Catha's Seat

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Days 60 to 65: Camping inside and out - Greece

If you read "the Route" post you will notice that we were now well off the planned map. Riding into Greece was grim - a full day of heavy rain and a slow start on the mud track Nazi road in Macedonia. We spent most of the day on the main road into Thessaloniki worried that  we may be picked up by the authorities for riding on a road signed just for motor vehicles. Luckily there was a good way to pass the time by deciphering the road signs using our Physcis knowledge of the Greek alphabet (I knew my degree would come in handy one day!). 

A steep hill obscured the horizon us just before we hit the city and after the struggle we were treated to a superb dusk view of the lights going into the darkness of the Mediterranean sea. It was difficult to enjoy though, as the rain was still driving into us and we were sitting on the brakes concentrating on making it down the hill in one piece.

The kindness of people came to our rescue: A nice chap called Morris helped us with directions when our "smart" phone touch screens weren't responding to our soaked hands, pointing us in the direction of our couchsurfing host for the evening. Gael had exceedingly kindly agreed to take us in even though he had 5 other bikers staying with him at the same time. His other guests had prepared a feast of fajitas for our arrival and we were quickly reconstructed and sharing adventure stories. 

Gael is a long distance cycling pro. His 3 year trip around the remotest parts of Russia, Europe and Asia with his photographer girlfriend Elena really put our little jaunt to Istanbul in perspective. A French man, he found lab work at the University in Thessaloniki, and has hung up his cycling shoes living with his cat Dennis whilst Elena is on long term project in Siberia. Dennis was a stray cat and contrary to its name is actually a female! (Photo right taken by EA Gow)
When we had a chance to survey our surroundings we found we were in a 25sq metre flat, Ortleib bike bags covered the balcony (lucky they are properly waterproof as the wind had picked up a gale and was battering the rain into the hilltop building). Settling down for the night was literally like camping inside and we had to manage some impressive tessellation to fit everyone in! Considerable thanks to Gael who was so relaxed at having his flat taken over - a true Samaritan. 

Surprisingly it's difficult to find chick peas in Greece! Cooking curry for the camp at Gael's. Bottom picture (taken by Peter Ehresmann) from left to right; Lindsay, Peter, Devin, Tory, Alex, Gael and me.
I woke up before everyone else on our day off in Thessaloniki. As I mentioned before; days off were tricky mentally; whilst not moving I felt like I wasn't achieving and it gave me a strange lookout point to consider my position. I lay next to Alex's toes and thought for an hour trying to make sense of why I was doing this trip, why I hadn't had any realisations about what I was going to do with my life and career. The main struggle is discovering what I "want" to do rather than what I "ought" to do. I see people doing things, in advanced positions in their careers or travelling, achieving goals and I think, gosh, I "ought" to be doing that - a horrible inadequate feeling of guilt. The momentum of "ought" though, I feel, can only pull you so far through life. I realised that much against everyone's advice I had put considerable weight hoping that going through a "life changing" trip (the longest time I have spent outside of work or structured education since I was 2 years old) would churn me out as a confident, structured and motivated person who knew what they "wanted". So far the magic still hadn't happened and we were only a week from reaching Istanbul.

Once the camp had arisen my mind was quickly taken to the tasks for the day; bike shop visit, Scott repairs and preparing to make a monster curry. The others staying in the flat were Peter, Lindsay, Devin, Tory and Prija. All friends from the USA, the 4 had been cycling together from Germany through to Istanbul and Prija had come to visit whilst on medical placement in Oxford. Unfortunately Tory had sustained an injury and with Devin they were in the process of shipping their bikes around to various stops on the trip. Peter knew Gael when they bumped into each other in India on his previous cycle trip. He and Lindsay were still at the beginning of their adventures as they are now in India and both furthering their studies abroad; Peter in China and Lindsay in Africa. They also had two others in their crew who, by the time we arrived, had taken their tandem on to the Greek islands. All together they had brought their musical instruments as a band of merry, travelling Troubadours looking to boost their travel finances by busking and also entertain their hosts.

Pictures clockwise from top left; these mini chapels line the roads in Greece - we assume they are small shrines for people that have lost their lives in motor accidents on the road, Alex tucking into a giant sandwich in Lidl's car park, sunset swim time at our beachside camp spot no.1. (Photo bottom left taken by EA Gow)
After a steep exit to Thessaloniki we crossed the peninsular to follow the coast around to Turkey. Our plan to follow the warmer weather and get some camping in had paid off and our home was in the tent for the rest of our time in Greece. We had two glorious nights with views of the sea and one disastrous camp in the hedgerow between two farmed fields. A cheeky Australian/Greek chap we met in Kavala had warned us off this area "Nah, mate, that's where I live. Nothing going on there!" and he was right. Reclaimed flatlands a bit like Romney Marsh in Kent (near where we are from) - field after field, little villages filled with scrapped cars in the driveways and that blooming headwind was back with a vengeance.

In Greece it's wise to avoid saying you are going to Istanbul - the Greeks maintain the city's older name, Konstantinoupolis (Constantinople). (Photos top right and left taken by EA Gow)

Bottom picture is of us with Antoine and Sarah who were cycling back to France from China. They had a pretty tough start to their 7 months (to this point) having their bikes stolen while still in China.

One thing to mention is that Alex and I had particularly enjoyed our camp cooking on our previous tour - we would stop at a Lidl and line up a decent sized feast with a bottle of wine to wash it down. In Greece we developed another classic using a local rice shaped pasta called Orzo, adding butter, anchovies, parsley and olives.

When procuring the supplies for our masterpiece in a small local shop I thought I overheard Alex asking the shop keeper for some water. He scuttled off to the back room and brought back a 5 litre tank of what looked like what had been requested. As he started to decant this this into 500ml bottle I thought to myself "thanks for the gesture, but 500ml isn't going to get us far"! He twisted the cap back on and took out a marker pen. He put an "X" on the cap, wrote 50% VOL on the side and handed it back to Alex cheerily saying "Ouzo"!! One whiff and you could tell it was a vicious home brew! Some Dutch courage perhaps for our next day, when we would reach our destination Country, Turkey!

Food and Drink in Greece: Clockwise from the left...the local shopkeepers and the bottle of 50% VOL homebrew Ouzo, a good sweaty Gyros in Kavala, Calamaris in Lagos, "The Party's Wine" and our masterpiece Orzo dish.

The last photo in Greece just before the border with Turkey- Image 1,313 of the trip on my camera! (Unlucky for some?)

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