I had visions of chewing through the miles to get somewhere interesting, but what makes this place is the people. Friendly, informed and generous to a fault.
Macedonia border to Thessaloniki is a days ride, I didn’t count on the ferry to Lesbos being 5 days time. “There is a ferry from Kavala in 2 days”, the helpful agent said. A glance at the map, 2 days cycling. Perfect.
The industrial outskirts of Thessaloniki has a post apocalypse feel to the place. My GPS expertly navigated me away from the main roads and through over grown industrial estates that are slowly being reclaimed by nature. Many of the units have just been finished or almost finished, it’s quite sad. Many shops are also vacant and business closed for good. Lots of money invested by the banks not exactly producing the promised return.
The coast is not busy from here. Quiet and not particularly pretty coastal resorts scatter the old road. They seem to get a number of Serbian visitors, I guess not feeling too welcome in Croatia it’s a convenient spot for access to the sea.
Arriving at Kavala a storm was most certainly brewing. Waiting for the ferry I moved to a sheltered spot to make my pack lunch for the boat. WOOSH.. A gust of wind blew and I got sandblasted. When I opened by eyes, my sandwich had gone and I saw pots and caps bouncing down the harbour and into the sea. Time to go indoors. What followed was the fiercest storm I have ever seen. Sections of the city plunged into darkness, a fire broke out in the old town and power in the harbour kept cutting out. To cap it, when the rain looked like it was about to ease, chunks of ice stared falling from the sky. When it was all over the fire really started to take hold and a large building went up in flames. Sirens echoed around the city as the drama unfolded.
Midway through the drama I realised the ferry had been cancelled. Not because of the freak storm, but it had broken down a few hours ago. I made enquiries. “The next ferry is in a weeks time, but if you got to Thessaloniki there is one from there in 3 days time… Or you can catch a ferry to Limnos at 6am this morning, the ferry from Thessaloniki makes a stop there on its way to Lesbos”. I now have a plan! With money refunded and free ticket to Limnos I was in a good mood.
Two bikes appeared and a group of 3 travelling musicians were presented with the same option. They chose the stopover in Limnos. I got chatting and soon we were making a dent in the bottle of Macedonian Reijki. With roll mat and sleeping bag tucked in a corner I drifted off to the calming rhythms of their music as it that echoed around the smart ferry terminal.
Ferry to Limnos
My past experience with Greek ferries has found them to be efficient, smart, reliable fast. This one is a flea infested rust bucket. The crew smoke below giant ‘no smoking’ notices while loading vehicles. There’s chaos and lots of shouting, and yes, I got covered in bites.
Armed with a map and the low down on the places to visit from a friendly car hire company I set off across the rather barren island to a wind surfer spot called Keros with a campsite and bar. It’s a friendly, laid back place on some of the best beaches. I simply relaxed, walked the deserted dunes and did a bit of beach combing. The fact it’s located right on the other side of the island from the port town means not many people venture out that far.
On my second night there a Greek wedding took place in the small chapel. The evenings entertainment was hosted in the restaurant bar, but after 3 hours of music and dancing it looked like it was fading so I headed for bed and put in the ear plugs. 5am, my usual rise time I removed my ear plugs to discover the party was now packed and in full swing, and by sounds of it the drinks had flowed all night. I started to get ready, but by the time I was packed and prepaired, it was ending. I pity the poor staff who had to serve at the wedding and then do an 8am breakfast!
The journey back was supposed to take in more of the sights, but I soon realised it’s Monday and everything is closed. Stopped at a restaurant and had meatballs. Then someone at another table insisted on buying me a beer, another person Ozo.. I had to draw the line at more alcohol so I accepted an invite back to his place instead. Panos is in his 70s and in good shape for his years. I found out why, he is a retired sponge diver. I got the low down on the business, including the story about how his boat got blown up by an old Italian mine in the early 1960s. It nearly blew his leg off, sheering the bone in two. His friend was blinded. Years of therapy included cycling to help rebuild muscle. Throughout I was fed fruits in syrup and brewed tea from herbs picked in the garden. His parents were farmers and he showed my the collection of tools and agricultural equipment in a shed. When played a game where he pulled an tool or machine from the shelf and I had to guess it’s function, we both had fun. Showed him snapshots of friends, family and life in the UK then made my way to the port town to catch the 12.30pm ferry rushing to arrive before a 9pm storm hit.
In town I had 3 hours to kill, chatted to a local (more like talked at) who had great knowledge of lay lines, dowsing for them and how they influence your health. Acupuncture and so on. I would have made my excuses earlier if it wasn’t for the fact he looked just like a younger Richard Nixon.
Then on my way to find another cafe I bumped into the musicians Malta, Gail and Tonino. We finished the ouzo, chatted and snacked. Then invited by two fishermen over to a bar where the food, drinks and music continued.
The boat from Thessaloniki to Lesbos arrived, 5 hours late. It was slightly less of a rust bucket, but did have an alarming list. I made note of where the life jackets were and grabbed a few hours sleep on the crossing.
The port town of Mytilene is lively and bustling town with reminders of its past woven into the townscape such as crumbling mosques and old ottoman houses. The byzantine museum gives a glimpse at some of the houses excavated.
The fort on the hill overlooks the town and contains a fascinating jumble of ottoman ruins built from the earlier ruins of the marble rich byzantine settlement. I spent a good hour exploring the deserted site taking in the views.
Then I followed an itinerary neatly put together by my mum who has previously visited the island.
There is a covering of pine forests at the higher altitudes that makes excellent wild camping and provides much needed shade when climbing.
Lower down the olive is king. The soil is either very fertile or they simply planted more trees. Either way the landscape lacks the dry barron feeling of Limnos. The traffic is very light which makes for relaxing cycling.
A 500m climb arrives at this traditional small town with narrow as streets overlooked by the highest mountain on the island. Left the bike with a nougat seller and explored the streets and basilica on foot. Chatted to a group about the trip.
The church / basilica is a work of beauty. Dripping in decoration, iconography, belief and superstition.
Seaside resort specialising in Sardines and more recently kite surfing. I was informed not to leave the town by the group I met in Agiasos until I tried the sardines. With my first enquiry at a coffee shop I was sat down and a single fresh sardine brought out, raw and slightly salted. It was dissected and deboned. It tasted like how you would imagine, raw fish. Washed down with coffee while chatting to a dutch couple who are regular visitors to the town.
With the wind behind I was pushed to Patra in good time. Located the woman’s co-op and was allocated a comfortable 25 Euro apartment. Back there I went to the restaurant where I joined a couple from the UK for a fun and relaxed dinner of moussaka, with the odd bottle of wine.
The town is another maze of narrow streets with atmospheric tea shops, useful shops and tat shops. The route to the fortress was worth the view over the town but sadly, living up the the Greek stereotype a big sign on the door said closed.. STRIKE.
I had spied this on the way out of the port town and decided to finish my tour of the island here. Beach side hot natural spring waters emerge into an ancient indoor marble pool said to heal all aliments. A perfect way to finish a 100+ km day. After I finished I asked if there was anywhere to camp near by. He gestured to the beach. Sorted. I did my laundry that evening where the hot spring water overflows into the sea. I enjoyed the chore for once as normally it’s spring water so cold it bites the bones of my hands.
Ferry to Turkey
The 90 min crossing was quick and painless