December 20, 2006 GMT
Crete, 20 Dec 2006

Here we are in Crete, finally on the road!

After a quick-ish ride down the back roads of France, Italy and Switzerland a ferry has taken us to Greece where the pace has slowed to the way it should be, the sun is shining like it should and all is well with the world.

We finally set off at the end of November. Four days took us through France. Living so close to the cross chanel ferry we usually make several visits a year so our love of the country is proven and there's no real need to justify a highlight being a particularly good Doner Kebab in Gien in the Loire Valley. What marked this kebab apart from others was that eating it one could have really sworn that it was a bacon doner. But surely not in a Turkish kebab shop surrounded by the Muslim youth of Gien? Perhaps there was a secret code of pork eaters that we had unwittingly uttered... Surrupticiously checking with the chef what we had just eaten revealed that it was a clever combination of goose and veal. Veal would not normally be on the menu for me but for this one time it was the tastiest thing on earth. The popularity of a muslim kebab joint serving up fake bacon doners as well as the existance of non-alcoholic beer and vegetarian sausages brings up plenty of interesting questions about human nature, but these can be explored another time....

France was also noted by a bone-chilling coldness that could only be cured by hot baths and hearty food. Switzerland continued in the same manner apart from a couple of nights in Andermatt that were marked by the majesty of the mountain scenery, quaintness of the mountain villages and a day of glorious sunshine to go out hiking in. The Swiss road system necessitates the occasional foray onto motorway, best avoided on a bike that cruises at 50mph and with half the truckers of Eastern Europe bearing down on you through tunnels that take 20 minutes to get through. With this experience fresh in memory we decided to exit Andermatt across the old passes. First the Oberalp and then the Splugel to Italy. The plan went well until halfway up the Splugel we encountered the first snows of the season. It settled at a remarkable rate and by the time we had managed to turn the lumbering bike around on the narrow road it was already an inch deep. Thankfully we lost altitude quickly and the snow retreated to be replaced by a miserable cold drizzle that accompanied us for the rest of Switzerland and right across Italy.

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At the top of the Oberalp Pass

Italy, what can we say. Motorways lined by grim factories. Rain Cold. Fog. A glimmer of light provided by a cheap bed in a swanky hotel and a cheap and tasty take-away pizza. The arrival in Venice confirmed that hotels there are indeed overpriced. Folks at home had said that it would be cold and wet in December and it was. A lucky break came with the discovery that the ferry to Greece left in 2 hours so without getting off the bike save to ask hotel keepers how much it cost to stay in their miserable hovels we left.

What glory to arrive in Greece. Sunshine and heat. Direct boats to Turkey being lacking we decided to Island hop to Rhodes where apparently a boat crosses the line between the ancient enemies. Within minutes of arriving at the port in Patras we had come to the conclusion that Greece is A Good Place. Two weeks later this conclusion stands. Fantastic roads and scenery. Everything is deserted off-season and gives us the impression of having discovered somewhere wonderful all by ourselves. We've traversed quite stunning mountain passes, ridden coast roads winding their way along the bottoms of mountains and overlooking sparkling blue waters and ridden dirt roads free of traffic. Costs have been kept down with liberal use of the camping stove and being introduced to some great free-camping spots by a German cyclist we met, Stefan on a winter tour of Greece and demonstrating scary levels of fitness.

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Free-camp on Elefonisi beach in Crete

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The dirt road going up out of Elefonisi, just before a puncture...

From now it should be Christmas in Crete, New Year in Rhodes and then on to Turkey.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all.

Posted by Richard Miller at 05:08 PM GMT
 


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