GREECE ... Ferries, buses, planes trains and (police)automobiles.
I thought this was supposed to be a bike ride.
Let's see, may as well back track a bit. Spent couple hrs riding into Perth airport after dark. It was easy to follow the signs and i had a good shoulder righ to the port. Got there at 8pm. Met Stuart. I met him through Powel who I met through Steve via the bicycle forum on line. Stuart had 2 tubes and 2 tires and a bike box for me. He and I talked for maybe half an hour. Then said cheers and I got busy dismantling my bike. Realized right away that the box was too small. As luck would have it, virgin blue had boxes. Big boxes. I packed everything into it, closed the top and taped it up. Also, as luck would have it, i spotted a roll of tough looking tape on the side of the road earlier and scooped it up. The road provides. At 9:30 I checked in and said goodbye to my bike. It was now in the hands of fate. It had to make 2 connections and meet me in Athens nearly 50 hrs later.
During that time I ate, slept a bit, watched 5 in flight movies. (the mechanic, the eagle, I am four, unknown, and the adjustment bureau, enjoyed them all) and wandered the empty airport like a ghost. I got to know my traveling companion in the seat next to me on both flights a bit and finally arrived in Athens. I retrieved my in tact bike before many of the passengers even had their luggage, breezed through customs and at 1:30pm walked out of the airport into the day. A hot, humid breezy day with a lot of rain coming down. 5 euros got me on the transit bus that goes into the city and at it's last stop I got off and found a hotel right nearby. My good intentions were to build the bike, have a shower, then hit the streets, look around, take some pictures, buy something to eat and see if I could set up my iPad and phone with new sim cards. But first I just needed to lay down for a minute. ............................zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz
I next had a conscious thought(being "shit, what time is it") at 4am. Guess I was a tad sleepy.
Got up, built the bike, packed up and checked out. Spotted restaurant across the street and as luck would have it, they had a little Sunday brunch buffet going on. Man, did I pig out. There was dolomites, fruit, cucumbers, tomatoes, eggs, loaves of decent heavy bread, croissants, granola, yogurt, meat trays, cheese trays, coffee, milk, orange juice, and more. 5euros. So much for an early departure.
Even Sunday morning, Athens is a busy city on the go. Traffic was intimidating me as I sat watching it go by on the street in front of the restaurant. Eventually, after checking and rechecking the first few lefts and rights I was going to have to make in order to get out of the city and on my way, I took a deep breath and dove in.
All in balls out. As they say. It took awhile but I got the feel of the flow quickly and began to relax, then enjoy the challenge of the negotiating.
I ran out of sunscreen my last day in OZ and figured I'd grab some in Athens. There may have been some at the airport but I was in such a hurry to get going. Sunscreen was everywhere in OZ, no doubt it would be like that in Europe too!? I spent the entire day looking but not finding any sunscreen so I was a bit burnt by nightfall. Luckily I had a good base built up from OZ.
Was given directions that put me on the motorway heading northwest. The pavement was smooth, the shoulder was wide and clean. Best of all, it was all mine.
I marveled at my luck being allowed on the main highway. Vehicles wizzed by doing 130kph but a good 8' away from me. Unfortunately, this was only half true. I was only allowed to use the motorway to get out of the city. After about 100kms, I was stopped by highway patrol and asked to find another road.. There was a frontage road that paralleled the MW so I took it. It was okay but more rolling and not as smooth. The first 100k spoiled me.
Eventually the frontage road just came to an end!!!
Hmmm... My map indicated that it picked up again maybe 10k farther along so I got back on the motorway. It was immediately apparent how superior this road was and when the time came to exit.... I ignored it.
I guess another conversation with the patrol was inevitable.
I should add here that it was discovering I could ride the motorway out of Athens that put me on a route that made it hard to get back onto my planned road.
Anyway, I was ordered to vacate this time. This time he followed behind me to the next exit and gave me a severe warning.
As luck would have it, this exit would work nicely for me. I just rolled down to the water and hopped a ferry. Ending my ride on the other side as it was late and maybe too far to next town.
Met a bunch of people on board who were inquisitive about bike and challenge so i had company all the way across to the peninsula.
This was a great little tourist town in the off season so I was able to get a room in a cool little hotel for 30euros. I went sunscreen hunting... I didn't know they still sold sun tanning lotion. That's about all I could find stuff with SPF 5. I don't think people in Greece use sunscreen. I eventually found tropicanna20. The strongest protection around. I've never payed sunscreen much attention but let me assure you... Huge difference between 20 and 50. Not to mention oily and non oily. The bottles were very small. I bought 2 in case I never spotted any again. The 2 bottles cost as much as my room did!
In the morning I climbed up out of town, over the mountain top, and rolled down into another little tourist town and the ferry back to the mainland. I had a plan that would keep me off the motorway. And stuck by it for two days all the way to Larissa. Up one side of a mountain, down to a village on the water, then up another mountain and down to another village was the nature of the day to Volos. It was challenging but so much fun. The next day, to Larissa only had one hill. Done in the morning
Larissa! a busy town full of narrow, busy, twisting streets that got me turned around. I spotted a foot patrolman and approached him with my map. Pointed to a secondary road and asked directions. He paused a moment and then told me that was a bad choice. That it was a dangerous road and I'd be better off taking the motorway to Katerini than the one i had planned. No lie. I didn't question him. Didn't risk it. I just thanked him and took off smiling.
So.. I guess you could say it was inevitable Id have another talk with the highway patrol. It may not have come to that. Katerini was only 70k away and I was flying. But a toll booth appeared ahead and this time I did not get to pass go and collect 200. I got to sit in the shade for 30 minutes or so and wait for the police to arrive.
When they did, I laid out my case, showing them on the map the route I was going to take. They were unmoved and unimpressed, they put my bike and I in the back of their truck and off we went.
A while later, we swung into an exit, one of the officers opened the door, helped me get my bike out, pointed at the town down the off ramp, got back in the truck and sped off. That was it. I didn't know where I was or anything.
Almost like something out of a movie. I rolled down into town and spotted the railway station. No doubt that's what they had in mind.
I met a man waiting for the train who spoke English. He assured me it would not be a problem getting bike on train. He was right.
That got me to Thessaloniki. A big city on the ocean. I found a hotel close to the train station, did some laundry, wandered around the water front and planned the mornings escape both from the city, and from Greece.
I was able to achieve both without any help from the highway patrol:D
The road out of Greece paralleled the national highway and the rail line joining the national highway about 5k from the Macedonian boarder. Crossing into Macedonia was quick. I stayed on the national all the way to the Serbian boarder and beyond, but that's getting ahead of myself.
I was hoping to clear Macedonia's northern boarder into Serbia same day but as the day progressed, a storm was brewing to the west. It seemed to stay off to the west, growing darker and angrier looking all day but didn't seem to be something I was going go have to contend with.
I was flagged down by the highway patrol at one point and asked many friendly questions about the bike, my ride, Canada, etc. Then given the green light to proceed. That really made my day. I could stay on this road without worry. Very little traffic through most of the day and the country side was much fun to ride through.
The storm kept building but stayed in my peripheral. I ignored it until I could no longer do so. In a very casual way it slowly crept around to end up in front of me by 5 pm.
It was booming thunder and the fork lightning was amazing even from this far off distance. It suddenly became very clear to me that the race was on. I wasn't going go risk a boarder crossing with miles to go afterwords to a hotel but would settle for the Macedonian boarder town of Kumanova. The storm seemed to have the same town in mind.
I really couldnt believe the fierceness of it. I was in race mode charging into the storm and just beginning to get wet when I took the off ramp into Kumanova. I saw a hotel sign and ducked under cover as the real rain began to fall.
Turned out this hotel was under renovation. Funny, confusing town, lots of construction going on but hotels?? First people I asked had no idea. A taxi driver pointed to the one behind me(the closed one) and drove off. A large overhang kept me and my bike out of the weather and as the storm tempo increased attracted more and more people. 2 kids who spoke English began a conversation with me that basically lasted the next 3 hours. They asked people about motel direction and though I couldn't understand the language, seemed to get mixed, confused suggestions.
At any rate...nobody was going anywhere at that moment. Rain and large hail was pelting down like nothing I've ever witnessed before. The thunder and lightning continued as well. Pretty soon a river was running down the streets.
Check out my short video to see just how crazy it was. The hotels alarm suddenly began to sound and kept sounding for the next 1/2 hr ir so. The restaurant flooded, as did many shops on both sides of the street I was on.
The kids told me of a hotel they new of about 3 kms away. They gave me directions but said I'd never find it. Many taxis stopped and picked people up or slowly drove by but none big enough to accommodate my bike.
The storm let up a bit around 9. By this time, I was cold, tired and hungry and asked directions from the kids one more time, then stepped down into the river of water running down the street.
The kids were suddenly at my side saying they would walk me there. That I wouldn't find it on my own. I argued with them to go home but they insisted.
At first, there was a group of kids around 15 yrs old all walking with me but as we progressed, the storm resumed it's fiery. Soon it was just the original 2 and myself. We were all soaked 10 minutes into the walk that lasted better than 45 minutes.
They were right, I'd never have found it on my own. How the hotel makes any Money is beyond me. No signs directing you to it. Even standing in front of it you couldn't be certain it was a hotel.
The kids knew the owner and interpreted for me. The owner got dry cloths for the kids and called them a taxi. I gave them 10 euros which I think was lots of money in Macedonia.
The owner prepared me a large dinner even though it was after 10pm. I wolfed it down and retired. The storm raged all night and in the morning when I got up just before 5 am, there was still thunder crashing and fork lightning lighting up the predawn sky.
I dragged my feet hoping it would pass before I got going. Had the complementary breakfast and said good-bye.
As luck would have it... The storm had past. I spent the morning chasing it. If I road too fast, it began to rain on me. If I slowed down, it stayed just ahead of me.
Up ahead... The Serbian boarder.
This crossing was quick and easy too. Few questions, no search. By late afternoon, a new storm was chasing me. A few raindrops now and then spurred me on keeping me ahead of it until 6pm or so. I got wet but it felt good and didn't last long.
I was flagged over in Serbia as well and given the green light go proceed.
The next day was fast and fun.I'd been hoping to meet up with a guy who contacted me through my website and lived just north of Belgrade. The last couple evenings left me without wifi though so was unable to get ahold of him. Decided to stay on the course he expected me to take and hope maybe he was tracking me on SPOT.
I made the choice at the crossroads before Belgrade easy. I would punch straight through the city. It was rush hour as I entered so most people were in the outbound lane. I had a long steep hill to climb, then drop down into Belgrade before it occurred to me I'd be joining the horde of folks trying to exit the city on the far side. It was quite an experience. Very crowed, narrow roads, lots of fumes from the many vehicles, lanes merging into lanes merging into lanes.
At one point I stood on a sidewalk just after a bridge crossing trying to get up the nerve to plunge back into the chaos. Despite how busy it was, nobody gave me any grief. Everyone gave me as much room with as much patience as possible.
Eventually. I was through. The traffic slowly spread out and the highway opened up to me. I pushed on go Novi Sad and eventually found a hotel with wifi. I had a huge meal, in my room and sent a message to my Serbian friend. Turns out he was quite busy that day anyways.
That night I had some hard choices to make. I so wanted to stay my course, heading northwest towards Norway. My time in Europe was going to be cut short though as I had a ship to catch in Southampton in 12 days and still had to get to Madrid(the other half of the needed antipode) first.
Reluctantly, I plotted a course through Croatia, Slovenia,Italy, bypassing France, and into Spain. This was going to have to do.
The rest of Europe another time I guess.
Having set my mind to this, I began to get excited about the areas I was suddenly going go get to experience.
The next morning( June 12th) I turned southwest.
The first night in Croatia i spent in Spacva close to the boarder? I wasn't so lucky to be allowed on the autotiva in Croatia but the alternatives were good roads, easy to navigate, and a lot more interesting. On day two I rode along one that paralleled the highway and had a single row of houses on both sides. These houses were old timers. Many didn't even have driveways.
Bicycles were everywhere and these were old timers too. As were most of the folks riding them. I'm pretty sure mine was the first recumbent that ever passed through. It was a sunday and everything but the pubs was closed. The pubs all had outdoor sitting areas and they were all full.
This miles long double row of old houses(though some were new, some were abandoned, some were renovated) was actually many small towns with no space between them. A sign would indicate leaving one and entering another over and over.
The houses, many of them anyway were all shot up. There was a fair in one of the towns I passed through and toy machine guns were one of the prizes you could win. Seemed like every kid in the neibourhood had one and they were all playing war. I think nothing of that at home and have always wondered why some folks feel so strongly against the idea of kids playing with toy guns. But there, amidst all those shot up houses, I got it.
I spent the second night in Kutina and had a feast of colossal proportion partially due to the days efforts and partially in preparation for the next.
On the way out of Kutina, almost the last building I past before riding into the countryside happened to be a body building shop. This seemed so out of place but so perfectly situated for me.
I went in and ended up in a long conversation with the owners who both spoke English very well and had much to say about British Columbia. Pt Coquitlam to be more precise as that is where they imported there WheyMaxx. I bought a big jarful and was on my way.
I would say (thank you Julian for the advice) that a good whey protein powder has been one of if not the most important item on board next to spare tubes etc. There are times when you just can't find food or don't want to stop for any. As long as you have water, you've basically got a meal. It's so much better than power aid or red bull or the like. And light compared to real food you might have to carry in it's place.
I climbed way up into the mountains that evening. Above the clouds. The temperature dropped considerably and it drizzled a bit. I got into Delnice after dark and enjoyed yet another meal of colossal proportion.
It was hard to get going in the morning. Partially because it was raining and partially because I was so tired. But I did. I got going and before too long I was back into the groove.
I had a more climbing to do but then a very scenic descent to the ocean front city of Rijeka. The climb out on the other side was thankfully no where near as long, high or steep as the mountain I crossed to get there. Soon I was passing through the Slovenian boarder and riding along a very memorable stretch of highway with other cyclists that all too soon put me at the Italian boarder. I made it to Trieste that night. Another waterfront city.
Italy was many things for me. I think if I had planned better, maybe had a gps that I could load the days route onto, and wasn't feeling so rushed, it could've been such fun. As it was... Everyday was hectic and stressful.
I would be stopping to check the map within 15 minutes of beginning the mornings ride and that would go on all day. I found roads and road signs very confusing and the time it took me to confirm again and again that I was going the right way frustrated me to no end.
My crazy route put me in direct line with a few large cities that were real tough to get around or through. All this ate up time and energy and left me feeling like an idiot.
So I'd spend more time preparing for the next day, more time going over the map and writing down things to help me stay on track. But sure enough, 15 minutes into the ride I'd be stopping to double check things anyway.
There's one day where I came to an intersection that I think I'm supposed to turn onto but the sign doesn't reassure me. I spent quite awhile second guessing myself there and decided to ride on a bit further. I came to another road that wasnt on my map and it's signs didnt reassure me either.
I thought I knew where I was but the roads didnt jive. There wasn't a date anywhere on the map so I had no idea how old the info was. I decided to continue on a bit and came to a gas station. At this point I know the town I'm near. I got the map out and asked if they could tell me whether the town I wanted to get to ( not the town I was near but one about 35kms away) was ahead of, or behind me. They couldn't tell me?! Seriously they had no idea.
A truckers was filling up so I went out and asked him. He reassured me it was ahead just a bit farther. I took his advice and finally got back on track but it was a crazy zig zag mess of roads that had me going in all directions before getting to my destination.
On the other hand, Italy was a pretty fun adventure. By the time I got to Genova, I was getting the hang of it.
Genova was my last stop in Italy. I took the overnight ferry to Barcelona from there.
I had my own cabin on the ferry and got a good nights sleep. I was prepared for a confusing bit of guess work to see me out of Barcelona once we disembarked but ended up being so impressed with the simplicity of it all. I wanted to ride along the coast and I asked directions from a guard at the gate exiting the ferry terminal. He explained in Spanish that if I hung a left at the second round about and kept my eyes open I'd find a bike lane that would lead me right out of the city.
I found the lane.. A two lane official bike path with dotted center line and dedicated street lights that did indeed lead me right out of town.
Barcelona has a free bike system going. You can just grab one of their bikes off the stand and ride it to your destination within the city. They have guys in trucks that redistribute them and maintain them. Pretty cool.
I spent the next day riding along the coast as well, then headed inland to Lleida. Then Zaragoza. Another city with great bike paths and free bikes.
The surroundings were completely different each day. The mediteranian coast, with it's beach towns connected by a road that would hug the edge of the mountains that separated them as it wound up, over, and down with spectacular views of the ocean. The lush agricultural belt just inland where everything was green and sprinklers were watering everything, the not so lush farmland further inland where the soil looked more like dirt and everything was much dryer. The day I left Zaragoza I had a plan for a very scenic day riding through the country, incorporating many roads and winding through areas that had many castles.
A very exciting day that was at least as much work as I anticipated. I got to a point late in the day where I decided to abandon what wad left of the planned route as it was getting dark and I still had over 80 hilly kilometers to go through a few small towns that wouldn't have hotels. If I stayed on yhat course I'd be committed to see it through to Guadalajara. I didn't think I had it in me. Instead I took a road that cut through the mountains some 70k and connected with the autotiva. I crossed my fingers that there would be a hotel there.
This road was scenic too, and fast. Still, it was after dark when I spotted the big rigs cutting across the horizon indicating the main highway was near.
There was indeed a hotel at the intersection. A truck stop that had rooms for 29euros. It was after 11pm when I carried my bike up to my room. I had some food on board, nothing fancy but it would do. There was an all night truck stop downstairs but I was beat and wanted to get a real early start in the morning.
I did... Got up at 4am. I was hoping that the highway would be empty at this time but it was as busy with big rigs as it was when I went to bed. I decided to wait until it got light out. It was 130k to Madrids international airport if I stayed on the highway. Quite a bit longer and hillier if I had to exit for secondary roads.
There were 3 good exits I could take along the 130k stretch. The plan was to race along the motorways shoulder at least as far as the first exit some 30k ahead. Even that short distance would save me a lot of time.
When I got to that exit, having met no resistance, I decided to stay my course and shoot for the next one. It was another 40k ahead. By this time it was full daylight and the highway was very busy. I spotted a police car going the other way. It's driver eying me as he went by. I figured that was it. Just a matter of minutes before patrol would roll up behind me and that would be that.
It never happened. I zipped passed the next exit and hoped for Guadalajara.
3 motorcycle cops rode past me and didn't even bat an eye. Huh. Maybe I was allowed to ride this highway after all.
I got a flat in Guadalajara. Cities are always a hazard on my 23c x 650c tires. Ive been timing myself when fixing a flat. This was the front tire and from start to riding again, it took 12 minutes. The back tire always takes a bit longer.
I followed the easy to understand signs leading to the airport and made my last European pedal stroke before noon. A really fun 130kms in under 4:45.
It took until 3 to get my bike boxed and squared away. I badly needed to clean up but I spotted a buffet diner en route to the loo and couldn't resist.
Flight to southampton had connection in Paris but everything went smoothly until I tried to pass through immigration in SOU. Completely my fault. A huge oversight had me trying to prove that I was heading for the QM ll. I didn't have any paperwork. Everything was on my iPad. It was not a tense scene. Officers were friendly but steadfast. They needed more proof than what I was able to show them via saved emails with my Cunard cruise contact, my written journal or my explanation. Problem was the airport didn't have wifi. (or rather, didn't have free wifi) on the other side of the desk they had Internet access but wouldn't let me over there. I had to purchase 1 hour of access in order to get to the link in an email that led me to the actual invoice and itinerary for the cruise.
Finally satisfied, they let me pass. There was a hotel right within walking distance so I took advantage of that. It was near midnight when I got into my room.
The next morning, after a relaxing breakfast, I made my way to the QM ll via double decker bus that stopped right outside my hotel and with connection, went right to the docks. I dropped my bike off with Cunard baggage guys at 10:30 and headed into town to find some clothes. That was an expensive but necessary expedition. I now own my first ever suit.. A real nice one too if I do say so myself.
Later that afternoon, Europe was sadly behind me but a Guinness approved, 7 day floating smorgasbord awaited me. Time to roll up my sleeves:)