|June 19 -- Bicycling Peloponnese -- Greek Greetings
Hooray. Finally back on the bikes. We ride out of Athens southwest toward the Peloponnese. The traffic is surprisingly busy for a Sunday morning, and the first few hours we ride through an industrial district. But finally we are out of the city and on a smaller side road. The temperature is 94 degrees but with a light ocean breeze that feels pleasant.
The big surprise is the huge amount of trash beside the road. Not just litter, but piles of garbage everywhere, old furniture, mattresses, sinks, toilets and mounds of construction debris. After seeing so many pictures of idylic, white-washed Greek villages, we assumed the countryside would be spotless, someting like New Zealand. Instead it is like parts of Mexico, or Egypt.
The other surprise is how reserved many people seem. In the evening we stop at a little beach campground on the coast south of Corinth. As we pitch our tent Tass catches the eye of the woman camping next to us. Tass smiles but the woman keeps staring at Tass, and then looks away. This happens three times and the woman never returns Tass' smile. All through the day we have noted similar reactions.
Tass is reading, The Summer of My Greek Taverna, where the author says many Greeks are suspicious and reserved. Many believe strongly in the "evil eye" which can be cast by anyone, intentionally or unintentionally, especially by women and people with blue eyes. The evil eye can be cast maliciously, or inadvertantly through jealousy and envy. Many Greeks are cautious about boasting, or proclaiming any good news, in fear of attracting the evil eye. Even gving out compliments, like saying someone has a beautiful baby, can apparently send mothers and grandmothers into furious rounds of spitting to ward off the evil eye. We have also noted that jewelry shops all sell worry beads marked to avert the evil eye.
Tass buys an inexpensive bottle of wine that is actually very good, and helps her to forget about the continuing pain in her jaw. We order "small fish" thinking it will be a small portion. Instead it is a plate heaped with four inch, headless, fried fish. We squeeze them to pop out the spine and eat everything but the tiny tail in one bite. Yum!
|June 20 -- Ouzo -- Epidavros
Major climbing today. We ride for two hours in our lowest gears, creeping up a large pass into the mountains. We finally break through the Greek stoicism when a few drivers honk and wave as they pass. On a steep switchback corner three people selling fruit wave us down. They invite us to a table in the shade and pour us each a huge cup of Ouzo, the anise flavoured alcohol that is the national drink of Greece. As we politely sip I eyeball the label--40 proof. They also give us bread and olives and we have a great time practicing Greek from our phrase book. "O filos mu fili mu katerefse" which means "My friend has collapsed." The temperature is 96 degrees as we resume riding up the hill, trying not to collapse.
In the afternoon we visit Epidavros, the ruins with the best preserved ancient theater in all of Greece, built on a hillside and able to hold 14,000 people, but most famous for its incredible accoustics . The surrounding area was a healing center with a large hospital and various temples. It is surprising the theater is in such good condition as little remains of the rest of the city.
In the evening we ride until almost dark and then pull off the road and "wild camp" as they call it in Greece, off on our own, alone in an orchard. At first we assume the vibrant, deep reddish-orange fruits are nectarines. But when we taste a few off the ground we realise they are huge appricots. The fruit are so abundant they are dripping off the trees all around us.
June 21 -- Nafplio -- Dentist #5
June 22 -- Sidewalk Cafes -- Greek History
|June 23 -- Cycling the Peloponnese Coast
The ferry we want to take from southern Peloponnese to Crete only leaves once a week. To catch next weeks ferry we reluctantly must leave Nafplio today. Tass' tooth is doing much better. We forgo an early start (none of the cafes even open until 9 am) to have another wonderful breakfast--chocolate croissants, cheese and tomato omlettes, butter, jam, toast, fresh squeezed orange juice and french-press coffee. The great thing about cycling here in June is we can start riding at noon and still have almost nine hours of daylight--more than enough time to wear ourselves out on the bikes!
The coastal scenery is fantastic, much more like we had hoped when planning our trip--sparse traffic on twisty, narrow roads along rugged coastline overlooking beautiful bays with sparkling, turquoise water and isolated beaches. In small villages along the way we buy hot pastry bread and feta cheese pies in little bakeries, tomatoes, peaches, melons and olives at roadside stalls, and make ala-carte lunches under the shade of olive trees. In the evening we "wild camp" near the town of Leonidio in an olive grove high on a steep hillside with a spectacular view of the Aegean Sea. As the sun sets we take sponge baths, thrilled to be alone in our own quiet little spot of paradise.
June 24 -- Parnonas Mountains
June 25 --Taygetos Mountains
June 26 -- Euphoria and Exhaustion
|June 27 -- Stoupa -- Greek Drivers
We spend the day at the beach on the chaise lounges, Tass reads while I lay comatose, listening to my iPod. We get up ocassionally to take a refreshing dip in the crystal clear emerald green water.
A few Greek highway thoughts... A huge number of people here ride little scooters or motorcycles. The cars are all very small. Our favorite vehicle is the Smartcar, a two-door, two-seater, slightly longer than our bikes but wide, tall and surprisingly spacious inside. The Smartcar is so short people can park them perpendicular to the curb in tiny spots next to other cars that have parked parrallel. The cars Greeks drive seem so advanced in design and efficency, virtually no SUVs. No wonder, gas here is about $5 US a gallon.
The highways are lined with roadside shrines, glass enclosed altars built on pedestals. Inside are large color photographs of the deceased, all killed in auto accidents, along with pictures of Jesus, Mary, and various saints, plus candles, bottles of olive oil, and other momentoes and offerings. Some of the shrines are small and simple, others shrines are built to look like a church, painted bright colors with fresh flowers and burning oil lamps.
Greece has the highest traffic mortality rate in all of Europe, the evening news always includes a tally of accidents, with numbers of both injuries and fatalities. But after coming from Egypt, which has the highest traffic mortality rate in the world, we haven't felt the drivers are especially dangerous. Like anywhere, we see ocasisonal wild drivers. After one speeds past I remark "His goal is to someday have his own roadside shrine." Tass picks up on the comment, and soon we are calling bad drivers "shrine wannabes," which evolves into "future shrines" then shortened to "FS."
June 28 -- Ferry to Crete