We have an idealised picture of cycling in Greece, and even though in the end the reality didn’t quite match, we still have that picture. The potential for Greece to be a near perfect country to cycle in is there, but it depends so much on when you go. It was August when we were there. Greeks holiday in Greece, not surprisingly, and like much of Europe many take the entire month off to do so. Other Europeans also holiday in Greece, mostly in August. Serbs and Germans drive to this part in droves. This is compounded by a major Bank Holiday Monday in the middle of the month, so those who don’t take the whole month will at least take that week. We knew it would be busy, but didn’t expect that every inch of the coast, including all the small villages, would be packed. Campsites were often full, and finding somewhere to sleep was a daily anxiety, whereas we’d been pretty relaxed about it up until this point.
It’s not unusual for temperatures in Greece to get above 40 degrees regularly, and it’s miserable to cycle in. We’d like to come back here, but in the Spring when it would be much more enjoyable. We look at the weather further south with envy; it’s wild that Turkey is cooler than Europe right now. As it was, the back roads of Greece and the coastal views were amazing. Parts of riding here are idyllic. There are lots of quiet roads and they are in really good condition. We had a couple of unpaved sections, but nothing too terrible, or too long. But there’s no getting round it, Greece is mountainous, and it’s unrelenting. It’s beautiful, but tough going. The hills are usually the sharp and steep lung and leg busting kind, but there is always cheap and plentiful gyros to refuel with.
In contrast to the great backroads, there are often no small routes into or around large towns and cities; usually it’s just the option of a busy main road. Thessaloniki, Athens and Larissa were particularly bad. We had a headwind and a multi lane dual carriageway into Larissa at the end of a long day, but there was no other choice. Richard blasted along, trying to get the road out of the way as fast as possible, so I had to put in a time trial to keep up with him, because I knew if I lost his slipstream it would be ten times worse for me. Even two weeks ago I wouldn’t have been able to do it, so the tough riding is starting to pay off.
Athens was oddly quiet. We visited many of the ancient sites in relative peace. Our Autumn goal has always been Turkey, but (maybe with beer involved) we started to muse about what else we might do before that. We hashed out the idea of cycling the North Peloponnese and up the coast to Albania and maybe even beyond, then taking a series of ferries back. In the cold light of day though it would have been excruciatingly expensive, and involve backtracking from Patras to Athens. So we stuck to our original plan to go straight to Turkey via a couple of ferries.
We thought we’d have a quick, easy ride from the northern outskirts of Athens to Pireaus port just to the south, but no. It was a sweltering couple of hours navigating the inner city and the industrial outskirts. I was on the verge of a heat meltdown, so took myself into a nearby IKEA to pretend to look at furniture and cool down in the air conditioning.
We had an 11 hour ferry crossing to Chios, and then a short hop the following morning to Turkey. Plenty of time to think about the last couple of months, and the future. I was torn about what we were doing; I felt we had sold ourselves a bit short on Greece, and had been high on the idea of getting to the Balkan coast. But practically speaking, we are doing the right thing, and we can always go back at a better time for us. I also had plenty of trepidation about our next destination. Greece had been monumentally hard, and Turkey is going to be worse. We did a long tour over ten years ago, and it was tough. It’s even tougher now; I feel slower, my back aches all the time, my knees are sore, and there are countless other twinges. People much older than us do long bike tours, but it’s been a sober reminder that I’m not young anymore and won’t be again.
A playlist for the ride through Greece: