March 23, 2008 GMT
Lost on an Island in Greece

16 to 23 Mar 08

Happy Easter everyone, we hope you caught up with the Easter Bunny like we did!

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Having survived big-city Greece in Athens, we were pleased to settle into the gentle routine of travelling the Peloponnese and southern coast. Our days have developed a rhythm of late starts, careful rides over treacherous mountain roads and lazy evenings wandering picturesque villages. Interspersed with this is the constant round of hunting and gathering that keeps us accommodated, fed and healthy on the road.

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Rooms for rent are cheaper and often more comfortable than hotels. Many, like this one in Githio, …

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…have wonderful outlooks. Many also have communal kitchen facilities that allow us to make a cuppa for breakfast.

Our route takes us down the west coast through Methana and Nafplio, across through the series of thin peninsulas and the towns of Monemvassia, Githio and Koroni. We then pushed north through Olympia and Kalavrita before crossing to the mainland at Patra and ending our week on the island of Lefkada in the Ionian Sea.

It has been the sort of relaxed week you would expect in a country where we know the way things work and how to make ourselves at home. We found many of the roads here to be both challenging and exhilarating. With rugged mountains plunging straight into the sea, you can ride the Great Ocean Road every day without rounding the same corner twice.

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The mountain road west of Sparta clambers up through dozens of impossible switchbacks. The Elephant’s hairpin technique is close to faultless now.

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In these mountains, we have spent hours in first, second and third gear. (There are 6 gears.). We use the classic technique of going in wide and deep and turning late and hard once we can see the exit. This gets us coming out of these corners on our side of the road which is the first trick to survival.

The country itself is rugged and beautiful without the breathtaking drama of the mountains in Morocco. The upside is the perfect scenes that greet us at every stop along the coast.

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One great feature of Greece is that we can usually find a place by the road to boil the billy and eat our cheese, bread and olives. We carry a small mountaineering stove and food for breakfast and lunch.

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The view from our room in Koroni. All this and the hot water and heating worked as well!

We visited Olympia 18 years ago with Sarah and Nick and we had no desire to see the archaeological site again. We did, however, have two pressing reasons to go there. Firstly, we needed to buy a postcard from Olympia for our friends Bob and Jenny Cook, whose daughter Sarah has just been selected for the Australian Olympic Rowing Team, and it didn’t seem right to buy one anywhere else but Olympia. The second reason was to see the new Museum of the Modern Olympics.

The post card was no problem. The Museum turned into a Greek joke. We had noted that there was industrial trouble in the air during our time in Athens (the riot police gathering near our hotel was a dead give-away) and we knew the garbage collectors were out because of the mountains of uncollected rubbish in every village. We then found out that the postal workers were on strike when we tried to buy a stamp for the Cook’s card. The penny finally dropped and we realised that the whole of the public service was up in arms when the museum was closed because of the strike action.

Our consolation for the trip to Olympia was to meet an American couple Oliver and Marjorie Fezler. Now in their 80s, Oliver and Marjorie had only sold their Honda Goldwing Aspencade last year. They had travelled all over North and South America on their bike. They gave us lots of encouragement and renewed our ambition to take the bike to Copper Canyon in Mexico before we die.

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Oliver and Marjorie loved the Ulysses sticker on the bike and the motto: “Grow Old Disgracefully”.

It took us more than an hour to find the right road out of Olympia and into the mountains to the north east. Some days can be like that. As it turned out, it was an hour we would have appreciated later in the day. The 250km run to Kalavrita took us all day on the tortured mountain roads. Apart from our usual meal and travel breaks, we also took an hour out of the trip to visit the limestone caves at Limnon.

Jo was very keen to see these as they are reputed to be some of the best in the world, made special by a series of cascading lakes within the caves. Unfortunately, the guy who turns on the water for the lakes was also on strike and the caves were mostly dry. The guide claimed that the lake-less condition of the caves was due to poor snow during the winter, but we know industrial action when we see it.

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Now, where is the bloke who turns on the water?

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The village of Kalavrita is a ski resort. This makes it high, cold and expensive, all good reasons not to take a bike there. To add to the stupidity, we spent an hour freezing on a park bench next to an expensive hotel to use some free WiFi and get some emails done.

At Kalavrita our spring weather deserted us.

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The ride over the mountains to Patra was wet and slow. But by the time we were on the mainland and heading up the Ionian Coast, the skies were clear and we were stripping off excess gear.

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Ionian Coast near Mitikas

We first heard of the island of Lefkada from Steve and Sandy on our trip over from Brindisi. They were looking for a permanent mooring for Steve’s yacht that is warmer and cheaper than their UK base. We arrived at Lefkada to find that many others had the same idea.

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Hundreds of yachts are laid up for winter near the town of Lefkada, while…

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…many others fill up the marinas.

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The island of Lefkada had a number of small natural harbours like this one at Sivota. It was easy to see why the yachties love the place.

We finished our week having a few days at the town of Nidri where we had another room with a view. This gave us a chance to catch up on some make and mend and wash our riding suits. Since we had been wearing them for more than six months, they were at a point where even the owners could not stand to be around them. Imagine that!

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A room with a view at Nidri.

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Time for a scrub for the riding suits.

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Our stop over has also been a chance to do some bike cleaning and repairs, and to carry out a few of the maintenance tasks that keep us running. Tomorrow we head north along the west coast before turning east and heading for the border with Bulgaria and another escape from the financial tyranny of the Euro-zone.

Posted by Mike Hannan at March 23, 2008 06:15 PM GMT
 
 

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