Alexandropolis – Istanbul

Unlike Thessaloniki, Alexandropolis was a surprising nice city and we enjoyed a little ride in the center the next morning before leaving the last big Greek town on our way behind us and making a start on the last 40km before the border crossing. The constantly strong headwind made these last kilometers, that were leading on a busy road through boring and desolate rolling hills, quite a challenge.

good bye GreeceAfter spending all our remaining European roaming credit for a last call home , we eventually said Goodbye to this wonderful country that welcomed us with so much hospitality and unforgettable scenery and rolled through no-man’s-land to the Turkish border. The border crossing went without any troubles and soon we set foot on Turkish ground for the first time.

Since we had read a lot of negative reports about approaching Istanbul by bike we were already thinking about taking a train or bus at the next big city. When we then saw an empty truck passing by right after the customs check we didn’t think twice, stopped him with friendly but determined waving and asked for his destination. In broken German we figured out that he is on the way to Istanbul and open for the idea of giving us a ride 🙂 For Martina it was even a premiere since she has never been in a truck cabin before!

Ready to Load
Ready to Load

After the first 50km it was already clear that we took the right decision: the roads were crowed with speeding trucks and the service lane, our only hope to survive on this express way, was regularly used to avoid one of the hundreds of knee-deep potholes.

The driver, who was working all over Europe in the last 20 years, was really friendly and took us to several gas stations to proudly show off with us in front of his colleagues while serving us our first Turkish Chai. Late after midnight we were finally approaching Istanbul where, according to the driver, Istanbul’s traffic “lunapark” begins… Like all the others, he started to drive his 33 tons truck like a go-kart, constantly changing lanes wherever a little hole in the traffic jam opens, forcing his way with deafening honking and Turkish cursing. Clearly there was no time for discussing our exit point and before we knew what’s going on, we crossed the Bosphorus and were just able to sneak a glimpse on the sign “Welcome to Asia”. Slightly concerned about this rapid development, we tried to encourage him to drop us at the next highway exit. When he vehemently refused we started to feel more than a little queasy. He rejects all our further suggested dropping points with “no good, no hotel, no problem” and we slowly figured out that he intends to bring us to his company’s parking place. When we finally reached the garage after crossing a labyrinth of suburb alleys that took all the pitiful remains of our sense of direction he explained us in his broken German: “sleep here, ferry tomorrow”. Undoubtedly he had the best intentions and he actually was a trustworthy person but nevertheless the whole situation gave us a weird and creepy feeling. But without any choice, in the middle of nowhere at 3 o’clock in the morning, we came to terms with our inevitable fate and got ready for sharing an uncomfortable and sleepless night in the truck cabin.

helping truck driverThe next morning the whole crew – together with the smell of gasoline and old motor oil – welcomed us warmly with sweet chai and incredulous questions about our trip. After serving as an attraction for several hours our kind truck driver organized a pickup to load our bikes on and did not miss the chance to bring us to the next ferry port himself.

europe to asiaWithin no time the next boat brought us to our first big destination in Turkey: Istanbul, the door of Persia, historical and legendary melting pot between Europe and Asia!

 

 

 

Thassos – Alexandropolis

After 6 days of enjoying a hard earned break on Thassos we already started to miss our bikes. Unfortunately the morning we decided to leave the island, heavy rain was awaiting us and after 1km we realized that it makes no sense to continue under this conditions. So we postponed our departure while waiting in an internet café for the cloudburst to stop. Several hours later than planned we eventually reached the mainland and made some kilometers before stopping in the garden of a – luckily abandoned – hell’s angel biker bar.

dragonflyThe next morning compensated for the terrible night full of barking dogs that sounded like they were surrounding our tent, with golden sunshine and hundreds of colorful dragonflies that were collecting dew drops on the high grass around our tent.

On our way east heading direction Alexandropolis we encountered a really peculiar but friendly old farmer who was more than thrilled to practice his English, one among many hobbies as he explained us – several times – in detail. And when he found out that Gui is a photographer (his second biggest hobby, although he forgot how to put a film role in his antiquated camera) and had the pleasure to enjoy a private little juggling show, he was all aflutter. After ensuring us that this was the best day of his life and promising to write us an undoubtedly several pages strong letter we continued our way on the dry and from the heat shimmering road.

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Natural Thermal Springs

Like always, it was Gui with his seventh sense who found the rusty old sign that was promising a close-by natural thermal spring and without hesitating we made the detour even though we had doubts about the substance behind this signpost. What was awaiting us at the end of the bad road was more than a little bit creepy: Several ruinous buildings containing abandoned, formerly rich furnished, holiday apartments with broken windows and demolished doors. Everything gave the impression that people fled this place in a hurry like in one of these post-nuclear apocalypse movies. We were already about to leave when we saw a parking car next to a less dilapidated house at the end of the apartment complex. Miraculously one of the thermal basin there was still intact and we could spend an hour in a 41° hot, rost discolored but still really relaxing bath.

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Austrian Lunch

The next days we followed small roads along the coast facing minor troubles like nonexistent bridges and not yet reconstructed streets that were victim of the unusual heavy winter storms. One of this missing links forced us to climb one of the high mountains there that are slanting towards the sea into steep cliffs – a first time coming from the west and when reaching the valley floor a second time following the natives’ advice from the east. Totally pumped out after reaching the top – again – it was time for changing the GoPro battery when we coincidentally spotted an Austrian numberplate in the driveway right next to us. The hospitable and enthusiastic Austrian owners of the car that were living in this elaborately restored old farmhouse, directly offered us a cold beer as they do with all the passing by bikers and even shared their delicious lunch composed of “Schweinshaxen” and Greek delicacies with us.

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Road or River Bed?

This warm and open-hearted encounter refilled our batteries and gave us the power to afterwards push our bikes through 5km of more or less dry creek bed and uphill the last ascents before finally reaching Alexandropolis at sunset.

Meteora – Thassos

wWe left Meteora for our next stage goal: Mount Olymp. On the way we reached the sea again when we arrived at a totally empty campground close to Letochoro at the foot of the legendary Mount Olymp.olymp goddessWe took a day off for climbing this impressive peak. Since it would be too long to hike it in one day we tried our luck to hitchhike a part and it didn’t take long until a kind Russian couple gave us a lift. Together with them we made the complete orthodox sightseeing tour and visited elaborately restored monasteries and various great viewpoints on our way up to the entry of the Olymp nature reserve.

Up there between narrow gorges, rapid mountain streams and blooming meadows the mysticism of this extraordinary place really spread on us and when a single sun ray broke through the veil of mist it was the right moment to make a promise for our common future under the blessing of the ancient gods.

 

bless

Due to the snow masses that are still covering most of the higher parts it was impossible to reach the peak. So instead we decided to follow the trail down into the valley through the marvelous canyon which, according to Greek mythology, was stricken out of the mountain range by Herakles’ hammer. On our way down, Zeus obviously meant less well for us and under constant thunder we made the 5h descent in nearly half the time and arrived at our bikes right before the clouds burst.

 


 

treck breackIn the next day we made our way to Thessaloniki, between boisterous Labor Day celebrations, overflowing market days, an abandoned bird nature reserve and due to the lack of alternatives ON a rushing speed way which quickly turned into a very bad idea, when the emergency stop lane ended and we suddenly found ourselves between cars racing at the Greek interpretation of a 100km/h speed limit. No wonder that the guys at the toll gate couldn’t believe their eyes when we passed the gates and took the next exit of this speeding hell.


 

valley view

Since the crowded and life-endangering road into Thessaloniki made this big city more and more unattractive we quickly searched our way through the suburbs and climbed into the beautiful backcountry of Chalkidiki where a hospitable Greek-German doctor family provided us a comfortable accommodation for the night.

after jacousiWe spent a marvelous day riding along the two lakes with a relaxing thermal Jacuzzi lunch break before we once again reached the coast. Here, for the first time since we are in Greece, we had the chance to put our feet into the hot white sand and throw ourselves into the refreshing waves. What an awesome feeling 🙂
1st campfireAccording to the local people it’s unusually hot the last days and all the more we enjoy the pleasant offshore breeze while the idea of having some “holidays” on a Greek island takes more and more shape.

 

 

Two strong bike days later we are now on Thassos where we found a perfect remote spot right at the beach which Gui, with his unbeatable Robinson Crusoe skills,  quickly turned into a fabulous and fully-equipped holiday destination.hollyday perfect frre spot1 Here we are now spending some lazy days maintaining our bikes, hand washing all our dirty clothes in a tiny bucket, killing hundreds of mosquitos, reading in the sun, creating culinary delicacies on the campfire and most of all: doing NOTHING!

Ahja and btw we also earned our first money on this trip by playing a major subsidiary role in a Polish-Indian blockbuster 🙂

 

Igoumenitsa – Meteora

It’s our fifth day in Greece and today our legs demanded a break. In the last days we discovered a whole new site of Greece and it’s filled with beautiful but quite high mountain scenery!

DCIM100GOPROOn the way from Igoumenitsa’s harbor to Meteora, where we are at the moment, we had to manage our first high climbs and it was a real challenge. First of all, our bodies are not used to it yet, especially since we didn’t have any training with this amount of luggage, second it’s a  whole different story to make 800 height meters when the sun is burning on your head without mercy the whole way up. But we decided to set about it slowly and with tons of water and a rest in the shadow now and then, we slowly fought our way up.

On the second day, when we were again stopping to gasp for breath, we had a first opportunity to encounter Greek hospitality: and older couple stopped their car right next to us and smilingly asked: “Where are you from? Do you want to come for lunch?” Totally surprise we gladly accepted their invitation. Two hours later we arrived at the junction to their village of 50 souls. The way to go down was minimum 17% steep! We were hesitating a long time because it was sure that we with Alex & Johnwould loose all the hard earned height meters of this day within no time. But the joy about this unexpected hospitality and the prospect of a home-cooked Greek speciality made us going anyway and we were really not disappointed. Alex and John served us delicious traditional meals and we soon felt like in our mother’s home where you are also encouraged to eat until you burst at the seams. When they also invited us to stay overnight we couldn’t resist to enjoy a hot shower and a comfortable bed. Additionally we had the chance to try traditional drinks together with half the village, including the “Pope”, in the local bar of Polydroso, which btw means something like “multi-cool” 🙂

The next morning we started rested and packed with shepardmore specialties like Lokum, Halva and this special cheesecake Alex had made for us. But this day should hold a less pleasant surprise for us. At 4 some dark clouds were gathering and the first refreshing drops quickly turned into an intense thunderstorm. Totally drenched we luckily found shelter in an abandoned shepherd’s hut where we also spent the night.

The following day we finally reached our first stage goal, Ioannina. We just quickly passed through this less delightful big city to start the climb to Metsovo, a peak of 1700m. Obviously we must have given a quite pathetic picture on the way up so that a friendly farmer offered us a ride in his pick-up and by the end of the day we reached Kastraki and found a great camping with an amazing view on the impressive Meteora rocks.

meteora7Off the beaten tracks we discovered the Meteora monasteries today. We found remote and peaceful trails through this remarkable and somehow surreal scenery and spent a relaxed day marveling about the outstanding craftsmanship that was necessary to build these monasteries at the top of so high and inaccessible rock needles.