Bears, Wolves And Albanian Bandits
It is exactly one month since we left the twinkly lights of Brindisi behind us and were deposited on the island of Corfu. Rather than going straight to the Greek mainland we decided to have a wee holiday, because we were completely exhausted after eleven days of non-stop cycling through southern Italy.
Of course nothing ever goes according to plan. On our first day on the island we made the mistake of checking email. We should have gone straight to the beach. Our computer had crashed! The next two weeks were spent rather tediously waiting for TNT parcels to arrive from England and Australia. Luckily we bumped into Sarah and Lee from Kevin's home county of Hampshire who kept us entertained, with many card games, through the long wait!
A few weeks on and we are enjoying a beer at a Youth Hostel in the middle of Athens. Today has been a long day. We've been interviewing the locals - asking them about their new metro system. Stinking hot here in the city, but at least not as hot as the last few weeks since Corfu.
As we arrived on the mainland the temperature began to climb as quickly as the hills. Within hours of arriving in the country we found ourselves climbing higher than anything we tackled in the Alps. And the thermometer clicked over 35 degrees for the first time since we began our journey. Was this a sign of things to come?
As we continued east we tackled passes over 1700 metres above sea level and the temperature climbed to 40 degrees! Greece has also seen our longest day yet. Ten and a half hours in the saddle and 125kms later we finally arrived at the magical monasteries of Meteora.
Perched hundreds of metres above the valley floor the monasteries sit on top of spectacular rock formations. These temples of worship have provided sanctuary for the Greek Orthodox Church for hundreds of years, but now though they find themselves under attack from the thousands of tourists that flood to the site each week. As we cycled through the enchanting towers of stone, a queue of coaches crept up to the highest monastery, edging their way past the coaches creeping their way back down.
From Meteora we waved goodbye to our Slovenian cycle touring mates and shot south towards Delphi; a pit stop on our path to Athens. The temperature was now well over 40 degrees in the valleys and as we struggled over the never ending mountain range the heat started to take its toll, so we reached for the banana flavoured electrolytic salts.
Our mornings are also starting to suffer. We were now rising at 4.30 to make the most of the cool morning air, but still cycling for as much of the day as possible. We found that tying our sarongs to the handlebars and then around our waists kept the worst of the suns' heat off our legs and enabled us to keep on cycling for another few hours. We are regularly cycling over 100kms a day, a result of 14 hours of sunshine. How did we cope in the Netherlands when it was dark by 4pm?
Greece is an incredibly barren land. Full of mountains and punctuated by only an occasional fertile valley we found ourselves in an environment we didn't know existed in this part of the world. Greek Island holidays in my youth had done little to dispel the image of a country full of beaches and western food - now we were having to quickly learn another alphabet and come to terms with a new culture.
Lured by the sound of vibrant nightlife we ventured out to explore the evening entertainment in Thiva (Thebes in Greek mythology), just north of Athens. As we hit the main street we were surrounded by cafes, tables spilling out into the street and a thousand voices trying to make themselves heard above the chaotic sounds. When not attached to an ear the latest design in mobile phone graced every table.
It was only as we wandered our way through the cafe culture in the search for something veggie that we noticed something strange. This town had one of the most vibrant eating cultures we had ever experienced; as far as we could see in both directions were tables filled with the happily chewing masses. But there was something missing.
Every restaurant was rammed with young men. Nobody was above thirty years of age or below fifteen. Every one of them was proudly promoting the latest designer label on arms, chests and legs. They appeared to be lads 'on the pull' but there was not a woman in sight. As we reached the end of the cafes we found the main shopping area. Here were women in their thousands; window shopping in the dying light from the sun.
We have moved east and have found ourselves learning fast. Suddenly having to think about our every move. What is OK in the UK and Oz is not necessarily OK in rural Greece. Life is great here; the people in Greece are harder to reach than those in Italy but that only increases our intrigue. And only two weeks left to crack the surface before the delights of Turkey