Day 45 – Ioannina to Metsovo

Hilly day. Very hilly day! I said to Sven we should get up early to leave when it’s cool. I didn’t mean 5am early though – it was still dark enough to see the milky way! Went back to sleep and we left a bit after 7am when it actually light.
After a long gruelling climb we reached a nice downhill stretch. I was doing about 40km/h when I saw a pothole ahead, so I eased to the right to avoid it, and found myself in the path of another bigger pothole. Now, potholes are not fun on any bike, but on a bike with 16″ wheels, they are especially troublesome. Anyway, I held on for dear life (I really thought I was going down on that one) and survived – the bike seems to be intact as well.

After another long climb I returned to Geography student mode. The main road from Igoumenitsa (main port in NW Greece) to Thessaloniki (big city in NE Greece) and Turkey is like an A road in the UK, but with very big hills and lots of hairpin bends. All the traffic passes along it, from cars, campervans, buses and trucks – even the odd cyclist! At one point it is single file, and passes over an ageing metal bridge, that isn’t asphalt, but metal sheets with bike wheel sized gaps between. Everywhere along the road you can see the construction work for the new motorway, and the EU funding signs.

Along the way we were passed by 10 or 15 British campervans. All tooted and waved, and one driver even shouted “marvelous sight” as he passed by. Later on and there were more GB campervans, and one stopped to ask me directions.

Metsovo was the target for the day, and when we reached it Sven walked (no way we were cycling downhill only to have to come up the same way again) down the hill into the town with water bottles so we could camp wild when we found a nice spot. Just up the next hill and I spotted a track up to the left, with rolling grazing land. Followed that for about half a km and found a nice spot. Sven went to ask farmers for permission, and while he was gone I asked the farmer that walked by for permission.

Still trying to get parts delivered. Thought about sending them to campsite in Thessaloniki. Mum looked one up and phoned, but they didn’t speak english. They put an english speaking guest on the the phone, who turned out to be one of the GB campervan drivers. Mum said “but there must be lots of cycle tourers, are you sure it was him”, he said “weird bike, trailer with GB sticker and Union Jack”, Mum said “yeah that’s him…”!

Day 44 – Ioannina

Ioannina seems like a nice town. I got up early and went straight to the internet cafe to finish the website re-design and do some other things. I also finally bought and sent some postcards!
I walked back to the campsite in early afternoon through the old town. Lovely narrow old cobbled streets, could barely fit a small car through them! I’m liking Greece so far. It has the same Mediterranean spirit of Italy, but somehow it seems more organised and finished – the supermarkets for example, people take pride in the display of products, unlike Italy where they’re just randomly placed.

Back at the campsite did some work to the bike, trued the rear wheel, but realised the wobble is a fault in the molding of the tyre, rather than the rim being warped. Really looking forward to getting Schwalbe tyres when I can find somewhere to have them delivered!

Day 43 – Voutsaras to Ioannina

It was cold last night, I had to snuggle in my sleeping bag, and didn’t want to get up. Sven was up late as well. There were more climbs, and after stopping for an hour for breakfast (omelette again), it was again very hot. We did 30km to Ioannina and found the campsite. I need to use the internet to order spare parts again and find a reliable way of having them delivered.
Ate for dinner gyros kebabs. Only 1.7 euro, and two will fill you up!

Day 42 – Igoumenitsa to Voutsaras

What a day. Didn’t sleep much on the ferry, but getting off there was a really cool original Vespa with touring panniers front and back. I didn’t get a photo, but I have chosen the vehicle for my next world trip!
Cycled about 60km today, and it turns out Greece is very hilly. Over the first pass, only about 200m, looking over the valleys ahead, they were shrouded in mist in the early morning. Then up and up we climbed, to about 699m. My map has contours at 100m, 300m, 500m, and 700m. I knew we had to go over 500, but it didn’t say 700, but my GPS, a bit below the summit said 640m, so it was pretty high for my legs with 8 days rest (and form loss!), and Sven’s new to cycling legs.

We had lunch at a cafe at the summit. There was no choice because the only choice was omelette and salad. Delicious anyway. Then followed an amazing descent.

However, on the descent, my back tyre blew – bang, like a gun. I guess since I had the correct 100psi pressure in it, with the heat of the brakes and the road, the air heated up, the pressure increased, and the tyre couldn’t handle it. Luckily though I was on a straight and only doing about 20km/h. Who knows how many broken bones I’d have if it happened in a fast corner. The inner tube and tyre is ruined, so I now have no spares.

Past Voutsaras me and Sven were tired, and the afternoon sun was baking hot. We could go no further. The map showed a side road that crossed a river, so we followed it for a km, and found a nice spot by the river. Very secluded so no one would discover us and throw two cycle tourers off their land. The river was cold, and perfect for cooling down a beer!

Days 33 to 41 – Brindisi

Well, my package never turned up. It was sent on 21 August, and after 16 days I’ve given up. Royal mail lost track of it when it left the UK. The Italian Post service have no trace of it. I was waiting so long that the hostel owner, Maurizio, called in a favour with a friend at the sorting office in Brindisi to make absolutely sure it wasn’t there. So James will be claiming the insurance from Royal Mail.
I’ve had a good time in Brindisi though. Met lots of lovely people at the hostel (in order(ish) – Camilla, Harry, Nike and Rike, Yaniv, Chris, Heather, Tara, American girls from Ohio (sorry! can’t remember names), Sven, Dale and Steph, Martin, and Max). Hopefully I’ll keep in touch with some of them!

My daily routine in Brindisi went something like: wake up, have breakfast at hostel, go to internet cafe, check parcel, go back to hostel, read war and peace, find something for dinner, read more war and peace, go to bed. Quite simple really, and a bit too predictable – the people at the post office and internet cafe got to know me quite well!

When Sven arrived, he was talking about buying a bike, and heading into Greece. I said I’m heading that way soon, and we decided to go together. Fortunately Brindisi has a Decathlon, so we got Sven a good cheap bike, and after a few more days organising and waiting for the package, we set off.

After the 8 days in Brindisi, I could wait for the parcel no more, so me and Sven headed off to Greece.

Ferries from Brindisi go to Igoumenitsa in Greece at 9pm, and arrive at 6am. Two companies have the same schedule, and their brochures say so. We went to the ticket office and said we were two cyclists wanting the cheapest passage to Igoumenitsa. They sold us a ticket for Agoudimos. We go to the post at 8pm, to find there is no Agoudimos sailing at 9pm to Igoumenitsa – it goes at 10:30am or something instead. It was too late to go back to the ticket office and change the ticket, so we were forced to buy tickets with Endeavour instead, and lose the original ticket price.

Because of this, I am declaring an official boycott of Agoudimos and the ticket office opposite the station in Brindisi (it’s to the right as you look at the internet cafe with blue awnings). This boycott, and this message on the blog, can be cleared if the original ticker price is refunded.

Also in Brindisi I got business cards printed. Lots of people I meet ask for my website, and I tell them, and they probably forget, or I spend 5 minutes trying to find a pen and paper to write it down. A couple of tourers I’ve met have given me their card, and a few other people have asked if I have a card. Well I do now. The shop in Brindisi said give us the text, and we’ll design it for you. I went back the next day to check the design, and they’d put a sunset picture as the background, used blue and red text, multiple fonts, and a few spelling mistakes. I asked if I could change it – they said write the changes on the paper. I then said can’t I just do it myself on the computer. A few minutes in Adobe InDesign later, and my cards are now white, with black text, in ariel font. Much better!

I also took the opportunity of having a lot of time to fix up my bike. It’s all running very well now, except for one thing. I changed the chain, and chucked the old one out. The next day I rode the bike, and the new chain is slipping. The old chain had worn down and lengthened, and the sprockets had worn to its length. Now the new chain is too short. I basically need new sprockets. I did manage to get it going in the mean time though by reversing the 15t sprocket, but the 13t can’t be reversed. It means I have half as many gears, but can continue for now.

The problem though, is getting replacements. They are basically only available in the UK, and I’ve already wasted 8 days waiting for one parcel.

One amazing thing happened. Coming out of Decathlon (staff in there got to know me as well!) with Sven, the sky was dark, and lightning was coming down in the distance. We then saw what looked like a meteorite falling through the sky, bright ball of light, with a tail, traveling slowly. Turns out it is ball lightning, which is really cool. The Queen song “thunderbolts and lightning…” suddenly makes more sense, although it was frightening!