When last we left you the waft of the Mediterranean sea was entering our nostrils and impelling us onwards at speed to the Coast of Greece and in particular, Thessaloniki. Much in deed has happened since that time that merits a word or three and a picture or four. We will, as ever, do our best to placate the baying masses of family and friends (happily, this is an ever-expanding group as our peddling continues into new countries and continents). So, where were we? Ah yes, Greece. Ancient Land, phenomenally rich cultural heritage, wonderfully kind and friendly locals, and then there is the food…… You may get the impression that we two odycyclists do little else but seek out yummy morsels to ingratiate ourselves with our energy-sapped limbs. Again, you would not be far wrong. Be assured, the pleasure of food takes on ever-greater heights after 100km in the saddle and the heat.
And what treats we have guzzled! And shared with Sam’s dad, Louis. Our quickened pace through Macedonia (we are now referring to the northern Greek province) past the former homestead of Alexander the Great in Pella and into the bustle and the nasty motorway entry to the great city of Thessaloniki. And I swear, the Med gave me a glinting wink in the sunshine when she first came into view. A stunning flirt.
Aside from the nose-peggedly necessary entry into the city what we found was a truly vibrant balmy coastal hub, prosperous to the deceptive extent that this was not a country in economic turmoil and genuflecting, cap-in-hand, before its Euro-Brethren in search of alms.
Time seemed different here. So different from our FYROM days. But we had done well, arriving almost a full hour (never had this happened before) before our scheduled rendez-vous with our (warmshowers.org) host, Kostas. 80’s loving, Salsa-dancing, bike-touring all-round man about town. We were, however, somewhat surprised to find Kostas already waiting in the pre-arranged down-town meeting spot an hour early. Francesca gently quizzed him as to why he had come so early to meet us. Kostas looked perplexed. “But I am 5 minutes late.” Francesca and Sam looked at each other. All those clocks we had seen over the past 2 days, on the facades of town halls, in bars, cafes, hostels and on the wrists of locals all over Greece were not, as we had believed, wrong. We had been living out of step (temporarily) with the world for some time. Symbolic, we think.
But what of this food that we shared with Sam’s Dad and that Francesca guzzled with such abandon? Fish (whose names we could never pronounce properly), Calamari, Ktopi (Octopus), all manner of Pasticcio and then of course there was Kostas’ mum’s home cooking which greeted us each evening on our return from a day of city cycling. Each dish coquettishly curled a forefinger in our direction and summoned us to the kitchen to plunge into the best home-cooking we have had. Georgia (Kostas’ mum’s) cooking, it was agreed by Sam and Francesca, would sit happily along side the dishes that our respective mums served up for us during our fortuitous childhoods. But maybe the zenith of epicurean delight came the night that Sam finally got around to fulfilling his duties by belatedly taking both birthday celebrants (Francesca and Louis were both born on 27 March) out to a Cretan restaurant tucked away in the back streets of Thessaloniki. Sam gazed on with bewildered admiration as Francesca and his dad tucked into a vast bowl of garlicky/buttery Cretan snails like it were their last supper. The following day rumour soon swept the island of Crete of a malacological genocide…
But enough of food now. One might assume it is all Sam and Francesca ever think and dream about. Between the full diary of eating, drinking and chatting, we even managed to shed our bikes and hire a car (sssshhhh, don’t tell the cycling fraternity) for 2 days to circumnavigate the 3 tapping fingers of the Halkidiki peninsulars which slide out into the Aegean sea inquisitively.
For those of you who know us well, not only do we love to cycle but best of all we love to cycle with friends and Critical Mass is our absolute favourite thing to do in London and so you can imagine the glee when Kostas took us, along with his bike-shop owning friend (also Kostas, who gave our bikes a loving service), to pedal the streets of their fair city with other like-minded souls to raise the profile of cycling, which happily is already on an upward trajectory. The city has just opened its 2nd bike lane (ooooh!).
Our final day/hours spent with Sam’s dad were dominated by our ultimately successful search for the Holy Grail of cyclo-touring tyres (the aptly named “Marathon Plus Tour” – those of you with decent historical knowledge will know that Marathon is a place just down the road, a mere 26 miles from Athens). And what a good thing we picked up those robust rubbers because something in the narcotic properties of the snails has now blown Sam and Francesca somewhat off course (our route on the website will be updated in due course)…. A night of deep dreaming brought Sam and Francesca to the realisation that the dusty glass-strewn roads of Egypt and not those of the south coast of Turkey were beckoning….
So, Leg 1 of this Odycycle concluded…. Old Europe disappearing behind us away to the north of our Olympic Airlines flight to Cairo at speeds not common to these two odycyclists… Revolutionary Egypt and the bubbling Middle East awaits.
As ever, we have tried to keep the photos up to date and can be viewed here.