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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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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.

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May 14, 2019

The beach!

A wonderful little non tourist beach.  Most of the businesses are still closed from the winter.  I am mostly alone in the campground.  I found one restaurant open last evening of the many here.  But what a find!

I walked down the shore line road to find this open air, patio style bar and eatery.  When I entered there were no other customers, just the staff setting up and arranging things.  I sat down and waited.  They appeared not to see me, although I knew they did.  Finally a woman came over and asked if I was going to just drink or if I might have something to eat.  A strange way to open the conversation.  She continued not giving me a chance to answer.  Maybe a small plate of something to eat with my beer.  I had not yet ordered a beer.  She continued on talking offering options but not stopping to give me the opportunity to choose.  Finally she stopped and just looked at me.  I looked back and said nothing.  I could see this was a game of sorts.

After a while she named some beers and walked off.  She reappeared a little later with a plate of food and a beer.  The food as you can see was a topess type of plate.  I could not tell for sure what most of it was.  I did recognize the spinach with feta cheese, but others were new to me.  As it turned out the white things were chicken in a  cream and onion sauce and a meat ball.  Still not sure what type of meat.

As I ate, yes for those that know I do not eat chicken I did eat it,  I began watching a man building a driftwood sculpture.  He was very good at seeing what should be placed where and when.  I looked around the room and saw many, many uses of driftwood.   Some amazing pieces just placed here and there and others assembled in various  ways.  I walked over to watch more closely and asked if he spoke English.  This is the standard opening for all my conversations in Greece.  He did not or maybe a little. 

I had been watching for a while when who I thought was the bar tender asked me where I was from.  Then he asked why I was here on this a local’s beach in off season. Soon we were moving to the music that he was playing from his lap top over the bar’s speaker system and in a deep conversation.  We were joined by the waitress and the cook.  They were interested in how I came to be in this place.

I discovered the he was not the bar tender and she was not the waitress.  He, Dimitris was the real sculpturer and she the owner.  Although she described herself as the wife of the owner.  When I told them I had bicycled here the interest grew and the owner got on the phone telling her husband to come to the bar.  I was asked where I was going and when I said Norkapp the interest excelerated.  Turns out Norkapp is a big goal of Greek motorcyclists of which she and her husband are.  They have this goal, as she said.

Now more people arrived and it was time for me to go as I wanted to be on the road a little early in the morning.  I had a 80 kms day planned through some small mountains on the way to Delphi.  But no, I could not leave until the husband arrived.  He did very shortly and we talked a little.  Saying I must go he invited me to breakfast in the morning at 10 so we could talk a little more.  That would too late for me to leave so I decided to stay another day.

Breakfast was excellent!  Not for the food, but the company.  Reina and Tasos, the wife and husband both came along with the apprentice sculpturer and several others.  The conversation was a mix of Greek, English, pleasure and business. 

I had my first cappuccino, along with a toasted ham, tomato and cheese sandwich and a loquat.  What is a loquat?  Sort of like a smaller cumquat but different tasting.  Helpful, right?  You can look it up.  

I had a few errands to run and excused myself but not before Tasos gave the name and address of a friend in a town I was going to pass through.  He told me to please stop and meet his friend.  I will if possible.

Tonight I will stop by the bar for a little while.  Tomorrow I must get moving early.

Meeting others is such a large part of travel for me.   

–Bill H.

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Cheese and a Mistake

May 10

Nea Marki

Big cities are always a challenge to enter or leave and Athens did not find itself to be an exception.  In addition to the traffic, learning how they drive and that 2 wheeled vehicles pay little attention to traffic control devices like traffic lights there were the hills.  Just little ones, like a ½ mile and gentle like 13 to 15%.  But the good thing was there were not many like 20 or 30 or maybe more, I lost track.  Just up and up and up. 

Down, you ask?  Not that I found, just up.

How can that be, you ask?  Why do you have so many questions?

At the end there was one down.  It went on and on.  Not a good hill as the road was in very serious need of repair, had many intersections, and many twists and turns. 

Complain, complain that’s all you do.  First about the ups and then the downs. Don’t you like cycling? 

Ok, actually I did enjoy the leaving of Athens on a bike.  It gave me confidence that I was getting strong again and that hills were not going to be a problem.  Also that I could still find my way around.  Good things, but if there is no conflict there is no story.  So, if I have to suffer so do you.

Last night I stopped at the local cheese and wine store that also had fresh fruit and some other small store items.  I asked the ladies to help me prepare a small meal of cheese, meat, bread and wine for my last meal in Athena.  They took over, running around the store selecting this and that.  Cutting cheeses and meats, picking the right bread but when came to the wine the little one took me by the hand and pulled me to the wine rack.  She had no idea which wine.  I told her a dry red Greek would do fine.  After much discussion we came to an agreement.  She insisted that I stop at the store in the morning before leaving Athena to tell her how I liked the wine. 

–Bill H.

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Athens (Still)

May 8th 2019

More Flight

The gentleman sitting next to me on the Phoenix to Frankford had a GoPro and another camera out and was filming when I sat down.  Wow, I will bet his friends and family never ask him about his trip, I thought.  Turns out he runs a blog on air travel.  Not about the hotels, taxis or any other part, just the airline.  Apparently he is well know by airline crews as we received great service from the moment we sat down until we left the plane.  We were in the back of business class but were always served first.  When we were asked which main course we wanted filet, vegetarian or fish they neglected to ask which of the 3 starters we wanted.  They did not ask because they gave us all three.  Our glasses were never empty and our needs were anticipated. 

It was interesting watching him film the food, the personale, the seats, which were great. They fully reclined and were very comfortable in every position. I slept very well, unlike other long flights. He continued to film and record comments on all the features of the flight.  He told me he would send me the video when it was released.  Hope he does.

I only had an hour layover scheduled in Frankfort, which I knew was too short.  We left Phoenix about 10 mins late and arrived in Frankfort about 35 mins late.  Then I had to go through immigration.  Never even got the gate for my Athens flight before beginning my search for Condor customer service.  Frankford is a very large airport and it took a while.  When I arrived they had my name on a list for the next Lufthansa flight to Athens leaving in 2 1/5 hours.  Very good service as I have always experienced with Condor.   I have never, hard word to use here, dealt with a Condor representative without seeing them smile and show real joy at doing their job.

As I write this I am drinking typical Greek coffee that I made this morning.  I will not make it tomorrow morning, that is certain. 

The flight to Athens was on time and only a couple of hours in length.  The flight was made even shorter by a father and adult son who were returning from a trade show.  They are owners of a package manufacturing company that is 3 generations old.  Very interesting talking with them. I arrived to find my bike in great condition and took a limousine for the long drive to the city center where I am staying.  It was after all about 2 am. 

A little note on getting into my apartment.  The owner sent me a link to a web page with 2 grey buttons on it.  I hit the top button on my phone screen and it opened the lobby door.  When I got to my apartment door the second screen button opened the apartment door.  After I used them the went away so I had to use the remote keys that were in the apartment there after.  Pretty neat.    

Took a 7 or so mile orientation walk around Athens, doing a little shopping for supplies, getting to know my neighborhood, acquiring a sim card for my phone and generally relaxing.  Tomorrow I will take an Athens tour, contact a couple of cyclists I know here and get a general idea of how to get out of the city by bike.   

The road is calling.

— Bill H.

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Athens, Almost…

May 8th 2019


A long flight,  just about 24 hours.  Aren’t they so much fun.  Who wouldn’t want to have such a day?  It was interesting however. Let’s start with the middle.

Dinner was served.  Ok, at least that was the middle of the time spent getting to Frankfurt.

After a nice lunch with John Burt he dropped me at Phoenix International.  Leaving me at the curb with my bike and bags to deal with Condor Airlines, as he should have.  He did mention once that he might park the car and come in to listen and watch me negotiate their accepting of the unboxed, fully loaded bike.  But in the end he did not want to deal with rush hour traffic.  I was going to charge him for the show anyway.

The counter was closed and would not open for another hour or so.  Off to roam around the airport.  Nothing like pushing a touring bike around an airport.  Many are interested and want to talk.  A flight attendant stopped to compliment the fully matching set up and my clothes that she said demonstrated a professional traveler.  A big boast to my ego.

At 4:30 back to the check-in.  I was now 3rd in line and still the counter was not open.  A representative came over and asked about the bike.  Was this my only baggage, nothing else to check in?   Had I flown with Condor  before with a  bike?  Ok and she moved on.  The staff arrived and a man lowered the stantion ribbon and  told us to go to the scales to weight our baggage.  As I wheeled the bike forward he asked if I had any other baggage.  No, and he told me to go to the counter, weighing was not required at this time.   OK, one big hurdle passed.  Condor had told me that I was limited to 35 kilos, just over 70 pounds.  My bike with all the gear is around 45 kilos.  Could have been an expensive experience.

As the agent was processing my ticket and passport a supervisor approached and asked why I had not boxed the bike.  I said I had spoken with Condor baggage and they told me, “It was recommended that I package the bike but not required.  She said she would check that information and be back.  Meanwhile the check in process continued.  I asked about an upgrade to business class.  Yes, they could do that for $325.  The bike charge was going to be about $175 and if when the supervisor returned and asked to weigh the bike it would be another $150 most likely.  On Condor when flying business class bikes are free and the allowed weigh goes to  50 kilos.  I quickly agreed to upgrade as I had also gotten a very good price on the basic ticket, although I did not know then just how good.

The supervisor returned saying ok but I had to sign a release of airline responsibility.  Bike accepted, upgrade done, off I walked with my handlebar bag and helmet in hand to the business class lounge to while away the 2 plus hours with great service, free food and drink.  There I found out that a one way business class ticket to Frankford was about $1100.  In all I had paid just under  $900 with the bike!   By the way they never asked me to sign the waiver.

Frankfort, next.

–Bill H.