Day 229 – GREECE and MACEDONIA: From Edessa to just out of Bitola

The strong tailwinds and flat(ish) roads continued today, with over 120kms logged. So much for the continental winds blowing from west to east.

Apparently Greece has not caught up on the latest developments in country names and borders. Yugoslavia does not exist any more. It is now three different countries. Macedonia, Serbia, and Montenegro.

What the...I thought I was going to Macedonia (near Macedonian border, Greece)

I spent a good part of the day pondering over how I could improve my Coffee Can Stove. A discarded piece of bumper grill on the side of the road gave me a brain wave. The stove now has a grill, raising the embers off the base of the stove, improving air flow.

Grill for Coffee Can stove Mk2 (found on road near Florina, Greece)

The grill is expanded aluminium. I figured that the heat of the stove might melt the aluminium, so I picked up a convenient piece of steel mesh further along the road to put on top of the grill to provide some protection from the heat, making it a two layered grill.

Grill cut out for Coffee Can Stove Mk2 (near Bitola, Macedonia)   Grill cut out for Coffee Can Stove Mk2 (near Bitola, Macedonia)

Grill installed in Coffee Can Stove Mk2 (near Bitola, Macedonia)

The idea was that the steel mesh on its own would not be strong enough to support the wood. The expanded aluminuim would provide some support.

The grill is supported by tabs cut in near the base of the can.

Coffee Can Stove Mk2 grill support tab (near Bitola, Macedonia)

The main base air intake has been made larger also, as has the exhaust hole at the top of the can.

Coffee Can Stove Mk2 air intake (near Bitola, Macedonia)

The end result was that it burned better than the Mark 1 stove, but the steel mesh over the aluminium grill clogged up with ash too easily, choking the stove. I still managed to make pasta and a tomato sauce on it in about 1 hour, but I think that the aluminium grill on its own will work better, and may even hold up to the heat without melting.

My pot by the way is now very black. Apparently if you put detergent on the outside of the pot before you use it, the tar and soot cleans off easier.

I was sleeping in a small pine forest, so there was plenty of small dry pine cones for fuel.

Day 228 – GREECE: Thessaloniki to just before Edessa

It was a late start to the day, leaving Nasta’s place at around 10am. The winds however were blowing in my favour. A stiff tailwind and a light bike propelled me more than 100km, to an under construction overpass near Edessa. I continued to sense the change in the seasons, cycling past orchards in full bloom.

Spring time! (near Edessa, Greece)

It was just before the under construction overpass that I had my most frightening experience with dogs. I spied what I thought was a small side road, running parallel to the main road. Being the ‘side road lover’ that I am, I headed for it via a dirt road running through an orchard.

Just as I came up to a rise in the road, a dog started barking. A second later, the barks of four other dogs. The pack came over the rise towards me, inching closer, barking threateningly. I yelled back at them, but they continued to come towards me. I was too petrified to turn the bike around and run, and soon the dogs were right at my feet.

One snapped at my leg, ripping my trousers. I stood up, dropping the bike and grabbing the neck of the dog that snapped at me. I snatched my water bottle from the bike, and was about to try squirting the dogs with water, when a farmer came running up over the rise, hearing my frantic shouts. One short snap at the dogs, and the farmer had the dogs backing away.

I stood there shaking, blabbering that I wanted to get to the road. The farmer was not impressed, and waved me to go. As I was leaving I noticed that the ‘road’ I was intent on getting to was in fact the railway. I felt like an idiot. It appears that I was on his land, so I guess I was asking for it.

Once under the overpass, I had my first opportunity to try out my Coffee Can stove. With the roads so smooth and so easy these days, I need something to think about during the day. The Coffee Can Stove was it.

The Mark 1 version went OK. I managed to cook some pasta and soup in 1 and a half hours. It needs some serious improvements in the air intake and outlet areas. The stove runs on any kind of solid fuel. If I can get the stove to work well, then I could save up to 1kg over the MSR Whisperlight liquid fuel stove I have.

The Coffee Can stove Mk1 (near Edessa, Greece)

The Coffee Can stove Mk1 (near Edessa, Greece)

The bottom photo is with me blowing into the air intake at the bottom of the stove. Expect some improvements to follow.

Day 227 – Did I have you fooled?

This time I’m serious. I am leaving Thessaloniki tomorrow. The last few days have been a time of reflecting and pondering for me, forming and scheming some schemes of what lies ahead. Not only roads, but also possibilities and potential for the remainder of my journey to England.

Route scouting at my Couch Surfing host's place in Thessaloniki, Greece

For the time being however, I am headed towards Slovenia tomorrow, with about 1,200km to cover. I hope to have this section done in good time to meet my fellow recumbent rider, Peter, at the beginning of April (see previous post for details).

I have also sent home some more gear – 2kg of extra insulation that I won’t miss now that I am heading into civilised climates. Once you start reading about the ultralight backpacking philosophy, things start to make you think twice about what you really need and don’t need. This makes my total luggage weight including bags plus some basic food 14kg. A far cry from the 30kg monster load that I was carrying for the last three months through winter.

So until my next post, adios.

Graffiti art in Thessaloniki, Greece

Days 220 to 223 – Thessaloniki still

Sorry to keep things hanging for a few days…

So in the end I didn’t end up having to sleep out on a cold, wet park bench. Once again things worked out better than I could have imagined.

Ailsa, a friend from motherland England, emailed me a while back to remind me about This is a community website that allows people willing to have travellers stay in their houses, to meet travellers wishing to have a place to stay.

I signed up on the 27th of February (Day 219, the day when I was sheltering from the rain in Thessaloniki in an internet cafe), and managed to get a spot on a couch the very same day. My wonderful host, Nasta, replied to my email 10 minutes before I was about to leave to look for a park bench to sleep on.

It’s great how things work out.

The rest is history, and I have had a wonderful time here at Nasta and Vasilli’s place. They are both students, and are very active in the Couch Surfing scene. I didn’t realise it at first, but apparently there are over 100 Couch Surfing hosts here in Thessaloniki alone.

I have spent the last few days hardly even leaving the house, reading a great adventure novel by A. B. Guthrie, Jr. called The Big Sky (Bantam Books, 1975). A story of living wild out in the open against the elements.

The Big Sky by A. B. Guthrie, Jr (read in Thessaloniki, Greece)

However, all good things must come to an end, and I am planning to leave Thessaloniki tomorrow to head towards Macedonia and Albania. Whenever I mention to Greek people that I am planning on going to Albania, my words are met with raised eyebrows, and sometimes “Are you sure you want to do that?”

Apparently all Albanians are thieving criminals.

Looks like fun times ahead.

Speaking of fun times ahead, I have been in contact with Peter (website), a fellow recumbent rider from Slovenia who is very active in promoting recumbents in Slovenia, and we have arranged to cycle together during my time in Slovenia. He has a great route sketched out.

This will be a trip of lakes, brooks and history and Kras – a very interesting landscape with vanishing lakes and brooks and many, many caves. A very well known red wine and dried pork meet – they have special weather conditions here that allow drying meat in the wind – only in this section of Slovenia.” – Peter, from one of his emails.

I should be in Slovenia in less than a month, so do keep tuned!

A spot of maddness in my Couch Surfing host's place in Thessaloniki, Greece

Day 219 – GREECE: Thessaloniki

Before you do anything else, visit this blog:

The World According to Malcolm

Too bad there are no roads where Malcolm has been for the last 7 weeks. I would go there.

Actually, just as well there are no roads. If there were, it wouldn’t be such a spectacular place.


Ah yes, just as well that I got to sleep in a warm cafe last night. It rained frogs and lizzards last night. The rain is only forecast for today, so all going well, tomorrow will be clear skies for the road to Macedonia.

The plan for today is to use up the 10 hours of internet that I bought as a member of The Web, an internet and gaming place all through out Greece. Only catch is that there are no The Web places between Thessaloniki and the Macedonian border. If I don’t use up the time today and/or tomorrow, then too bad…

Thessaloniki has ruins right in the middle of the city. Spacey.

Ancient remains in the middle of the city in Thessalonika, Greece

Day 218 – GREECE: From 51km from Eleftheroupoli to Thessaloniki

Today’s distance / 今日の走行距離: 114.35km
Average speed / 平均速度: 16.6km/h
Time on bike / 走行時間: 6h 52m
Total distance to date / 今日までの積算距離: 165.80km (plus 8400km)
Ascent / 上り: +540m
Descent / 下り: -530m

In Komotini I became a member of The Web, an internet and gaming place with stores all over Greece. I bought 10 hours of internet time, which saves me about 0.90 Euro per hour over the normal price. The plan was to get to Thessaloniki today, cycle out to the outskirts, find a spot to sleep, and then spend the day in the internet cafe tomorrow updating stuff, and generally chilling out for a day. Things worked out even better than I had expected.

The ride to Thessaloníki was straight forward. I met a rather vocal Albanian builder on the way who made a Frape for me.

Once in Thessaloniki I headed south along the coast of Thessaloniki bay to Kalamaria for about 2 hours, hoping to find a church or a pagoda to sleep in. Things weren’t looking good, with most of the pagodas vandalized and exposed. Churches were few and far between also. It was 5:30pm when I pulled up in a small cove, leaned the bike against a small boat, and walked to the water for a breather. Slightly put out and not sure what to do, I stood there for a few moments.

A few meters away was a group of 50 or 60 year old men sitting on chairs around an oil drum converted into a brazier. It looked warm, so I wandered over trying to look cold. One of the guys motioned to me to sit down, and I sat, not sure what to say. They didn’t seem to speak English, so there was an awkward silence for a while as I tried to explain where I was from and what I was doing there.

I recalled my success with communicating in Russian further east in Greece, so I asked if anyone spoke Russian. The old guy closest to me suddenly lit up with a big grin and announced that yes, he speaks Russian! There is great value in knowing a few languages.

We went over the details of my trip again, and this time there were many more nods and understanding looks. I was promptly given three cans of sardines, some bread, a can of beer, and a bottle of water. ‘You must be hungry’ they said. I was. It was past 6pm.

I cooked up some soup on the embers of the brazier, and ate the bread and sardines, washed down with the beer. Not bad, this Armistice Beer.

One by one the guys left the brazier for home. As the Russian speaking guy left, he said that I should sleep under the shelter next to where all the chairs were. It looked alright to me, so I agreed.

A couple of the guys headed over to a cafe-like building nearby. I followed, hoping that they had a toilet I could use before hitting the hay.

They did have a toilet, and after all was done, I was about to head back to the shelter when the guys in the cafe called me in. They had a spread of fried fish, fried potatoes, salad, olives…all very good stuff. I had a second dinner with them.

It turns out that this is the Kalamaria Pigeon Club headquaters. They have photos of pigeons on the walls, and a cabinet full of trophies. On the TV was a nature program about prairie dogs. The five guys in the HQ were glued to the TV. Lature lovers through and through.

It wasn’t long before I was ordered to sleep in the adjacent cafe. It was warm and much more sheltered than the open shelter near the brazier. If all Europeans are as hospitable as this, then I think Europe will be OK after all.

Pidgeon club HQ let me sleep in their club rooms, Kalamaria, Greece

Day 217 – GREECE: Eleftheroupoli to 51km from there

Today’s distance / 今日の走行距離: 51.38km
Average speed / 平均速度: 15.3km/h
Time on bike / 走行時間: 3h 21m
Total distance to date / 今日までの積算距離: 51.38km (plus 8400km)
Ascent / 上り: +610m
Descent / 下り: -730m

This morning I had some more speedometer issues, ending up with me having to reset the computer unit. Hence the mucked up total distance to date reading in the stats above. It is all sorted however, and the $5 speedo I bought in the Uzbekistan bicycle bazaar is still going strong.

I was once again lured by the brown tourist sign today, but it wasn’t quite as far. Just a 250 meter climb up a road just about as steep as the Black Sea coast of Turkey roads to a church.

It was Greek Orthodox in all its glory. 2 hours of standing up in a crowded church, listening to the priest dude do his chanting thing and the nuns doing their singing thing. I guess it wouldn’t be so much of a chore if you knew what the hang was being said, but I committed myself to staying till the very end, and despite the long time on my feet, I made it.

Greek Orthodox church near Mesia, Greece

It was interesting to make some observations. Everyone in their Sunday best (and me with dirty shaggy clothes), lots of incense (no complaints there – masked the smell of my ‘haven’t-showered-in-a-week’ body), men on the right side of the church, women and children on the left. Lots of brass hanging things and plenty of candles. Halfway through the service, a nun wielding an aluminium pole started to sway the chandeliers. I hoped to God that the service wasn’t going to last as long as the chandeliers were swinging. They swung for ages.

Greek Orthodox church near Mesia, Greece

Towards the end of the service, there was a flurry of activity, and people started to remove the pictures of saints from the walls. I was about to shout ‘thief‘ when the congregation parted, and the priest followed by the nuns filed out of the church, followed in turn by the congregation. The procession headed out for a lap around the church.

Greek Orthodox church near Mesia, Greece

After a short outside reading of the Good Book, everyone piled back into the church, saints were replaced on their hooks on the walls, and communion ensued. In Georgia, I was not allowed to take part in communion because I am a protestant, so I didn’t risk it here.

All in all a rather interesting experience. Not one that I personally would like to repeat every Sunday morning, but I guess it rocks some people’s boats.

I left the church alone, slightly put out that I hadn’t been invited back for lunch to someone’s house, but I enjoyed the sun in a pagoda down the road, cooking up some pasta and pasta sauce for lunch. It was such a lovely day that I even hung my sleeping bags out to air.

Taking over a pagoda for lunch in Podohori, Greece

I made relatively good time for the afternoon ride, enjoying some more coastal views. As I was riding slowly along looking for a spot to sleep, a car pulled up with a family out for a Sunday drive. They asked the same questions as usual, and I gave the usual polite reply. They headed off suitably impressed with my endeavours, and sped off.

I was just about to head up a side road to get to some under construction buildings, when the same car came back.

“We like what you are doing, so please take this” the father said out of the window while his wife handed me a plastic bag full of sandwiches and some orange juice. These Greeks are a hospitable bunch after all.

I headed up the steep road to the buildings, and set up. A room with a massive view out over the Ege Sea.

Buildings I slept in near Asprovalta, Greece

Day 216 – GREECE: Port Lagos to Eleftheroupoli via Abdera

Today’s distance / 今日の走行距離: 125.86km
Average speed / 平均速度: 16.8km/h
Time on bike / 走行時間: 7h 27m
Total distance to date / 今日までの積算距離: 4157.2km (plus 4200km)
Ascent / 上り: +995m
Descent / 下り: -780m

It was a cold start this morning. My thermometer registered 0 degrees celcius, and a frigid gusty wind was blowing from the northeast. Lucky for me however, Thessaloníki is in the southwest. Joy.

I really should have just milked the tailwind all day, and not take any detours. But I couldn’t help it. The brown tourist sign said ‘Thermal Roman Baths 2km’. It was a tailwind in that direction anyway.

I cycled for 5km, and still no sign of any baths. After 10km, another sign said ‘Ancient Abdera 10km’. This was also in the tailwind direction, but certainly not in the direct direction of Thessaloníki. My map is a massive Europe-wide map that only shows the main roads. I figured that there must be a connecting road from Abdera to where I needed to go. To Abdera it is.

The remains were not spectacular, but moving all the same, considering they are 2,500 years old. Incredible.

Ancient Abdera, Greece

After having a wander around the remains, I knocked on the door of the Coastguard HQ at the Abdera port to ask directions to the main road. The news was not good. They showed me a detailed map, showing that I had to go back about 20km to the main road. A large river separated me and where I wanted to go, and the only bridge was upstream at the main road.

For 20kms I battled the gusty sidewind up to the main road. Once on the main road however I flew along the flat smooth road to Kavala, often in my lowest gear.

I do not travel with a guide book. To have one would be handy, but they are expensive and heavy. Plus, the element of surprise is something I enjoy. Kavala certainly took me by surprise.

Aquaduct in Kavala, Greece

Aquaduct in Kavala, Greece

This massive aqueduct just appeared out of nowhere, separating one half of the town from the other. I felt very small cycling through the arches.

The coast here in Kavala is very Greek. The sea is like translucent liquid peppermint candy. Houses clinging for dear life to the sides of the hills, all clambering for a better view of the sea.

Kavala, Greece

A beautiful white church took my breath away, contrasting against the blue sky, nestled between breezy olive groves.

Church near Kavala, Greece

The day ended with a 300m climb up a pass. I am currently set up in a pagoda in a picnic area amongst pine trees. Still very cold, 8pm and 0 degrees celcius.

Day 215 – GREECE: From Komotini to Port Lagos

Today’s distance / 今日の走行距離: 37.79km
Average speed / 平均速度: 16.2km/h
Time on bike / 走行時間: 2h 19m
Total distance to date / 今日までの積算距離: 4029.9km (plus 4200km)
Ascent / 上り: +40m
Descent / 下り: -85m

Ah, so this is what is meant my flat riding! I feel as though I have no cycled on such flat and smooth roads as today. Smooooooth asphalt. Welcome to the developed world, I guess.

Another strange thing here in Greece is the amount of room that drivers give me. And what’s more, they actually slow down and wait to pass! I feel like royalty.
The first half of the day was spent at an internet cafe in Komotini, and the first highlight once on the road was Lake Vistonidas.

Lake Vistonidas, Greece

Not a particularly beautiful lake itself, but a monastery perched in the middle of a small lagoon made up for the stark surroundings.

Monastery near Lake Vistonidas, Greece

Monastery near Lake Vistonidas, Greece

There was a guy from Cyprus who was spending a week staying at the monastery to get away from his busy work life. He gave the usual astonished reaction when I told him I was from New Zealand.

“Oh, New Zealand is a far away place!” he said, and gave me some Cyprus-style Turkish delight. Not as chewy as the Turkish delight you get in Turkey – very tasty.

I have found that in Greece there are many more English speakers. Also, if they don’t speak English, they either speak Turkish or Russian (both of which I can now make very basic conversation in). Very handy, because I will not be in Greece long enough to pick up the language!

Afterwards, I somehow found myself in Port Lagos, on the coast. I had intended to head inland, however it seems as though I took a wrong turn somewhere. No big dramas, just a small detour. Plus, Port Lagos is a nice enough place. Massive herons clapping their bills and chattering to each other atop tall pine trees…

Port Lagos, Greece

I am sleeping tonight under the generous eaves of a deserted summer cafe on the beach just beyond the pine trees you see in the above photo.

Days 210 to 215 – TURKEY: From Turkey into Greece

I lost my pen a while back, so all I have to remind me of the last few days is photographic evidence. So let’s begin.

Sleeping in half finished building in M.Eregilsi, Turkey

Ah yes. The first day out of Istanbul was cold, wet, and generally ugh-ish. The tailwind was the only saving grace, and I managed to squeeze 120kms out of the lightened and slicker recumbent. I feel like I’m riding on air now. Losing about 10ks of luggage has made a huge difference. The road was dead straight, and had plenty of long gentle ups and long gentle downs. Traffic was light enough (it was Sunday). The four lane highway was definitely not my preferred environment however.

Sleeping in half finished building in M.Eregilsi, Turkey

The next day, Day 211, was spent sleeping in the half-finished building that I had slept in the night before. The quiet lapping of the waves (the buliding was right on the sea front) was a much better environment to rest in compared to the hustle and bustle of Istanbul. At about 4pm, two builders wandered through the building. Upon seeing me they dragged me out of my sleeping bag and greeted me with great joyous pats on the back. Almost as if foreign tourists are found sleeping in their buildings all the time.

Friendly chaps shouted me coffee and cheese in Tekirdag, Turkey

Day 212 was accentuated by two happy meetings. One was thanks to the owner of the small shop above, who gave me cheese and a coffee to go with my bread that I bought. Thanks guys! The other was thanks to Mutlu Polat, who hooked me and another traveller (Hose, a Spaniard walking from Spain to Israel) up with a room in his house for the night. Thank you Mutlu!

Mutlu (center) let us sleep in his house in Yenice, Turkey

Hose was an amazing inspiration. He left his home in Spain 8 months ago with no money, and only a back pack and sleeping bag. He walks about 30kms a day. He has no rain gear, no flash trekking boots. He relies on the kindness and generosity of strangers in order to make his way to Jerusalem. He still has no money, and throughout Europe has stayed often at churches. I have no doubt that he will have no worries in Turkey either. The Turks will take him in.

Endless straight road to Greece (near Malkara, Turkey) Endless straight road to Greece (near Malkara, Turkey)

Day 213 was straight. Dead straight to Greece. The gentle undulations continued right up to the border. These roads are no fun. Nothing to stimulate the mind. Give me the murderous hills of the Black Sea coast any day.

Greece! Freaking woooohoooo!

I sat next to this sign for a good 15 minutes. Trying to take it all in. Greece. I am in Greece. Europe. Stoked. Just stoked. To celebrate, I slept in a thicket under a bush.

Must be Greece (near Ferai, Turkey)

The next day (Day 214) I set out in a thick fog. Little letterbox-like constructions at intervals of about 500m each crept out of the fog as I rode by. In each was an icon of the Mother Mary, along with a bottle of water. Holy water I presume. Must be some of those Christians about…

I can't help it - Ancient cobblestone roads near Alexandropoli, Greece

The road from Alexandropoli (how Greek is that name!) going towards Thessaloníki is a big fat expressway. I found some repose for a little while when I spied signs indicating an old cobblestone road. I took this road for a few kms until it got too stony, then braved the expressway again until Mesti, where a smaller secondary road escapes the madness, going northwards for a bit before running parallel to the expressway.

Hideyuki (cycling from Portugal to Japan), met near Sapai, Greece

It was near Sapes that I met the second cycle tourist I have met since I started from Japan. Hideyuki is cycling from Portugal to Japan via a similar route to me through central Asia. The poor bloke. He doesn’t like hilly roads. Therefore he was looking forward to the flat riding along the Black Sea coast of Turkey. I felt bad for dispelling his mistaken assumption. I made sure he was aware about the torture that awaits if he chose to take on the Black Sea coast.

Mad catipillar line near Komotini, Greece

A photo for the insect lovers out there. What’s the deal with this? Why are the caterpillars all in a line? I never seen noting like this before.

Greek feta cheese

A photo for the cheese lovers out there. You have no idea. You know how your favourite cheese from the local store around the corner is really really yummy? You have that favourite brand of cheese that you rave about? You are living in denial. This Greek feta is the most amazing cheese I have ever tasted. Ever. Ever. And it was the cheapest stuff in the supermarket! If 3 Euro per kilo cheese tastes this good, I fear the 9 Euro a kilo stuff that was sitting idly beside the cheaper stuff. I am in love.

Slept in the pagoda under the trees (Komotini, Greece)

Today is Day 215 (I am now in Komotini), and last night I slept in the garden/forest of this dainty church. There was a pagoda with benches and a table. I slept like a baby. Satoshi, a regular on this blog, mentioned that I should stay at churches and monasteries etc in Mediterranean countries. Stoked. Looks like places like this may be a frequent occurrence here in Greece. With the extra cost of food and internet (2 Euro per hour for internet now), sleeping at hotels/hostels in Europe looks off the cards all together. I prefer it that way anyway…
As always, I am encouraged and uplifted by all the comments from visitors to the 14degrees blog. I apologise if any questions may go unanswered or unacknowledged due to time restraints here in the internet cafes. You can rest assured that every comment is read and savoured! I really do appreciate the mental support that even though I am on the road alone, I am being watched by many.