Day 55 – Alexandroupoli to Kesan

Another good day today. Cycled from campsite to centre of Alexandroupoli at 7am to use internet, collect laundry, and send u-lock home to Dad. Packed up and on the move at 9, and went via the bike shop to say thankyou a lot again.
I started into a headwind whichstayed with me all day. Unfortunately the last 6km to the border is motorway. I explored other ways, but without serious offroading and getting my bike over a 2 metre fence, it wasn’t possible.

At the border the Greek guards asked how far I’d come – 3,600km – and then laughed, so I cycled off towards Turkey. Going over the bridge the Greek side is painted white and blue, and the Turkish side white and red. Across the middle of the bridge is a white line with blue on one side and red on the other. I was officially in Turkish territory. At the centre of the bridge, on either side stood a Greek and Turkish soldier, not allowed across the line into the others country. But they were leaning on the railings chatting and comparing their guns.

Going into Turkey, there is first a booth where my passport was checked, and I was told to continue on to the next booth. First though I changed all my Euro’s into Lira in the service station area. At the second booth I was told I need a visa, which I can get in the big building. I go in and to the little window. In the office a man is reading a newspaper at his desk. He looks up, sees me, sighs, and continues to read the paper. I assume he is finishing his sentance or paragraph. A minute later he turns the page and continues reading. Iask for a visa. He sticks a 15euro visa in my passport, and I say I have no euros, so I pay 30 lira instead.

Back at the second booth my passport is stamped and I continue to the third booth – customs. I’m waved right through. At the fourth booth I’m asked for my vehicle registration number. I say I’m on a bike. The guy sticks his head out the booth and laughs. He says I can continue, and I cycle on and under the big Welcome to Turkey sign.

First imprssions are good, the people seem friendly and all wave and shout support as I go past. A little boy sees me from his house, and runs across a field to see me, he was just curious, but there were no understandable words spoken between us. I reach Kesan where I have a WarmShower (like CouchSurfing, but for cyclists – no sniggering!) with Rahman. I call him from the main road junction, and think I’m supposed to go to the school where he’s a maths teacher. Up the hill into the town I go, which is very steep, all the time being curiously stared at by the locals, but in a friendly way.

After asking a few people directions I arrive at the school, and am immediately mobbed by children wanting to A. practice their English, and B. find out which football team I support! They’re all amazed that I’ve come from England, and have no idea who Carlisle United are. Rahman and his friend Fatih, an English teacher, arrive, and we go back to Rahmans house.

I’m going to be staying in the small basement flat of Rahman’s uncle, which is very nice. We chat about my trip and I use the internet. It’s ramadan, so no eating between dawn and dusk. I hear the mosque for evening prayer, and Rahman brings down a huge feast for me (Iftar). It’s just what a hungry cyclist needs – salad, fish, bean soup, rice, bread – all of it delicious!

Day 54 – Lagos to Alexandroupoli

Fantastic day today. It was cold last night, so I woke up all snug in my sleeping bag to find that the dog from last night was sleeping next to my tent, guarding me from other dogs. I made good progress passing over the land bridge along the coast, and decided to take the coast road around a mountain, even though the map said it was unsurfaced.
The villages on the way were nice, with smiling waving people. The unsurfaced road started well, which is to say tricky on a Brompton. But the trick is to take it slow, pick the bestroute, and use a low gear to gently pull over the bumps. The road was 15km long. I arrived at 12 and gave myself 3 hours – 5km/h average, so I’d have to go a bit faster than “pushing the bike” pace. The road gradually deteriorated, and the hills were steep enough that in a low enough gear to get up them I was spinning the back wheel, so I had to push up the hills. Going down the hills was also interesting, quite a few times I locked up both front and rear wheels on the gravel.

The scenery was fantastic, huge boulders, olive groves, hidden coves by the sea (although innaccesable down the landscape), and not a person for miles. Or so I though. I came round a corner to find a German tourer coming towards me. He was completely in camouflage gear – t-shirt, shorts, panniers, even his bike, were all in green jungle camo colours.

We discussed routes, and he suggested I go north from India into Nepal, over the Himalayas and into China, then east, and south through Laos and into Thailand. It’s a possibility, but the climate at the time of year could be a problem. He also said going across Burma was ok – he did it. Rather him than me!

The road smoothed and became tarmac. Took 2 hours 30 minutes, so not bad at all. Got to Alexandroupoli and found the municipal campsite – very nice, best I’ve seen in Greece so far.

Went into the town and used the internet. I have a warm shower in Kesan – yay! Also found Tass, one of my lecturers from uni and now good friends, is in Istanbul for a conference, hope he is still there and we could meet up. Drop off laundry, to be collected at 8:30am tomorrow, and go in search of bike shop Andrew and Friedel recommended.

The owner is fantastic, a very friendly guy, and one of the truly good hearted guys in the world. He tightened the headset on my bike in no time (it had been slightly loose since the pothole in Greece, and getting gradually worse), and when I mentioned Andrew and Friedel his jaw dropped. He’s amazed, and wants to know how they are, where they are, how I know them, where I’m coming from and going, do I have everything I need, am I ok? He fusses over me and the bike for a bit, and gives me a thermos water bottle and a few consumables. I have to stop him before he puts himself out of business!

I say thank you a lot, and go back to the campsite to make dinner. Dinner was pasta with a side of pasta garnished in pasta – my punishment for dropping dinner the night before.

I liked Alexandroupoli, it had a good vibe to it, busy but not overwhelming, well organised, and friendly people.

Day 53 – Kavala to Lagos

I was ready to go at 8am today, but I forgot to pay last night and the campsite reception only opened at 9am. I was a nice cycle. Once out of Kavala the traffic joins the motorway and it was flat so I did 20km/h again. I was hoping to be in Xanthi by 12, but I got a puncture and it tok an hour to fix.
The puncture was caused by the extra section of tyre inside the rear tyre to keep it from bursting. The edges were too sharp, and were cutting through the inner tube. I used two big patches on the affected spots, and wrapped the ends of the inside tyre in duck tape to stop it happening again. Hope it holds to Istanbul. Fortunately though it happened 50m from a petrol station, so I had a nice bucket of water and the garages air compressor – once tiny short blast and the tyre was rock solid.

Got to Xanthi at 1 and found an internet place. I have a couch to surrf in Tekirdag on Saturday! That means a definite time-destination I have to stick to. Leaving the internet the sky was dark. I went to a bakery to buy bread, and while in there the rain started. At first massive hail stones, then torrential rain, with water gushing dwn the streets and out of overfilled drains. I stayed in the bakery while the power flickered on and off for the rain to die down.

I still got soaked even though it was no longer raining. Since breaking my rear mudguard completely in Brindisi, all the water sprayed over my back and onto the trailer. I tried to work out where water was getting into the trailer, and discovered it isn’t the seal at the top. But even after an afternoon in the spray, only one tiny corner of my tool kit was a damp, so I’m not overly concerned about it anymore.

After 80km I saw a forrested area that looked like a nice place to camp. But I’ve only done 80km and there’s 4 hours of daylight left, so I stopped only to check the map and NOT for the night. Saw it has running water, so I went over to fill up my water bottles, and NOT for the night. It has picnic benches, and a nice secluded spot for a tent. Check it out, and put my tent up. I’m weak.

The thunder sounds exactly like the dinosaur footsteps in Jurrasic Park. Quite eerily similar. At my secluded spt a very thin dog is hanging out. He doesn’t bark and seems a bit shy (makes a change). He seems to be protecting this bit of the forest, which must be his domain, from other dogs. I made dinner, and ate a bit, but then managed t drop it all on the ground. Saw the funny side, and cleared it up. Only thought bugger and got annoyed when I realised I forgot to take a photo.

Day 52 – Asprovalta to Kavala

Had a better day today. Left at about 8am and averaged 20km/h all the way to Kavala. I stopped at a cafe once and chatted to a guy questioning my journey and if I’d really come from England. I passed the Lion of Amphipolis this morning. Just an impressive very old lion statue, but a nice pause on the journey.
At one point the main road (like an A-Road in the UK) turned into a motorway without warning, which is very naughty of it, but the first exit had me back on the coast road to a nice enough campsite. Most campsites are very empty now, as most tourists have gone home.

Had an email from Jo and Alex – hopefully we can meet up in Istanbul, turns out they’ll be there at the same time as me.

This morning the weather started out perfectly clear and sunny. As I was cycling the strangest thing happened. I saw a patch of mist coming down from the mountains, all on its own, like a huge, soft, slow drop of water. As it approached the road I passed through it, and it was cold with no visibility. When I was through it was sunny again and I saw it move off the land and out to sea. It made me think of my emotions right now, and how quickly they can change from happy, to lost. Possible book title: “Misted Valleys, Sun Drenched Peaks”, maybe.

Day 51 – Thessaloniki

Feeling very low today. Have wasted two days in Asprovalta all because of stupidity of breaking GPS. The original schedule had me in Alexandroupoli today, but that won’t be until the 18th at least now.
The bus to Thessaloniki arrived at 9:30 – it’s supposed to be every hour on the hour, but oh well. 6.60euro to Thessaloniki, and it took 1.5 hours. On the bus I re-sewed my stove bag which I managed to rip. Sewing is easier said than done when on a bus doing 120km/h careering wildly down the road while the drivers on the phone.

In Thes. I started looking for places to buy a GPS, all I want is a simple Garmin eTrex – should be 80gbp in the UK. Every electronics store says not here and they don’t know where. One store looked outdoors-ey (lots of knives, guns, ammo, camouflage, compasses, that kind of thing), so I asked them. They didn’t know. Only suggestion was store called Placio on main shopping street.

The internet cafe was on the way, so I stopped there for a bit. Just around the corner I found a really well stocked outdoors shop. Everything you could need from all the good brands, tents, clothing, camping gear, good selection of everything from bargain to high end stuff. But no GPS’s. They also suggested Placio.

Went to Placio (turns out it’s like any electronics store on the TCR in London – poor selection of stuff, and they try to sell you what you don’t want anyway). They had car sat navs, but not GPS. They suggested another electronics store, but also no luck – it was a phone store.

Back at the outdoors shop, one of the workers heard me talking English, and said he’d lived in London for 5 years in the 70’s, and still remembered the markets and shopping. He said the only place in Thes. I was likely to find Garmin was the marine stores by the port.

On the way I saw a bookshop and went in, looking for maps of Iran. They didn’t have any, but the girl behind the counter looked friendly enough and was on Facebook, so they had internet, and the shop was empty. I ask if she could search on the internet for Garmin retailers in Greece, but in the Greek language, so the results would be more meaningful than me searching in English. “Is Garmin a book?”, I said no but it would be really helpful. She said no. I snapped, said she looked helpful, but turned out just like every other Greek, and that Greece would sink internationally unless someone learned some customer service and entrepreneurship. Also. shouldn’t she be working and not on Facebook. I slammed the door on the way out.

I apologise to all Greeks, who have been very kind and friendly in general. I didn’t mean any of it.

I was so shocked at myself I walked down a deserted alley and sank to sit and sob against a wall. Why was I so fixated on finding a GPS to buy, did it really matter? I missed home, and Jaine, didn’t know why I was doing the trip any more, snapping at innocent people who had done nothing wrong, and cursing entire countries which turn out to be very nice.

I went back to the internet and wrote a long “feeling sorry for myself” email to Jaine. Fortunately she replied straight away, basically saying pull yourself together. Just what I needed (thanks hun!).

At the port the only shops selling Garmin stuff had very expensive marine GPS’s. Not for me. I went back to the bus station, and passed through a market, buying bread, tuna, cheese, and apples. Despite having 3euro in my pocket I got all that. Must shop in markets more often!

At the bus station I went to ask someone if the bus went to Asprovalta. They got the question in first “Asprovalta?”, so we asked a few more people. No one knew for sure, but everyone was going to Asprovalta, so we figured it was a safe bet.

From the bus, about 3km out of the centre I spied an outdoors store – modern, professional, just like the ones in Covent Garden in London. They probably had GPS’s. Oh well. About 100m later was a bike shop. Modern, professional looking, just like ones in London – probably had a few things I needed. Oh well. Back in Asprovalta I went to the Internet cafe – I figured that’s where I left my sunglasses – and they had them!

After dinner of pasta with cheese and tuna (my favourite old simple meal from home), I read Al Humphreys chapter on Siberia. He spent 3 months riding in -40C. I’m less than 2 months in and have ridden through warm summer in Europe – need to toughen up!

Day 50 – Asprovalta

Didn’t mention properly on yesterdays post that I broke my GPS while fixing the tyre. While getting things out of the trailer, I put the GPS in the hinge, and when closing the lid to get the old tyre off the top, I crunched the GPS. It literally did go crunch!
In the morning I decided to go to Thessaloniki to try and buy a GPS. After waiting and hour and a half for two buses that didn’t show up I gave up, and went into Asprovalta instead. I asked around a few electronics shops, obviously no one has a GPS, and there are no outdoor/camping/mountain shops either – but everyone says in Thessaloniki for sure. I found the internet cafe at about 9am, but no one knows when it opens. I have nothing better to do, so just wait. At 11 it opens.

I spend most of the day on the internet sorting various things out. Back at the campsite I realise I’ve lost my sunglasses. I also start a weight/bulk clear out for luggage. I’m going to send my u-lock home, as it weighs about 2kg but is worth 75gbp, and I haven’t used it yet, instead using the cable lock. I haven’t shaved in two months, and don’t intend on doing so, so shaving gel has gone. As has factor 15 suncream bottle that was nearly used up, and the emptiest of two bottles of after sun cream. Today’s random act of kindness – leaving a spare loo roll in the campsite toilets.

Day 49 – Loudias to Asprovalta

What a day. Tent was soaking with condensation, but I still left at 8am and made the 40km to Thessaloniki in 2 hours – 20km/h average!
On way into Thes. I saw a sign for internet, so went there. It was a trendy darkened cafe/bar, and only had computers in the back. The owner said “no internet” – I said the sign clearly says internet, he said “no internet, you go left and 200m, internet”. Ok then. Didn’t find that, so asked the doorman of the Holiday Inn, he said not around here, but in centre. I asked someone else, and found a place 50m down a side street filled with sex shops, peep shows, xxx cinemas and the like. I went in to another darkened bar, and the owner again said no internet and virtually escorted me out the door.

I carried on to the centre, and asked at a ticket kiosk for the internet. I was told around the corner. I went in to another darkened bar, could clearly see people on the internet in the back. But again I was told no internet – it is broken. I asked if it was broken everywhere in Thes. She looked me up and down, and said “yes probably”. Damn, 6 days cycling with no shower does have a downside, either that or there are some dodgy “internet cafes” in Thessaloniki!

I gave up on the internet, and went to cycle on towards Asprovalta. Just down the road I found a nice internet cafe, rows of computers, and people on Facebook and Gmail and stuff. Went in, and hey! got to use the internet.

Thessaloniki, it turns out, is another big city like Milan that doesn’t want people to leave. All the signs are useless unless you’re going to Athens. I asked for directions, and was told the end of the road and left. Went there and it was the motorway bypass. I turned off at the first place, and asked a firefighter at the fire station for directions. “You want to take the mountain road to Asprovalta!?” he said, and looked me up and down. “By bicycle, I think for you it is too hard”. Well, I haven’t cycled from London, over the Alps and northern Greece to be told a 500m pass is “too hard”.

Continue in what I think is about the right direction, and ask again. Get meaningful directions, and go over tough, but manageable mountain pass. Coming down though, I notice a bulge in my rear tyre. Turns out the same thing is happenning as before when it went bang, but I caught it in time. I fortunately kept the old burst rear tyre, and manage to bodge a fix on this one with a section of the other. Hope it lasts to Istanbul.

By now it was 5pm, so 2 hours of daylight left. Still 60km to campsite on the coast which was target for the day. If I race there, it could be done in 3 hours. I took 4, and arrived in pitch black. The receptionist said to pick a spot, which is easier said than done at night!

Day 48 – Voskochori to Loudias

After leaving camping spot the road went very uphill for 15km. I missed having Sven for company winding my way up those long slow turns. I stopped just before the top of the pass for coffee. Human Geography moment here – I think the new motorway cutting through the landscape will leave small towns in this area in a similar position as Radiator Springs in the Pixar film Cars. There was no traffic on the road, just the odd local car. Yet in the town (Zoodochos Pigi) there were 4 nice tavernas, 2 of which had closed, and two which probably won’t last much longer. It’s a shame – as much as I’d have liked to zip along a straight flat highway, the nice towns are worth visiting and the mountain passes worth driving.
In Veria found internet cafe and did more admin work. After Internet I cycled along the first long flat plane I’ve seen in weeks. A tractor was gaining on me behind, so I sped up and raced it at 25km/h for about half an hour! At Loudias I turned off the road onto a track, and after 2km or so found a nice spot between peach trees. I didn’t expect to be found, but a man walking his dog came along. He looked fine with me staying there, but indicated there were ‘Baa’s’ nearby. I said it would be fine.

About an hour later, the shepard came along with his Baa’s, and said it was fine to camp there and the Baa’s wouldn’t be a problem.

Only problem I did have was the last pasta I bought. It is long macaroni, and very messy to eat without a table and proper cutlery!

Day 47 – Grevena to Voskochori

Had bad nights sleep in the ploughed field. There was a lump right on the middle of my back, my bum was sloping to the left, and my legs were too much downhill. Also, for some reason, my thumbs kept cramping up during the night – don’t know why, and it was very odd!
On the road by 8am, and it was still quite cold. Stopped after 1km at a cafe to have coffee. The coffee shop owner(?) looked about 80, and was very slow, but he did make a damn fine cup of coffee!

Later, Sven wanted to eat, so we stopped at another cafe. I studied map to see about campsites near Thessaloniki to have parts delivered to. Turns out they are on the coast due east, and Thessaloniki is NE. Not really going to work out.

In Kozani we found a Champion supermarket, just being rebranded as Carrefour (were they bought out), and by chance there was an internet cafe across the road. I made the decision to pass straight through Thessaloniki to Istanbul, while Sven wants to spend a few days in Thes. to decide how to continue his trip. We decided to part company, and Sven even bought me a farewell meal to say thanks for all the help!

I managed another 25km into a headwind and past fires in fields. One was burning towards the road with the wind, and I either had to make a dash to get past it, or wait. I made a dash and made it. I stopped at a petrol station and asked if I could pitch my tent. I figured it wasn’t safe just in a field because of the fires, and if the fires were any threat to the petrol station all hell would break loose, and I’d probably end up safe!

Day 46 – Metsovo to Grevena

Just 1km from where we camped was a cafe on the road. A lovely girl served us coffee and seemed amazed at my challenge. Shame we had just slept rough in a field and had to leave soon!
The road was flat for a bit, but then the climb continued. We didn’t go over the Katara pass, but a more northerly route that was almost as high. On the way down my braked were overheating again (how about disk brakes on a Brompton? Too tricky?). I changed the front brake blocks, and they seem to be better. I don’t know if the blocks are just better at stopping without heating up (which would be ok), or they are better at gripping on hot rims (which would be bad).

Down out of the mountains I saw a GB car parked. Talked to the owner, and he was a British/Iraqi, on his way back from visiting family via Iran and Turkey. I still can’t quite imagine a GB registered Renault Clio driving around Iraq!

Found internet cafe in Grevena, but the keyboard was awful, so only managed a few emails. By then it was getting late, so had to find somewhere to sleep quickly. On the way I passed 3000km (yay!). We found a spot down a quiet track and in a ploughed field.