I never expected to go to Greece, on this trip or in the near future, it had never been high on my list of places to visit. But when we had to choose between another 2 weeks in Bulgaria or 3 days to the Greek boarder it was no contest! And it was one of the best decisions of the trip:)
We crossed into Greece and had an interesting first night, we decided to wildcamp and after searching for a hidden spot found one where we could pitch our tents. On the way we had passed what we thought was a garden centre, at 11.30pm that evening we found we were very wrong. It turned out to be a club which played the loudest music I've ever heard! Despite being nearly a km away it sounded like they had put the speakers right outside the tent! We got up at 6am the next morning (I say got up not woke up as that would imply we got slms sleep) and the music finally stopped at 6.30am. Of all the things to consider when wildcamping pitching up next to a club was not one I'd expected!
That morning we said a sas goodbye to our cycling buddy Nina, where as we were heading to Athens she was going on to Istanbul. It had been as great few weeks cycling with her and we were sad to see her go, but Greece helped by providing us with some beautiful views and mountain passes that morning. Coming down from the mountains was another matter, the road was incredibly steep and one particularly hairy switchback provided my scariest cycling moment of the trip so far! We were quite glad to be on flat ground again that afternoon.
It was a long day and we reached Nigrita quite late. After having no luck asking around about camping spots the owner of the local Tae Kwondo gym said that we could sleep in his gym! We spent the evening chatting to him, his friend Sylvie (who also let us shower in her apartment!) and her daughter Konstantina who wrote out some useful Greek words and the alphabet for us to learn.
Lou had been having trouble with her brakes on the downhill sections and after a scary moment going into Thessaloniki she put her bike in to be fixed, we spent the day relaxing by the beach:)
We also had the wonderful surprise of Nina coming back! She had decided to cycle to Athens instead of Istanbul and had pedalled an extra 140km to catch up with us. So we all left Thessaloniki together and headed south to Athens and the end of our European leg.
Cycling along the Greek coast was pretty awesome and we even passed the foothills of Mount Olympus. It fitted the meg ends perfectly with the top shrouded in cloud and a massive gorge at the entrance to the mountain range. That afternoon we spent at the beach swimming in the bluest sea I've ever seen! Starting to understand why people come to Greece!
The next few days to Athens weren't very interesting cycling wise, we came inland and it was mostly flat with a headwind and not much to look at. Although it was and constant battle with the maps to not end up on a motorway, Greece seems to be made up of motorways and dirt roads with nothing in between.
However we did meet some very kind people, one morning a man stopped his car to give us a bag of pistachios, a restaurant gave us a bottle of water each and a man gave us 3 bunches of grapes when we had a rest outside his house. All this kindness has been really touching and I am going to carry it forward in my life and try to pass it on:)
It was the day before we arrived in Athens that we met Illias and Sofia, a lovely Greek couple who took us in for a night. We had been asking in the village if there was somewhere we could camp when Illias drove up and said we could camp in his garden, we arrived and it was immediately clear they he hadn't told his wife! So we quickly had to explain that hadn't randomly turned up at her door but that her husband had invited us haha. Once that was settled Sofia quickly took care of us giving us coffee and sweet fruit. Before we knew it she was putting us to work in her garden picking beans and watering plants which we were more than happy to do, it was just hilarious how she bossed us about. That evening she cooked us a meal (about 90% of which was kale, more than I've had in life!) and even let us sleep in their spare room instead of the garden.
Nina was woken up in the morning by Sofia tickling her feet! We made our way towards Athens the next morning but only got 2km before Lou's brakes went again, there was no fixing them so, with Illias' help, Lou and her bike hitched a lift to the next town with a bike shop to get new brakes installed while Nina and I cycled to meet her there.
Once all bikes and brakes were in working order we made out way to Athens.
The road into the city wasn't and motorway but very much looked and felt like a motorway but as the only route in we had no choice but to take it. It was all rewarded when we got close to the center and could see the city and the acropolis spread out in front of us. We all put out favourite happy playlists on as we reached the centre of Athens and the end of the continent:)
Going into Athens was when it really hit me how far we had cycled and what we had accomplished, I was so proud of usfor getting this far, dealing with all the problems that come with cycling touring and not giving up. It's a pretty good feeling :)
We spent about a week in Athens being regular tourists and applying for our Chinese visas. And we booked a flight to Baku, Azerbaijan to start the next phase of the journey:)
Coming up: how to pack your bike for a flight, the charming Baku and the notorious Caspian Sea ferry!
Charlie x x
Lous blog: The moment we crossed the border into Greece we gave a whoop of joy and, I'm not kidding you, things were already better! The area around the border has got to be one of the most beautiful we cycled through. The long road sweeps down a hill into a wide valley surrounded by blue mountains on all sides. Rows and rows of sunflowers line the fields and sprinklers shoot out droplets which glisened in the evening sun.
We bravely decided to try wildcamping again and nervously looked around for a spot. We found a good one up a small behind some trees and had fun that evening making photos for our 2000mile/kilometer mark. We had just settled into our sleeping bags ready for bed when some music started nearby. Not to worry, we though, its midnight it won't last long.....it lasted until 6.30am. And got louder at 2am.
After little sleep we packed up and had a last cup of tea with Nina who was heading east to Istanbul while we went south to Thessaloniki. It was sad to see her go and we felt lonely as a 2 for the first time in weeks. We cycled through the beautiful valley and up a mountain beyond to traverse over ridges and mountain tops before coming steeply down the other side. Charlie's brakes have never been good on steep downhills but mine had never had a problem although today i was reluctant to trust them so took it really slowly. We saw a cyclist coming uphill and he stopped to ask us what we were doing, take a photo and give us a hug. I carried on downhill feeling like a celebrity and promptly fell off my bike.
In Serres we stopped for ice cream and to fix my wheel and got a message from Nina who had already reached the sea! It was incredibly hot in Greece and I was dying to jump in the sea!
That evening we reached Nigrita planning to wildcamp again but reluctant to do it after so many bad attempts. We asked in a cafe if there was anywhere safe to camp nearby and a guy overheard who offered us the courtyard of his tai-kwon-do studio! This was perfect, it was secure and convenient, phew! So we moved in and a lovely lady who lived in the flat above let us use her shower. We chatted into the night and had a laugh with het daughter too, I really enjoyed their company and particularly like when Sylvie said "you two are like my daughters, they are..."she thought for a moment, clicked her fingers and said "crazy!"
The next morning we thanked them and left for Thessaloniki. One of the reasons I was so excited about our detour to Greece was that a few friends from Juba were now working there and I was going to meet Joel in Thessaloniki!
The journey into Thessa was traumatic, we tool a cycle path across the mountains which turned out to be less path more muddy rocky track. It took us 4 hours to go 14km before we emerged on the other side and back onto tarmac. We stopped to buy fruit and were invited for watermelon by the stall owner. The rim of my back wheel had cracked and a passer by tool is to a bike shop to get it inspected. Thessaloniki is right by the sea and backs onto a mountain so the road in is quite steep and it was here that my nerves about my brakes came true. On a steep downhill with cars all around i felt a crack and my brakes no longer responded when i pulled the brakes. In the second it took me to realise this i had sped up,wheels spinning freely with no resistance. My stomach lurched and i scanned around for a way to stop. My feet were dragging on the floor and i kept pulling the brakes but to no affect, the weight of the panniers making me go even faster. I swerved to the other side of the road thinking i would have to hit a parked car but then I saw a side road and quickly swerved back across the traffic, no time to indicate, flew into the side road which was uphill and cruised to a halt. I walked my bike 15km from there into the city.
The next day Charlie and I took a boat to a beach for the day and in the evening I caught up with Joel and Paul. It was a great day and so good to see friends and chat about non-bike stuff! Thessaloniki was also the first place I really saw Greek ruins! My 3 years of Ancient History at uni came flooding back and i gawped at columns and engraved lettering on ancient stones around the town.
Earlier that day we had got a message from Nina saying she wanted to ckme to Athens instead and would we wait for her in Thessaloniki....it didn't even take us half a second to decide! YES! Nina was coming back and we were thrilled!
Reunited as a trio we set off the next day (with a new back wheel and repaired brakes) south for Athens doing a surprise 80km in the evening. The next day we found a campsite by the ocean and decided we would only do half a days ride and spend the rest with our toes in the waves. I spent the entire afternoon snoozing.
A Wheely Long Journey Blog
Charlie and Lou are twins from Cheshire, UK on a mission to cycle back to their childhood home in Hong Kong.