Monday 24th October
Dubrovnik to Ploćice
Average: 8.75 kmh
Top Speed: 58.17 kmh
Total Distance: 9425.43 km
It’s a long, slow climb out of Dubrovnik but the views back down on the city make it worthwhile.
We’re just by the airport, probably 20km out of Dubrovnik, when we meet Peter, a cycle tourer. He’s only been out for a few weeks, he flew into Bulgaria and will fly out of Dubrovnik tomorrow.
Daz knows of him from a bike blog he wrote about his Africa tour. Finally we head off and we take his advice and turn off the D8 onto a smaller country road. It’s a lovely quiet road with several small villages and makes a pleasant change to the D8.
We stop for water and then finally find a place to camp for the night. It’s not been a great day for us after our parcel disappointments but hopefully tomorrow will be better!
Tuesday 25th October
Ploćice to Becici via Kotor and Budva
Average: 12.30 kmh
Top Speed: 68.37 kmh
Total Distance: 9505.99 km
We’re a little concerned about the mileage we need to do to get to Crete so we’re setting the alarm for 7am from now on. Which means we’re up and on the road by 8am. It’s a beautiful morning and there’s some great downhills so Daz sets his fastest trike speed to date – 70.9kmh. We spot a small viper on the road, at first it look like he’s warming in the sun, but then we realise he’s been squished.
We soon cross the border into Montenegro, we even got our passports stamped, and then have to leave our back road for the D8, now the M2.
We arrive in Herceg Novi and stop to change our Croatian kunas into euros and get some provisions.
We admire the town square and church before we push on for the ferry at Kamenari, crossing the Kotor Bay to Lebertane; it’s only 1€ each.
In Lebertane we get some water and stop for lunch. We have a lovely cup of tea looking over the bay as our tent dries. Then we have the most lovely ride along the bay into Kotor, passing through tiny villages set along the shore.
Kotor: If you believe in symmetry, which I do, this is the cheese to Budva’s chalk. Kotor is a beautiful UNESCO town, with a charming old town and a bustling harbor. You can climb almost 1500 steps to the fortress over looking the town too, although that seemed a step to far for us after all the cycling. Kotor has got so much character, and it came as a complete surprise to us, we were planning on sticking to the coast and then we would have missed it.
A fabulous treat. There’s a huge cruise ship, the Norwegian Jade, sitting in the harbour. It’s the end of October and Kotor is still pulling in large numbers of people. Climbing out of Kotor we have to cycle a tunnel 1.6km long.
It was pretty unpleasant, incredibly noisy because of the vents and just a tad too narrow for comfortable coach overtaking, not that the coach drivers are bothered. From the tunnel to Budva the road was busy with little to see until after a climb we swooped down round the coast and into Budva, although there were 2 young boys who wanted to race us!
We stopped in the old town of Budva which seemed rather pretty but it seems to have a bad reputation as a drinking and partying destination, but today all the clubs were closed. We were cycling out when some young girls thought we might want food.
Of course we do, we responded, so they gave us a tupperware container of a savoury rice dish and 2 with cake. Having wolfed that down we got some water and cycled a few kilometres out of town. We saw a carpark with some motorhomes so we’ve joined them, only we’re right outside the church so hopefully God will protect us tonight.
Wednesday 26th October
Becici to Krute via Sveti Stefan
Average: 9.65 kmh
Top Speed: 55.87 kmh
Total Distance: 9561.20 km
8am sees us on the road and we head for Sveti Stefan, it’s only about 7km away. Sveti Stefan is often the postcard pic for Montenegro. The old town is built on an island 30m from the shore but since 2008 the island was ‘bought’ by an upmarket hotel. There are 52 apartments and they start from €1000 per night. We’ve just cycled down a big hill, met several security staff to reach the causeway over to the island, when the security man tells us the island is shut because the season ended 20th October but whether we’d have been allowed in if the season was open is debatable – google says ‘no’! Still, we get some lovely photos before climbing back up the hill.
Then it’s a tough cycle to Bar, with more climbs than descents. At one point I’ve just told Daz he should ‘lead from the front’ – bizarrely he likes to cycle behind me (so he can protect me from the nasty lorries and coaches apparently!) and hates to lead. So he takes the lead and he’s already a good 50m ahead when 2 dogs come barrelling out of a house and give chase ( our greatest fear, untethered dogs) I watch in fascination knowing that Daz will now be covered in goosebumps ( he always reacts when dogs give chase). Meanwhile I know that once the dogs have torn Darren limb from limb I’ll still be between them and their home. They chase Daz for about 100m before tiring and are just commiserating with each other as they turn back for home when they spot me. Oh shit! I’ve been picking up speed since I first spotted them but one of them is in the middle of my lane, running at me. I swerve round him, heading for oncoming traffic in the other lane, get passed and once again the chase is on. Fortunately I’m going fairly fast now and manage to get past Daz putting him between me and the dogs. What a thrill!
The rest of the trip to Bar is uneventful, but we’re both tired and frustrated with today’s slow progress. So we stop for lunch and the inevitable tent drying (it seems condensation is something we’ll have to accept although this tent dries quicker than the Vango).
From Bar we head off hoping to make the Albanian border but it’s a huge climb out. We meet a Norwegian cyclist coming the other way and chat for a while.
And then once at the top of the hill and still way short of the border we see so many camping options that we stop at a house to ask for water and end up camping in his garden. How lovely. Then he brings us some tangerines and pomegranates.
Thursday 27th October
Krute to Lec
Average: 14.24 kmh
Top Speed: 42.22kmh
Total Distance: 9653.03 km
Last night we both woke at 4am to what sounded like a pack of dogs. Once these had moved off we kept hearing the stones moving on the nearby stone wall. We kept peeping out of our tent trying to work out what was making the noise but we couldn’t spot anything. We’re on the road by 8am and cycle east watching the sun rise over the hills which was rather picturesque.
It’s downhill until we reach the border with Albania. This checkpoint is the first joint crossing point in the western Balkans and was inaugurated in 2009. Another stamp in the passports and another country ticked off!
Immediately there’s a significant difference: the roads are in poor repair, there’s a lot of rubbish everywhere and many houses look derelict or are hidden behind a breeze block wall. We also get a lot of attention which we think is friendly but we’re not always sure.
We head for Shkoder, a tourist attraction because of the castle. We cycle into the town centre and realise we don’t actually understand their roundabout priorities, sometimes we’re given priority coming on and other times we’re nearly mowed down. We also realise there’s cyclists and mopeds coming towards us on our side of the road. I think anything goes and join in but Daz is still intent on signalling his intentions – so dull. We change money, now it’s the Albanian Lec, 134 to 1€. There are a couple of big churches with minarets.
We think the Albanians are Orthodox Christian. We stop for a coffee in the town centre and find it’s very cheap, less than a 1€ for 2 coffees. Refreshed we cycle out of town back to the road to Tirane. On the way out we stop at a small bakery for bread, and the lady gives us 2 big rolls for free. Then a greengrocer gives us a couple of apples as we get back on the bikes… very generous. We are now heading south having crossed the river Buna.
The wind has been in our faces all day and it’s strong. This is so physically draining. But fortunately in the early afternoon we turn and it’s now a side wind. Even this is difficult with the traffic on the road. We struggle on and finally after an hour of this the road bends again and we get a slight tailwind, our speed picks up and I challenge myself to reach 70km before the next hour is up. Only 20 km!!! But with Daz counting down the seconds we make it with about 2 minutes to spare. We stop after this push having reached Lezhe, and have a kebab from a roadside cart. We decide that before Tirane we’ll detour to Kjuce as it is one of the top 8 things to see in Albania. Fortunately this means getting off the main road (Sh1) but for the first 2 km it’s into the wind again! As we are crossing a bridge Daz brakes suddenly as there is a large crack in the road which you can see the river through. I don’t stop in time and smack his mudguard. It splits in 2, oh well revenge for when he broke my rear reflector the other day!
We reach Lec and it’s still blowing a gale. I can’t believe we’ve done 90k with this wind but luckily it has been flat. We stop at a police station in the town centre and ask about somewhere to put our tent up, hoping they’ll let us use their courtyard. We speak to a criminal investigator who is standing outside. Sadly we’re not allowed to use the police courtyard but instead we are given the choice of the rooftop of a cafe or the carwash hardstanding. Then he realises he didn’t suggest the town park opposite. Even though it is busy we decide to camp in the little grassy area in the town centre!!
Tent up we feel we are being watched by the whole town, well the male component anyway. Where are the women? But apart from one couple coming over to look we are left alone.
Friday 28th October
Lec to Tirane
Average: 9.84 kmh
Top Speed: 32.74 kmh
Total Distance: 9711.82 km
Despite our concerns about our campsite choice we have a quiet night with the exception of the wind, which instead of abating, seems to pick up even more. We’re up and heading out by 8am. We realise that this back road to Kjuce, includes 2 stretches marked as a dotted black line on MapsMe. We’ve got reservations and these increase when the main road deteriorates into a mass of potholes and we’re also told the town in question lies the other side of the mountain ridge. We decide it’s probably going be too time consuming and hellish with the head wind and we’ll just enjoy this back road.
We pass through several villages where we are astounded by the number of menfolk standing around and their capacity to stare at ‘the 2 foreigners on weird bikes’. It’s really intimidating and yet when we stop for coffee a guy at the next table pays our tab. Everyone is so friendly and yet we still feel uneasy! We cycle for about 20km on a road which is more puddles and huge potholes than actual road but fortunately passing cars are infrequent so we can weave all over the road looking for the best route. We see old ladies herding their cows; who knows where. Eventually we end up back on the Sh1 and it’s a dusty, windy ride into Tirane.
Once on the outskirts we find a cycle path and we head to Tirane centre. At a tourist office we’re incredibly lucky to get help from a young lady, fluent in English. Not only does she show us what to visit she also phones the bus depot for us. We’re both so anxious about our ability to get to Crete by 15th November that we’re struggling to enjoy the actual trip so we’ve decided we need to cut out some distance and a solution is a coach to Sarande, in the south of Albania. Of course who knows if the trikes will get on. Anyway the young lady makes the phone call, charges our notepad and we go off sightseeing.
It’s a whistle stop tour of the Albanian capital. But we see the old castle walls, all of 2 feet high. The horse statue and other odd statues in the central park. An art installation by a Japanese artist called ‘The Cloud’. The Mosque with its minaret, the clocktower and the Orthodox church. And the ‘Pyramid’… A pyramid shaped building with the Eagle of Albania at the top, it’s in very poor repair and not what we would class as a tourist attraction! During all of this we have weaved in and out of the chaotic traffic on the road, up kerbs and across paths, the trikes taking it all in their stride!
We return to the tourist office and the man from Delmonte (well the bus depot), he says ‘yes’. What a relief. We’re catching the 10pm coach. Of course we have no idea if this agreement will actually materialise but we’re both trying to contain our concerns and stay positive. We head off for more sightseeing and food. At 7pm we cycle back out of Tirane to the bus depot, in the dark now. This bus depot is the emptiness city bus depot I’ve ever seen. It has one bus in it. We cycle in and a guy starts chatting to us about going to Sarande and we’re slightly bemused. But this young man, Arne, fluent in English, turns out to be our bus conductor. Initially he isn’t that happy about the trikes but once the luggage, seats and racks are removed, he’s fine. It’s 1300 Lec (10€) each, but unfortunately he decides another 10€ is required for our excess baggage. Our coach arrives at 8pm and we load our trikes and luggage in the luggage hold and then we just have to wait for our departure.
It’s disappointing that we’re having to curtail our cycling adventure of Albania especially as we’re still undecided as to how we feel about the country. So far the sights and countryside have been uninspiring and mostly covered in rubbish. Daz has preconceptions about Albania from crime thrillers and movies where the Albanians are thugs, criminals or involved in drugs and prostitution. Not a helpful image when planning to wild camp etc. Meanwhile I’m completely disconcerted by being surrounded by staring menfolk. To be fair mostly when I wave, smile, shout a greeting, or sound my bike horn they are all friendly in response but occasionally such behaviour still elicits an unremitting death stare – scary! But actually the people we’ve met have been kind, friendly and extremely generous and many have gone out of their way to chat to us and shake our hands. In addition to our time concerns ruining our enjoyment there’s been the additional stress of our Son dynamo in Split. Apparently Busch & Muller’s carrier won’t deliver to Crete so we’ve had to arrange for that to go to the UK (we did consider a warmshower host address in Athens but we’re not completely confident about that working out). Also dealing with our bank cards which were posted to Dubrovnik but hadn’t arrived when we were there. Both for N&P, (an account we opened because it doesn’t charge for foreign ATM usage), to replace our current cards that expire at the end of October. I wrote to N&P explaining that the cards had initially arrived safely at our registered address (Scotland) but had subsequently gone missing when sent to Croatia for our collection on an extended cycling trip. Could these cards be cancelled and new ones issued and the current ones have their expiry date extended. Their response, they could only send replacement cards to Scotland if we confirmed we were actually there. Most entertaining when there hasn’t been a single UK transaction on that account in 2 years! But of course we told them we were there.
Saturday 29th October
Sarande to Shralle
Distance: 33.83 km
Average: 10.80 kmh
Top Speed: 51.70 kmh
Total Distance: 9745.65 km
We arrived safely in Sarande at 3.30am although the coach was stopped by the police, speeding. Unfortunately there’s no bus depot we’re just dumped in the middle of the town. We put the bikes back together and cycle one block to the small town park and camp there.
Sadly Daz wakes early again so despite only having a couple of hours sleep we’re ready for the off at 8am. But we simply cycle to a cafe and sit and have a few coffees. It’s a beautiful day and the town is busy but it’s obviously a tourist town and we don’t attract as many stares as in the north but still the usual fascination in the trikes. We chat to Alexander, he’s only 12 but his English is excellent, he practices whilst selling bracelets to tourists.
Finally hunger drives us on, we get some provisions and cycle out by the harbour and out of town. It’s very pretty and the roads are quiet. We stop after about 7km to have our breakfast, muesli, fruit and yoghurt and a cup of tea.
The border to Greece is only 40km away but we can’t decide if we should push on or stop at a campsite. We’re mulling over the decision when Daz spots someone down by the beach and it turns out to be 2 cyclists, Izzy and another Darren. We sit and chat, they’ve been cycling for 18 months. We spend a few hours chatting, picking up some cooking tips from Izzy and enjoy hearing of their adventures. They’re waiting for Christian, a Norwegian cyclist, they’ve cycled with him over recent weeks. He turns up and the chat continues with some trike test rides. Then we’re all considering making a move when we spot another cyclist. It’s Harm, from Holland.
We eventually all cycle off and at Butrint there’s a cable ferry across the River. It’s not really a ferry, more a collection of wooden planks loosely fitted together that are dragged across the river. A couple of cars get on and the ferry leans to one side!! But we get across safely.
There’s a pretty castle on the other side. We cycle a few more kilometers but it’s getting dark so after a bit of shopping in the smallest of villages we all camp for the night beside a deserted building. With 6 of us we feel emboldened and don’t even hide ourselves away.
We cook and eat the sit around a campfire, fabulous. There’s some good laughter and banter in the group too. Christian makes us all roll about the floor with his worry about rabies and being able to catch it from a dog’s lick!!! Surely not!?
Sunday 30th October
Shralle to Plataria
Distance: 49.36 km
Average: 10.24 kmh
Top Speed: 51.70 kmh
Total Distance: 9795.01 km
We sleep really well and when we wake at 7 realise the clocks go back today. So at 6.15am we are out of bed… crazy! Harm is up early too and we share some breakfast with him then as the others rise he heads off, he wants to be in Athens by Wednesday, so he needs to do about 140 kilometres each day to hit his target.
Shortly after he goes, we also say goodbye to the rest and head for the Greek border, 6km away.
Once over the border into Greece we descend towards the coast. Suddenly I spot something in the bush beside the road. It’s a little brown and white puppy, so cute. I call Daz back. It looks like someone has dumped him recently as we are miles from anywhere, and he’s clean and not starved. We have some yogurt and he is soon wolfing it down but he shakes uncontrollably. We put him back in the bush but he soon climbs back over the high kerb onto the road, we think he likes us!! Then Daz says sod it, picks him up and climbs back on his bike. The puppy sits in his lap as we cycle towards the next village. We want to take him to civilisation and hope someone will look after him.
He is so cute, we take turns holding him, then I have the bright idea of making a ‘puppy pouch’ with my Penelope Pitstop hat. After giving us a thorough licking (Christian, the rabies fanatic, would be having kittens), he’s soon asleep and pays no heed to the constant jogging he gets as we cycle along. By the time we get to the next village I’ve decided to keep him, or at least until someone offers to take him off our hands. We buy some dog food in a small shop along with our lunch provisions. Whilst we’re drinking coffee there a family with a young girl keep him occupied and feed him a packet of ham. We also realise that we need to put our watches forward again, losing the hour we gained as Greece is another hour ahead of Western Europe!! When we set off again he sleeps most of the next 20km until Igoumenitsa, a port town on the Greek coast. We stop for lunch and dry our tent at the waterside. Baaku, the puppy has a name now, runs around causing menace and being the centre of attention for passers-by! He’s a very sociable puppy but after running around he’s crying to be picked up. Soooo cute! As we pack up it starts to rain a little. We cycle around town trying to find a supermarket but they are all closed. Finally we find a small shop and stop to buy more food for dinner tonight. We put Baaku down and go shopping, but when we come out he has wandered off and we can’t find him. With the rain falling we do a slow cycle around the area looking for him, but no luck. We hope someone has taken him in at least and he’s going to have a lovely life. We take cover in a cafe and have a coffee waiting for the rain to ease. Just as we are about to leave we see another cyclist stop by our bikes. Matt, a Canadian, has just got off the ferry from Corfu and is also cycling down the coast. We chat for a while but then he heads off in search of Internet and we cycle out of town. We are both a little sad, missing Baaku, but it’s probably for the best as if we feel like this after only a few hours then after a few days it would be much worse!! We cycle for a while then stop at a petrol station for water ready to wildcamp again. Then just down the next hill we see a sign for a campsite. It’s down a road towards the water and we dither, but decide to see if we can use it. We get to sea level and find the campsite is open, not only that, but 2 of the Canadians, Graham and Kelsey who we last saw in Split are sitting at the bar!!
Warm greetings all around and we chat for sometime about our travels since we saw each other last. There travels have been plagued with bike problems and other issues caused by the language barrier. Considering their flight is out of Athens on 8th they’ve still get a fair distance to cover. I hope their bikes hold together! We find out the campsite is 16 euros, like everything so far in Greece we find it expensive. Today, after having worked hard for the past days trying to budget, wildcamping in dodgy places, cold water washes, and the strain of the race to get to Crete Daz folds and we end up staying. I’m disappointed in him as today has already been an expensive day with shopping and coffees we didn’t really need. What started out as a good day ends on a sour note. After dinner and showering we retire to bed, barely a word spoken.
Monday 31st October
Plataria to Paralia Loutsas Beach
Distance: 52.83 km
Average: 10.38 kmh
Top Speed: 64.49 kmh
Total Distance: 9847.84 km
We are up early, but I want to lie in. Or would if not for big foot Daz. We say goodbye to Kelsey and Graham.
We have to climb back out up to the road which is a hard slog, but just as we reach the top, Matt, who we met in Igoumenitsa yesterday, cycles along. We chat and then he stays with us, even though we are much slower and he needs to be in Patras on Wednesday to meet his girlfriend. She’s coming in with the Corfu ferry on Wednesday. Matt has been living in the USA and Canada for the past 14 years since he left the UK with his parents at the age of 12. The road is wide and not too busy and he ambles along beside us chatting away. We’ve soon done 30 km and we need a bank so we drop down from the high Road to Ammoudia.
Daz manages a new high speed of 73.7kmph! It’s the 31st today and our bank cards run out today. But the ATM won’t accept them so we use Daz’s normal bank card to draw some money out. Matt decides he’s stopping for coffee but we need to find bread and breakfast supplies from a market, so we say a cheery goodbye and hope to see him again. We cycle another 3km to a little village but the bakery and the supermarket are closed. However, a man comes out of bar and asks us what we are looking for. He happens to have a spare loaf in his car which he gives us! He also invites us into the bar for a drink. We decline the Ouzo and beer and settle for a coke each. He chats to us about his restaurant business in California and about the poor state of the economy in Greece. He thinks that the only saviour for Greece is if it leaves the EU and returns to the Drachma. Either that or selling off all their islands and mineral rights to the USA or Russia!! We thank him for the bread and coke and set off again to find a late lunch spot. Peanut butter and jam sarnies with a cup of tea. We continue, climbing now for quite a while until finally we reach the top and take a detour off the main road to the Loutsas Beach Road. After a sharp descent we reach this 16km stretch of beach front properties, restaurants and bars.
The sandy beach is the first we have seen since coming down the Dalmatian coast to the Ionian sea. We stop at one of the only open restaurants (which is in the process of closing for winter) get some water and after another couple of km find a quiet spot by the beach to camp. By the time the tent is up and we sit on our bikes the sun is just setting.
A few scant clouds making a spectacular show in orange and grey against the rest of the clear skies.
Tuesday 1st November
Paralia Loutsas Beach to Vonitsa
Distance: 58.52 km
Average: 11.00 kmh
Top Speed: 49.12 kmh
Total Distance: 9906.36 km
Waking on the beach with the sun coming up over the horizon was lovely this morning. We sat and drank our tea, ate breakfast then broke camp. All in a leisurely fashion.
We are no longer on the 7am rise and shine regime as we think we will make Athens and therefore Crete in good time now without having to do massive mileages everyday. As for the cycling today we were soon climbing hills again as we followed the ‘beach’ road! At one point we take a wrong turn and end up in someone’s field, not too much of a problem except for the 2 big dogs that charge us aggressively!! We can hear the owner calling them back but they are barking and snarling right beside us. We get off our bikes and place them between us and the dogs and slowly back out of there. The dogs finally pay heed to their owner and back off. Think Daz might need some new undies!! Apart from that it’s definitely a very pretty area and quite secluded, but after 16 km we turn back onto the main road and push on to Preveza. We cycle through very quiet suburbs full of orange, olive and fig trees until we reach the town proper. The main street is lively with traffic, bars, pedestrians and 2 cyclists weaving through it all (us!). We stop at a bank to try and exchange our Albanian Lek. The security is quite something, a separate entry and exit, each with a locking outer and inner door. You have to go through the outer door, wait for it to close before the inner door will open! Time consuming for wanna be bank robbers maybe! Unfortunately neither of the 2 banks we visit will exchange the currency and say it’s best to try at the airport, or maybe Athens! We also pop into the tourist info centre, but they only have a map of the town, nothing of the coast further south. However she does tell us that the tunnel we need is prohibited for bikes. We ask how we get over the water then? She tells us to wave at the cameras and someone will come and pick us up and drive us through! Well OK then. We stop by the port to have lunch and watch the fishermen.
Some of the fish they are catching are big, and take a while to reel in. So lunch done we cycle down the waterfront and finally find the entry road to the ‘Immersed Tunnel’. We see some cameras and carry on cycling until a layby about 50 metres from the tunnel entry. Not sure what to do we wait a while, trying to flag down a couple of flat bed trucks for a lift. Then a man comes up on a motorbike and says the van will be here in 5 minutes to take us through, excellent! And so it does, a van and a trailer big enough to take one of the trikes at a time.
We load one up and I go through the tunnel with it then they go back for Daz. A very professional service. On the other side is a toll booth, we cycle past it and they don’t ask for money so we mosey on down the road. A little further down we come across an airport, we swing in hoping to find a money exchange but no luck. It’s a very small airport, only 2 flights coming in today, both from Corfu. After another 10 km of quiet road we come to Vonitsa a small seaside village with a Venetian castle overlooking it. We stop for water here and bread before heading out into the country again. A couple of kilometres later we find a lovely field to set up camp again… another day done! We’ve just finished dinner when someone turns into the field. It turns the corner and sees us.
It’s a pickup. We’re expecting the worst but nothing happens, he just drives across the field. We think he might be lamping……..or perhaps not!
Wednesday 2nd November
Vonitsa to Astakos
Distance: 67.55 km
Average: 10.88 kmh
Top Speed: 54.29 kmh
Total Distance: 9973.91 km
A quiet night in our field although I did wake up and couldn’t remember where I was! Took me a while to remember we were camping in a field. We climbed for about 10km before dropping down into Palairos. We stop to check out the Carrefour but whilst Daz would like to buy everything he manages to curb his spending desires and we leave with nothing. Then we’re on the coast road which has beautiful views and very little traffic. In Mitikas we stop for lunch on a jetty watching the fish eating our crumbs. The temperature is 35 degrees but we were in a sun trap because it’s only around 23 degrees today.
After a relaxed lunch and tent drying session we head off. As we’re leaving we see some people swimming in the sea, we really must stop for a swim at some point. Then we continue along the coast road. There are so many islands just off the coast and we also see several fish farms. Then we have a horrendous climb that lasts about an hour. We haven’t seen any villages or houses since Mitikas so we make a final push to Astakos.
We stop at a restaurant, Daz goes to ask for water and I chat to an older gentleman who spent 15 years in New York. He tells us we can camp anywhere we like but suggests a couple of places along the beach front. Ten minutes later we’re set up and dinner is being prepared whilst I write the bog.
Thursday 3rd November
Astakos to Mesolongi
Distance: 59.2 km
Average: 11.34 kmh
Top Speed: 38.20 kmh
Total Distance: 10,033.11 km!!!!!!!!
We wake up next to the shingle beach and enjoy the sunshine whilst breakfasting on fruit, muesli and yogurt. Then we dry the tent fly by tieing it to a post and flying it like a sail! The first 5 km today are all uphill, but then it’s flat for the rest of the day. After a lovely descent we reach a new road, funded by the EU at a cost of 24,000,000 euros. It seems to start in the middle of nowhere and goes who knows where, but it’s a nice flat stretch of smooth tarmac for us to ride on. We reach Katochi where we had seen a sign on MapsMe for a Lidl’s. But when we get to the other side of town it isn’t there, maybe it’s still in the planning stages. So we have to backtrack into town to find a bakery. Fortunately it’s only a couple of kms back in. We buy a loaf of bread for 50 cents and she also gives us a big bottle of water to refill our drinking bottles, thank you very much. We then cycle on to the island village of Etolika, it has a bridge either side linking it with the 2 mainlands.
We stop here by the water’s edge for lunch. Later, as we cycle through the village, a stall holder is packing away his produce and has left 3 ripe tomatoes on his shelf. Daz looks longingly at them and he takes pity and gives him them for free. This budgeting is going well!! Daz has also scrumped some oranges for breakfast tomorrow!
We reach Mesolongi and go into a Carrefour. We’ve been planning this visit for 100km since visiting the Carrefour in Palairos but this is a poor imitation of a decent supermarket. It’s completely deserted and most of the shelves are empty although they’ve decided to try and disguise this by strategically placing objects with generous spacing.
It’s bizarre but we get some bargains and then continue our shopping bonanza in AB supermarket which is packed with goodies. Shopping done we cycle through the town gate to check out the town centre.
We spot an incredibly well stocked bike shop and pop in to see if he’s got a cleat screw for one of my shoes; I lost the original weeks ago. It takes a while and some sawing of a screw that’s too long, but finally the job is done. Brilliant and no charge! It’s getting late (by late I mean almost 5pm), it’s dark at 6pm so we try and get set up by 5pm. So we head out of town, pick up some water, say hi to a puppy that I’d like to steal but don’t and look for somewhere to camp. We end up on a busy main road so we turn off and we’re desperately trying to find something quickly. A guy stops us outside his house. We try and explain what we’re looking for. There’s a barrage of Greek and gesticulating – he wants us to follow him. We do and he takes us to a carpark behind a restaurant. We had spotted it earlier but discarded it because of the number of dogs. But he takes us to a nice, flat, grassy spot and gives us the thumbs up. At least with tethered guard dogs at either end, we’ll definitely be safe here! So another ‘kilometer stone’ of a day – 10,000km mark passed! Now I think we can call ourselves proper cycle tourists!
Friday 4th November
Mesolongi to Psathopyrgos
Distance: 54.62 km
Average: 11.38 kmh
Top Speed: 51.42 kmh
Total Distance: 10,087.73 km
Just as we were finishing up after dinner last night raindrops started to fall. The rain continued with a full blown thunderstorm, at one point directly overhead. Finally it blows over but the tent is soaking wet when we get up. We head off hoping to reach Patras, and after a tough 2 hours on a horribly busy road with tarmac that feels as if we’re cycling through glue we finally have a decent downhill into Antorrio.
We had intended to go over the bridge but we spot a ferry sign and head for that instead. When the ferry comes in 2 French cyclists disembark; they’ve been cycling for 2 years mostly in Europe but with stints in Turkey and Morocco. Unfortunately we can’t chat for long because the ferry is loading. This turns out to be highly entertaining because they make everyone reverse on; a great time to practice reversing skills. Finally we’re allowed to board too. It’s mostly commercial vehicles on board because it’s so much cheaper than the bridge. We chat to a Greek couple who tell us Patras is a new town, ‘just a port’! So instead of heading into Patras we head off East. (Patras would’ve been an 8km deviation from our route, each way). Sadly the road to Athens and we’ve chosen the old road is pretty dreadful. It’s busy, it’s not that wide and it’s really dusty. Hopefully it won’t be like this all the way to Athens. We stop early after finding a bar with Internet to catch up with various chores and charge some of our electronics. We find out that Kinsey and Graham (the Canadians) continued to be plagued by bike problems to such an extent that Graham’s bike is now in a skip and they’re both on a bus to Athens.
Chores done we head off and find an orchard 200m from the bar and set up camp.
Saturday 5th November
Psathopyrgos to Krathio
Distance: 39.83 km
Average: 13.08 kmh
Top Speed: 54.00 kmh
Total Distance: 10,127.56 km
We’re rudely awakened at 0630hrs by a vehicle driving up next to our tent. My initial instinct is to ignore them but Daz wants to look them in the eye and see what’s what. Fortunately Daz makes the right choice. They’re here to spray the olives and have face masks on and just need to get the compressor started. Luckily they can’t get it started and we have time to pack up and get away. We cycle all of the 200m back to the bar we were in last night and use their out door plug for more electrical charging whilst we have breakfast.
Then we head off and can’t believe the amount of trucks and other traffic on this road on a Saturday; it’s really unpleasant with the dust and the sun in our eyes we can barely see where we’re going. We decide a coffee break is in order and whilst we’re enjoying a leisurely break we ask the young lady serving about the roads. To our minds there’s the old coast road (which seems to attract a huge volume of traffic), which we’re using, a motorway that runs almost parallel and there’s another road under construction. But that makes 3 roads all running West to East in very close proximity which seems ludicrous. Anyway the waitress is completely baffled by our question, her English isn’t that good and obviously our Greek is worse. She leaves us and it transpires she has been seeking help from other customers and comes back to us with someone else’s phone with someone on the other end ready to discuss the local road system with us in fluent English. Unbelievable! So there are only 2 roads; the old road and the motorway. The motorway is being widened and improved and is currently using a contraflow with low speed limits hence the old road is faster. Once we get about 50km from Patras the motorway is fine and our old road will be quieter (and more scenic). After our coffee break we finally head off and it’s only about another 10km and the traffic lessens and at last it becomes pleasant on our road. We seem to have had loads of breaks today but no food. We see a little village by the sea and head there for lunch. We stop at a restaurant only because the proprietor seems to find us hilarious. We ask if we can have our lunch there and they’re more than happy for us to use their tables etc. We prepare our bacon and egg butties (oh yeah we also stopped at Lidl’s and thought we hadn’t had this treat in an age so blew our budget ) and there’s a table of older gentlemen and one of them buys us a beer. We’re just enjoying the last of our lunch when we spot some cyclists. Ben and Archie from England. They’ve been cycling since September, having just finished Uni, but Ben’s father is in the Army, serving at Army HQ so there’s a fair bit to chat about.
These guys have only just finished Uni but the number of places they’ve already travelled to is amazing – what the hell were we doing at that age? We all sit and have a few beers and then realise the day is drawing to a close (stupidly for us this means 4.30pm). It seems ridiculous but this only gives us 90 minutes to cycle off, find a suitable spot and set up camp. Sadly the village has no scope for camping; it’s sea, a narrow shingle beach, a road and houses along the road.
So off we go but it’s not long before Ben and Archie spot a side road and find a pleasant site next to the beach to set up.
Sunday 6th November
Krathio to Corinth
Distance: 78.33 km
Average: 14.22 kmh
Top Speed: 42.37 kmh
Total Distance: 10,205.89 km
When we get up this morning we’ve been joined by another tent and a Greek car. We never see the occupants of the tent. After a leisurely breakfast we say goodbye to Ben and Archie and we literally fly along the coast road (there’s definitely a tail wind).
After about 30 km we stop in Kaito at a bakery. We buy coffee and a meat pasty and Daz asks about the huge display of cakes and biscuits. The young man serving us is the genius behind all these creations and Daz’s interest produces a typical Greek speciality. It’s like an exceedingly stale bread roll but almost a biscuit texture with Ouzo inside.
It seems designed to suck all the moisture from our bodies but once we realise we should dip it in our coffee it’s far more palatable. We think the knack to getting to know the locals is to show an interest in what they’re up to and if anyone shows an interest in us, to stop and chat. Tomorrow we’ll try harder on this tactic. For Brits it feels invasive but in Greece people love that we’re stopping in their villages and cycling their country. We head off and our plan was to stop short of Corinth, but we’re here. We head to Ancient Corinth and look at the ruins
Corinth was one of the major cities of antiquity. It was made up of three parts; the acropolis on the hill (Acrocorinth), the city itself on a lower plateau, and its port (Lechaion) on the coast. All this was protected by a wall which ran for 20km (over 12 miles).
Until the 1800’s the city was covered up by development, with only the Temple of Apollo visible. The earthquake of 1858 destroyed nearly all the town, and excavations began in 1896 by the Americans. As with many sites of this nature, the Roman era produced far more remains than the ancient Greek.
Ancient Corinth was a very busy trading city, which led to its cosmopolitan character. It was known as “Wealthy Corinth”. The reason for its wealth was its location. It was able to control the only land access to the Peloponnese and so dominated the trade in both the Saronic gulf (to the east) and the gulf of Corinth (to the west).
We stop in the middle of the village to cook our lunch and then head into Corinth new town. We stop at a cafe for water and the young girl can’t believe we’ve cycled from England and survived. She says it’s a 24hour coffee shop so if we need anything at all, to pop back. She says it’s like a small village and nothing ever happens so it’s OK to camp on the beach. We find a beach bar closed for the season and decide to pitch on their covered decking.
We nip to the restaurant opposite primarily to use the toilets but then decide it’s about time we tried the Greek speciality along the coast, grilled sardines. Yummy!
Monday 7th November
Korintha to Pachi
Average: 10.57 kmh
Top Speed: 47.40 kmh
Total Distance: 10,254.90 km
Last night we were constantly woken by our catty companion who kept meowing and by the mossie that kept biting us, so not such a good night. But the beachfront is deserted as we sit and eat breakfast looking out to sea.
We head into the town centre and look at the harbour and then we spot a potential place for waxing.
What follows is one of the most painful waxing sessions I’ve ever had, I’m in so much pain I consider leaving or vomiting during the first 5 minutes. After an incredibly painful and unpleasant 40 minutes she’s done. It turns out her mother is a world champion body builder and in November she’ll go to London and judge in a body building competition; her husband is also a body builder. I can only hope they’re better at body building than she is at waxing. We head out of town and see the Isthmus canal. The Isthmus of Corinth connects the Peloponnese (Pelopónnisos) with mainland Greece. It is made up of heavily faulted limestone rising from the south in terraces to a bleak, windswept central plateau almost 300 feet (90 m) above sea level.
In ancient times ships were dragged over the isthmus in transit between the Saronikós and Corinthian gulfs, and in 67 ce the Roman emperor Nero began a canal through it. In 1893 a 3.9-mile (6.3-km) ship canal, the Corinth Canal, was opened that shortened the journey from the Adriatic Sea to Athens’ port, Piraeus, by more than 200 miles (320 km). To the south is the site of the Isthmian sanctuary at which the biennial Isthmian Games were celebrated in antiquity. The canal is very impressive, very deep and cut into limestone. There’s a bungy jumping platform from the bridge and they hurtle down into the depths of the channel. Sadly it’s closed! The coast road is dull with little to see although we stop and ‘help’ harvest some olives. The family have laid nets around the tree and use handrakes to pull the olives from the trees. It’s very effective but still time consuming. They share some beer with us after our labours.
All the villages are deserted but we stop at Ag Theodore for lunch. At last we’ve managed to get sme proper marzipan stollen, it may weigh a ton, but it’s scrummy!! A couple of hours of quite boring roads in the afternoon and we decide we’re done for the day. We decide to go into Pachi and from there we’ll be able to get 2 ferries into Athens tomorrow and avoid the main road.
In Pachi we stop at a cafe for water and because there’s no Internet in the cafe a customer shares his with us – how kind is that! Outside the village there’s a huge empty carpark but with a portacabin. We think we can camp by the portacabin but there’s a man and woman just locking up the portacabin. They’re Lydia and Nikolaus, employees of Pro Hellas. He’s a real live wire asking us all about our trip, telling us to camp next to the portacabin and giving us some top tips for visits in Crete.
The guy is just so friendly and helpful. They’re just driving away when he stops and gives us the portacabin key and tells us to sleep inside.
Tuesday 8th November
Pachi to Athens
Average: 10.05 kmh
Top Speed: 45.67 kmh
Total Distance: 10,305.25 km
We head off from Pachi to the local ferry port (it’s only about 8km). En route we spot an airfield and a skydiving sign.
We stop and chat to the security guards but they don’t have any details for the skydiving club so we phone the number on their portacabin. They only jump at the weekend but we had been planning to go to the aerodrome 100km north of Athens so Daz can get a few jumps in. This will be much easier for us and cheaper so if the weather is good we’ll be back at the weekend. We get the ferry to the island of Ampelakia. Then we cycle across the island to the ferry port at Palouki and get the ferry to Perama. Total cost €1.40 each.
At Perama we’re seduced by a fast food joint and have a huge burger each. Of course we’re completely stuffed and realise we should have just bought one to share. From Perama we cycle to Piraeus to ask about the Crete ferry. It’s pretty hectic on the roads especially around the port where we’re continually sucked into the one way system trying to get to the ferry office. But finally we park outside and it’s 38€ each for a single to Crete on the Sunday night sailing at 9pm. Luckily the bikes are free. We then have a little cycle tour around Piraeus.
Piraeus is the main port of Athens, the biggest one in Greece and one of the most important ports of the Mediterranean, a major shipping, industrial and transportation center of the country. City life focuses on the three parts of the port: the central one, the Zea marina and Mikrolimano.
Sightseeing in Piraeus:
The Central Port. Its ancient name was Kantharos and today is the center of the city life. From here you can embark on a journey to all the Aegean islands (apart from the Sporades) and Crete. You can stroll around to see not only the cargo ships but also the sea liners, as well as the arrivals and the departures of shipments and people from all over the world. In the Freatida area you can see the remaining parts of the ancient Piraeus Wall (on the coastal area).
Zea marina (Pasalimani)| This marina is the docking place for some of the most impressive yachts and cruisers. On the coast you can find many restaurants, taverns, bars and commercial stores to satisfy any shoppers’ needs.
After our look round we cycle to our Warmshowers host, Filippos. He’s also hosting a French family, Fabienne and Jean-Christophe and their 2 children. They started their trip in September and will be on the road for a year. They’re about to fly to Cyprus for 2 months then will head to Thailand. They have 2 tandems, one a Hase Pino, so the kids can ride easily with them. We have fish fingers for dinner, a weird coincidence as we were talking about them only a few days ago (childhood favourite foods!).