A Taste of Autumn - Macedonia and Greece
Miri read aboud Sveti Naum, an old monastery, which was supposed to be very beautiful. I wasn’t eager to go there, because it was getting late already, and I prefer to pitch the tent in quiet areas. I never thought that it would be possible to stay in such a touristic area anyways. Luckily I was wrong. Altough we shouldn’t camp on the meadow (who is even bold enough to try that?), the beach nearby shouldn’t be a problem, we were told by a souvenir merchant. And so we stood with view onto the monastery, chatting with Andreas, a german doctor, who was going around the Balkans in his VW bus, and was parking next to us.
The next morning was an emotional roller coaster. At first, Andreas helped us out with some (probably) useful medicine and even offered, to send stuff back to Germany, which we declared unnecessary in the past. How awesome! Perfect! Everything is nice! ...Until we heard a short, dry “CRACK” when we stroke the tent. One of the poles broke, when we started to release the hooks of the inner tent from the frame. F@*K! Our mood dropped rapidly. Why? And why at a time, when there was no remarkable stress on the frame? With a gloomy mood, we continued our way. Along a hilly road, we made our way towards Ohrid. We planned to visit the city in the same way, we visited Berat: cycle into the city center while leaving the tent behind, taking only the valuables with us. That’s why we were looking for a nice, calm spot not too far away. We were lucky, a huge meadow next to an abandoned restaurant awaited us behind some bushes, offering a nice view on the historic center of Ohrid.
Visiting the city was really nice. Some buildings remembered us a bit of Berat, but here you could also find a lot of marvelous old churches, some huge and majestic, some really tiny and seemingly ancient. It was easy to understand, why people were living here for such a long time. The view over Lake Ohrid was stunning, and his water quality is even to drinking water. Not so easy was to get a grasp, how old everything around was. I mean, it’s easy to imagine ten years. One hundred years are already somewhat harder. And the area of Ohrid was settled 2700 years ago, most of the churches were dating back to the 14th century… Only downside: almost everything costed entry fees. Reasonable, to keep everything in shape. But since we had no intention to spend too much money, we stayed outside most of the time, except for one church, where the cashier was nice enough to let us in free. There weren’t many tourists around, and we were happy about that, it was easy to imagine how much trouble must be around during summertime.
In the night after our sightseeing, some wind came up, and it rained. It was at four o’clock in the morning, when we heard the second “CRACK”, not even 24 hours since the last. This somewhat scarred our trust in our tent. The wind wasn’t really strong, and surely not strong enough to break our frame, who is supposed to be extremely durable…?! Miri fixed the pole and used the guy lines, and we went to sleep again, thoroughly annoyed.
We rested one day. Our bikes needed some maintenance, and I took a bath. Which wasn’t a good idea. It was really windy, with snow laying now on the top of the mountains. The water was cold, approximately 11°C, and so was the air. Walking into the lake was tough, but I really wanted to be clean again, and of course I could motivate myself by turning it into a challenge for me. And after some time, it didn’t even felt so cold anymore. I washed my hair, and only after I dried myself up, I noticed how much I was freezing. And HOW I was freezing! I spent the next hour shaking in the sleeping bag, with Miri cuddled to my side. This didn’t feel too good, but I guess that’s the point of hypothermia. Sometimes, it’s a bad idea to overcome yourself at any cost, and I pledged to be more careful about cold water bathing in the future.
Then we went on, heading towards Greece. We had some climbing ahead, enjoyed the mountain landscape around, and passed through grey and musty towns. We wanted to fix the frame, and therefore needed some allow tubes fitting into it. Finding them turned out a scavenger hunt. We went to the first construction store. He sent us to some electronics market. No luck. But a tip, where to search: the neighbouring shop for air conditoners. They had perfect fitting tubes, but only from copper, which wasn’t hard enough. The owner, once a traveler himself, gave some of them to us anyways, aside with the name of another shop right outside the town. We went there, and they sold us some breaking hoses, which didn’t fit as well as the copper tubes, but were more stable. And because we saw a good occasion, we asked them if they could drill holes into alloy. We wanted to use the Trangia windscreen with our Primus, but therefore it was necessary to modify it a little. Well, they couldn’t do that, but of course knew someone in the next village, who could. And so I ended up in some backyard garage, equipped with all kinds of tools and machines for metal processing. But instead of drilling it out with one of the machines, a die cutter was used, and after one or two hammer strikes, we had a perfectly widened hole in the windscreen. We couldn’t wish for a better souvenir.
Ohrid was really nice. Those old brick churches are really beautiful and the city walls are in very good shape for their age, the buildings right on the inside morphed nicely into it. We were even getting inside a place that normally has an entry fee, but I guess it was so off season that they didn’t care that much. So we could have a look inside of a freshly rebuild brick church. But for my taste it was more beautiful on the outside. After having a look around the old city center and it’s cute Osman buildings we cycled back to our camping spot. There we wanted to stay for one more day to rest a bit. Ryan even took a bath in the lake, which was not a good idea in the aftermath because I had to warm him for one hour in the sleeping back to stop him from shaking uncontrollably afterwards … And in the night we had some rain and wind and suddenly another one of our poles snapped. That came as quite a surprise because the wind wasn’t that strong. So I had to get outside in the rain and put one of the repair poles on Not the most pleasant thing to do. After two broken poles in such a short time we were really annoyed. So we wrote to Lowland if they could send us some spare pars because we really like the tent but if the poles just snap one after another we could not feel safe in our fortress anymore. The answer came very quickly. And so they send us a package to Alexandroupoli which would be our last city in Europe and hoped it would arrive soon enough for us to just pick it up and cycle on to Turkey.
After Ohrid we had to cycle over two smaller passes, again through colorful autumn forests, but the snow was really close. All around lake Ohrid it was on the mountaintops. And while we cycled through Macedonia we just hoped that we would be spared and not get snow fore another while. I wasn’t ready for Winter jet but well, autumn got us.
Our last day in Macedonia we tried to find some small metal poles that we can put inside our poles to fix them. It was really hard and every shop Ryan asked was sending us to another shop 😊 It was kind of funny. But in the end, we got some car break pipe pieces and some copper poles. And we got and address where there should be someone who could make a whole in our Trangia so we could use it safely together with the Primus omni fuel, since the first try ended up with a minor fire accident, because of a leaking pipe. So we rode to the place and in the back of a normal house there was a small workshop and they just punched a bigger whole into the aluminum. After that, we cycled the last few kilometers to the border of Greece.
15.10.2017: 72,4 km Average: 15,5 km/h Elevation: 328 m
Because we wanted to fix the frame, we decided to stop shortly after, even if we had ridden only something around 40 kilometers. We found a nice green and idyllic spot next to an ford. And then the fixing began. We tried to insert the copper tubes first, because the fitted so nicely, but it had no use. Of course, they bend instantly as soon as we tried to use the frame. And so I disassembled everything once more. In the meantime, it became colder and colder. The place laid in the shadow of high trees, and the cold water did its part to cool the air around us even more. Inserting the break hose. Too thin... Wrapping it with duct tape. Too thick…. Finally we managed to put everything together again, but our improvisation only worked in one of two cases. Still better than nothing, we thought. We were hoping to get help from the tent manufacturers anyways, and didn’t expect to use this solution for long. Miri prepared a fireplace while I was fixing the frame, and when it became dark, we sat by the fire and ate. And because it would be a shame to waste valuable heat in such cold nights, we took the stones from the fireplace, and placed them in the vestibule of our tent. It would be the first night with serious minus degrees on our journey…
We contacted Lowland, and they answered and helped us instantly. The parcel with a new pole was expected in Alexandropouli in one week. And even though we surely aren’t rushing, this was a lot of time. So after arriving at the sea again, we looked for a nice, calm spot, and stood there for three days. We prepared almonds we picked before and candied them over open fire, called our parents, and enjoyed doing nothing. Because this is something, we do not very often. Nothing. Most of the time we are busy with pedaling, looking for supplies and a place to sleep, shouting at dogs who try to hunt us (and there are loads of angry dogs in Greece!) and eating overwhelming amounts of food.
Finally we found it time to go on. We would be in Alexandropouli at the time the parcel was scheduled to arrive. We planned to take some smaller roads for the sake of tranquility. It turned out to be one of the most magic parts of Greece, if not of the whole journey so far. The road turned into gravel, going in narrow curves through ancient olive groves, passing antique theatres and city walls. Sometimes there were small plateaus constructed with the help of field stones, so the trees would stand on flat ground. Everything seemed really peaceful and somehow lost in time. If an old Greek, dressed in nothing but a tunic, would have stepped in front of us, I think we wouldn’t even have been surprised.
We arrived in Alexandropouli one day later. In the meantime, a nasty infection on my left index finger became severe enough to make me visit the hospital. Miri went to the post office in the meantime. Of course, the parcel wasn’t there. We met up, after I got some antibiotic crème, and looked for a place to stay for the next couple of days. It was Thursday, and we had little hope, that the parcel would arrive before the weekend.
And indeed, we waited four days, reading and sleeping a lot, before we finally got the new pole. Seemingly the Greek Post needed five days to deliver the parcel from the sorting center Alexandropouli. And to top everything off, one (for now) last “CRACK” reassured us that the trouble wasn’t over, when we finally packed our stuff together to leave towards Turkey. Fourty kilometers later an endless row of trucks, waiting to cross the border, told us that we are now leaving the European Union. After a small chat with the Greek border official, who was really interested in our route, we left Greece.
After that we rode through eastern Greece. First through some small Mountains, there we had a very nice view on some lakes. Then we rode through the a bit boring agricultural flats around Thessaloniki. There we collected some cotton from the bushes next to the road while riding pass to make it a bit more fun. The two lakes we cycled pass after Thessaloniki were beautiful again. And then we were back at the Mediterranean again. And there seamed to be just hundreds of kilometers of perfect beach to camp at. Since it was off season, there was no one there. Next to the road there were a lot of almond trees. We cold even harvest one small tree next to the road. Then we chose a nice spot at the seaside to make a day rest. We couldn’t be to early in Alexandroupoli because of the package from Lowland. There we candied the almonds over a bonfire. They tasted just awesome!
After the day rest we cycled on. And we were quite surprised, because we met two cycling travelers that were coming the opposite direction, so we are not the only crazy ones still riding even when winter was catching up. The first guy, Chen, was from South East Asia and has started in Beijing. Chen was heading towards Paris and he was afraid of snow. That was funny because he would have to go further north and we already had snow in the Alps in September But he was a very sunny personality and so I think he will manage snow just fine. (While writing this, I know, that he arrived in Paris 😉 ) The second guy, Dino Lanzaretti from Italy, was even more crazy than us. He started in Siberia, in winter, and has been cycling through temperatures of -50°C… unbelievable! And since he didn’t need it anymore he gave us his Turkish SIM card. Really nice guy. Since the two of them both have been cycling though Turkey, we had a lot of Information afterwards. And we decided to cycle through central Turkey instead of cycling along the Black Sea Cost. I guess we will have this more often now, that we will change our route because of tips we get on the road. But I think this is how it should be like, so I am really looking forward to where we will be ending up 😊
Shortly before we reached Alexandroupoli, we got an insight in what they mean, when they say: “The magic of Greece”. Because we cycled on a very small gravel road through very old olive groves. It was incredibly beautiful, but the road was really exhausting. Well after some time on the road I should be used to it, but I am not I fear I never will, but I also want to sea the beautiful places and those happen to be not next to main road. I guess I am just a bit unlucky there
After that we were just looking forward to enter Turkey and get to know their culture and food and everything. But Alexandroupoli kept us longer than we wanted. In the city we spilt up. The first time ever since we left Dresden… Ryan went to the Hospital because one of his fingers was swollen and we didn’t know why, and I went to the post office to pick up the package. But it wasn’t there. We couldn’t track it so I asked them if they could track it for me, but they said I have the wrong Tracking number. So disappointed I went to the next café to get Internet and write to Lowland and wait for Ryan. But Lowland only could tell me that the package was in Greece and not in Alexandroupoli jet. Wow that was frustrating. We were stuck there till the package arrives and we didn’t know when that will be… So we put up our tent at a beach just outside the city and waited. The next day the package was still not there. Unfortunately that was on a Friday and the post is closed Saturday and Sunday ☹ so we had to stay over the weekend. Well normally I really like to stay at a beautiful spot and do nothing. But The spot was not so beautiful and we were forced to do nothing which didn’t felt very good. Actually it was annoying. So on Monday I cycled to the post office again. The package wasn’t there. I was getting a bit pissed, but I could control my temper and just insisted, that they would check the tracking number I had. And suddenly the number wasn’t wrong anymore and they even could tell me where the package was. It arrived in Alexandroupoli on that day. But it hasn’t been delivered to the post office, but to another package delivery service. Which was strange, since we send it poste restante. But anyway I could cycle there and whoop whoop our package was there. And when we unpacked it at the beach, we were so happy to have received one new line of poles. So we stayed there the rest of the day, since it was already to late to cycle on.
The next day we finally packed our stuff. And to get our good mood down again, another one of the old poles snapped… That was really not necessary. But there was nothing else we could do. So we packed everything and set of to cycle the last kilometers in the EU for a long time. It felt awesome 😊 At the border there was the longest line of trucks I have ever seen, waiting to enter Turkey. Well we are just used to out open boarders in the EU. It was a reminder for me, that it is nowhere else to cross boarders that easy. And that we might also get some trouble at the one or the other boarder. But I was just happy that a whole new experience was waiting ahead of me.
20.10.2017: 21,2 km Average: 6,5 km/h Elevation: 275 m
21.10.2017: 20 km Average: 6,3 km/h Elevation: 179 m
22.10.2017: 67,2 km Average: 14,7 km/h Elevation: 284 m
We are leaving Europe behind and discover turkey