hot springs!

DSC_0115

Another great camp

DSC_0116

Astrid doing yoga

Greece was also were Lidl begins. Lidl for anyone who is not familiar with the brand is a German supermarket chain, similar to Aldi. It is CHEAP and GOOD. You will often find cycle tourists outside of Lidl stores. This is true! The first time Astrid and I went inside a Lidl we freaked out about the range and price (especially beer!). Normally I actually don’t like supermarkets. At home were there is a dangerous duopoly, where farmers and small business suffer, I make it a point almost never to enter a supermarket. I am lucky because in inner Melbourne I have that choice. Here, on the road in Greece with limited funds, cheap supermarkets are too great a temptation. Maybe some people think I am crazy, but to me (and Astrid) being ethical about food is important. It often takes us 10 mins to choose a peanut butter (does it use palm oil? has it travelled far? Is the company ethical? Price?). Maybe it would be easier not to think about all these things, but I guess it would also be easier to take a plane to Europe rather than cycle too.

DSC_0129

Lion of Amphipolis. A good morning tea spot

DSC_0136

The lake we camped near

DSC_0138

Lake sunset

DSC_0139

More beautiful sunset

DSC_0143

Astrid cooking

DSC_0144

Our great camp spot

Our first real city stop was Thessaloniki, the second largest city in Greece. We explored some of the ruins, including ones from Roman times and stayed with wonderful WarmShowers hosts in their cute apartment right in the city. Thanos and Areti were the first Greek people we really talked to and like usual we were full of questions. They said that the crisis was bad but that in a way life just went on, which is what we observed when we visited a crowded Taverna and tasted the most delightful Greek food. They also said people in cities suffer more than those in the country, who often grow their own food and live in family homes. Makes you think about how important growing your own food is. How if one could be sustainable by growing food and bartering with neighbours, you can just step out of this broken system we have. Perhaps growing our own food is one of the most radical things we can do.

DSC_0153

The White Tower, Thessaloniki

DSC_0163

Bike gang at the Rotunda built in Roman times

DSC_0164

Thanos and Areti our wonderful hosts took us out for amazing Greek food

DSC_0169

Exploring Thessaloniki

DSC_0172

Amazingly preserved

DSC_0176

Back streets, Thessaloniki

That night, although tired, we went out to experience the Thessaloniki nightlife. Astrid and I were really treated to a unique experience, as there was a party on at one of the Taverna’s. Returned immigrants dancing the night away to Greek music. We were served ice cold beers (and tapas, which comes free with beer!) and then invited to join the dancing. Astrid picked it up quickly and I kind of stumbled around the circle, trying to get my feet to work. It was fun.

DSC_0184

Old city walls

DSC_0186

Exploring the city walls

DSC_0191

Camp, first night out of Thesseloniki

From Thessaloniki we headed inland, towards Vergina (yes, lots of jokes were made about this name) an archeological site of significance and World Heritage listing. It was a site of an ancient Macedonian capital and where Alexander the Great’s father’s (Phillip the II) tomb was found in 1977. I found it quite an amazing museum as it has kind of been built into the hill and around the tombs. The objects and artifacts found are in really good condition and the whole experience well worth it. I mean by now we have seen a serious amount of ancient stuff, but I was impressed.

DSC_0195

Yes, we are immature!

DSC_0199

A good beer!

DSC_0201

Inside the museum where the tomb is.

DSC_0204

Looking for a camp spot

DSC_0210

Jackpot

DSC_0212

Some awesome views

DSC_0216

Loving the down hill

Our route than took us through more Greek countryside, along small roads and into tiny villages. Some looked like they had suffered the blows of the economic times, with boarded up shops and barely a soul in sight. Others appeared empty, only to discover the entire population (it seemed) in a small tavern eating and drinking Raki (a holiday?). We climbed through farmland and dropped into river valleys, always finding lovely places to pitch our tent and enjoy a quiet beer at the end of the day.

DSC_0224

Camp among the pines

DSC_0226

Bike and tents. Our whole life.

DSC_0228

Cooking on a fire is best

DSC_0229

Sunset

DSC_0232

View from our pine camp

DSC_0234

Such lovely weather

DSC_0240

Spring!

DSC_0244

The village where everyone was in the bar

DSC_0251

You must go down!

DSC_0247

Gorgeous views

DSC_0252

Deers are coming

DSC_0254

Theses are everywhere in Northern Greece

DSC_0256

Another lovely camp. We even swam here

DSC_0257 DSC_0260

We reached the famous monastic site of Meteora from a back valley and were rewarded with sweeping views of these incredible monasteries, perched high on the sandstone rock pillars. Exploring them was amazing, winding our way up the narrow stairs and through the many rooms, often exquisitely decorated. I especially liked that ancient kitchen and the cellar where they kept the beer they brewed.

DSC_0279

Meteora

DSC_0269

The surrounding countryside

DSC_0276

Still some snow!

DSC_0286

How amazing are these

DSC_0288

Paintings inside

DSC_0303

More of the valley

DSC_0307

Happy to be here

DSC_0318

Beer barrels!

By this time we were well overdue for a rest day and gratefully collapsed into the rather nice campground (swimming pool, bar, restaurant, wifi, cooking area). Here we not only met Chris and Pete two English cyclists travelling from Greece back to the UK, but also Miriam and Francesca, two Swiss girls on a cycling adventure, and two Spaniards also exploring Greece on bikes. It was quite a merry group that first night, as the wine and stories flowed freely.

DSC_0339

Breakfast pancake cook

DSC_0341

Dinner mashed sweet potato and hallumi on a bed of rocket.

DSC_0353

Breakfast again with Nate

DSC_0355

Four ninjas and a tree

We bade Chris and Pete farewell the next day with a prolonged breakfast party involving pancakes and copious amounts of coffee and other food. The rest of the day was spent relaxing and catching up on emails, and shopping as the next day was Sunday (shops are not open on Sundays here). While checking my emails I came across one from Nate. Turns out he was just down the road and we would be seeing him in half an hour! It was lovely to see Nate again and we exchanged stories, drank wine and Astrid cooked a rather gourmet meal for everyone. Another fabulous night with friends new and old(er).

DSC_0372

On the road

DSC_0382

The fairy and I

DSC_0401 Waking to Church bells as the sun rises with a promise of another lovely spring day was quite charming. Now we were a group of 5 as the Swiss girls were going the same way. We cycled up an easy gradient, chatting and laughing and meeting the occasional cycle tourist going the other way. In the afternoon we took a road which was blocked to cars as there was still snow on the pass. Not only were we surrounded by mountains, forests and cyclists, but there were no cars! My idea of heaven.

DSC_0363

Sign says NO. We say YES!

DSC_0368

STOP

We found the most wonderful place to camp, with sweeping views of the valley and mountains. After setting up camp, we noticed to figures, moving slowly on the road below us. Using the zoom lens of Astrid’s camera revealed the Spanish! Now we were 7 cyclists, camping on the side of a mountain, the sun setting and our little campfire burning. Life was good.

DSC_0392

Communal camp

DSC_0389

Relaxing

The following morning, leaving the Spanish sleeping we headed the rest of the way up the pass and pushed our bikes through the 200m of snow at the top. Then it was down hill to ‘cheese town’. It was a village famous for it’s motsovone cheese. Here copious amounts of cheese were purchased, along with wine and bread. Then we met Nate who had arrived earlier in the morning. He joined us for a picnic cheese marathon in the park.

DSC_0399

Break time

DSC_0409

A road with no cars is the best kind of road

DSC_0419

Ninjas!

DSC_0434

The pass that stops the cars but not us!

DSC_0436

The last snow we will see for some time..

DSC_0410

Going down

DSC_0443

“Cheese Town” (Metsovo)

DSC_0446

Picnic time!

DSC_0448

Cheese should be taken seriously

DSC_0450

So yummy

DSC_0460

Campingin a field

DSC_0466

Resting at the end of the day

DSC_0467

The sheep are coming

DSC_0469

Watching the sheep

The 6 of us continued on towards the border with Albania. We had one more communal night of camping in a field where we were visited by a herd of sheep before we parted at Lidl (where else) to go our separate ways.

DSC_0477

Rage against something – the wind? I can’t remember!

DSC_0475

DSC_0478

It’s almost over. Shopping at Lidl

DSC_0482

Ninja goodbye!

DSC_0484

On the road towards Albania

DSC_0489

On the way to the border

DSC_0492

Goodbybe Greece

Thank you Greece, you were amazing.