Category Archives: Greece

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!

10 & 11 September 2015 – rest day and Thessaloniki

I decided to pause in Edessa for a day’s rest, seeing as the weather forecast was rain and storms all day, and I was in good company. Route and stats for the following day below:

–> 10 September – rest day in Edessa
As already mentioned the weather forecast was pretty foul, so we decided discretion was the better part of valour and had a rest day in Edessa. A day off would also give Jorn a chance to get over his stomach bug, which had been hanging around for too long and was making cycling very uncomfortable for him.

Alen decided to brave the weather and carry on to Thessaloniki, before making his way to Istanbul. I doubt I’ll catch him up, as he does some pretty big distances each day, however we might meet again in Istanbul, or in Vienna when I pass through; where Alen lives.

Tom and I grabbed breakfast from a bakery, where we found some fantastic pastry based sustenance including sausage rolls, cheesy thingamys, spinach triangle pasty type products, and doughnuts. We weren’t sure what we were buying but they were all very nice, especially the doughnuts. The police also pulled up whilst we were eating, to buy breakfast; you can always tell a food establishment is good if the police or fire service stop to buy food there!

We met up with the others back at the hotel, and spent a few hours chilling whilst Jorn went in search of pharmaceutical cures for his stomach bug. He returned with various remedies, and an invite for coffee from people he’d met at the pharmacy. We joined Achilleas and several of his friends in a local cafe for coffee (they did decaf) and a chat; they were all exceptionally welcoming and friendly, and as always locals bring a place to life. We decided to grab lunch at a local restaurant, recommended by Achilleas; good to have some traditional Greek food rather than jut another kebab (Gyros).

Lunch with some new friends in Edessa - locals very welcoming

Lunch with some new friends in Edessa – locals very welcoming

After lunch Achilleas, who lives in Bristol at the moment but is back here for the holidays, took us on a tour of Edessa, to see the old town and waterfalls. The old town (Varosi) was destroyed by the Nazis during the war, as it was a centre for the Resistance. It was good to have a local show you around, thanks Achilleas!

The waterfalls give Edessa its nickname, the City of Waters, and are pretty impressive, once powering a big waterwheel, as well as other machinery; there are various channels leading to buildings, but most are now defunct.

After a bit more wandering, passing quite a few establishments closed due to the recession, we retreated to the hotel for a nap, keen to get out of the wet for a bit. We also arranged with Achilleas to meet up in the evening for a few drinks; it was an R&R day after all.

After a bit of blog updating, and feeling justified about taking a day off when the rain got really heavy, we headed out to meet with Achilleas and his friends at about 21.00. As with a lot of southern Europe things get going later, and it’s not uncommon to eat about 22.00. The small bar, recommended by Achilleas, is a great little venue, although unfortunately I’ve forgotten its name! We spent a very pleasant evening chatting with him and his friends, over a few beers, or in their case a few Mojitos; great bunch of people and really nice of them to give us such a warm welcome, and spend the evening with us.

It was great to have had a rest day in good company, with no cycling whatsoever, however tomorrow it’s back on the bike to pedal to Thessaloniki; the last leg of the tour for Tom, Jorn and Clara, and a step closer to Istanbul for me!

–> 11 September – to Thessaloniki
We were on the road in good time, leaving Edessa on a slightly chilly and damp morning, however the weather was set to improve as we approached Thessaloniki.

After a brief climb we flew down a long hill, and enjoyed relatively flat riding, covering something like 70km in 3 hours; very fast for me – I think a slight tailwind might have provided some assistance. The road was a little tedious, and the traffic got steadily busier as we approached Thessaloniki.

After a brief pause for Jorn to fix a puncture, hopefully the last one of their tour, we found a spot for lunch next to a garage, on a well-tended grassy patch next to the main road; it was noisy but comfy.

Lunch break on a nice grassy patch, next the busy road

Lunch break on a nice grassy patch, next the busy road

Aside from Tom’s panniers falling off due to a somewhat bumpy road, and the occasional dog deciding to bark/chase us, it was ‘smooth’ riding the rest of the way, although the traffic got quite exciting at the outskirts of the city, and as we made out way to the centre. We had to dodge around a lot of cars ad buses before making it to the sea, where we stopped to celebrate the end of Jorn, Clara and Tom’s tour, a great achievement!

Clara had found somewhere for us to stay on the Airbnb app, an apartment not far from the centre which we managed to find after stopping for an ice-cream. The Airbnd app is quite handy, giving you access to accommodation in loads of places, from single rooms to whole houses depending on your requirements. In this case the woman renting out the apartment for a few days was vacating it whilst we stayed there; me for just one night, the others for a bit longer before flying home. We had to lock our bikes up in the street, which worried me slightly, however anyone trying to steal them would have had to deal with several locks first.

After a rest, another ice-cream and some rehydration, we headed into the city for dinner, taking a stroll along the waterfront to find a restaurant for a celebratory meal. There were lots of people out either walking or cycling next to the sea, as well as several buskers, a few living statues, and stalls selling corn on the cob, nuts or candy floss.

Thessaloniki is a vibrant city, with loads of bars and restaurants, and a good atmosphere, however I wasn’t too keen on the dead rats floating just off the promenade; don’t think I’ll be going for a swim. There wasn’t much sign of a Greek recession, with lots of people out enjoying the nightlife. We found a nice little restaurant and enjoyed a last meal together before I left in the morning; the meatballs were very good.

It was lovely to have a last night out with my cycling companions for the last few days, and I know that I’ll miss them as I pedal onwards, however I’m really looking forward to getting to Istanbul now, and to seeing what the return journey to the UK alongside the Danube has in store.

Could be a big day tomorrow, with a steep climb to get out of Thessaloniki, then perhaps 150km to near Kavala; back to solo cycling again.

Many thanks to Clara, Tom and Jorn for a great few days riding, and some much-needed company before my next leg. Hope to see you all again in the future, for perhaps more adventures! Good luck with everything 🙂

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!