Wednesday 31 October 2012

Cycling into Athens from Corinth and the Peloponnese

View 2xtandem - The Route So Far in a larger map

Distance cycled from Bridgwater, Somerset, England to Athens, Greece: 5,226 km
Time taken: Nearly six months, but time spent relaxing on the beach in Croatia and on Corfu
Number of punctures: Eight, all in the first few weeks before we upgraded the tyres to Schwalbe Marathon Dureme Tandem
Worst city approaches for cycling: Venice
Favourite cycling destinations: Greece (Peloponnese), France
State of backsides on arrival in Athens: Mike 9 (out of 10), Judy 7.

We hope the following will be of interest to other cyclists contemplating cycling into Athens from Corinth and the Peloponnese.

By Judy the Stoker/Navigator
We approached the ride from Corinth with trepidation, after reading accounts from one or two cyclists online who said it was dangerous and difficult with the traffic. With that in mind, we decided to break the journey so we could arrive in Athens late morning/early afternoon to avoid the worst of the traffic. We rode in on a Thursday, the 25 October 2012. In the event, we had no problems.

Judy standing on the old bridge across the Corinth Canal.
When ships want to get through, the bridge is lowered
beneath the water, rather than raised.
Here’s how the two days unfolded. We crossed the Corinth Canal at the bridge just north of Isthmia, on the Old National Road which hugs the coast for most of the way to Athens. The key phrase here is once crossing the bridge “go straight” as someone told us, through the towns of Agil Theodori, Kineta and Nea Peramos. Then turn right (hard right) as you approach the shipyards before Elefsina. You can’t miss the shipyards, they are a giant blot on the landscape but possibly quite interesting if you are into ships and engineering. The right turn goes downhill towards the yards.

All the way to this point the road was quiet during our ride – we could even take a pee on the side of the road without worrying about vehicles coming along. From the shipyards, the road takes you to Elefsina, where we stopped for the night at the Hotel Melissa (2 star, they have cheaper rooms in the old wing).

The old road is sandwiched between the motorway and the sea.
From Elefsina it’s around 25 km to the centre of Athens but the road changes from the standard 2-lane variety to what is at times, a six lane highway with a median strip. Part of this road has a shoulder, part doesn’t. The traffic moved fast, but we found enough room to keep out of trouble. It probably helped that we both wore hi-viz vests and flew a large flag off the back of the tandem. If you have a mirror, you may spot the truck’s wing mirror before it clips your ear. We also wore helmets.
On much of the Peloponnese and on the approaches to Athens, the number "7" or "G7" has been painted on walls.
It refers to Gate 7, and is a reference to the gate used by the Piraeus football team. They must have an awful lot of fans. 
.The good news is that it’s possible to turn off this busy highway about 8 km short of Athens centre.
Look out for a signposted monastery and a road leading off to the right as you cycle uphill. The road is called Iera Odos. Once onto it, it quickly has a dogleg and continues uphill for a short spell before you begin a long, steady descent into Athens. Iera Odos is a main suburban road with a fair bit of traffic but is pretty easy to negotiate.

We turned right off Iera Odos into Megalou Alexandrou which leads into Karaiskaki Square, where our hotel (the Katerina) was located.
To sum up: A pleasant cycle to Elefsina on the Old Highway which is sandwiched between the motorway and the sea. Good views in places, a bit grotty elsewhere. A bit hairy for about 12 km  between Elefsina and the Iera Odos turnoff, about half that stretch had a shoulder.

After that, plain cycling.
Stoker and Captain safely in Athens

Friday 26 October 2012

Hi - Can You Hear Me?

View The Theatre at Epidaurus in a larger map                    
The temptation was too great, too hard to resist – so I didn’t. I took centre stage and looked up at the 14,000 seats in tiers towards the sky, and I addressed them. In my hand was Judy’s Kindle – opened on a page from Somerset Maugham.

This Greek couple was putting on a
great performance. She was in full
flight, he was whacking his head in
frustration. We couldn't work out what
was going on, but either he didn't like the
work she'd chosen to recite or he simply
felt she was making an exhibition of herself.
Either way, she carried on until she was done.

Boys from St Pauls College, London,
sit up for a group photo.
“The Pacific is inconstant and uncertain like the soul of man …. “and I droned on for a couple of pages.
 When I’d finally finished, four people clapped. Judy was one of them. The rest of the 14,000 seats were empty.

That evening we camped at Camping Bekas,
Ancient Epidauros. There was hardly anyone
there and we put up the tent close to the
water's edge.

The Theatre of Epidaurus - 4th Century BC

But I didn’t care. Here we were at one of the most spectacular sights in Greece, the Theatre of Epidaurus which was built around the 4th century BC. It’s so well preserved that it’s still used for performances today – by professional artists as well as by tourists like ourselves.

The story goes that the acoustics are so good, that a coin dropped on the stage can be heard by those sitting in the very top row. After my rendition, a group of pupils from St Pauls College in London arrived, and one of them tried it. We sat and watched, we saw him open his hand but we couldn’t hear the coin hit the ground. But a few minutes later we did hear one of his school chums give a spirited version of Lewis Carroll’s Jabberwocky,

One, two! One, two! and through and through
The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
He went galumphing back

Now this was a young man with an acting career ahead of him. He sliced the air with his imaginary vorpal blade and projected that voice – so much so that up on the back row we could hear him quite clearly. No need for microphones and amplifiers 2,400 years ago.

For many years experts have tried to understand why the acoustics are so good at Epidaurus and now they think they have the answer. They believe the limestone seats suppress the low frequencies of the background noise from audiences and reflect the high frequencies from the actors and musicians.

Whatever the reason, the Jabberwocky performance drew applause from the pupil’s schoolmates and us, and helped round off what was to be a perfect day.

We’d cycled to Epidaurus from Nauplion – a steady, uphill climb. On the way we stopped for lunch at Ligourio where a man aged about 30 began the usual questioning. “I love New Zealand”, he said early on –visibly excited to meet a couple of Kiwis.

“Why?” I asked a little tersely. Judy had just told me the GPS wasn’t working and I was worried that perhaps the previous night I’d deleted our entire map of Europe in my efforts to find a map of Thailand.

“You have so many famous New Zealanders,” he said, and stopped. “The Maori” I suggested, and Judy offered Sir Edmund Hillary. “Dr Kerry Spackman”, the man said and we both looked at each other blankly. “He wrote a self-help book called ‘The Ant and the Ferrari’”.

We continued talking and eventually our new friend – John was his name – said reading Spackman’s book had saved his life. There was clearly more going on here than we were aware of.

We finished our lunch and resumed pedalling in the direction of Epidaurus, only to find John was in his car and providing an escort, so we didn’t miss the turnoff. When we arrived, he arranged for one of the staff to guard our bike while we toured the site. They couldn’t have been more kind, and once again our kiwiness was proving a valuable asset.

Afterwards, we swept downhill the 10 km to the coast where we found an open campsite (most have closed now for the winter), and pitched the tent almost on the water’s edge. The sun sank over the hills behind us and we opened the wine. I played with the GPS and suddenly, there was our map of Europe. What could be better.

The site at Epidauros is famous for the
theatre but there's much more, all part of the
sanctuary of  the Healing God Asclepius.
This is the stadium.

View from campsite.

Wednesday 24 October 2012

The Peloponnese, Greece

 Apologies for this post. Computer/me/website seem to have had a meltdown. Please scroll down where there are gaps. Afraid we can't seem to get captions onto the pictures, but we do have a MAP!
Distance travelled: 5,141 km
Maximum speed: 63.2 kph
Highest climb in one day: 1,174 metres
Worst matches: Found in Greece, won't ignite, when they do they flare up and go out immediately.

Judy Yeoman

Mike Brockie

View CYCLING THE PELOPONNESE in a larger map

Rachel's Bakery in Koroni. Edward Enfield bought
a snack here during his tour and we did the same, but

we were sad to learn that Rachel died a few months ago.
Ok, so here are some words to toy with – ones that have sprung to our minds as we’ve loosely circumnavigated the Peloponnese, Greece, on our tandem - switchback roads, swooping downhills, olive trees to the water, welcoming locals, pretty beaches, gorgeous churches, ancient sites, spaghetti western countryside filled with gorges and orange bluffs missing only John Wayne and a horde of Red Indians. And then there’s the rubbish (as we’ve mentioned before) and the dogs. Both are everywhere, but the latter are almost always restrained. Loud and noisy, they can startle, but cyclists are seldom at risk here.

We’ve spent almost four weeks here, covering the best part of 700 km and it’s probably been the most enjoyable part of our trip since setting out from England six months ago. 




Our first tower house. They were built by feuding families
in the Mani - the middle finger of land jutting southwards in
the Peloponnese. They were designed to be easily defended
and the men stayed at home to spy on their neighbours, engage
in battles with them etc. The women were sent out to work in the
fields. Today some of the tower houses are being restored, and new homes
are being built along similar lines. Hopefully the feuding has

But the descent was magnificent – first to the little town of Kosmas where we sat shivering in the mountain air as we cupped our hands around our coffees in an effort to warm ourselves. We added extra layers of clothes and set off again – plummeting downhill as fast as we dared, the two of us acting in unison as we swung through the bends and halted occasionally to survey that spaghetti western countryside and let the brakes cool.
 We reached Leonidio in the late afternoon and spent some time finding a bed for the night – the only place open was the Hotel Costa Rina which according to Judy, looked like something from the eastern bloc, circa 1970.  At a fast food place we ate a meal described by the waitress as “vari-iss”. That was a new one on us and we quizzed her – sausage, kebab, pita, salad etc. It was only after we’d ordered that Judy noticed the menu in English on the wall – included was a dish called “various”. As we ate, a thunderstorm and lightning raged outside, but it was over by the time we came to walk back to our hotel in the dark. Just another day in fantastic cycling country.

As a guidebook we’ve used “Greece on My Wheels” by Edward Enfield (it’s available on Kindle for cyclists travelling light). It was published many years ago, but is still relevant with lots of information about the places he visited and the history of the region.

For other cyclists contemplating the Peloponnese – do it but be prepared for plenty of hills. The gradients generally aren’t too bad, but climbs of 3-400 metres crop up regularly. If travelling in the same month as us (October) be aware that many campgrounds will be in the process of closing – the middle of the month seems to be a popular time to shut up shop. However, there are plenty of rooms to let starting from E25 and hotels from about E40. Standards fluctuate so it’s worth taking the time to look around and be prepared to bargain. The weather this October has been superb – lots of sun with day time temps in the high 20s and low 30s. The occasional thunderstorm has been shortlived. With the summer season over, traffic on the roads has been mostly light and we’ve felt pretty safe despite some appalling driving.

Tomorrow we cross the Corinth Canal and take what’s called the Old National Road to Athens.

Interior of the Byzantine Church of Ag Theodoroi in Kambos.
The frescoes are from the 18th century - a bit mouldy and water
damaged. Some of them depict martydoms with some pretty
graphic examples of torture. All tucked into a somewhat nondescript
exterior. We were made aware of the church by the waitress in the town's
little coffee shop - proud of Kambos's history and delighted to talk
about it.

Tuesday 2 October 2012

Sliding Downhill in Greece

Current Location: Olympia, Greece
Distance Travelled: 4,629 km
Bottoms' Status: Judy 6.5 out of 10 (10 is bliss) Mike 7.0. We have both had too much time off the bike.
State of the Chains: Replaced once (in Germany), almost due again.
Best cheese of the trip: Feta here in Greece.
Best dessert of the trip: Baklava here in Greece.
Current Favourite Drink: Mike Ouzo with ice. Judy ice-cold beer. 


Click, click, rattle, click. The worry beads are being fingered across Greece. It happened when we stopped for coffee today, and it happened last night as we watched TV in the bar at our campground.  Gordon Ramsey was sorting out someone’s restaurant in English, with Greek subtitles. We were quite enjoying it, but as news time came round the barman switched channels, the Greek locals started watching and the beads resumed clicking.

Within seconds Angela Merkel was on screen looking grim-faced and scolding, the German headmistress whose patience with Greece is running out. There were a lot of other faces we didn’t recognise and the story was all Greek to us, but there was little doubting the message – it was more of the same - Greece has to take its medicine if it wants the next installment of bailout funds.
We came across this solar panel farm
out in the middle of nowhere. There's been plenty of
sunshine lately and we've been cycling in temperatures
reaching the mid-30s. 
 As cyclists we’re not immune to Greece’s troubles. A few days ago, the country’s two biggest unions encouraged their members to strike and there was no guarantee our ferry would operate. We switched the day of our trip from Corfu to Patras, on the Peloponnese (peninsula) to avoid being stranded overnight with nowhere to sleep. One of the museums here in Olympia, birthplace of the modern Olympics, has been closed as a cost saving measure.

Olympia - early morning
We’re lucky, as tourists we can breeze in and out of the country but we can’t help feeling sorry for Greece. It’s people are warm and welcoming, but nearly one in four of them is unemployed. They are not saying much to us about the country’s economic troubles – just an acknowledgement now and again and the rattle of those worry beads.
Tourists running the length of the
stadium at Olympia
Crowds file through the tunnel into the stadium, just as
the competitors of old once did.
Our route now is through the Peloponnese to Athens, from where we hope to fly to Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia – the end of leg one of our bike ride and the start of leg two.

For this part of our ride, we have a valuable guide in a man called Edward Enfield, the father of the British comedian Harry Enfield. At the age of 69, Enfield snr flew to Athens and undertook a month long ride around the Peloponnese. His book, Greece on My Wheels, is by far the best source of information we’ve found for anyone silly enough to ride a bike here – it’s mountainous and this year at least, the temperatures are way up in the mid-30s. We have decided to follow his route, not slavishly, but where we can in the time available.

All that remains of the Temple of Zeus, Olympia.
One of its 34 Doric columns was re-erected to
celebrate the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens.
So far it has led us to a Frankish castle at Kastro – unfortunately the castle was closed (possibly another cost saving measure)  but we walked around the outside of it and chatted to two fire spotters who were stationed high up on the hill looking for sudden blazes in the continuing dry weather.

On Enfield snr’s recommendation we pedalled the 70 km to Olympia where today we visited the archaeological site and walked through the tunnel used by the athletes to reach the stadium when the games started. We didn’t run the length of the stadium (it was already too hot for us at 10 am) but others did.
On the left is Pelops, who had the Peloponnese named
after him. On the right is the woman he won as a bride,
after loosening his opponent's chariot wheels in a crucial race.

A cup that once belonged to
the sculptor Phidias. On the
bottom is inscribed "I belong
to Phidias".He created the
statue of Zeus - considered
one of the Seven Wonders
of the Ancient World.

Enfield’s journey took him south and eventually to the Mani – an area of particularly rugged beauty. It’s where we hope to go too.