Another short hop along the coast took us to Lampiri, and the Tsolis campsite; our final night’s stay in Greece. This section had quite a lot of road works and didn’t hug the coast as much as the previous day – fewer places to stop for a cool drink and the road was undulating more, but no serious hills to speak of.
We met a young french couple just before we reached our campsite, who had cycled down the Croatian and Albanian coast on their way to Athens.
Inviting them to share a drink with us at a nearby bar we spent a pleasant couple of hours chatting about experiences and hearing about places they had passed through, including some scary encounters with wild dogs in Albania.
Our campsite was just off the road to Patras on an attractive terraced site facing the sea. After pitching the tent we were glad of a dip in the clear water.
Our route along the North coast of the Pelopenese took us along an almost level road that was not carrying too much traffic.
Since the toll motorway has been built to Patras and beyond, most traffic speeds along the new road which also hugs the coastline but at a higher level than the original Corinthian Highway which we were following. To our left were the hills and mountains of the Peloponese to the right the beautifully clear blue sea of the Gulf of Corinth.
The road passed through many seaside towns, each with a small beach, a few bars and often fresh water showers for bathers. Our lunch stop was at a tiny beach with some trees for shade and the clear sea lapping onto the pebbles. Very welcome when the temperatures are 35 – 40 C during the day.
A gentle day’s cycling took us to Akrata Beach campsite…. good facilities, and cheaper than the previous night’s stay at Corinth. As soon as the tent was pitched we went straight to the beach beside the campsite to have a gloriously cool swim.
Distance travelled : Corinth to Akrata beach : 42 miles.
Following the recommendation of the Greek cycle repair man who fixed up a rebuilt rear wheel for us in Istanbul, we made use of the Proastiakos railway to reach Megara, a town around 40Km west of Athens. This avoided the extremely busy and heavily polluted roads westward out of the city which ran through the extensive industrial zones that lie to the west. However, we had to cycle 12km or so to Ano Liosia, a station in the northern suburbs of Athens that is on the line that runs in an arc from the airport to the southeast of Athens round the northern suburbs and then down towards Corinthos and the Pelopenese.
The Proastakios was part of the infrastructure built in conjunction with the 2004 Athens Olympics to improve transport connections around the city. Still functioning effectively but beset with regular strikes, it clearly shows the lack of investment of public funds to keep it in good shape – indicator boards are not functioning, station fabric is crumbling, lifts for wheelchair users not functioning and the toilets seemed to have been gutted with bare pipes sticking out of the wall and only a single basin operational.
Getting a tandem and its load onto the train proved a bit of a challenge, but we managed it with the understanding our fellow passengers who negotiated our long vehicle that ran across the width of the train between the entry doors to the carrriage!
Megara station involved 3 flights steps from the central platform, then 3 flights down to the exit to the road (lift only big enough for our luggage!).
Tandem reloaded, we headed off westwards towards Corinthos following the old “Corinth Highway” that skirts the coast but has now been largely superseded by a motorway which takes most of the traffic off the old road.
The road was undulating over headlands with the clear turquoise sea on our left, quite a picture
.. but with the heat and the climbs we were getting through lots of water as we headed towards Corinthos.
Our lunch stop was a picnic at a quiet beach…. shade from trees and cool clear water from the Aegian sea provided a great location.
We stopped by a rather novel ‘sinking bridge’ just outside Corinthos as we waited to cross the Corinth Canal into the Peloponese.
Instead of raising the roadway in two halves like many other bridges across navigable waters, this particular bridge was sunk to the bottom of the canal by hydraulic action. We drank our refreshing drinks at a cafe beside the bridge to see boats passing through.
A short climb up to the road that bypasses modern Corinthos took us up to a ridge overlooking the northern Peloponese coastline on a long gradual downhill to our campsite, the Blue Dolphin beside the waters of the Gulf of Corinth.
Although relatively expensive, the campsite had all the facilities we wanted, including very welcome sun shades for the camping area!
On our travels we are always interested to meet other long distance cycle tourers. Usually characterised by large rear panniers and often front ones too it is a bit of a fraternity.
This time we met Sabrina and Stephano, two young Italians making their way to Athens, having arrived by ferry from Italy after cycling down the Italian Adriatic coast. They said how lovely it was….maybe a future trip!
They also told us of a novel way to reach/escape Athens by approaching it by ferries via Salamina, an island situated just to the west of Athens.
For any other travellers reading our blog this route may well be worth considering as an alternative to using the train.
Mileage: 42 miles….. plus an additional 28 miles by train to escape Athens.
We arrived a little bug-eyed on the night ferry from Chios to an Athenian dawn. So called ‘airline seats’ do not allow very good sleep.
Pedalling through the quiet early morning streets of Piraeus we were able to navigate our way 10km or so through the solidly built-up area into Athens…… finding a rather run-down park area offering shade we had our breakfast of Greek yogurt and honey and fresh cherries….
We arrived rather too early for our accommodation so we found another shady park area to doze a little on a bench before checking in.
We are in Athens for a couple of days’ sightseeing, first stop after 5pm when it’s a little cooler is the Acropolis… and the Parthenon on top.
Although partly clad in scaffolding (assisting re-construction and repair) the structure was still awe inspiring and there is that fantastic panoramic view across the city. We wandered about this huge archaelogical site marvelling at the civilization that was able to produce such artistry and culture more than 2,500 years ago.
Of course, we had to sample what the Plaka area had to offer for an evening meal before pedalling back to where we are staying through the busy Athenian streets.
The next day we visited the fresh food market near Monastiraki where there was an abundance of fresh fruit and veg, meat, fish and grocery stores.
It was here that we also nearly had our tandem stolen. Although we had locked the wheels to the frame we didn’t lock the tandem to an immovable object so three thieves lifted it to a secluded corner to try and force the locks… fortunately someone told us the direction they went and found them trying to unsuccessfully take the locks apart. We were able to retrieve our bike, fortunately with only damage to the Axa lock fitted to the rear wheel. They even tried to demand €20 compensation they said they had paid to “someone” for the bike.
Lesson for other two wheeled travellers parking your bike in this area…. have good locks and attach your bike to an immoveable object. There are plenty of sharp eyes and light fingers about!
We were soon able to be back on the road and found a bike shop to purchase an additional lock!
We were glad of our two wheeled transport in this hectic city… it meant we could visit most of the interesting areas and historic sites quite easily. Just had to get used to the chaotic Athenian driving and parking…. and the grid pattern of alternating one way streets.
We visited more of the fabulous antiquities, marvelling at how sophisticated ancient greece was. We discovered how Ancient Athenians were selected for jury service and how they decided to banish unpopular or inneffective politicians from the city by a voting process called ‘ostracisation’.
We also explored the Plaka area with its network of narrow streets and shops selling anything from souvenirs, jewellery, clothes or bicycles!
We had a delicious good value meal at a small family restaurant not far from Syntagma Square where we were able to see the military guard perform their strange ritual steps outside the Greek Parliament..
In the evening we watched an excellent show of folk dances performed at an open air dance centre just underneath the Acropolis. Fascinating to see the different costumes and dances from different parts of Greece, even Turkey, performed with skill and accompanied by appropriate live music .
After our brief stay we are now heading out west towards Corinthos and the Peloponese to continue our journey homeward.
Again we took a ferry, this time across the sea to Lesbos, about 2.5 hours ride away from Ayvalik.
As we approached Greece we saw four grey naval boats patrolling the coast line, presumably on the watch for refugees from Syria.
We had a day in Mylitini of finding the places we wanted to visit being closed before we got to them, never mind, we will know for tomorrow….
However, we happened across this tree, a ‘Solidarity tree’ in a small wood near Mylintini Castle. It has messages written on pieces of old dinghy, by refugees and those who have been supporting them.
The following day we had a bit of a cultural morning visiting the Archeological Museum and Mytilini Castle. There were lots of examples of amazing ceramics, some dating from the 5th century BC. Looking at the delicacy of the artwork you can appreciate the level of sophistication of ancient Greek culture.
We also saw mosaics from both Ancient Greek and Roman periods which were rescued from sites near Mylitini.
On the second day on the island we peddled around 25km down the coast to get to a nice little beach surrounded by pine trees, with a little taverna close by. Our ride back to Mylitini as the sun set was lovely, with gorgeous views along the coast.
After two nights on Lesvos we caught the day ferry to Chios, another Greek Island just off the coast of Turkey where we spent a few days exploring this smaller island.
We found accommodation in Karfas, a small town 8km south of the town of Chios and just a few minutes’ walk from a lovely sandy beach with beautifully clear water….
We spent our second day exploring Pyrgi, a small town in the centre of the Mastic producing area of Chios. We caught the bus since the 20km distance was along some seriously hilly terrain. The town was fascinating with lots of buildings decorated in a distinctive style with geometric patterns chisled out of the stonework and picked out in white.
We also visited the Mastic museum near the town, which told the story of the material that is harvested from trees in the surrounding countryside.
Mastic formed the mainstay of the wealth of Chios for hundreds of years. The resin , mastic, is from a particular tree that has been bred to suit the climate of the island and is used medicinally and for food purposes.
The following day we explored an area known as the Campos. This was an area where lots of citrus estates had been developed since the time of the Genoese settlement of Chios in the 15th Century.
Cycling along the narrow lanes between the high walls which surrounded each estate was fascinating … the stonework not only protected the citrus crops from theft, but it also helped to provide the suitable microclimate to allow the successful cultivation of various citrus fruits.
In between our explorations of the island we were also lucky to tale advantage of the lovely sandy beach just 5 minutes’ walk from our apartment. Lovely clear sea (Adriatic) with a comfortable temperature provided a great way to cool off from the hot sunshine of the Aegean Summer.
We’re now en route to Pireaus, the port for Athens, with our tandem safely stowed on the car deck of one of the regular ferries that connect the Greek Islands to the mainland. We plan to spend a couple of days seeing yhe sights before heading west to Corinthos and Patras….