We packed up the boat and then a half day cycle saw us complete a good 50km to a beachside camp spot where George, a Caribbean bar tender, let us have use of his inside tap and swanky toilets – so our first camping spot of 2017 was very luxurious! A good way to ease back in. The rest of the roast chicken also made a good addition to our curry for dinner.
Next morning was quite unpleasant as we needed to get through busy Piraeus which involved lots of cycling on dual carriageways and across large overpasses. By lunch we’d broken the back of it though and the afternoon saw us start to tackle our first major climb of the year. We soon discover that Greece is very very mountainous!
We manage a long day hitting 87km before pulling the bike off the road to a big clearing where the ruins of an old farm house sit. We’re not that high so it’s not too cold although we’re finished with dinner (Risotto) and in the tent by 7pm.
A 6.30am start sees us complete another big climb where we then shoot down the other side to Plataea and the wide, open, fertile valley beyond which was where the Greeks had the final victorious battle with the Persians. We see a nasty weather front heading in from the north but manage to shelter under a picnic area as it rolls past us. The rest of the day ends up being quite warm and before the next climb which was due to take us all afternoon Paddy spots a large canal carving its way through the valley. After a quick look on the map we confirm that the canal is going in the same direction and we can link back up to the road in 20km – a much easier option that struggling with those hills. We stay on the dirt road next to the canal for the remainder of the day and camp 1km from where it meets back onto the road.
The scenery around here is so spectacular and very different from our time on the coast. Once you get away from the sea the country here feels much more remote and parochial (but not in a bad way). Fewer people speak English and we pass a lot of rundown dwellings. These are still very much farming communities. There are also many half-completed building projects – all of them having ground to a halt in 2008 with the crash.
The next day was another big climbing day but first we needed to get the tandem back onto the road via a very broken and stony path. For that half an hour it felt like we were back on the Pamir Highway.
The roads are pretty steep in places and we’re certainly using our new low gears as our bodies adapt to the cycling again. We have a gorgeous day twisting and turning up through the alpine forests and just before our tea break catch our first glimpses of Helicon Mountain which has supposedly inspired many poets and storytellers; Paddy remembers learning the Seamus Heany poem, ‘Personal Helicon’ in school for his leaving cert. We stop for a tea break – our friends Andy and Clare had inspired us to finally invest in a thermos flask and we really don’t know how we ever managed without one!
We complete the climb before dropping down to the picturesque town of Kyriaki where some nice ladies let us replenish our water bottles. From here we have a steady but short climb to reach the next valley which really is breathtaking. I have never seen so many olive trees!
We stop for lunch and half way up the mountain across from us is Hosios Loukas – a large monastery. It is famed for its Byzantine architecture and it’s the only known church built on mainland Greece during the 10th century. More climbing that afternoon and very tired we pull tandem off the road and down onto a sheltered, hidden patch of grass. We were due a cold night that night and we were at 700m so we forage for wood and prepared a fire before setting up camp and eating dinner.
The plan was to reach the famed archaeological site of Delphi the next morning – a easy 23km away. We stoped at Arachova to replenish food stores. A very nice town right at the top of the climb, perched on the edge of the deep valley. You can see all the way out to the Gulf of Corinth and the Peloponnese from the town which looks like it’s literally tumbling down the mountain. A pretty awesome place and obviously doing well all year round due to its proximity to both the Parnassos ski-resort and to Delphi.
Since we’ve been back on the bike we have upped our game on the campsite cooking side of things. Now that we’re no longer really eating out its been important for morale not to just repeat veg pasta every night. Our new spice bag is helping a lot as is the discovery of dried beans which are a great meat substitute even if you do have to go through the process of soaking them for 24 hours… Luckily it turns out that our small water bottle is the perfect bean-soaking device.
To finish here are some pictures of food – our best meals we’ve had over the last week…