12, 13 & 14 September – 300 miles in 3 days, to Turkey

Three big days – routes and stats below:

–> 12 September – to Nea Iraklitsa (Kavala – 152 km)
I was sad to leave Jorn, Clara and Tom, however it was time to set out solo again, on my way to Istanbul before turning North towards home. Team Thessaloniki were up to see me off, before they went in search of boxes to pack their bikes into for flying home; not something I’ll need to worry about, touch wood, as I’ll be pedalling home. I bid them au revoir and cycled off, with a big climb ahead of me to get out of the city and on the road towards Turkey.

My emotions were a bit mixed on setting out solo cycling again. I was sad to be leaving good company, but also excited to be setting out on the road to Istanbul, to complete the second major objective of my tour. I planned a few big legs to get there with enough time for a few days off, before turning my wheels back towards the UK; it’s going to be weird heading for home.

The climb up over the hills from Thessaloniki was taxing on several fronts. The ascent I could handle, however I wasn’t quite prepared for the number of stray/wild dogs. The small road wound up through pretty forest, however I didn’t really have time to enjoy it or take photos, and would recommend other cyclists take the main road instead. The dogs are a complete menace, with packs of them lounging by the roadside. A few just looked at me, however more often than not they’d get excited, start barking and chase after the bike. My nerves were jangling as I pedalled up the steep gradient, alert for ‘mans best friend’ making an appearance. Unfortunately I couldn’t pedal fast due to the hill, and was pretty terrified when at one point I was surrounded by 7 or 8 snarling hounds. The advice is to get off your bike and walk, as then they’ll lose interest, however I wasn’t sure that was the best option for a pack of wild dogs. I snarled and shouted back, and carried on, mindful of any of them sneaking up behind me as they are want to do; they start off at the side or in front, then circle around to come at you from behind, much like velociraptors I reckon. They didn’t bite me, and I’m not sure they would have done had I stopped, but I didn’t want to risk it. Dogs continued to be a menace throughout the day however that was the worst ambush I encountered; Greece really needs to do something about their stray dog problem.

Lots of people waved and shouted greetings or good luck as I pedalled East, passing two big lakes as I followed the main road, then along the coast in the afternoon. I stopped for a lunch break at Lidl; always reliable and cheap wherever you are in Europe.

It was nice riding next to the sea, and mostly flat, however I still managed to climb over 940m in total today; the headwind was a bit of a pain too however I haven’t had to endure one for a while. I bumped into a French touring couple and their young son near a large lion statue, and stopped for a chat in the shade.  They are touring Europe for a year, and are from Marseille; they live next to Luminy, where I lived for a year, and where I was a few weeks ago – small world! It was good to speak French again, and to meet more tourers and hear about their experiences and plans; we compared route notes before I carried on. It’s pretty amazing to be touring for a year, especially with a young son (maybe 5 to 6). I hope they get on alright in Scandinavia where it’s likely to get a little chilly!

With a while to go before I reached a campsite, but with the option to just sleep on the beach, I pedalled on. As I was on my own I really wanted to make a campsite, as I was still nervous about dogs causing a problem. After a long day I made it to Paradiso camping in Nea Iraklistsa, or Eleftheres, not far from Kavala; for €10 a night and peace of mind it had been worth the long ride.

There were lots of Bulgarians staying at the campsite and making merry (they drink…a lot); I guess they travel down to the coast for their holidays. I settled in the for evening, eating dinner from supplies I bought at Lidl, and amusing myself with the kitten roaming the campsite.

Long day planned again tomorrow, to Alexandroupoli, which should be my last stop in Greece.

–> 13 September – to Alexandroupoli (185km)
Today turned out to be the longest ride of the tour to date, covering 185km in about 9.5 hours; a good time for me, especially as I still climbed nearly 1,000m in total. As a result I was pretty tired when I stopped for the evening, so I’ll keep this brief.

So today turned out to be mostly a cycling day, with the usual dog avoidance tactics. I set off in good time from Paradiso camping, and pedalled to Kavala, a large port town with boats going out to the islands, including Samothrace.  Samothrace would be an interesting place to visit another time; it’s the site of the Sanctuary of the Great Gods, the ancient city of Palaeopoli, and was home to several mysterious cults, each with their own rituals an practices in ancient times. Kavala itself is a bustling town, with lots of fishing by the looks of it, and several interesting features including a hilltop fortress and viaduct.

The road led me inland to Xanthi, then back down to the coast on my way to Komotini. These were pretty long stretches of riding, passing numerous signs for archaeological attractions, thermal baths, and through a nature reserve. I soon passed the 100km mark, with another 85km still to go if I wanted to reach Alexandroupoli.

The dogs today were in no way as bad as yesterday, however I still had to be on the look out and got barked at or chased a few times. During one pause I encountered a friendly hound who just wanted to say hello, with a whole body tail wag thing going on; a nice change!

To finish the day and get to Alexandroupoli I had to get over the hill from Sapes, and down to the coast, a long climb alongside the Via Egnatia. This old Roman road was constructed in the 2nd century BC, to link various colonies all the way from Albania to Constantinople; I think I’ve been following its rough route for some time now, as it passes by Lake Ohrid, then through  Macedonia, Greece and on into Turkey. Needless to say I passed yet more signs for more holes in the ground interesting ancient archaeological sites. I also passed a lot of farmers harvesting sunflowers on my way through the countryside, with mounds of seeds being shovelled into sacks.

Sorry about the finger intruding on those photos; the hazard of taking a photo whilst pedalling!

You could spend a lot of time exploring this corner of Greece (Macedonia and Thrace), however I haven’t got a few weeks to spare right now, but might come back at some point; I find the historical period around Alexander the Great pretty fascinating.

I eventually made it to Alexandroupoli, and found the Municipal Campsite close to the city centre, and next to the beach; a comfortable and non-crowded site, with its own restaurant and decent bathrooms. There were a couple of German motorcycle tourers I chatted to for a bit, however mostly I just wanted to rest after a long day, and do some last-minute preparation for Turkey; already had the Visa but wanted to learn a few basic phrases and check the route to Istanbul. After a basic meal and trying to learn the Turkish for ‘hello’, ‘please’, ‘thank you’ etc, I nodded off in my tent, not waking up until about 03.00 in the morning, having failed to brush my teeth.

Beach at Municipal Camping, Alexandroupoli

Beach at Municipal Camping, Alexandroupoli

–> 14 September – to Tekirdag (Turkey – 155km)
Today’s ride means I’ve covered 300 miles in 3 days, which is another record for me. I’m still feeling fit, however am looking forward to a break in Istanbul now; only 2 or 3 days away! I had wanted to challenge myself and see just how far I could get, however I don’t think I’ll continue doing 100 mile days on the way back to the UK, as it turns into an exercise in just pedalling, with little time for much else. If I aim for 70 or 80 miles a day that’ll see back to Norwich in plenty of time for the Beer Festival, provided I don’t get distracted along the way, for example by the Munich October Fest 😉

I’d also been motivated by wanting to get to Istanbul and out of ‘bad dog’ territory, however I have the feeling it’ll be similar in Turkey, and perhaps with even less in the way of campsites; not too worried about that as they’ll be cheap hotels along the route, and wild camping is always an option. Whatever happens it’ll feel good to be pedalling towards home, rather than further away from it; looking forward to boring friends and family with my tales from the road.

I pedalled out of Alexandroupoli, and on to the border with Turkey, passing quite a few Greek military vehicles along the way, and dealing with several hills and a headwind which woke my legs up. I had to take the motorway on the last stretch to the  border, as there wasn’t another option, however there were hardly any cars on it, and a wide harder shoulder and no dogs meant it felt like the safest bit of road for a while. It took a little while to get over the border, due to a slight queue, however once they’d stamped my passport and checked the photo of my Visa on my phone they waved me through, past all the waiting cars and lorries. I’d half expected to see queues of migrants/refugees a the border, trying to get into Greece, however none were evident; the border guards were checking car boots pretty carefully though.

It’s quite a long border crossing from Greece to Turkey, over a river, and passing armed soldiers at regular intervals on both sides; they all waved or said hello, but don’t think they get on with each other very well still. There were lots of flags flying on both sides, however I think the Turks win on the who has the largest flag front!

There followed a very long ride, down a pretty boring and at times bumpy main road, to Tekirdag. I passed Ipsala, Kesan, Malkara and Inecik, as well as several smaller towns, as I cycled down the D110, which proved to be quite busy, with traffic ranging from dilapidated but still functioning tractors, to modern and expensive looking cars, as well as a lot of lorries.

The road also passes over one hill after another, meaning I climbed a total of 1360m today, resulting in very tired legs by the end; first time my legs have really ached in a while. There are a lot of garages along the way, providing ample opportunities for drinks or toilet breaks, and the people are all really friendly; only got barked at by a few dogs too. I benefitted from a mostly cloudy day, so didn’t get too hot, despite the hills, however the headwind made things tough going at times; inconsistent too, which is just irritating.

There’s a campsite about 14km on from Tekirdag, however my legs were just too tired to pedal any further, and besides, it was getting late with the sunset just an hour away. I stopped in Tekirdag and found a hotel right on the seafront for the equivalent of £20 a night, including breakfast; this felt like a bargain, with an en suite bathroom, and what to me is a luxury room (air con etc). I’d recommend the Hotel Rodosto to anyone passing through; friendly, cheap, and convenient.

I was quite excited about my ensuite bathroom; also washed cycling gear, much needed!

I was quite excited about my en suite bathroom; also washed cycling gear, much-needed!

After settling in I headed into town to withdraw some Turkish Lira, and visit a supermarket for dinner. I was really hungry after another long day, and my legs were in serious need of refueling, so I returned to the hotel with a lot of food, spending the evening eating, phoning home, and checking the route for tomorrow.

Depending on how my legs feel in the morning the plan is to cycle all the way to Istanbul tomorrow, which’ll get me there a day sooner than expected, with more time for a mini holiday before heading for home. Bonus!

2 thoughts on “12, 13 & 14 September – 300 miles in 3 days, to Turkey

  1. AndrewGills

    Oh wow. I’ll be arriving by plane from Australia in Istanbul tomorrow. Finally our routes match up. Alas I am not cycle toting Turkey anymore and will be on a flight to Bodrum almost immediately to go sailing. Enjoying your adventure

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

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