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Paracin, Serbia

June 10, 2019

Paracin, Serbia

Entered Serbia after saying goodbye to Macedonia by staying at a winery/hotel.  The Kokino winery is mostly a bulk producer.  The wines are all produced in very large stainless steel tanks. Most of the wine is sold to be bottled by others.  
Kokino produces chardonnays, pinot noirs and vranecs. 
The owner Milos and I toured the winery but mostly we talked wine and sampled from the tanks.  He discussed his problem of exporting to other countries.  As Macedonia is not part of the EU and he has very limited resources his prospects for much expansion are very limited.  Milos is selling his large tanks and converting to a higher level wine  trying to become a boutique hotel and winery.  If he can continue with the type of service and add food service beyond the excellent breakfast that they now serve, I think he has a opportunity.  
I did sample a bottle of his pinot with a pasta dish I prepared and it was very drinkable.  Not much complexity.  As a medium dry and a typical pinot light body along with a wonderful nose it was very identifiable as a pinot.  It was neat to park my  bike among the large tanks.  
The stay at the winery, including a full breakfast was  $16.  for a very nice, large brand new room.  The bottle of wine was $2.00.  Serbia is very inexpensive.  
Yesterday my host in Nis invited me to lunch.  Lunch here is a big deal.  We talked drank and ate for 4 ½ hours.  It was wonderful.  Lunch normally begins after 3 pm, I have no idea when dinner is served.

⋄ ⋄ ⋄

Paracin, Serbia

 Igor, is a 29 year old who with his brother are trying to become hoteliers.  They have 1 apartment so far.  When I checked in he helped port my panniers to the 5th floor and find a safe place for my bike with a café owner.  He then went to find 2 beers which we shared during our 2 hour talk about Nis (pronounce Neech)  It is so good to really learn about place from the natives. Hope to find the Danube tomorrow afternoon and begin the leg to Brussels.  Booked a room for 4 people (larger) for $14.00.  No breakfast however.   Camping is $22.  Weird?

My pizza, which I am abandoning you for, has a fried egg on top.  

–Bill H.

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Climbing again

June 3, 2019

Negatino, Macedonia, Greece

Just a short note on an interesting feeling.

For the first month of this tour I climbed almost everyday.  Up some pretty big mountains.  Grades above 14%.  For those who know the Ashland area, Green Springs climb averages around 6%.  I got used to getting up in the morning knowing the whole day was up or at the best level.  Not sure how it worked but I don’t remember many downs.  Of course there were, they just do not stick in one’s mind.

For the last 4 days the road presented itself as a rolling path.  Sometimes rolling to down and sometimes rolling to an up, but no big climbs.  I have riding through the plains of Greece and now Macedonia.  All the features including the winds.  Yesterday the wind blew in my face all day at around 15 gusting to 25 mph.

Back to the feeling.  After riding through the plains for 4 days today I face the Macedonian mountains.  It is interesting that I have a small feeling of trepidation. Can I make the climbs.  Will I be able to keep going?  How steep will it get?  Are my legs strong enough?  Silly, right?

This guy has climbed some of the toughest mountains in the world.  What is he worried about?  Yes, it is a crazy feeling, but it is the kind of thing that occurs while adventure traveling.  One only concerns their self with today.  Yesterday is gone and cannot be relied on. Tomorrow, well who the heck knows that word even mean?

So, be with me as I learn how to climb big mountains, again.

–Bill H.

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Thessaloniki

June 1, 2019

Thessaloniki, Greece

It has now been 6 weeks since leaving Ashland. Two weeks getting to and cycling in Arizona and now 4 weeks in Greece.  Still think another 2 or 3 days in Greece before North Macedonia or as the Greeks call it Skopje.  
On the Red bus tour yesterday the commentary often referred to this area of Greece as Macedonia.  That is why the other country is named North Macedonia. There is a long story here about how it is believed that Czechoslovakia took most of Macedonia from Greece which many Greeks like to share.  
As you know by now I seem to keep running into opportunities to meet and enjoy the locals.  As I was cresting a hill in the first, on the road rain there was a group of wheel chair bound elders, a large bus and a 2 vans parked on the side of the narrow road.  At first I thought the bus had broken down but soon learned they were touring a ruin.  
Pedaling into the ruin I was approached by a Dutchman who I learned was a Reformed minister. The group was being sponsored and guided by his congregation on a tour of Macedonia (Greece) Bisenteen ruins.  We talked for a while about the  Bisenteen history and it role in today’s church. He pointed out the site docent saying the docent would talk with me after the group departed.
I walked over the hill top, well maintained site reading the information posts.  Soon the docent and Freddy came over and Freddy asked what language I spoke.  English and maybe little Spanish.  Together they thought I could understand enough of their English to learn the site’s history. Asking me to follow they walked off at a fast pace.  
The site was at first a Bisenteen church, later a Ottoman moask and then a castle. The Blue moask in Istanbul was mentioned as a comparison.   After walking the entire site the docent and Freddy asked me to come to the office to sign the guest book.  We sat and began talking about my time in Greece and their lives.  Freddy is an expat German carpenter who has lived here since 1985.  I do wish I could remember the docent’s name, but no. He moved to the local village about 10 years. 

It has now been 6 weeks since leaving Ashland. Two weeks getting to and cycling in Arizona and now 4 weeks in Greece.  Still think another 2 or 3 days in Greece before North Macedonia or as the Greeks call it Skopje.  
On the Red bus tour yesterday the commentary often referred to this area of Greece as Macedonia.  That is why the other country is named North Macedonia. There is a long story here about how it is believed that Czechoslovakia took most of Macedonia from Greece which many Greeks like to share.  
As you know by now I seem to keep running into opportunities to meet and enjoy the locals.  As I was cresting a hill in the first, on the road rain there was a group of wheel chair bound elders, a large bus and a 2 vans parked on the side of the narrow road.  At first I thought the bus had broken down but soon learned they were touring a ruin.  
Pedaling into the ruin I was approached by a Dutchman who I learned was a Reformed minister. The group was being sponsored and guided by his congregation on a tour of Macedonia (Greece) Bisenteen ruins.  We talked for a while about the  Bisenteen history and it role in today’s church. He pointed out the site docent saying the docent would talk with me after the group departed.
I walked over the hill top, well maintained site reading the information posts.  Soon the docent and Freddy came over and Freddy asked what language I spoke.  English and maybe little Spanish.  Together they thought I could understand enough of their English to learn the site’s history. Asking me to follow they walked off at a fast pace.  
The site was at first a Bisenteen church, later a Ottoman moask and then a castle. The Blue moask in Istanbul was mentioned as a comparison.   After walking the entire site the docent and Freddy asked me to come to the office to sign the guest book.  We sat and began talking about my time in Greece and their lives.  Freddy is an expat German carpenter who has lived here since 1985.  I do wish I could remember the docent’s name, but no. He moved to the local village about 10 years. 

–Bill H.

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Larissa

May 26, 2019

Larissa, Greece

Rode around Mt Olympus today.  Well, not in a circle but around the area.  I can see its classic shape from my camp site.  Followed a path that has been used since before 1000bc.  Stopped at an archeological site that I had to myself.  Had to get around a locked gate and over a small creek, but worth the effort. It was a small manufacturing and hospitality facility.  The inn was first in use around 1100bc.  Imagine having a glass of wine after a hard day of travel in those times.  
As I was cycling along a highway safety truck kept passing in one direction or the other honking and waving each time.  I wondered if he knew my friend and fellow safety truck driver from yesterday.  
Sorry my dinner just arrived.  Be back later.

Ok, back from dinner.  
Yesterday, I rode the national highway (interstate) for a while.  I have ridden many interstates in the US.  I find them easy, comfortable and safe.  The scenery sometimes is lacking but riding the Greek plains there is a big benefit to the small roads.  The national takes a lot of the hills out of the ride.  Sometimes that is good thing.  
I was moving along at 20 to 25 kms per hour with ease.  The constant tail wind generated by the traffic and the fairly constant surface was very nice.  I saw a sign that reminded drivers that there were cameras along the roadway for their safety.  It sparked a feeling.  Something was happening.  Shortly after that I saw a safety truck going the other way and he honked as we passed.  Now I knew something was up.
I rode past and exit thinking I should get off this road.  I suspected it was not legal but had seen no signs making that statement.  I looked in my mirror to see the safety truck on the shoulder and waving at me.  I pulled over and walked back to the truck.   
“You know it is forbidden for you to ride this road.”  
“No, I saw no signs.”
“You must get off now!” he said but in a pleasant voice tone.
Where I asked.  The exit was a couple of miles back and there was the typical freeway fence.  
“I will help you.”  This should be interesting.
He got out and we walked up to a place where the fence was on a section of old pavement that was no longer used but connected to the old road. He looked it over and took out a pair of metal cutting pliers.  No, he really is not going to do this.  But, yes he began cutting the fence down.  Who would believe this was happening?
As he cut we talked about his job and life.  He liked what he did and said it was a very good job.  He saw his life as good and enjoyed his family and living in his town, Larissa.  The national highway center had been watching me on their monitors for a while and had dispatched him to handle the situation, he said.  So I guess I am a national star.  He continued to cut and then realized that he was cutting in the wrong place and we moved down a little.  Now he really could cut down the fence.
After about a half hour we pulled the fence mostly out of the way and then lifted my bike over the remaining part.  Now I was on one side and he the other.  He told me the road would take me all the way to Larassia.  Well, he was partly right.  There were interruptions in the road, but not hard to get around.
It is amazing that he thought that a 2 lane road with almost the same speeds as the national but no shoulders and limited sight distances was safer somehow.
OK, enough safety lecture.  What an amazing experience!  Think about a state trooper or a highway safety working doing anything like that in the US.  A truly Greek time.

–Bill H.

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County Change

May 24, 2019

Sikia, Greece

Day off at the beach.  Saying at the beach in Greece is like saying I am having a glass of wine in the Willamette valley.  Although this is a very nice beach.  It is also Germany.  At least most of the people here are German.

Took a day off because this is such a nice place and I realized after I got here that I must go back the same road for 25 kms to go north out of this country. Yes, I am getting within a week of being in Macedonia.  Must begin to think of all the things that will mean.

When I come into a new country of course the language change is important but there are many other items that I must learn.

Today I walked into the village to buy some bread, peanut butter, wine for dinner and find a pharmacy. I have not had much trouble with allergies in my life but the olive trees are in heavy flower, the ground is covered in yellow as is the bike and the tent.  Very bad for me.  I purchased something they recommended and it is already taking effect.  I must find such places in the next country.

Just buying bread can be interesting.  What time do the bakeries run out of fresh bread?  What stories carry what products.  One super market, loosely used term, had a complete room dedicated to Greek wines.   One had peanut butter the other did not.  One had packaged bread, one did not.  I cannot find knifes in hardware store but find camping gas for my stove in the super market.  These things I must know and many others.

I am not going to learn the language but to know certain words is important.  How to say thank you and you are welcome.  Hello, goodbye and to count.  Numbers are so important, everything you do involves them.   Of course Greek numbers are pretty familiar.  We do use them more than you think.  How many sides does a pentagon (Greek word) have?  Well 5 of course. So, what is five in Greek, pende. Eight, is pronounced och to.  Remember the octagon(another Greek word)?

How the roads are identified and which can I use?  The names on the maps, what must I learn about translating those to the ones on the signs?  Greece uses 3 iterations of the language.  Ancient, middle and modern. Many signs carry all 3 but the maps normally only 2.   In Greece this is something very difficult apply.  Sort of wish I had Gree fraternities in my college.  Just have to learn the pattern of the name.

Roads are something else that changes with each country.  Here the national (interstate) roads have nice service roads that run almost their entire length. Will that be true in Macedonia?   What are the foods like? What cultural taboos should I know?

You just cannot imagine how nice it is here. Bright blue skies, around 73 degrees, a light balmy breeze on a bay with white sand beaches framed by mountains.  Just could not help sharing that.  Back to the subject.

As to driving.  In every country I have ever cycled the people say “watch out for the drivers here, they are crazy.”  I take my time and watch just how they drive. What the real rules are.  Do they stop for traffic lights. Do the turn right from the left lane?  Do they respect each other?  The laws are often not the rules.  In Ashland drivers will stop when someone is waiting on the sidewalk. That is not the law but it is the rule.  To be safer I learn the rules and drive my bicycle under those rules.  Another thing that must be learned in Macedonia.

When you travel at the level I do you must know so much more.  Must be very aware of how business is conducted.  Greeks like to argue and negotiate.   Here one almost never pays the asked price without discussion.  My favorite word is “Really?” when quoted a price.

 So, much to learn again and again.  So much to look forward to.  Accepting the challenge and the resulting education is one of the reasons I travel.

–Bill H.

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No One of Consequence

May 22, 2019

Volos, Greece

It is still Greece.  A word hodgepodge.  Or maybe a happening hodgepodge.
Today was the longest distance day of this journey, around 75 kms.  Around because I had backtrack some as the Greek Air Force guard with a big gun would not let me use the best road, just because it ran across the runway.  What a little mind.  

Elena & Juan

The last 2 days I have spent with a wonderful German woman cyclist I met while saying goodbye to Yannis, the owner of the bicycle rental store where we repaired my bike.   Yannis and  I had a couple of meals with and a lot conversation together as you read earlier.  Elena has been cycling Greece for almost a month and is just a couple of weeks away from returning to Germany.  We did not cycle together but met 2 nights for an evening together.  Before you get some other impression her road boy friend Juan was also present.   

A little note about Juan.  He walked from Barcelona to Athens as the first part of his journey.  He is planning to walk from Athens to Sidney across the China, Russia, you get the idea.  
The first night we met at a closed camping ground.  The second at a thermal bath town.  The first I made the meal and she the salad.  We enjoyed them at a table and chairs I barrowed from a nearby site.  It is wonderful to have a table and chair for dinner.
As we identified the north star and the big dipper from the beach we toasted each other as 3 freak travelers while watching the true travelers.   The second we prepared a joint meal in the city park where the thermal waters flowed into the sea.  

After spending $8 for 2 nights camping and zero for a third I spent $30 for a hotel room in a spa hotel with thermal baths.  Last night I spent $30 also for a great small apartment right on the shore.  Tonight the same $30 for a small room in an ok hotel.  
Greece is not flat but today I did find a big valley of almost all flat roads.  The wind has been at my back for the entire time in Greece, but I have always been climbing.  Today the wind was in my face.  Not sure how to explain that.


Big city tonight.  Not my favorite thing.  Needed to get some gear from places only big cities have.  Did find a brewery.  As I sit talking with you I am drinking a “Strong Ale” from them.  I am also watching from my balcony, the sunset over the bay on a balmy evening.  
Did not meet a soul of any consequence for me today.

–Bill H.

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Failed

May 15, 2019

Chalkida, Euboea, Greece

I failed today. I failed big time. I just could not do it. It was too much.  

The day started well enough. A very nice, cool morning, good ride along the sea.         After such a wonderful time with the restaurant owners and their friends I was ready for a long day in the saddle. I had planned 127 kms with some serious climbing.        

I rode the coast road for about 20kms with a few ups and downs before a long climb began. It went up steeply about 3 miles. I could see a snow covered peak in the distance from the top. As I looked down into the valley ahead and at the map I could see that there was no paved road out from the very small village on the cove.

Normally I like to use Google Maps for bicycle route finding. In Greece Google maps will not find bicycle routes, only car and walking. I had been using walking but with some problems, like one way streets and narrow paths but nothing serious until today. I stood for a while at the top looking into the valley and then at the map knowing in my mind that I most likely was facing a dirt road out. A pickup stopped and asked if I needed help. I asked about the way out and they confirmed it was a dirt road climb. I have done these before and was not too worried.

“Go to the church and turn left. Stay to right as you come to forks.” OK, with additional information from others I knew it was only about 13 kms to the paved road. What I did not know was the angle of the climb. I started up.

After about a ¼ km the road became paved. The angle increased from about 10% to around 15%, then it got steep. I was in my lowest gear and working very hard. I looked ahead and saw that it was really going to go up. It was more than I had in me. I am not sure about how steep but it was beyond my capabilities.         Already at my maximum the road was soon to be dirt again and the angle increasing. I knew I could not do this for 10 miles.

I turned and headed back down the hill thinking I will climb back the way I came and go the longer way. As I began the big paved road climb I shifted down again to my lowest gear. The chain made its way to the big cog and continued into the rear wheel. All stopped. I knew better than to peddled and got off the bike. But it was too late. With all the force on the pedals the chain was completely locked onto the rear hub.

After about 30 mins I had the cassette loose and the chain off. Now I could assess the damage. The rear derailleur was bent as was the part of the frame that held it on. In addition other parts of the rear shifter were damaged. The last car I had seen was about an hour ago. This was a very remote and small village. The only solution was to fix what I could and ride out.

Then a pick up passed by and gestured to ask if I needed help. Yes, I did.         They stopped and in broken English said they would be back in 1 hour. In about 20 mins another pickup stopped and I recognized the driver as the man who had spoken with me at the top before I descended into his town. As it turned out it was “his” town.

Bill, is the police, town maintenance chief, water supplier and general everything. He asked what he could do. I needed a bench vice and some other tools. We loaded the bike on top of the wood with exposed nails that filled his pickup.         To his house we went. There we accomplished as much repair as possible.         I realized that sufficient repair to get over the mountain was not possible. Bill offered to take me to Chalkida where he knew there was a bike shop. I had come from Chalkida the day before. I hate U turns.

We loaded the bike into his car and then he suggested a cup of coffee. We talked a long time. Then Bill asked if I had eaten. No, so he asked his wife to prepare a meal. A nice meal of a cheese covered pasta, fried sardines, feta cheese blocks and a chick pea dish. All was very good served with a bread type I have never tasted.

We talked more with his wife and children.         He seemed to be at a crossroads in his life.         The town demanded a lot from him and provided his house. He felt a little trapped in this remote village. So many I meet seemed to have lost their planned life path. I think it is my way of life that brings out such feelings. I do wonder if it is not just a temporary longing generated by their perception of what the life of a traveler is.

After dinner we proceeded to Chalkida. Bill’s business partner in a shooting range owned a hotel and arranged a room for me in case it took time to order the parts.         As soon as possible we went to the shop, which was across the street from the hotel. They had the right part and would repair the bike within the hour!         As it was already after 6 Bill and I sat in the restaurant and talked for a while. He returned to his family and obligation and I went to retrieve my bike.

Tomorrow I will take a different route to go north.         I hope success is found on that route.

–Bill H.

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About an Injury

May 11th, 2019

Just a quick story about an injury.   Not really a big deal but none the less a different kind of method and outcome.
Leaving camp this morning the road was a 4 lane divided national highway.  I had a choice, ride against traffic for 50 meters or ride away from my direction for the day and then turn around at a crossover.  I started to ride against traffic and decided it was a bad idea and turned around.  As I did so a car came out of a driveway and forced me to turn onto the sidewalk.  I missed the turn a little and had to grab a metal post.  The top of the post was jagged and rusty.  It tore my had deeply for about an inch and a half. Not fun.
What do I do.  I put a band aide on it and rode to find a pharmacy. In a couple of blocks there on the right was what I wanted.  I entered and asked if they spoke English.  I explained what had occurred and the lady asked to see the damage.  It was not pretty, but she persevered.  A new style of bandage, antibiotics and a tetanus shot were prescribed.  Soon she had all that was needed. Asking her male assistant to administer the shot,  she put the bandage on the hand telling be to change it in 2 hours and apply the antibiotic cream.  He took me into a private room and administered the shot.  All this in about 15 mins and at a cost of less than $20.
In many countries pharmacies do much more than in the US.  Often more like a mini urgent care facility.

–Bill H.