Well – having spent a few days in Taranto we finally headed for home in the UK.
Our tandem conveniently dismantles and can be packed into two bags which can bre considered as luggage for rail journeys. We loaded our tandem (in bags) plus panniers and assorted other bags which were attached to our tandem onto the direct train to Milan from Taranto. We travelled all the way up the Eastern coast of Italy to reach Milan in time to catch the night train to Munich.
From Munich we travelled by train to Cologne to meet up with Brian Jones, Diana’s brother-in-law who lives in the Netherlands. At Cologne we timed our rendevous so precisely that when we emerged from Cologne station Brian had just parked his mini (!) in the drop off car park outside the station.
After about 15 minutes’ jigsaw puzzling we all fitted in plus our tandem and luggage and travelled to the Netherlands.
A couple of days later we followed motorways in the mini (loaded to capacity) through Belgium to reach Calais to catch the ferry to Dover.
Reaching Chester in late afternoon we unpacked the car and set everything out to marvel how much we had fitted in!
After 4 1/2 months travelling we were home again and reflecting on what a fantastic experience we both had.
We intend to update various parts of this website to show the equipment we used and also some usefu information to anyone who may be reading our blog who may be considering something similar, with tandem or solo bike. Hopefully the Christmas holiday will give us the time!
Thank you for following us and reading our blogs – we hope you enjoyed the journey as much as we have done!
We have spent time in Taranto, much of which is quite run down. It has several museums and a castle. The Ethnographic Museum and Castle had free guides to show us round, but as it was all in Italian we struggled to understand much of what was clearly very interesting.
We used the train to get out to see the trullie houses in Alberobello and Locorotondo, at least that was the plan. But the journey to Alberobello took four and a half hours, it’s a long explanation ….. replacement bus was involved! So the time we had was limited and we just saw Alberobello.
Following the coast from Santa Maria de Leuca northwards towards Taranto where we will be catching our train to Milano in northern Italy we passed the holiday coast of Puglia in high season…… very few foreign tourists apart from a few Swiss and Belgian families but packed out with Italian families.
Our campsites in Gallipoli and Porta Pirrone were both extremely busy, but fortunately had plenty of camping spaces under the shade of pine trees….. however the ground was really hard requiring the use of gathered stones to hold our tent vaguely into shape….. luckily there was very little wind! Ants proved a problem though, and we discovered that they had nibbled lots of small holes in our footprint groundsheet and living area groundsheet!
The coastline was low lying with lots of long sandy beaches full of bathers and sun worshippers. The roads were busy with cars going to or from the beach. We saw quite a bit of creative parking as we peddled past.
Our stop at Gallipoli gave us the opportunity to explore this historic town.
We looked round the extensive “Arroganaise” Castle and some interesting small museums telling about the production of lamp oil from pressed olives in underground workshops which had been carved out from the stone underneath the city to provide the constant temperatures required for the process. The introduction of petroleum oils in the mid 19th century put paid to what was a source of considerable wealth to Gallipoli….
Our last night under canvas was at Porta Pirrone, just 12km from Taranto…. we had planned to camp a bit further from Taranto but the campsite marked on the electronic map appeared not to exist….
We celebrated our last night camping by cooking our supper beside the sea which was just outside the campsite.
We managed to make a reasonably early start, for us, at 9.30 and headed south. Initially taking an inland route, but soon turning towards the sea and following the coast road. This was beautiful with many gorgeous views. The road undulated through a rocky limestone landscape but we never went higher than about 120 metres. However we dropped down and climbed up again several times which, in the heat, made for sweaty progress.
An olive grove made a good stopping point for lunch in the shade with a wonderful view along the coast.
On getting to Santa Maria di Leuca, we followed the road, down hill, into the town. Finding the tourist information office closed, it is Sunday…. so restocking with cold water, we then headed out of town towards the campsite we have found on the map. This was again up hill and at the end of the day we were both tired, hot and sweaty ….and we also had a head wind.
The campsite is a busy site, with almost all Italian families. Tent pitched we discovered the site has a restaurant and shop. The latter selling cold beer, so once again it was beer o’clock!.
We stayed a couple of nights to explore the area and took advantage of a boat trip round the coast to explore the caves both on the Adriatic and Ionian sides of the peninsula.
The road to Otranto from Lecce followed two very straight roads via Martano. We stopped in Martano for coffee and to have a little look around. Initially it seemed an ordinary town, then we turned into the historic area. A small, but perfect network of narrow streets. Again balconies, doors and carvings abound.
Onwards to Otranto and we arrived at a campsite during the siesta, so nothing was going to happen in a hurry! This gave us time to look at the price list and we decided that €28.50 per night for the two of us in a small tent, plus tokens required for a hot shower, was expensive. So we peddled on and found another site, some 5k outside Otranto on an ‘Agriturismo’ farm. Having pitched and then explored the area a bit, we decided to stay just one night here and move to an alternative campsite, also in an Agriturismo farm nearer Otranto the following day.
Move made, we pitched our tent in the shade of an extensive olive grove and then went in to explore Otranto for the afternoon.
Another town with an attractive historic area of narrow streets.
We had lunch dangling our feet in the sea, in the shadow of the castle battlements – very pleasant.
Among the gems the town had to offer was a delightful cathedral with a beautiful ceiling, a floor completely covered by a series of 11th century mosaics telling bible stories and a lovely crypt.
But it also had some glass cases in a side chapel containing the skeletons of some 800 men, women and children massacred by the Turks alledgedly for refusing to convert to Islam.
Makes a change this time for it not to be the Crusaders responsible for the slaughter; why does humanity never learn!
The following day we took the tandem inland for a 30 mile spin down quiet roads through olive growing country to visit a couple of towns that had been recommended to us to visit – Castrigano de Greci and Corigliano D’Otranto, both in an area populated by the Greeks in 600 to 400 BC and still with some people speaking in a Greek dialect.
Corigliano D’Otranto had an unusual “Aragonaise” Castle in the centre of the town, dating from the times when the area was ruled by Aragon in Spain.
Built as protection from the Turks, expanded, then adorned and used as a residence in the 16th century when it was considered the Turks were no longer a threat.
Returning to Otranto we decided to find the ‘Lagho Alimini’ , an old flooded quarry that used to be a source of Bauxite. Some 4km outside of the town we came across an interesting lunar landscape with multicoloured layers from the different minerals present.
Because Diana decided to try scuba diving, we stayed at the campsite an extra night. Another new experience for Diana, who enjoyed the underwater adventure very much. Seeing lots of fish of attractive bright colours. Touching some of the underwater plant life, big black cushions and seeing the fronds of anemones wafting in the water. Her guide found this shell on the seabed, a little token to keep.
Feeling refreshed and ready to ride, we found our way out of Brindisi towards Lecce. This proved more tricky than expected, seems here you are expected to be in a car. We came to a junction where every option was fast dual carriageways with no bikes allowed. We retraced our steps and (eventually) found our way on a minor road to head south.
A stop by the sea to buy provisions and then eat them was a pleasant lunchtime. A pleasant change from the extensive industrial area we had passed. Power plant and desalination plant seemed to be what it was.
Arriving in Lecce we found a cafe with wifi and set about finding accommodation for the night. Booking.com came up with a place not too expensive and fairly close to the centre.
Once we were settled in and went out to explore, we soon realised Lecce had a lot to see, so we decided to stay another night.
This gave us a full day in Lecce; however our plans to do a sight seeing tour were not straight forward. We wanted to hire an audio guide, but when we requested this, we were told there were no maps available to accompany it. An English tour in the afternoon was our next option, but this did not go ahead due to insufficient people.
So in the end, we managed to get a place on the little sight seeing train, which trundled through the narrow streets and was very popular. This was only accomplished by finding out how the system worked at 3pm and failing to get a place. Then at 4pm, Diana used her small stature to ensure being at the front of the queue for tickets on this ride and off we went.
Lecce is very photogenic and dripping with Baroque architecture, cherubs abound.
There are also many narrow streets, each with fascinating balconies, doors and windows.
Lots of tourists and busy with shops offering souvenirs of all types. A lovely place to look around, we felt we could have stayed longer.
The ride to Patras was a short ride, time for a cold drink by the sea.
We found the port easily and got our tickets to Brindisi.
Plenty of time to spare, so back into town to find a meal, not so easy on a Sunday afternoon and most places were closed, but we found somewhere, Simon not so strict about being vegetarian!
Back to the port and waited for it to be in time to board the boat, with tandem and luggage getting a bit of interest from other travellers.
Going through security was more rigourous than any previous occasion! The spirit fuel we carry for the Trangia was questioned, and only when we got the stove out to show what it was for, was it accepted as being low risk!
Then, when the bags went through the scanner, the tool bag was looked at for longer than a glance and commented on. It was explained that we have been traveling for 4 months and we need tools and spares for repairs to the tandem …… explanation accepted! Good that the checks were being effective. Only as we were re-loading the tandem, Diana noticed a fellow just walk through with no checks, in a moment when the area had been left unattended!
On the boat we initially sat in the bar lounge and played cards for a bit. The boat setting off at about 6pm. Simon went off the find a good place to spend the night, we were traveling deck class. As the evening drew on we moved to the open deck at the stern of the boat. Finding two sun loungers in a good location, we settled down for the night, both dozing off to sleep quite quickly. We woke at about 2 am as we docked in Igoumenitsa for more passengers and lorry trailers to get board. This excitement over, we settled again to a few more hours sleep.
We woke to a cloudy sunrise over the Albanian mountains, with clouds hugging ridges and looking a little like snow.
A few more hours passed with us dozing and watching the sun become clear through the clouds.
We arrived at 10am local time, having gained an hour, Italy is BST +1 compared to Greece which is BST +2.
This time we felt well rested and not bug-eyed like when we arrived in Athens.
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.