The Greeks have lost their place in the queue, and they are a more than a little bit upset about that. They had it good from 700BC until the Roman victory at the Battle of Corinth, in 146BC. Now it has happened again, and they are of the opinion that Angela Merkel is mostly to blame.
There is a myth, and not a greek myth but more of an urban one, that says that the Greeks are lazy. This is not true at all, and you can lay the papers on the table, and work out that they work much longer hours than the European average. The problem, as so often, is not with the Greek man in the street. He will shake your hand with vigour, and offer you a Ouzo. It is the Government, you guessed that already.
In all the excitement of getting the Olympics, it went on a spending spree. It took as a model for economic development, the actions of an art student on the first day of term. The grant cheque is in the bank, and with great good fortune, the student union bar has just opened and has some tempting beverages on very special offer. What could possibly go wrong?
My favorite modern Greek myth was started by Stefanos Manos, the former Greek finance minister, in 1992. In an attempt to illustrate the madness of the economic model, he did a rough calculation comparing the cost of rail travel with the same journey by taxi. The network is so under used and over-subsidised, that it would be cheaper to send every passenger by taxi, he calculated. He was wrong. not until there are two people sharing a cab does that work out. We have now camped very close to a major rail line. It was very peaceful indeed.
We are greeted on arrival at the first bit of Greek soil, with a near perfect rainbow arching across the bay. We have lost an hour to the time zone difference and have to hang around for an onward boat to the mainland. We settle into the plastic seats at the cheapest looking place to eat. I happen to glance at the till receipt and notice that the time printout has not changed from Turkey time. We were told the time zone thing with such authority by a couple of Germans that Esther has told a number of other people. They will be late for the ferry and now Esther feels terrible.
There is money in our hands without the face of a murderous dictator on it. We are back in Euro-land, and it feels strangely comforting and familiar and no longer requires torturous mental arithmetic to work out how much things cost. We settle in for the wait and switch on the Kindle to do some background research on country 23.
‘ The rudest gesture that you can do in Greece, is to push the palm of your hand towards someones face ‘. As soon as I find this out, I am gripped like some tourrets sufferer. I feel compelled to do this. It is as strong a conviction as the strange notion I have occasionally, to drop my house keys down a storm drain. How am I now to indicate to Esther that I want to stop and take a photo? I sleep well enough on the ferry, curled up at Esther’s feet like a dog.
A night in a cheapish hotel and we are ready for the road. For 23Km it is a nightmare of Athens’ suburbian labyrinth. It is made just about tolerable by the gps showing a path to pick up highway3 to Thiva. We have a narrow shoulder to a terribly busy road. Trucks and fast cars are making their way to the terminals and oil refinery that are spread along the coast. It is horrid riding.
Eventually things improve, but we still have the trucks, and there are lots of them. For days they will be with us on winding minor roads. There is of course a toll road that was built as an alternative to this route to northern Europe. It is too expensive and remains almost unused. The shoulder vanishes and now the trucks are at our shoulder. Over 1,000m of climbing today, we were rubbish.
The final decent drops us at high speed to a fertile plain. At the side of the road we have just gone by the biggest snake since Thailand. It is dead, and rather freshly so. The wind drops, and stays dropped, giving us the first of what we hope will be many great wild camps in Greece.
8.00am and it is hot already, and not a breath of wind as we push away from our camping pitch. The first two hours I find everything a struggle. I am wondering why the bike feels so much heavier today than last night. I apply some Homsian Deduction to the problem. ‘ No matter how implausible, if you can dismiss everything else, then you have the answer ‘. It looks increasingly likely that someone has placed a minimum of two house bricks at the bottom of my panniers and I have but one suspect.
We are discussing yesterdays dead snake. ‘ Bigger than a swans neck ‘ I suggest, but Esther disagrees, saying that it was much less. We have to stop to sort this out. It turns out that we disagree about the circumference of a swans neck, but agree that the snake was ‘ big ‘. Mount Parnassos was on the horizon to the west as we camped last night. The snow was picked out by the setting sun as the sky turned to reds and mauve. We do not appear to be getting any nearer and have cycled most of the morning already. It is wrong to be so hot and yet be able to look at snow.
I am quite sure that a native speaker of Greek will disagree and I may even get an email on the subject. The thing is, even close up, spoken Greek sounds to us like Spanish caught on the wind. There is a bit of Italian in there and yet the speed, pitch and overall melody is Spanish. It is, without variation, delivered at speed.
We find a quiet camp under some trees. The shade is very welcome as it is staying blisteringly hot today. The sun drops, and then a few minutes later we have a display of the brightest firefly we have ever seen. They are even visible through the fabric of the tent. Wonderful to watch.
Back onto the 3 again. It is now a very rural road, but still has the nasty trucks and they are with us for the first of the days climbs. We are hardly passing through any villages at the moment. All sit up a hill of one sort or another, and are at least 1Km away. There is enough climbing to be done, without going to explore, which is a bit of a shame. There are also archaeology, monastery and all sorts of stuff, just a short or longer climb away. We are on a bit of a mission at the moment to get north and away from the heat and remain untempted and possibly uneducated or enlightened.
We crest climb one of the day. A stunning view opens to a vast plain, with the sea off to the right. We drop 600m and are at the same hight as the Maliakos Kolpos, which is the name of the bay that we had seen from the hill. It had been cold in our tent last night and the small supermarket still had a section devoted to snow chains. Spring must arrive here like a whirlwind and heat up by the hour to these summer temperatures.
The ‘ Yin ‘ of the joyous down, is balanced by a ‘ Yang ‘, of brutal ascent. We do actually climb even higher than we had started the morning. 760m having started at just 15m. We stay high for our camp. It is a wonderful view to what is the largest of these plains. The top is off the tent and we can watch the sun drop towards a far distant horizon and then sit back to a cooling wind over our faces.
Next morning we have the opportunity to pick up a minor road that follows the western rim of the plain before it kicks up into mountain. All morning we go through the villages of rural Greece. This is much more fun, allowing stops for chats with locals. Prime topic of conversation is the economy of Greece, with a small but pointed ‘ how the hell can you afford to do this touring cycling holiday! ‘. I do hope that they give the drivers of posh Mercs, Porches and such a load of grief about their choices in life, and stop calling it a ‘ HOLIDAY! ‘
This is timeless, beautiful and unhuried. The old guys are drinking frothy coffees at pavement tables. The token female, large of stature, unorganized in a way that suggests she should not be running any sort of catering enterprise, will be there. A series of vans and trucks with produce to sell is patrolling the dusty streets, papping horns. Mercifully, it has been flat enough today to call it a recovery day. We roll onto the little town of Karditsa, unaware that it is the cycling capital of Greece. ” Second highest bike use after Amsterdam “, we are told proudly. It has the feeling of another Greek myth, but is certainly impressive.