‘Welcome to Hellas’
I was looking forward to Greece, not for the Feta (I’d had the creme de la creme of Feta in Croatia), but for the EU funded roads, free roaming (rerouting on the move is difficult when relying on WiFi), and the beach. After spending all of our rest days in cities, we were keen to sit on a beach and do nothing.
We took the Thessaloniki road directly south before we veered east, and cycled parallel to Limni Koronia and Limni Volvi (two large lakes). The first 30 miles were a breeze. We rolled down the highway with the help of a slight tailwind. Apart from empty fields, there wasn’t much to look at. Occasionally, we’d see a mountain or peak and, without fail, say: “do you reckon that’s Mt. Olympus?”. We both knew the other one didn’t know, but it kept boredom at bay.
As the temperature soared, so did the elevation. After 40 miles, we were both suffering and sought shelter in Langadas. We found a restaurant and ordered as if we’d been in the desert for 40 days; baked feta, greek salad, bread and gyros.
At 5pm, we got back on the bikes and went straight to New Vransa, a small beach town near Stavros. On the way, we hit a headwind along Limni Volvi, which made the 10 – 15 mile stretch strenuous work. We also had two encounters with wild dogs on this road. Two growling hounds jumped out of a bush and gave chase, but it didn’t last long. Lazy! A few miles down the road, this happened again, but the dogs were well fed. This resulted in a long, fast grind, which left my legs exhausted.
We arrived in New Vransa at 9pm. It was low season so the town was quiet, the dusty streets deserted, and holiday homes vacant. We stayed in a villa complex, three minute walk from the beach, which we also had to ourselves.
The morning was spent at a farmer’s market, before we succumbed to the 30C heat. We found a beach bar with sun loungers and sat there for the remainder of the day. Usually, I’d get bored sitting on a beach, but after so long on the bike I enjoyed being stationary. I read the news for the first time in weeks, wrote a blog, and chatted absolute nothing with Joe.
In the evening, we cycled to the closest town, Stavros, and played pool for a few hours. We didn’t have to cycle in the morning, so made the most of it.
Sat on the beach, we decided it wouldn’t be right to visit Greece without a trip to a Greek island. We opened up Google Maps and saw that Thassos was close. The island was an hour’s ferry ride from Kavala – a city 50 miles east of where we were. Thassos was a slight detour, but we had time.
Back at the apartment, I did a quick inspection of the bike, and found another broken spoke. That’s three spokes in 41 days! Thank you, North Macedonia. I found one bike shop, just north of Kavala. I phoned the shop and they said they would close at 1pm the following day. It was settled, we’d leave New Vransa at 7am.
The broken spoke also solidified my decision to get new wheels. I spent the evening talking to friends of friends, who recommended a UK based company that can build custom wheels. I sent an email to get a quote.
On the road for 7.30am, I was understandably keen to get to Kavala. The day started with a tailwind, which then fluctuated between head/crosswind throughout the rest of the day. We made good progress, following the coastline almost the whole way.
Halfway through the ride, we saw a tortoise in the middle of the road – we jumped off the bikes and [Joe] saved it from its death wish. We’d seen a tortoise imprinted into tarmac the day before, so couldn’t cycle past this guy and not help. Afterwards, we started chatting about dolphins (as you do). I said I’d never seen one before. Joe was convinced I’d see them in Australia, “I swam with wild ones when I was there” he said proudly.
Joe then pulled hard on the brakes, pointed out to sea and yelled “What’s that?!”.
I braked and turned my head. A dolphin was swimming just off the shore. Its fin bobbing at the surface for a while before disappearing, only to reappear a few metres down the coast.
The timing was impeccable. What are the chances? We stopped for a while, hoping we might see more. But we only saw one. We spent the remainder of the cycle looking out to sea. “Imagine if we see a whale, or a shark!”. This kept us entertained for a while.
We stopped at a restaurant for coffee. The manager asked where we were from, so I replied “the UK”. He thought I said Ukraine. I decided from this point on to use England as my nationality – less confusing and more widely understood.
The restaurant was on the beachfront, which made it way too easy to get comfortable. To stop this from happening, I Googled ferry times and found the ferry from Kavala was at 2pm. We downed our coffees and got back on the bikes.
To get the bike fixed and make the ferry in time was a tough ask – the bike shop included a 1,000ft climb. As we were pulling into Kavala, Joe suggested he stays in the city with the bags and I do the climb by myself. Joe is terrified of hills and I’m a faster climber, so the split made sense. Bagless I raced up the hill, got the spoke fixed and cycled back to Kavala with 10 minutes to spare. We sped to the ferry terminal, bought the tickets and cycled onto the ferry as the bridge pulled up. How we pulled it off, I don’t know....
“Welcome to Hawaii” I said as we rolled away from the harbour, unable to wipe the big grin off my face. There’s something about an island, which instantly makes everything feel more relaxed.
A thunderstorm was due that evening, so we cycled along the west coast up to Pefkari, a small beachside resort with a campsite and restaurants. With 80 miles in the tank, we set up camp next to the beach, and were on our way to eat dinner, when George, the owner of the campsite, appeared with beers. He had been on his own cycle tour through Europe a few years ago, so was keen to hear about ours.
I do not exaggerate when I say we were famished. I thought we’d have a couple beers with George and head off to eat. George had other ideas. We sat and spoke about Greek history, the two World Wars and what it means to travel and to travel by bike. At 8pm, my stomach was eating itself, so I grabbed George on the shoulder and said “George, mate, let’s take you for dinner”. He refused and said he’d make us dinner. A few minutes later, he brought out a tray of bread, olives, raw onions and tomatoes. This was a lovely gesture and very kind, but didn’t have any impact on our hunger.
We continued to drink beer, speak about philosophy, the meaning of life and everything in between. George is a wise man, so we mostly sat and listened.
At around 10.30pm, George had drunk enough and decided the evening was over and left. We practically ran out of the campsite, to the nearest town of Patos, and ate at the only restaurant still open. It was great to spend time with George, he showed us incredible hospitality, but it would have been even better on a full stomach.
Joe had created an itinerary for the day: a 10 mile cycle with three beach stops and a trip to the blue lagoon.
The water was crystal clear, but cold. Great for the legs, but not as enjoyable as the pictures suggest. The blue lagoon was overrun with tourists (the only time we saw tourists in Greece) and full of sea urchins – we didn’t venture in.
The cycle around the island was one of the best rides I’d done, so far – no cars, coastal views on one side, pine tree forests on the other.
The day ended on Alyki beach, a small secluded stretch of land with an archaeological site and a marble quarry. We feasted on seafood before being told we couldn’t wild camp.