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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
A beautiful white church took my breath away, contrasting against the blue sky, nestled between breezy olive groves.
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.
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.
Not a particularly beautiful lake itself, but a monastery perched in the middle of a small lagoon made up for the stark surroundings.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The 14degrees team is a new team. It is an ultra-light, ultra slick team. It has gone through some fairly major reforms over the past few days, along with a decent dose of sightseeing.I have replaced the cables and cable housings on the bike, cleaned the chain, and the big news is that I have removed the lowrider luggage carrier, along with the two panniers that used to hang off it.
I don’t know how on earth I managed to have enough stuff to fit into six separate bags, but I have done a major clean up, and now fit all my gear into only two and a half bags.
I have sent my tent home, replaced by a bivy bag. I have thrown out my water filter, some tools, the spare tyres, and have chopped my first aid kit in half.
I doubt if my luggage is now much more than 15kgs. I look forward to the slicker cycling.
I have also gotten rid of the facial fluff. I must have saved at least 30 grams there.
The original plan was to keep the fluff until England, but I had put up with it for 200 days, and that was quite enough. Going, going, gone!
Istanbul is an impressive place.
Well, I’m 3 months late, but I have made it to Istanbul. The original plan was to meet my Japanese host parents here on the 14th of November last year. Ahem.The last push to Kavak town, where I caught a ferry to central Istanbul, was some of the better cycling I have had in Turkey. Plenty of hills once again, but much of it was up on the top of the hills that looked over the Bosphorous Straight.
Getting to Kavak Town required navigating some fairly small back roads up on the hills. Kavak town itself was not signposted, so I was asking locals often for the way.
I arrived just in time for the 3pm ferry to central Istanbul, and met some fellow travellers for the first time since T’Bilisi, the capital of Georgia.
There were no issues with putting the bike on the ferry for the 4 Lira, 1.5 hour trip down the Bosphorous Straight.
Today’s distance / 今日の走行距離: 64.37km
Average speed / 平均速度: 10.6km/h
Time on bike / 走行時間: 6h 00m
Total distance to date / 今日までの積算距離: 3487.7km (plus 4200km)
Ascent / 上り: +1220m
Descent / 下り: -1195m
Last night at the internet cafe I found some detailed maps of the area between Agva and Istanbul, so I had all the inside info on small roads.
My route today took me through the tourist town of Sile. Much bigger and certainly cleaner than Agva, Sile appeared to have many visitors from Istanbul.
I sat on the marina and ate my bread and jam for lunch while other visitors enjoyed their grossly inflated priced lunches at the nearby cafes.
Past Sile, I contined along the small back roads, and came across a television drama being filmed. The director (Ercan Yildiz) was a very welcoming chap, insisting that I have a few cups of tea while I watched the action. The drama is called Kalpgozu, and it appears on Channel 7 in Turkey on Sunday evenings at 7:30pm.
I met one of the main actors, Halil Can, who apparenty had a New Zealand girlfriend at one stage.
Afterwards, I rolled into a beautiful cove on the coast, home to many beautiful holiday homes, and a very welcoming big dog. This dog, as massive as he was, took a liking to a walnut on the beach, and would bring it to me to throw ito the water.
I ended the day at Sahilkoy Village, pitching the tent near the beach under the porch of a closed seaside cafe.
Today’s distance / 今日の走行距離: 79.67km
Average speed / 平均速度: 11.8km/h
Time on bike / 走行時間: 6h 43m
Total distance to date / 今日までの積算距離: 3424.0km (plus 4200km)
Ascent / 上り: +1140m
Descent / 下り: -1130m
Plenty of climbing, but overall a perfectly pleasant day of riding. I was feeling rereshed from the day and a half of rest at Chamkonak.
Agva is a tourist town, but what a mess. Trash on the beach, stray dogs everywhere, and unfinished road works. I pitched the tent in a closed camping ground, yearning for the perfect campspot I had enjoyed in Chamkonak.