Athens to Makry Gialos, Crete – 9 to 20th Nov 2016

Athens to Makry Gialos, Crete – 9 to 20th Nov 2016

Wednesday 9th November

Athens

We are awake after a good night’s sleep. Fillipos has gone to work, but we chat with Jean-Christophe and Fabienne about our respective travels. Daz pops to a bike shop with JC as they need more boxes to pack their bikes for the flight to Cyprus but when they get there it’s shut. We’ve put a wash on and once it’s finished and hung out it’s time for sightseeing. First we need to catch a bus to Piraeus. We wait for quite a while then one turns up. We board and try to buy a ticket but are told you have to pre-buy them in kiosks or shops!! After finding a kiosk, buying the ticket (1.40€ per ticket, it’s valid for all buses and metros and lasts 90 minutes) and waiting for another bus we finally make Piraeus. Here, using the same ticket we get the metro into central Athens. We come out into the windy sunshine near the Ancient Agora.

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The Agora of Athens was the center of the ancient city: a large, open square where the citizens could assemble for a wide variety of purposes. On any given day the space might be used as a market, or for an election, a dramatic performance, a religious procession, military drill, or athletic competition. Here administrative, political, judicial, commercial, social, cultural, and religious activities all found a place together in the heart of Athens, and the square was surrounded by the public buildings necessary to run the Athenian government. We don’t go in, entrance cost, but walk around the outside getting a good view of the Agora and the Acropolis beyond. Then we wander the streets of modern Athens taking in the Parliament where we see the end of the guard change and Daz gets his picture taken stood to attention with the guard.

 

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We also visit the Olympic stadium, the Metropolitan cathedral of Athens and the Temple of Zeus. The temple of Olympian Zeus (6th c. B.C.), one of the largest in antiquity and close by Hadrian’s Arch (131 A.D.), which forms the symbolic entrance to the city. From there, walking along Dionysou Areopaghitou Street (on the south side of the Acropolis) you pass the ancient Theatre of Dionysos (5th c. B.C.) where most of the works by Sophocles, Euripides, Aeschylos and Aristophanes were performed. Continuing, you will reach the ruins of the Asklepieion (5th c. B.C.) and the Stoa of Eumenes (2th c. B.C.) and from there the Odeion of Herodes Atticus, which was built in 161 A.D. and is nowadays the venue of the performances of the Athens Festival.

 

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Then we head into Plaka. It’s a mass of narrow streets, tourist shops and restaurants but it’s backdrop is the Acropolis so we get some lovely photos. The “core” of the historic centre is the Plaka neighborhood (at the eastern side of the Acropolis), which has been inhabited without interruption since antiquity. When you walk through the narrow labyrinthine streets lined with houses and mansions from the time of the Turkish occupation and the Neoclassical period (19th c.), you will have the impression of travelling with a “time machine”. The wind has been gusting all morning and there’s a mass of black clouds. The shop owners are busy moving their goods under cover and battening down their hatches and suddenly the storm hits. There’s lightning and then the thunder cracks; it’s immediately overhead. Then there’s the most incredible deluge of rain and hail and within seconds the streets are gushing rivers. We’ve taken refuge in a watch shop where the proprietor seems more than happy for us to take shelter in her shop and we can watch the rain falling and the antics of other tourists in the dry.

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We ask her if she can recommend a restaurant and when the rain abates we head off to find it. We try 3 dishes; a spicy pork dish; biscuit covered in tomato and cheese and a ham, potato and cheese dish. The last is delicious, a mass of glorious stringy cheese. The rainfall continues so we sit and play backgammon and even a game of chess. We’ve had a few glasses of wine and finally decide it’s time to leave.

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We get the metro back to Piraeus and the bus back home. Filippos visits his son on Wednesday so he’s only just come home but there’s more warmshower guests, Clemente and Isis, a French-Canadian couple with their 14 month old daugher Yaelle.

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J-C and Fabienne have been busy preparing everything for their flight tomorrow. They’ve even managed to buy some Chinese shopping bags for all their panniers. Their stress is palpable ; flying with bikes is a huge pain in the arse. The bikes need to be boxed but only after removing racks, pedals, brake discs (some do, some don’t) and turning the handlebars. But even after extensive preparation the bikes can still end up ‘trashed’ and of course everyone’s heard a horror story or 2, sadly no-one talks about a good experience. J-C and Fabienne are using a woodburning cooker; it’s brilliant, no need to scour the shops for fuel and no fuel expenses. It does produce a lot of soot though and is probably as slow, or slower than our alcohol burner. It’s bedtime, we won’t see J-C and Fabienne again as Filippos is taking them to the airport before he goes to work. They move their boys into the sitting room and sleep there, so Clemente and Isis can have the other bedroom. Filippos sleeps on the balcony. This guy is so incredible ; he’s hosting 6 adults and 3 children in his 2 bed apartment and tomorrow he’s driving 40km to the airport with J-C and his family and all his equipment.

 

Thursday 10th November

Athens

This morning we head into Athens and we walk up Lycabettus Hill. It’s 277m above sea level and is the highest point of the city giving us incredible views. At its peak is 19th century Chapel of St George. I’m so glad we saved this for today because the skies are clear instead of the black cloud of yesterday. We walk down the hill, across Platka, finally find somewhere to exchange our Albanian Lec and up to the Acropolis.

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We climb up to the sacred rock of the Acropolis, the site of some of the most important masterpieces of worldwide architecture and art, the most renowned of which is the Parthenon temple. Apart from this, also impressive are the Propylaea, the temple of the Athene Nike and the Erechtheion, while you must not skip a visit to the Museum, located close to the Parthenon. Moreover, from the rock you have an impressive view of the city.

Only 300m away from the sacred rock of Acropolis stands the impressive Acropolis Museum, one of the most important contemporary works of architecture in Athens. It is made of steel, glass and concrete and it houses 4,000 priceless finds from the Acropolis monuments that represent its history and function as the most important religious centre of ancient Athens.

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Finally sightseeing done we head home after getting provisions. We’re cooking dinner tonight; Zanzibar fish soup for us and Filippos and without fish for Clemente and Isis. Clemente and Isis are Vegans. They’ve been travelling for 9months with their little girl. Isis is breast feeding and is a diabetic who manages her diabetes without medication (except when pregnant or breastfeeding). They are also both keen climbers. They also use reusable nappies. As a result of the above, they write various articles for various websites. I’m in awe of what they’ve achieved. Daz and I consider cycling adventure enough without throwing in all the extra elements of Clemente and Isis’ trip which is a sleep deprivation exercise. We’re asleep by 7pm whilst Yaelle wants to play in the evening because she’s slept so much during the day.

 

Friday 11th November

Athens to Lakka Kalogirou

Distance: 18.26 km

Average Speed :12.21kmh

Fastest Speed: 41.79kmh

Total Distance: 10,318.51

 

This morning it’s a nice lazy start and then it’s time to upload the blog, photos and update Fb. All of which is hugely time consuming so we have lunch (left over Zanzibar soup), say farewell to Clemente and Isis who are cycling into Piraeus and finally pack and leave at 1430hrs.

 

p1170488 p1170489 p1170490 p1170491 p1170492 It’s lovely to be back on the trikes and it’s a relaxed ride to Perama to take the ferry to Palouki. In Palouki we get some provisions for the weekend and head off to Steno for our last ferry crossing. We sit and wait for the ferry to come in, watching the sun set and it’s only 1715hrs.

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The days are getting so much shorter, thank goodness our cycling is soon to stop otherwise we’d be setting up camp by 4pm and I’m not sure even golden duvet award winner Darren could sleep from 5pm to 7am, but he’d probably give it a good go. The ferry comes in, 3 fuel tankers are loaded on and it leaves. No-one else is allowed on – a safety measure we assume which is odd in a country where motorcyclists don’t wear helmets, children don’t wear seatbelts or use child safety seats and all drivers use the phone constantly whilst driving. As a result we have to wait for the ferry to return and the light is going. We land at Lakka Kalogirou and decide we should camp on the beach, only 200m away. Tent up, dinner eaten and it’s bed time; only 7pm.

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Saturday 12th November

Lakka Kalogirou to Piraeus via Pachi aerodrome

Distance: 28.94 km

Average Speed :14.71kmh

Fastest Speed: 44.95kmh

Total Distance: 10,347.45

We had a few nighttime visitors, just cars driving down the beach, turning and leaving. None are interested in our presence. Around 5.30am there’s more traffic, the fishermen have arrived. We get up and chat to the fishermen ; they have 3 to 4 rods each.

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We’re not sure what they’re after (Daz sarcastically says “fish!”) but it’s for their dinner. After breakfast we cycle to the aerodrome, it’s only 4km, but then we need to wait for the low cloud to clear. By 1pm the skies are clear enough for Daz to do his first jump. He follows this with a second jump a little later. Both jumps are plagued with winds at altitude which push him off course but he still manages to land in the DZ. Unlike the guy who is on his 100th jump and lands about a kilometre away in a grove of olive trees!!

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Sadly Daz is underwhelmed by his 2 jumps because he jumps at 9000m and then at just over 10k but this doesn’t give him much time to practice his manoeuvres before pulling his chute and then it’s an effort to get to the DZ. In Seville he was jumping at 15000m. After his 2 jumps the clouds have arrived and so that ends the day’s jumping. We decide that we’ll try and get to Piraeus and bring our ferry to Crete forward by a day. We cycle to the first ferry and whilst waiting a German couple on cargo bikes roll up.

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Oliver and Alex have cycled from Cologne in Germany and are going to spend a couple of months in Greece before cycling on via the far east. We chat whilst the ferry is crossing but then it’s a race for the next ferry; it’s getting dark and they need to get to the centre of Athens where they have a hostel booked -:good luck!! We follow on behind and by the time we get to the second ferry it is dark. We were hoping for a direct ferry to Piraeus but find out they stop running after 2 pm. So it means we cross to Perama and then need to cycle hard for another 10 km in the dark and with heavy traffic to Piraeus and our ferry to Crete. However we make it in good time and change our tickets.

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Once aboard we grab a quick meal and a celebration glass of wine then a shower and bed. Well, first we attempt to lay out our beds in the Pullman suite where we have seats booked, but we are moved on. We find another clear carpet space but again we’re moved on. Finally we’re shown an area on one of the lower decks (all the good places have gone). We lay our sleeping mats and bags and pray for sleep. Unfortunately the temperature on board is close to 35 degrees. We’ve already been moved on several times so this ‘hotspot’ is probably the best we can do given that every other piece of ‘real estate’ is already occupied.

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Sunday 13th November

Heraklion to Malia of In-betweeners fame

 

Distance: 43.85km

Average Speed :10.78 kmh

Fastest Speed: 52.14 kmh

Total Distance: 10,391.30

At 0630 the ferry ship docks and we’re tired and grumpy (we think we managed a couple of hours of sleep) as we pack up our gear and join the queue to disembark. We load our bikes up and trundle down the ramp onto Crete.

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We cycle out of the port and towards the town centre. There’s The Fortress of Koules which we explore. The Venetian Castle of Heraklion is called Koules, which means fortress in Turkish. It is an impressive fortress that surrounds the harbor of Heraklion, Crete. The Koules Castle is a massive fortress with two storeys that used to guard the entry to the port.

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The Castle was constructed by the Venetians in the early 13th century, when they conquered the town. Back at the Quay I think I spot a kingfisher. My trusted companion scoffs heartily and surely not here where it’s all salt water.

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I thought they liked fast flowing rivers with good banks for cover. But it is a kingfisher flying from perch to perch on the boats watching for some fry for breakfast. We head into town for breakfast and chat with the off going staff of a nearby nightclub who are enjoying a post work coffee.

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We then make our way out of Heraklion on the old coast road but it’s hard work. The lack of sleep, and the battering Daz received skydiving yesterday means he has extra aches and pains. Strangely, for a quiet Sunday, we’re passed by a huge number of police cars, no sirens, just on patrol. It must be double time today.

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We arrive in Malia (where they shot the In-betweeners movie) and stop at an English pub for a late afternoon full English breakfast and a glass of wine. Sometime later we drop down to the beach and the old port of Malia and set up camp. It’s very early, but we are knackered.

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Two more days and we should make our destination for the next 5 weeks, Makry Gialos.

 

Monday 14th November

Malia to Istron

Distance: 48.62 km

Average Speed :10.53 kmh

Fastest Speed: 58.6 kmh

Total Distance: 10439.92 km

This morning we cycle out of Malia sticking to the coast road. The beaches are beautiful and we also pass the archaeological site of Malia Palace.

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After the Palace we turn back onto the old road and then we have a route choice dilemma – the old road which seems to have quite a few switchbacks or the national road which appears much straighter. We opt for the national road. There’s no ‘cyclists prohibited’ signs, the road surface is excellent, the hard shoulder is really wide and the traffic relatively light. Fabulous. We stop for coffee and then continue soon thinking we’ve broken the back of the uphill. We’ve just passed Neopoli when we see a traffic jam.

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There’s been a pretty horrendous RTA. A white van and a bus appear to be the main protagonists, the white van being the loser. The front passenger side is completely mangled and the passenger has to be cut out. Bizarrely there are no cordons to prevent curious onlookers walking up to have a good look. The driver and passenger of the white van have both been stretchered onto 2 ambulances. At this point we attempt to pass the accident scene and continue on our way. However we’re met by a verbal onslaught – we’re not allowed on this road on bikes. We’re sent back to Neopoli and the old road. Ridiculously this is far more dangerous because it’s taking all the traffic being diverted off the highway and the road is narrow and the road surface is potholed to hell. We stop in Limnes hoping to find lunch but every restaurant whilst looking open says they’re not serving food. Having tried 4 places Daz loses patience and we head off. Fortunately this delay has been sufficient for the RTA to be cleared because the road is nice and quiet. We stop and cook a pasta lunch because we’re both starving. We fry some salami, mushrooms and garlic and add it to our spaghetti, yummy. Then we have a nice downhill stretch into Agios Nikolaus.

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We cycle around the lake and through the centre. After a coffee stop we carry on along the old national road until Istron. It’s here that we had decided we would take a road over the mountains as we thought we wouldn’t be allowed on the main road to Ierapetra. Luckily we stopped for water as it was the end of the day. We pulled into a business on the side of the road selling fences and garden ‘stuff’. Daz goes to ask for water and then comes out and calls me in all excited. The owner, Steve, is from England, and not just anywhere, but from Tamworth, Daz’s hometown!

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He’s got his daughter, Ellie, there too and both have the Tamworth/Brummie twang! They give us water, and when we ask about camping spots they tell us to go to the beach in Istron as it is very beautiful and they also recommend a pizza place! We thank them and cycle into Istron, spotting the pizzeria we are sucked in by the tractor beam that is Daz’s stomach and the thought of some good food. Well we aren’t disappointed, the pizza was fabulous, Riccardo did us proud!

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He also directs us the right way to the beach. We get chatting with a Greek man and his Slovenian partner, Elena. He’s a natural farmer and she’s a tourist guide. He is very informative about the flora and fauna of Crete and it’s microclimates.

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He also tells us it’s a bad year for the olives as there were high winds when the flowers came out and they were all blown off the trees, hence not so many olives! We bid farewell and cycle down to the beach, it’s dark now but we soon get set up in a lovely spot and shower using the beach showers, cold but invigorating!

 

Tuesday 15th November

Istron to Makry Gialos via Ierapetra

Distance: 51.54 km

Average Speed: 11.27 kmh

Fastest Speed: 49.84 kmh

Total Distance: 10491.46 km.

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This morning we head out of Istron following the coast. We then cut from the north coast to Ierapetra on the south coast using the new highway. We had planned to use the old road but apparently it’s horrendously hilly whilst this road is pretty flat.

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We cycle into Ierapetra and spot a Lidl’s – ummmmmm more Stollen. Then we cycle into town and stop for coffee. The couple on the next table are Brits, he’s an ex Royal Engineer and their son in law works at Army HQ. They’ve been living in Greece for about 12 years and live near Sitia on the north coast, they love living in Crete. After a nice chat we head off. We follow the coast road east towards our destination. The wind is strong and at times comes from all directions but we finally arrive in the beach town of Makry Gialos.

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We stop at the first taverna and get some lunch with a celebratory glass of wine. We’re going to be in Makry Gialos (which apparently means ‘long beach’ in Greek) for the next 5 or 6 weeks and we’re looking forward to the rest. We find the hotel we are staying/ working at and settle into our room.

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We are due to meet our hosts later this evening. It’s very nice, a proper bed, warm shower and good Internet!! At 7pm we pop down to the lobby and meet Mary. There’s a lovely log fire burning, so homely but so hot. Shortly Vassilas arrives and we all get to know each other before enjoying a fish supper together. It’s absolutely delicious, with some homemade salads and side dishes followed by a scrummy chocolate cake. Unfortunately it’s getting way past our usual bedtime and we soon make our excuses and retire to bed. They don’t need us until 2pm tomorrow so we can enjoy a lie in!!

 

Wednesday 16th November

A lazy morning watching The Fall. At 2pm we meet Mary and she wants us to clean and tidy the kitchen. There are jars and jars of Vassilas’ creations. He’s a keen cook and this seems mostly his domain.

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At 6pm we’re done. We have our dinner and then join Mary and Vassilas for the quiz and bingo night. It’s held every Wednesday for the ex-pats. It’s very entertaining, we come 2nd in the quiz but win nothing in the Bingo! We also meet some of the other hotel staff, Sue, Eva and Nicos.

 

Thursday 17th November

We take a leisurely walk around the village this morning. The beach is lovely and the sunshine is very warming. We spot a hairdressers and we pop in and I get shorn. Then it’s a quick kebab for lunch before we rock up for work.

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Today it’s clearing out the storage rooms down in the basement and then we get to help Mary in the kitchen, baking cakes and making dips and tasty bites for dinner. By the time we are finished sampling our creations we are stuffed. Luckily dinner is being cooked by Vassilas tonight and it’s bound to be something healthy!

In the late evening, just as I have dozed off Daz wakes me… Earthquake! Luckily it’s only a magnitude 4, unlike the recent New Zealand ones.

 

Friday 18th to Sunday 20th November

 

Friday morning Mary and Vassilas take us to Sitia. It’s a pretty seaside town with a castle. We do some shopping and then enjoy a coffee. On the way home we stop at 2 cooperative olive pressing factories – Mary wants us to see and taste newly pressed olive oil.

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Unfortunately in both mills they’ve just finished work. In the afternoon we clean and tidy the basement and make a foam inventory. This evening Mary and Vassilas are going out to dinner so we’ll have to manage alone – it’s a shame because their meals are so tasty.

Saturday we start the ‘hanger’ and towel rail jobs. The hanger task is to collect all the hangers from all 68 units, group them by colour and then return to rooms. In each room there’s 2 towel rails but strangely one is white and the other is a creamy beige colour. These are to be paired so they’re the same colour. Whilst doing this job we find the cat who’s been missing for 2 days, locked in room 105. The poor cat is so relieved to be free but has wrecked a double mattress. Mary has given us an extensive job list to work through over the next 5 weeks. There’s plenty of room maintenance and gardening for us to do. In the late afternoon Mary and Vassilas take us to Pefki, a small village at the top of the gorge that runs inland from Makry Gialos. There’s a Kazani, the night the village runs a still to make raki (Greek moonshine) from the remnants from the grape pressing. There’s a huge olive fire underneath the still and whilst the raki is being distilled, there’s a huge communal barbecue with pork chops, sausages, baked potatoes and other delicious treats. We sit at a table with a great view of the still and barbecue and our table is soon covered in food, stuffed peppers, stuffed vine leaves, salad, and various cuts of meat.

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We drink raki and enjoy the delicious food which just keeps coming. There’s a band playing traditional Greek music and as the evening progresses the dancing starts. It’s a fantastic night – a real treat to experience such a typical Greek tradition.

Sunday, despite all the raki we consumed, we’re both feeling pretty good. Today is Mary’s last day, she’s flying out of Sitia tonight and will be home in Florida by Tuesday. So it’s all systems go to ensure we get through the jobs she wants to oversee.

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There’s bulb planting, weeding the herb garden, watering plants, hanger grouping, tidying the basement and drawing the shelf layout of a planned display/book case on the wall. Then we stop for dinner – there’s stuffed peppers and potatoes, salad and some steamed prawns covered in a very tasty sauce – a truly delicious meal. We say goodbye to Mary, we won’t see her again. Vassilas will be here to keep an eye on us until 9th December and then he’ll join Mary in Florida, leaving us ‘home alone!’.

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