08 & 09 September 2015 – to Greece; Florina and Edessa

Routes and stats for the 8th and 9th September below. I’m still finding it a little hard to believe it’s September already!

After ascending nearly 1,500m again on 07 September, I was hoping for something a little flatter over the next couple of days, however I needed to get into Greece first, and knew there’d be a big climb involved there; highest point on my tour around Europe I think.

–> 08 September – to Greece and Florina
It was vaguely chilly first thing in the morning, and raining slightly; a bit of a change from the last few weeks, but nice to have a break from the heat. After a good wild camp I planned to cycle with Jorn, Clara and Tom again, over the border to Greece and on to the town of Florina, a distance of 85km, but with the highest point of the tour to tackle on the way at just over 1,500m.

After a yoghurt and long life croissant filled with jam for breakfast, we packed up an were on the road by 08.30, post pushing our bikes out of the field and past a horse and cart making their way down the track to collect hay. There were already a lot of people out in the fields, mostly working by hand, collecting fruit, sweetcorn, or cutting hay. Before pedalling off we paused to watch the sun come over the mountain.

We continued on yesterday’s pleasant road through the countryside, to Pojan, then Zvezde, before joining the main road again (SH3) to Billshit and the border with Greece. We met a German cycle touring couple on the way, also on their way to Istanbul; I guess I might cross paths with them a few times. I get the feeling I’ll run into a few more cycle tourers on my way through Greece and Turkey.

Despite Albania losing 1-0 to Portugal in the football; a very close result with Portugal scoring in the 93rd minute, the people of Albania were once again friendly, smiling and waving as we pedalled along, or coming over to chat when we paused for a break; one gentleman offered us the use of his toilet and water if we needed it. Upon reaching the border I was a little sad to be leaving this perhaps misunderstood country behind, and would have no qualms about coming back for a return visit; good luck Albania, thanks for having me, and maybe see you again soon.

To get into Greece we first had to cross the border. The queue of cars and buses was significant, however one of the guards beckoned us to the front and we were through in about 15 minutes, after a cursory check of our passports and some final smiles. One driver did get a little irritated with us being beckoned to the front, and nudged Jorn with his car, however we were only following instructions!

Shortly after the border we paused for a cold drink and snacks to build up our energy for the long climb ahead, over the pass and down to Florina.

We were already pretty high after yesterday’s efforts, so thankfully didn’t have to climb the full 1,500m to the top of the pass, however it still took a significant amount of effort to get up the mountain. I cycled with Tom for a bit, chatting about this and that; nice to pedal with someone else and it takes your mind off the effort you legs are putting in.

We paused for lunch in a nice meadow half way up, where Tom found a large Pelvic bone; we’re not sure what animal it comes from, maybe a bear! We thought about taking it with us but it was a little bulky, and I’m not sure customs would have approved.

It’s a bit odd to think of Greece as having ski resorts, however on the way up we passed a few ski runs and lifts, and Clara and I paused at the ski resort at the top for a cold drink; Jorn had already completed the ascent and was on his way down to Florina, and Tom was delayed by a puncture.

The view from the top down to Florina was pretty amazing, however it must be spectacular in winter when it snows. It was a lot colder up at the top compared with further down, and I’d go so far as to say chilly as we zoomed down the hill to Florina, a descent of about 800m, and lots of fun.

After a 10km descent we all eventually rendezvoused in the town centre, then found a cheap hotel to spend the night; €15 a head a good deal, and great to have a shower and a real bed for the night. After a thorough wash we headed into town for dinner, finding a great family run taverna for a meal. Again it was great to have good company and conversation, talking about past adventures and ideas for the future, from kayacking the Danube to cycling in South America and Asia.

Dinner out in Florina with Tom, Clara and Jorn

Dinner out in Florina with Tom, Clara and Jorn

After some free ice-cream at the restaurant, we wandered back to the hotel, stopping for an additional ice-cream because it’s important to ensure you maintain energy levels, and to check ice-cream quality in each country you travel through.

The plan for tomorrow is to head towards Edessa, possibly via a wolf/bear sanctuary. Not long until Thessaloniki now, then on to Istanbul; I might need to find some new tyres again in Istanbul as I think these ones are going to wear out pretty quickly, but they’ll do for the time being.

–> 09 September – to Edessa
I slept very well in my hotel bed, although I still woke up early as if in my tent. We walked to the bakery for breakfast, then stopped at the town market to buy supplies for the day; great market with lots of fresh fruit.

Breakfast bakery in Florina

Breakfast bakery in Florina

A chicken sandwich and cheese croissant set me up for the day, and we pedalled off about 09.30 on the road to Edessa; a bit of a cloudy day however it was quite nice to have cooler weather for a change.

We made good progress despite the drizzle setting in, turning off towards Nymfaio after a couple of hours to head to the wolf and bear sanctuary. We found the wolf sanctuary in Agrapidies, however the wolves were asleep, it being day time, and a driver told us the bears had a day off on Wednesday so it wasn’t worth cycling up the hill to Nymfaio. It was a nice spot for a picnic anyway, and we were all in high spirits with many a laugh being had.

After lunch we pedalled back to the main road to Edessa, which proved quite tough going with several long climbs, a headwind, and drizzle; it actually felt vaguely cold for a while. Jorn was unfortunately still feeling a bit under the weather, so we paused for several breaks as we rode along; nothing worse than pedalling with an upset stomach – I speak from experience! At one particularly ramshackle garage we met a very friendly puppy and his mother.

Along the way we bumped into another cycle tourer; Alen from Austria, who is also going to Istanbul. Alen had to abandon a ride to Istanbul a couple of years ago, after being hit by a car, so it’s great to see him back on his bike and trying again. Apart from Alen and a few cars, the road was mainly full of lorries transporting peaches, which smelt very appetising as they passed, or in one case as I passed a particularly slow lorry on the way down a hill.

We finally made it to Edessa at about 18.00, and found a cheap hotel right in the centre for €15 a night, bargain. On the way into town I made a new friend; a stray dog followed me down the hill, running alongside my bike, and then decided to sit beside me as we paused for breath. Unfortunately he wasn’t allowed in the hotel (Hotel Elena), which was probably for the best as I’m not sure it’d be practical him travelling with me; lovely chap though.

We went to a local kebab shop for dinner, then had a couple of beers in the Irish bar to relax. Yes, Edessa has an Irish bar, another town where I wouldn’t expect to see one, yet there it is. Alen also decided to stay the night with us, and it was great to have more company, however we’re going to have a day off tomorrow as heavy rain is forecast, whilst he intends to continue; maybe I’ll catch him up on the way to Istanbul, we’ll see. Alen lives in Vienna in any case, so I might bump into him again as I follow the Danube up into Europe; passes through Vienna.

After a good day cycling, with some different conditions for a change, we were all ready for bed fairly early on. Looking forward to a rest day tomorrow!

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