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Greece
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03/17
Athens

Landed at 10:30. Long wait for bags. Even longer wait for bikes. Finally, everything arrived at the terminal. We loaded our bags into the gear truck, then started to get the bicycle ready.

That's when I (David) discovered that I had done a dumb thing. I loaded the bags onto the gear truck. Then I went to put the pedals on the bike so we could ride to the hotel, but -- the pedals were in the bags that were already on their way to the hotel. Can't without pedals -- so we hailed a cab, put the bike in the trunk (1\4 in, 3/4 out -- oh what a few well placed bungie cords can do) and drove to the hotel.

We arrived at the hotel about 4. (Hmm, let's see. We left for the Cape Town airport yesterday at 4 p.m. and arrived here at 4 p.m. today. That means it took 24 hours to complete a ten hour flight. Well, so much for our discretionary time in Athens.)

The hotel, The Astir Palace Nafsika, is a 5-star hotel. It's on a peninsula and has ocean frontage on two sides. We have a HUGE room overlooking the Aegean Sea, with a patio right on the beach.

We, along with the Dolinskys, agree that having a vehicle really frees us to do many more things, so we are again renting a car. I made the calls this time. Lisa and I will pick up the car at the airport tomorrow.

Love to all, David and Lisa


03/18 Athens, Greece to Thiva, Greece

We had a busy day today. We decided to rent a car so we can continue to maximize our discretionary time. For starters, we are going to go off route today and visit Delphi.

Larry and Joan went on a bus tour today while we organized the car rental. (We didn't go into the city because we spent three days sight seeing in Athens when we visited three years ago.)

So we started our day by preparing a package for shipping home. Then we called a taxi to take us to the airport to pick up the rental car.

On the way to the airport, we realized the FedEx office would close before we got there -- so we went there first. Lisa stayed there while I went to the airport to get the car.

After a great deal of discussion getting the rental clerk to agree with the terms that I negotiated, I drove our new Fiat Laguna away. After picking up Lisa at the FedEx office, we stopped for lunch, then picked up Larry and Joan at the hotel.

(Driving in Greece has some special challenges. Primarily because drivers don't pay much attention to Stop signs, lane lines or speed limits. Once you understand that, you can deal with the drivers cutting in and out and speeding by.)

Getting put of Athens was a real challenge, because of the dirth of signs in English. But after getting lost a few times, we got onto the toll road headed North.

We stopped in Thiva for the night. Getting into and around Thiva was another real challenge. The signs are mostly in Greek and the roads are either narrow or VERY narrow. (The VERY narrow ones are usually, but not always, one way -- also usually with cars parked along one side to make it even more challenging to drivers.)

We followed signs to "centre" looking for a place to eat and spend the night. No luck, but we found two nice looking stores. Joan and Lisa each went into one to ask for recommendations. Lisa went into a nice looking "sweets" shop. She came out with, not only a recommendation, but an offer to show us how to get there. The son of the owner had us follow him to a restaurant. (We never would have found it without his help due to the narrow, curvy one-way streets.)

We went into the restaurant and found that they were setting up for a wedding reception, but they wanted to accommodate us, so we stayed. During dinner, we witnessed the grand entrance of the newlyweds to the sounds of a large orchestral version of the wedding march. That music faded into an easy going version of Knights in White Satin by Moody Blues for the honoring of the bride and groom.

The "honoring" process involved putting jewelry (necklaces, bracelets, rings or ear rings) on the bride or groom, then giving them a kiss on each cheek. What a fun experience!

After dinner, we called the hotel to get directions. Again, they sent a driver to lead us. We wanted to go back to the "sweets" shop for ice cream for desert. No problem. The driver took us to the "sweets" shop, waited while we had our ice cream, then led us to the hotel.

The hotel -- now that was an experience. Larry and Joan had negotiated a low price for four -- but they didn't know what we would get as accomodations.

Well, it was like summer camp. Four beds along two walls. An aisle of about 18" between them leading to the bathreoom. But, there was water on the floor around the toilet. Larry complained about that, hoping to get another room.

Their solution? They gave Larry a piece of bed sheet to put around the toilet. It worked -- until it got soaked. Then water again ran on the floor to the floor drain.

Another thing, there was a bathtub with a hand shower connected -- but no shower curtain. Larry and Joan found out that it was impossible to take a stand up shower witout spraying the floor. So Lisa and I took a sitting down shower. No problem.

We were really glad we wern't camping. It was rainy and COLD -- 5 degrees C. (41 degrees F)

Love to all, David and Lisa


03/19 Thiva to Delphi to Korinthos, Greece

When we woke up and looked outside, IT WAS SNOWING! WOW! THE SECOND DAY IN GREECE AND IT SNOWS!

I went outside to scout out a place for breakfast. Nothing was open. But, it was a Greek winter wonderland. The street in front was a pedestrian mall with orange and olive trees, benches and several sidewalk cafe's with umbrellas. Everything had a blanket of snow. It was deserted. The only sound was church bells.

I followed the sound and found a "town square" in front of a Greek Orthodox church. The church had speakers in front that had just started to broadcast the service. A few woman were scurrying into the church; several dogs were lying on the pavers, occasionally twitching their tails; otherwise, nothing in the square was moving. It was eerily and beautifully quiet.

We had a continental breakfast in the hotel, then headed for Delphi. We stopped for lunch at a large but completely deserted restaurant along the way. We took a table by the fireplace. By the time we left, the place was full - mostly students on a ski trip to the Parnassos mountains.

Delphi is the site of the Delphic Oracle (what I would call a fortune teller). The Oracle was called upon by Greek leaders to tell them the future.

The Oracle was famed for giving obscure, deceptively metaphorical answers. Many a suppliant went home more confused than he came, having failed to draw meaning from the answer -- or, worse still, having drawn the wrong meaning from it. The nature of the Oracle was not simply to answer questions, but rather, as the exhortation once inscribed on the Temple of Apollo said, to "know thyself."

The site has a sort of mystical charm about it. It has been partially restored by archeologists so the foundations of all the buildings and parts of the walls of many have been restored. One gets a feeling of awe when one stands in the midst of the ruins and imagines what went on here more than 2000 years ago.

We continued on down the southern coast of "continental" Greece, along the Korinth Bay (a part of the Ionian Sea,) to a little town called Ag Nikolaos. There we caught a ferry across the bay to Egio. Then we drove to the town of Korinth for dinner and lodging.

We found the Akti Hotel (recommended in the Lets Go Europe book). Larry negotiated private rooms for only 6000 drachmas (less than $20) each -- and are they basic! Our room had a double bed, a night stand, a stool, a small, freestanding closet, an overhead light and a wall light for reading. The bathroom (yes, we even had a bathroom) had a sink, running cold water, a toilet bowl (no cover or seat) and a shower pan on the floor over a handheld shower hose with hot and cold water faucets. (We'll find out in the morning if they are hot and cold, or cold and cold, running water.)

We plan to visit the Korinth canal in the morning.

Love to all, David and Lisa


03/20 Korinthos, Greece to Sparta, Greece

We visited the Corinth Canal today. It cuts off the Peloponnese (the southern "hand" of Greece) from continental Greece.

We could only find a few specifics on the canal. Construction was considered first by a Roman emperor in 6 BC. He figured to use 7,000 slaves to make the cut. His plans were curtailed by a war. The actual construction was done in the late 19th century. The cut is only 8 meters below sea level. Where the highway crosses the canal, the water level appears to be about a thousand feet below the bridge deck. (The bridge deck does not move.) The actual cut appears to be only two or three hundred feet wide between the rock walls. The appearance from above is that the cut is VERY deep and VERY narrow.

From there we drove to Tripoli, a large city in central Peloponnese. We stopped to see the city centre -- around a square, of course. We walked around the square, stopped in the cathedral (it had a musky incense smell, as we've found in all of the Greek Orthodox churches that we have visited), went to a pharmacy (no luck - they didn't have what we needed), stopped in a bank to find out the exchange rate (they couldn't help - only the National Bank of Greece had that info - so we stopped there) and got a recommendation for a restaurant for lunch.

On our walk of several blocks to the restaurant we found many quaint, little stores -- a few of which we stopped into. We had a wonderful bowl of traditional Greek soup, a Greek salad and bread. Delicious!

Then we drove on to the TK&A camping stop (in an orange grove with lots of rotting oranges on the ground) outside of Mythas.

Mythas is the site of many monasteries and many restored ancient ruins. It's just outside of Tripoli. We decided not to camp in the orange grove so we found rooms in Tripoli.

We plan to visit the ruins and some monasteries in the morning, then bicycle for awhile.

Love to all, David and Lisa


03/21 (the first day if spring) Sparta to Pylos, Greece

First thing this morning we went to Mystras, just 6 km from Sparta. Mystras is the site of well preserved Byzantine ruins from the 1200's. There were monasteries, palaces, churches and a castle. All of the buildings were built on an easily defensible hillside, with the castle (or fortress) at the top.

Of particular interest were the churches. Many still had religious paintings on the ceilings and walls. A few had been restored and were in use.

We spent about three hours exploring the ruins. Then we headed up the TK&A route for the day. It led us up a 20 kilometer long, steep climb, culminating at a 4,800 foot, cloud shrouded pass. At the top it was snowing and visibility was about 50 feet at times. (Shades of the Mountain of Death on Costa Rica.) Then there was an equally steep downhill through the fog, rain and snow flurries.

(Perhaps I should mention something here. We're told this is the coldest weather they've had in March for some 15 years. We don't know about that, but we can tell you, it sure is cold. It was 1 degree centigrade at the top of the pass today.)

We stopped in Kalamata (a seaside town) for lunch. Since it's off season, we had a hard time finding a restaurant that was open. We finally found a family run restaurant right on the port. The menu was, of course, "all Greek to us" and their command of American was not much better, so they took us into the kitchen to look over the various choices of foods. We each pointed to two or three things that looked good. We thought we'd get a serving of each one. WRONG! We received a MEAL of each choice. But it was all VERY GOOD, so we didn't regret our choices.

Then we drove on to the midday checkpoint where Larry and Joan had decided to start their ride. When we got there Joan decided not to ride so we dropped Larry off with his bike. Then, because it was rainy, we went ahead to Pylos to arrange for a room.

By the time we got back to pick Larry up, it had rained and poured and was raining again. We went to the ride end to check Larry in.

When we got there we discovered the gear trucks were not yet unloaded. I felt so bad that many riders had been there for hours and didn't have either dry clothes to change into, or their tents to set up and get out of the rain. So, while Larry checked in and found out about dinner, I helped unload the gear from the truck.

This town of Pylos is so picturesque it could be (and might have been) used in the movies.

I forgot to mention something from yesterday. When we arrived in Greece, the gear locker trailers were not there. They were being held at the border by customs. They wouldn't be released until Monday.

While we were on the road we saw them drive by. We cheered! But when we got to camp, we found out that they couldn't be used. The stairs and platforms needed to access the lockers were missing.

Major bummer! That means we had to continue to load and unload our gear from a covered truck every day. We could get no prognosis of when they would be available.

Some good news -- George, the guy who broke his hip in Baja, Mexico, is back. Unfortunately, TK&A had shipped his bike back to Seattle, so he won't be able to ride until he gets it back. That will be in Washington in May.

Some bad news -- Wynn, a doctor riding the trip, fell and broke his femur close to his hip. He slipped in the ice and snow on the mountain. Several others fell -- no other serious injuries, though.

Love to all, David and Lisa



You asked how many days we have been able to ride the entire route distance.

We have ridden the entire route distance about half the time. We have ridden part (usually most) of the route distance another quarter of the time. And we have not ridden at all about a quarter of the riding days.

There were three basic reasons for the "part of the route" days. First, some of the routes are just too long for average riders to accomplish in one day. Second, there are often too many riding days in a row for a body to endure. And third, we did some sight seeing along the way. (Sight seeing takes time -- time equals mileage.)

The reasons for not riding at all fall into two primary categories. One is illness or injury either to us or to the bike The other is we are off-route seeing something we would otherwise miss.

For example, what was billed as our "layover day" in Athens was mostly taken up by landing, getting our bags, getting our bikes, then getting to the hotel. That took until 4:00 p.m. The hotel was 25 km's out of Athens and the next day was a scheduled riding day. We did NOT ride the next two days because we wanted to see Athens and Delfi.

We're pretty sure that our time "riding the whole route" will not increase for all those same reasons -- PRIMARILY because from here on we expect to "stop and smell the roses" more often. We want to SEE and EXPERIENCE the world, not just bicycle past it on the way through.


03/22 Pylos to Olympia, Greece

What a beautiful ride today!

We skirted the Mediterranean Sea for 108 km's today. Mostly through olive groves with a few orange groves here and there.

By the way, oranges are in season. They come with almost everything. Breakfast this morning was a hard boiled egg, and all the bread, french fries and oranges you could eat. Oranges were included in dinner last night too.

We went through numerous small towns today -- all quaint and interesting. In one, found a really good bakery. The woman there spoke very good English. It turned out she was from Skokie, Illinois. She came here 20 years ago with her folks. They went back -- she got married and stayed.

Some of the roads we followed today were incredibly remote. Really nice riding. We wonder how TK&A found them.

Larry drove back to Kalamata to see Win and see if he needed any help. It turned out that he did. It seems in hospitals here, doctors and nurses only do primary medical care. It's up to family and friends to take care of personal needs -- like contacting insurance companies, arranging for ambulances or getting cash from a bank to pay everyone. Larry took care of all those things for him.

One of the strange things we saw all through Greece is unfinished buildings. Most of the newer buildings are constructed like this: Concrete slab on the ground, reinforced concrete posts on top of the slab, another concrete slab on top of the posts, another set of reinforced concrete posts, and another concrete slab topping it all off. Internal concrete stairs are then installed. In between the posts and the slabs go walls with openings for windows and doors. Then the windows and doors are installed.

What's strange is, there are many, many such buildings that are only partially complete. Most look completely abandoned. A few have either the first floor or the second floor finished, but not both.

Combine those with the large number of old (ancient?) rock and mortar buildings that are falling down, and you have much of Greece filled with buildings either growing up or tearing down.

Very strange.

Love to all, David and Lisa


03/23 Olympia to Patra, Greece

This was another beautiful riding day on a spectacular route. Unfortunately it started on a difficult note.

Last night at dinner (at the Ambrosia Restaurant about 4 blocks away) Tim K. said "Breakfast will be right here from 6:30 to 8:00." This morning we walked over to the restaurant, only to find that breakfast was now at camp -- about 2 km walk in the other direction.

Then, when we got there, it was another hearty? breakfast of one hard boiled egg, three small pieces of bread, an orange drink and coffee or tea. (I think that's the traditional Greek breakfast and TK&A forgot to tell the vendor any different -- or, maybe it was just cheaper.)

Lisa and I went into town for breakfast. Greek coffee and a couple pastries. [Much better, huh? :-)]

Joan was insistent that she had to ride today, so Lisa and I agreed to drive again. We had a great time. First, we drove the TK&A route. (They sure found some picturesque back roads.) Then we drove out to Cape Araxos. We found a remote spot at the end of a dirt road. We sat on a bluff overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and watched big, white cruise ships sail by.

Then we drove through some more back roads and saw more tiny, picturesque villages on our way back to the main road. Then it was time to pick up Larry and Joan. They said they had a wonderful day too.

We all went on to Bari. We dropped Lisa and Joan at the ferry terminal with our bikes and bags. Larry and I returned the car.

When Larry and I got back to the ferry terminal, we found that our departure terminal had been changed. So we hoofed it about a kilometer down the docks to the right terminal -- carrying our luggage, of course, while pushing our bikes.

Loading went well -- until we learned that compartment assignments were all screwed up. It seems that TK&A had assigned compartments -- but failed to tell everyone. Some got their boarding passes, got on the ferry, and went to the purser to get a compartment. The purser didn't know about TK&A's plans so they went ahead and assigned compartments as they saw fit.

The compartments have four bunks in each. We were told there would be four persons assigned to each compartment. Larry and Joan didn't know what we were doing so they agreed to share a compartment with some other people.

So we were assigned a compartment and wondered who our roommates would be. When we got to our compartment, we were the only ones there. Then we heard an announcement that more beds were needed and to let them know if we had any extras. Since we apparently had two, we offered to share our compartment with Tim and Ann Mo. But, apparently, there were enough compartments after all. Tim and Ann got their own place and we ended up with a private compartment.

Tonight we are cruising the Ionion Sea, on the SuperFast II ferry, headed for Bari, Italy. So far, it's a smooth trip. Hope it stays that way.

(Last time we cruised these waters was three years ago on a Renaissance Cruise ship. We had thirty foot waves all afternoon and evening. Lisa was sicker than she has ever been. She had to get a shot from the ship's doctor to settle her stomach.)

Love to all, David and Lisa


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