• The last post

    So to speak…

    This blog is a record of my trip by bike between Bilbao and Athens during September and October 2022

    The posts are displayed in reverse chronological order , so to read them in the same order as the ride itself, scroll through to the bottom and work forward from there.

  • If it’s not on Strava it didn’t happen …

    Or so the saying goes . I did record most of the ride on Strava and it makes for a nice record …

  • Athens in and Athens out-journeys end

    I woke up to my weekend in Athens with one main aim-to work hard on a way to get out, which seemed a bit counterintuitive.

    So how to get my bike home? I needed to source a cardboard bike box of the kind bike shops take delivery of new bikes in. I’d then break my bike down (wheels off, handlebars turned,pedals off, racks and seatpost removed, tyres deflated), and pack it in the box so it could be checked in onto a flight .

    The bike box method is a commonly used cycle touring hack, and bike shops are happy to donate the boxes if they have them. The only variable was actually finding a bike shop with a spare box, and I couldn’t book a flight until I’d found a box. Mission accepted .

    I’d done some research and had a long list of bike shops to visit. I’d also noticed a small shop, “ 48-17 Cycles” (not on my list 😊) a few minutes from the hotel and thought it was worth a punt.

    Jackpot. Not only did the English speaking owner Agi have a spare box, he was the only Dolan dealer in Greece and a cycle tourist himself. We had coffee and pastries and plenty of bike chit chat while he sorted the box and half an hour later I was heading back to the hotel with what I needed to get home .

    The bike had been impeccable and I felt a bit sad to be packing it away. But now I knew it was safely boxed up I could get on and book a flight, and by the power of EasyJet I’d be at Stansted tomorrow evening . Time now for a whistle stop tour of Athens, on two feet rather than two wheels 😊

    That evening I tried to think back to every individual days riding (some of it was a blur 😊), from rolling off the ferry into wet and hilly Northern Spain, crossing over to Barcelona, Sardinia top to bottom, Sicily, Italy, Greece, Corfu. Ten ferries, five trains and just under 1400 miles pedalled. 49 days ,campsites, hostels, hotels and B&Bs. Superb weather, route planning, getting by with terrible language skills, logistics, washing kit in sinks, missing home, packing and unpacking panniers about 100 times. I think I’d need more time to properly reflect and look back on a brilliant experience. After all the planning and endless map gazing the actual ride seemed to have gone relatively quickly in the end

    Sunday was a travelling day, with one of my final Greek memories being a terrifying high speed taxi dash to the airport 😊. We weren’t even running late 😊

    And with a final beer (airport pints are the best pints ) that was it. Homeward bound

    And what a warm welcome I got at home-certainly warmer than the Autumn weather and very touching, especially after what was essentially a selfish endeavour, and one which needed lots of support.

    So that’s it-normal service to be resumed shortly and back to work . I’ve enjoyed writing this blog, if only to document individual days and prevent them turning into a big mass that I’d struggle to remember afterwards, and I hope it’s been an enjoyable read too.

    Keep pedalling 🚴🏻‍♂️👍

  • The last lap

    Surely it was only few days ago that I rolled off the Portsmouth ferry at Bilbao and began this trip? So it seemed, but on the other hand it felt like I’d been cycling for ages. About 1400 miles of riding, (plus ferries and trains), through Spain, Sardinia, Sicily, Italy and Greece had all led to this end day , the “A” in the “B to A” of the title.

    So it felt like a big day. I’d reflect properly later, no doubt over a beer, but for now it was just another day in the saddle.

    I wanted to get to Piraeus,the port of Athens but I’d realised last night that I couldn’t catch a ferry directly there from Selinia, the town I was in.Bit of a pain really, seeing as that was why I was was here in the first place. There was another port, Palouki, about five miles away, but ferries from there only served the port of Perama on the mainland, and that was miles away from where I needed to be.

    Hmm. A friendly local told me conspiratorially that I could indeed get over to Piraeus but only on a “little boat, no big boat” No other details were forthcoming but how hard could it be to find a little boat in a small island port ?

    Five miles later the words “needle” and “haystack” were spinning through my mind . As I approached the harbour side all I could see were big boats ,massive boats ,and Navy boats . But little boats? Nope

    Not little boats 😊

    Then I saw these, sandwiched between their bigger cousins .But they had no signs, no ticket office,no people around and nothing to suggest these were the mythical “little boat “ ferries

    I reckoned THIS WAS IT!

    Anyway, quicker than I could say “chill out,this is Greece” I’d pushed my bike on and we were on the way to Piraeus (I hoped)-the contrast between the first and last ferry of the trip couldn’t have been greater.

    Forty minutes later my “little boat” chugged into Piraeus, dodging the tankers and catamarans….

    I mean..size of this !

    And here I was in Athens. The outskirts maybe, but Athens nonetheless. The end point. Weirdly, the weather had changed and it was chucking it down, it felt like it was hastening the end .

    The port was about seven miles away from the City centre and the route in was a typical mixture of busy roads, back streets and suburbs. At one point I caught sight of the Acropolis high up on a misty hill. It was still raining hard ,which was a shame

    After a while the rain stopped ,but then with two miles to go, and for the first time in the whole trip, I got a rear wheel puncture . Try as I might I couldn’t avoid the need to upend the bike and fix it-this was a right pain eased by a kind lady in an adjacent office bringing me a drink and biscuits on a tray, which kind of summed Greece up for me .

    And then … I was there. Done, and after a photo by the Roman Agora ruins, it was a short ride through the crowded streets to my accommodation.

    I’d booked in for two nights to give me time to sort out a bike box, get packed and book a flight home, but for now I needed to get dry and get a celebratory beer

    And relax…..

    I felt pretty chuffed with myself actually, and I did indeed spend the evening thinking back on the whole trip. I’d loved it.

  • The end is nigh…

    I was feeling a bit weird. After all this time away, today was to be my last long day in the saddle as I positioned myself for finishing tomorrow with a ferry and short ride into Athens .

    No two cycle tours are the same. Mine had evolved dynamically since I started, with things like daily mileage, accommodation and route planning all being amended from how I originally thought it would be . Being able to make these changes was of course the whole point of touring in this way, but the point is I’d tweaked it and I’d got into a rhythm that suited me, the conditions, the local situation and what I wanted to achieve. I only had myself to consider . I was having a great time but of course I wanted to finish, and get home. I think I wasn’t fully prepared for the ride to end-I’d only been planning one day at at time, focussed only on tomorrows route and place to stay, and it was almost like the end point had crept up on me.

    So a forty mile route today saw me heading inland away from Loutraki before riding parallel with the Corinthian Canal . Once I reached the Aegean coastline I needed to turn left and ride along the coast with the sea on my right . At Megara a small ferry (yay!) would take me the short hop across to Salamina, an island popular with holidaying Athenians. I’d be crossing the island to finish at Selinia on the Eastern coast .

    First things first. Breakfast was a feta and potato pie,still warm and really delicious and worthy of a photo for sure ….

    It was a baking hot day . I left Loutraki along a service road that ran parallel to the main road out of town, and for a while the landscape was quite industrial and busy. A mile or so alongside a number of oil refineries made me realise how loud they were.

    Port side oil refineries

    After about an hour though I was free of all that and back into open sea views. The road wound around the coastline in a way that I become so familiar with and I enjoyed taking my time

    Not too sure about the track work here !

    Before long I was diverting off the main road to the grandly and optimistically named ferry terminal .Think more a waters edge car park with some bored looking men waving people up the ramp to a waiting ferry. Once again, no tickets required for this free service .

    In fact the journey was so short I imagined it’d be cheaper to build a bridge but for now the ferry was a fun and quick way to get across.

    Once on Salamina it was about seven miles round to Selinia on the other side . I was intending to catch my final ferry of the trip from here tomorrow, over to Piraeus, the port of Athens. The “port” that I’d seen on the map was no more than a short slim jetty, and there was no sign of ferry activity.

    The man at my hotel told me apologetically that the Piraeus ferry service only ran in the Summer, so I’d need a rethink. I’d sort that later, I needed, in no particular order, a shower, a drink and some calories

    Balanced diet
  • Come off it..

    I did . The bike that is, but luckily not until I neared the end of todays ride .

    Another early start today was no hardship. I was enjoying this section of the coast a lot-not only was it scenic and interesting, there was a road that took me exactly where I wanted to be . It was signposted Old National Road and I assumed this had been the main road to Athens before the nearby parallel motorway had been completed . It made navigation easy and was quiet and well maintained . Happy days .

    I needed to cover just under fifty miles today and was heading for the coastal resort town of Loutraki. The Old National Road took me all the way there, and my early start gave me the luxury of a roadside lunch stop with thirty miles done.

    I’d got used to seeing how people shopped in rural Greece. Supermarkets were scarce and it was common to see vans and pickups at the side of the road, loaded with fruit and veg, fish, bread. I even saw a van selling clothes, complete with an on board changing room. As I left Akrata I saw the customary queue behind a van which I then realised was full of live turkeys. Weird, and I don’t think they were being bought as turkey pets .

    The miles rolled by nice and quickly. I was noticing more and more large ships and tankers in the Gulf of Corinth, a sure sign that I was nearing Athens

    I rode through the town of Corinth. The port area was busy and apparently, as well as it’s rich Ancient Greek and Roman history, the town was famous for Corinth raisins (me neither) which it exports all over the world .

    My route also took me across the Corinthian Canal. About 120 years old, it shortened a 250 mile passage to about 5 miles, connecting the Ionian Sea (Gulf of Corinth ) with the Aegean Sea.

    At its peak 100 000 ships a year used it, but it’s narrowness (23 metres ) makes it impassable by most modern ships and its main trade these days is small leisure craft.

    At the Patras end there’s a really cool bridge known as the Sinking Bridge of Poseidinia. Unsurprisingly this bridge allows ships to access the canal by being submerged completely and allowing the craft to pass over it.

    The not so cool thing about this bridge are the bike wheel sized gaps between the planks-I noticed them as I rode on and quicker than I could say “don’t get your front wheel trapped” I was off. I hit the deck in front of the single file queue of cars behind me, all of whom waited patiently as I unravelled myself and pushed the bike off the bridge. The bridge keeper asked me if I was OK before telling me off “is dangerous to ride bikes “. Hmm ,bit late for that! Most importantly the bike was unscathed and my only injury was national pride

    My base in Loutraki for the next couple of days was Hotel Excelsior. Backing onto the sea front it was a classic example of an old, but spotless, family run hotel. Good value too and once again, my bike was accommodated in the basement with no fuss. Lovely .

  • A close shave …..

    In more ways than one.

    I’d got a shorter day planned today, about 20 miles along the coast to Akrata where I’d spotted some availability at the only hotel in town.

    I slept to the sound of the sea and a later start suited me today . My good sleep just may have also been related to the size of the glass of wine that appeared when I went for some food last night-mental note, when in Greece stick to beer!

    And I’d already drunk some at this point !

    I soon reached Aigio which was a lot bigger, and busier than I expected it to be. I approached the town from a height and looked down on the port area to see a couple of massive cruise liners docked, alongside a number of small fishing boats . As I dropped down I saw that the all the shops were the same. You know Birmingham has the Jewellery Quarter, London Savile Row and Manchester the Curry Mile? Well Aigio seemed to be the unglamorous Greek capital of car spares shops. There were literally hundreds of them, side by side, all selling the same thing, some with tyres, batteries, bumpers and lights stacked up outside, some no more than breakers yards. And they were all busy, with cars double and triple parked outside. Clearly the place to be.

    I stopped for a hair cut. Well a head shave to be more accurate, not only functional but a lot easier to describe to a foreign barber 😊

    I was the only customer. Michael the friendly barber told me his brother was also a barber and lived in Derby, which being within 100 miles of Leicester pretty much rendered me a family member too. Or so it seemed with the hugely friendly, grinning staff members in the shop.

    All three of the staff came out of the shop to see me off. Lined up side by side, they waved me off and I felt a bit bashful as they clapped me and wished me luck. I rode quickly and purposefully away just to impress them, before dropping back to my usual snails pace once I was out of sight 😊

    About two miles along the main road, the route took me off into minor roads. This rang alarm bells because this was putting me in classic wild dog jeopardy. I’d avoided any dog action for a few days now by sticking to main roads and not interfering with their territory, but now there seemed to be no other option.

    By now as well, I was armed with a squeezy bottle of lemon juice, some earlier research suggesting a direct jet into the eyes of any murderous canine would floor them long enough for me to flee. Of course the aim was still to not be close enough to deploy the lemon juice in the first place but it was nice to be locked and loaded 😂

    I turned off the main road and tentatively entered Wild Dog Alley. Past a house and some allotments and all was quiet . Bumping slowly along a dusty track behind a factory I was all eyes. When I stopped at a junction of three or four tracks, I spent more time looking over my shoulder than the route on my phone . I was halfway through this section and beginning to relax when -well you’ve guessed . Out of nowhere they came, full of malice and territorial slobbering adrenaline. My choice of lemon juice fight, or fast pedalling flight, was no choice at all, and I was out of there faster than you can say “rabies jab

    Back to square one-having swallowed an eight mile diversion as a price well worth paying, I found myself an hour later going past the barber shop in the opposite direction, silently praying Michael and his mates weren’t still out front watching. I don’t think they’d be clapping second time around !

    The remainder of the day was relaxing though . Without a cloud in the sky, it was the perfect riding temperature

    The mountains to the right of me were as constant as the sea to the left, and the gently undulating route delivered me into Akrata at about 4pm, the ideal time.

    This gave me time to get my kit washed and admin done in good time . I think I was pretty much the only guest at the hotel, I certainly got a cheap rate .

    Later I worked out a cunning way to remember which room I was in 😂

    Clever eh?
  • A bridge too far…

    An early Sunday morning start today for a forty mile spin to the small seaside village of Selianitika. After yesterdays ride I was looking forward to todays route for a few exciting reasons-a couple of long climbs meant a couple of long descents, with views to match. A good section of the route was next to the Gulf of Patras, and also today was the end of my journey South, as I now turned left and headed East towards Athens. Journeys end was in sight.

    The most exciting thing though was the prospect of another ferry ride-childish I know but even though this was to be the eighth ferry of my trip, I was full of beans for it.This particular trip was across the Gulf of Corinth, linking the town of Antirrio on mainland Greece with the town of Rio on the Peloponnese peninsula.

    The place where I’d stayed didn’t do breakfast, but did provide these pre packed croissant things …..they deserve a special mention

    So bad but so good

    These were everywhere, basically a long life croissant thing full of Nutella, or jam. Full of calories, preservatives and sugar, they were a pannier friendly common breakfast substitute and every supermarket sold them. Cheap and nasty and oh so good!! Like a gateway drug to Sunny Delight and Haribos probably, but I always had an emergency fix in my bags.😊

    About five miles in I hit a diversion sign,telling me the bridge three miles ahead was closed , and directing me onto the motorway. Problem. There was no other way round, and in any case, I wasn’t actually expecting a bridge. The road had an empty feel to it, making me think it was a genuine closure rather than one a cyclist could wriggle through. I was reluctant to commit to what could be a waste of time forcing me into a U turn worthy of Downing Street, but I had no alternative . Just then four road cyclists approached me, obviously thinking my questioning “bridge bridge?” comment was some kind of foreign greeting as they all cheerily replied “bridge bridge” to me as they pelotoned on by.

    I pressed on. The bridge was an impassable disaster zone, looking like it had collapsed as a result of flooding or earthquake or something.

    Luckily the enterprising locals had built a workaround, exploiting the dried up river bed, and I was actually able get through pretty easily, pausing only long enough to wonder what I had been whittling about .

    Pretty good workaround

    The next twenty miles glided by. The weather was superb and the descent into the crossing point at Antirrio was amazing-fast, smooth and quiet, with amazing views of the bridge that dominated the skyline.

    This is an amazing bridge . Completed in 2004, the story was that the locals, who’d campaigned for years to have it built, were so dismayed by the toll charges (13 euros each way for a car) that they then campaigned to retain the ferries which until then were the only way across-and not only retain them but subsidise their running costs from bridge toll revenue making them free to the user. A pleasing victory for people power I’d say and it was interesting to see how busy the ferries remained today .

    I rolled straight on to the waiting ship, no tickets required,

    and the twenty minute crossing gave me a unique view of the bridge

    The last fifteen miles today were by the sea, through small villages with a busy late Sunday trade in the beachside bars and restaurants that were still open.

    When I’d researched Greece I realised there were no trains at all on this side of the country, so I was surprised to see sections of railway track alongside the road . I realised though that these lines went nowhere and were obviously a relic of the Greek version of Dr Beeching.

    My end town Selianitika was tiny-just a small road with a few bars and a hotel, which had the undoubted pleasure of hosting me for the night.

  • It’s a pride thing…..

    In an encounter I was learning to be typical of Greece, I was being welcomed, questioned and advised in the warmest, gentlest and most genuinely enthusiastic of ways . The fact I was at a cashpoint and trying to concentrate was irrelevant, and the chap behind me was so keen to engage in his role as Greek Ambassador (specialist subject Tourism) he even forgot to withdraw his own money 😊

    His pride in Greece and welcoming nature was so genuine and his enthusiasm was infectious. I wondered later if there was a link between this kind of pride and “ national ownership” and the problem of litter. Previously in Sicily and Italy I’d speculated about the reasons for all the litter and wondered if lack of pride was a factor. Greece was spotless in comparison and noticeably “cleaner”. I don’t know the answer but I just can’t imagine people having such obvious and outward pride in their place and then dumping litter all over it. Maybe a simplistic view but it just seems there can’t not be a link.

    I left Astakos fairly early. Although most of todays 35 miles was reasonably flat, the first hour was steadily uphill and I wanted to do that before it got too hot. After skirting around the bay the climb kicked in and I was soon looking back at where I’d come from..

    The route today took me inland, the first time I’d lost sight of the sea for any length of time,with todays end point being Messolonghi

    This area was a National Park due to its freshwater lagoons and marine life (pelicans and flamingos allegedly) but actually there wasn’t much evidence of either as I cycled through,mostly with a warm and welcome tailwind

    Lagoon bridge around town of Aitoliko

    I cycled past some massive piles of white powder . Seeing as I wasn’t in the middle of an episode of Breaking Bad, I assumed it was salt or some other mineral maybe . In any case, it was impressive to see

    I was back to Greek towns with no obvious tourism presence. Apparently Messolonghi was popular with holidaying Greeks but there was no other visitor group of any significance or number .

    I liked this, it felt authentic and genuine and secretly , I enjoyed the novelty of being the only foreigner in town.

    They put out the flags for me ..

    This was also reflected in the paucity of available accommodation, with Pinpoint Rooms having a distinct bail hostel feel . But actually, thinking of what was required of it (cheap/comfy bed/hot shower/Wi-Fi/power/air con/breakfast ) it only fell short on the last one so in reality, mustn’t grumble.

  • If it ain’t broke….

    So far the routine of 30 (ish) mile days ,hugging the coast down to the next little fishing village was working well, so why change it now?

    South I went,leaving Palairos behind and enjoying the rolling terrain as I once again marvelled at the sea on my right . I was making the most of these coastal days as before long I’d be turning left and heading inland towards Athens.

    Apart from a nervous episode where I saw three big black dogs in the middle of the road up ahead, before realising they were in fact goats, the day was uneventful.

    Goat dogs

    I passed a weird kind of yard with eccentric figures and sculptures every few yards-a sort of cross between Heath Robinson, Salvador Dali and Stig of the Dump-I cut my photo stop short when I noticed several goat skins drying in the sun on the barbed wire fence but it was an unusual set up for sure .

    I dropped down down into Astakos at the sleepiest time of day . Boats bobbed languidly in the harbour, a lingering lunch party were chatting quietly at the only restaurant that was still open, the faint buzz of a moped cut through the hot, still air. A dog barked half heartedly. Piccadilly Circus it was not.

    I sat and watched as a Norwegian couple parked (berthed?) their yacht, stern first into the harbour. This seemingly simple operation brought the quayside to life ,with much animated shouting, gesturing, throwing of ropes and general hubbub involved in guiding the couple in, in a manoeuvre they could clearly do with their eyes closed

    This was a contented day of cycling and seeing, seeing and cycling and I enjoyed it a lot, mainly for it’s simplicity .

    Tonight’s accommodation was the four star Giannis Village Resort, but at two star out of season prices, the only downside being that it was “up there”, a massive climb out of the village . It was so high up that the holiday bungalows had no air conditioning, relying instead on cool mountain air. Suited me fine.