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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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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.