A Travellerspoint blog

Thessaloniki to Edessa

sunny

We left Lesvos with a heavy heart but a full stomach to board the weekly overnight ferry to mainland Greece. On our last day we were treated to a lunch banquet by our new couchsurfing friends in Lesvos. The meze dishes were flowing from pumpkin stuffed with feta to fava, wild spinach and aubergine... With 20 minutes before the ferry was due to leave they announced we would have dessert. Reluctantly we said we needed to go... They all laughed raucously.
'plenty of time!' they said. We looked at each other uncertainly....
'We only have 20 minutes...' I trailed off
'You are so ENGLISH! relax. You have to stay for dessert'

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And so we did. This delicious Greek twist on a baklava but with almonds instead of Pistachio nuts and doused in icecream that was infused with sweet pine nectar which tasted like a forest smells. Racing for the ferry we made it about five minutes before it was due to leave, and then waited on board for another 2 hours before it actually DID leave.

We paid an extra Euro on top of the basic price of a ticket to get a airline seat which we though was pretty good value. As we boarded the ferry most of the passengers were writhing and thrashing to mark out their territory on the boat using anything from teatowels to portable carpets. We were very bemused watching this chaos as we sat serenely on the top deck secure in the knowledge that we had reserved seats. It all became clear a couple of hours later when we went to find our seats and our seat numbers didn't seem to exist. When we asked at the reception we were told in so many words that it is basically a free for all and the numbered seats mean nothing whatsoever. Ah. So the next couple of hours were spent prowling round with our panniers trying to find two seats together amongst the bodies that had sprawled themselves out over ten seats. Note to self for next time...

The next morning when we arrived bleary-eyed in Thessaloniki we were met by Ariadni, the girlfriend of a friend of a warm showers host, so quite a tenuous link even for us! She was one of the kindest and warmest hosts we have been lucky to have on our trip. She took us round the city, to deserted beaches and for a trip to her boyfriends soon to be permaculture farm. Ariadni lives close to the White Tower which has become the gathering point in Thessaloniki for protesters who are demonstrating peacefully about the economic crisis in Greece. It has been interesting cycling through Greece at this time as the feeling that people can bring about change is palpable. Reflections from Greek people have been quite diverse. We have met some who have been quite resigned to it and feel that the people of Greece have brought it upon themselves, compared it to gorging at a restaurant that you can't afford for many years and then suddenly being presented with the bill. However others feel a strong sense of injustice and firmly believe that the government is wholly to blame. Although people seem very politicised everyone we spoke to lamented how fragmented it is. Everyone wants to have their voice heard but individually not as an organised whole. Speaking to Ariadni's boyfriend Vasilios he was hopeful that now that people are mobilised to react against what is happening that there will be a more lasting positive outcome beyond the anger of 'how does this affect me?' Perhaps people who have lost their jobs will think about whether spend spend spend is really the answer. Maybe they will go and work on their family's land, perhaps seek a simpler life or at least a life that will make them happy. We will see.

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white tower

white tower

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After two days in Thessaloniki we were keen to get back on the bikes and cycle towards Edessa, a small town on Northern Greece on our way to Macedonia. We were met by our exuberant couchsurfing host Evangelos and his friend Elefterios who is a cycling fanatic and proudly took us inside his shop to make us tea and show us his three bikes that were stuffed inside the souvenir shop that he runs.

Evangelos explained that he had arranged our accomodation for the night, as we were unable to stay with him, to be in the local consumer council office, a little cottage style building on the middle of the highstreet. As we inflated our thermarests on the marble floors next to the piles of magazines and office desks we reflected that this might just be one of the most unusual accomodation types of our trip so far.

our little cottage in edessa

our little cottage in edessa

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Edessa is a very pretty little city, unspoilt by tourism with beautiful waterfalls right in the city, however we were not planning on staying more than a day to explore it. My kidneys however had other plans as just as we were packing up our sleeping bags in the morning I was hit by a thunderbolt of nausea and pain and collapsed on the office floor. We needed to be out by 8am as the office opened for business at 9am so Rob shuffled me out onto the pavement where I curled up shaking and occasionally vomiting in the bin, much to the disgust I am sure of people passing by but I was in too much pain to care. The cavalry arrived in the form of Evangelos who raced me down to hospital in his car. I can't remember the last time I went to hospital in the UK so I can't make a comparison but within an hour in this small hospital in Edessa I had blood tests, urine tests, xrays and an ultrasound to determine that I had a kidney stone. I was then put on wildly hallucinogenic painkillers and remember very little except visits from Evangelos and Elefterios who came down from work to check on me. Luckily despite the crazy dreams the painkillers worked a treat and I was out of hospital that afternoon. Evangelos was keen to look after us and bent over backwards to accomodate us (another night in our little office hut) and he plyed us with food - or at least plyed Rob with food as I couldn't hold down food for another couple of days.

So after three days, longer than we had planned in Edessa, we were finally ready to cycle again, albeit it gingerly as bumps on the road were painful on the kidney, heading towards Florina, our last stop in Greece before we cross into Macedonia.

Posted by mrs lewis 10:48 Archived in Greece Comments (0)

Lesvos

sunny 28 °C

Lesvos is a stunning island and we had a wonderful 5 days there. Four of which we spent cycling around the island (very hilly with obscenely beautiful wild campspots on the beach - Ampelia and Podaras) and one hanging out in Myteline with an awesome group of people we met through couchsurfing.
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Our host Panos showed us a great time in his hometown and said he wanted to come with us on our cycle around the island. However, at 7.30am after a night drinking the local spirit (Oozo) he was far from lycra clad and seemed to be put off by the hills and 75km a day schedule.

The island is perfect for cycling; stunning vistas, beautiful old villages, good clear roads, and wonderful beaches to relax on with crystal clear sea - just the ticket after a day in the saddle.
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The food at the Tavernas was also superb with the notable dish of fava (crushed fava beans with lemon and garlic) being a new favourite, as well as pumpkin flowers stuffed with cheese and great seafood (octopus salad!).

Check out this video for a glimpse of the action.
On Sunday, we left on the weekly overnight ferry to Thessaloniki, Greece's second largest city, with a feeling that living in Lesvos would be a fine thing, even though the country is now bankrupt. But if wealth is measured in natural beauty, and the hospitality and happiness of its people than they don't come much richer than here.

Posted by roblewis 06:15 Archived in Greece Tagged lesvos Comments (0)

ouch!

A glorious 5 days cycling on the Greek island of Lesvos saw me suffer another swelling/infection, this time after being bitten by a spider. My elbow suddenly started swelling up and quickly took the form of a golf ball. The next day, the swelling had still not gone down and so on arriving at a town with a hospital i thought i'd better get it checked out. They prescribed some antibiotics and game me a cortisone shot in the bum. After receiving this i started feeling very nauseous and as i got up to leave the room I could feel the blood draining from my face, the room span, and I quickly passed out. Thankfully the swelling has gone down now but it made me think that spending so much time travelling in the outdoors has led to quite a few bites, stings, infections and so on and so forth. The current list stands at:

  • 1 Tendonitis in my left ankle
  • 1 kidney stone in Mariana's right kidney
  • 2 numb hands for Mariana before realising her handlebars were too low. I was given the responsibility of cutting up her food into little pieces.
  • 2 bee stings (one each, mine when it flew into my shirt and stung me on the chest, nearly causing me to swerve onto oncoming traffic. Mariana endured one in the mouth, on the tongue)
  • 1 foot infection after a prolonged period of mosquito attack in Thailand. It got bad when the flies attacked the pussing bites.
  • 1 ditch mishap. Mariana was blown into a wet muddy ditch whilst cycling in NZ on a particularly blustery day
  • 1 spider bite leading to mass swelling
  • Lots of sunburn, mainly on Mariana's nose and chest
  • too many stomach issues to go through and list.These mainly originated from our eventful fortnight in China.
  • 2 magpie diving attacks. Both on me whilst cycling.
  • Multiple occasions of being chased by dogs - again too many times to recount but we now carry stones in our pockets to fend them off.
  • 2 bird poo bombings (both on me so i'm the lucky one)
  • Some particularly pusy sores (you can guess where) and unhappily nowhere in Greece or Turkey seems to sell anti-chaffing cream.

Posted by roblewis 12:31 Archived in Greece Comments (0)

Istanbul

a slight detour

sunny 28 °C

Upon reaching Ayvalik we were loath to head back east in order to visit Istanbul as our trip from here on in would see us head west. However, having never been i was particularly keen to go so we decided to leave the bikes and take a 5 day trip to the Turkish capital. Istanbul is a fascinating city with a stunning setting. We spent our days wandering the cobbled streets marvelling at the vast mosques, fusion of western and asian cultures, and soaking in the ambience. And the view from the top of the 5 star Marmara hotel was too good to resist, even though a cup of tea was 12 times the street price...
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Next stop Greece, the island of Lesvos.

Posted by roblewis 13:09 Archived in Turkey Comments (0)

Aegean cycling action

A week resting our legs and enjoying luxuries we have grown unaccustomed to courtesy of mum and dad Ware's unstinting hospitality during the time we stayed with them in Turunc made it difficult to leave. Turunc itself is very beautiful despite its proximity to Marmaris which is British package holiday hell. One of the beaches we walked to - this in itself is a novelty as after cycling we are normally to tired to do any hiking - called Amos is one of the most beautiful ones we have seen on the trip so far, let alone in Turkey.
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As we were only 45 minutes drive from Gokova which is a kitesurfing mecca in Turkey our 9 metre Ozone kite got another outing for the first time since our 17 day stay in Phu Quy, Vietnam. Mum and dad seemed to enjoy (we hope!) the trips we went on to the kitesurfing beach with my dad striding purposefully up to passing kiters asking about the wind forecast and mum wading into the sea while I was flailing around on the kite giving me instructions on how to get up, completely nonplussed by kites whizzing past her. So when it finally came to leaving Turunc we stayed on in Gokova for a couple of days to get some more kitesurfing time in. Hopefully this means that be the time we are back in the UK where the water is infinitely colder we will be good enough to stay on the board rather than thrashing around in the water. Rob has pretty much nailed it but not sure about me....
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On our last day in Gokova we decided to stay at the kitesurfing beach until late as we had arranged to stay with Adnan, our host on warm showers (a hospitality site for cycle tourers) in Mugla which is only 30 odd km away. Little did we know that 15 of these were solid climbing going from sea level up to 700 mt in 10km. Despite confidently emailing Adnan to tell him we would be in by 6pm we sweated into town closer to 7.30pm. As we are still travelling without a phone we looked around for a likely venue that might let us use theirs for free (hotels are usually good) a friendly looking man bounded up to us smiling. "You must be Mariana!" he said. Stunned I looked back at him for a second then realised there are probably not too many cycle tourers passing through so for Adnan picking us out in the town of Mugla was a pretty safe guess! Although Adnan himself wasn't able to host us he had arranged for us to stay with some of his students in halls of residence "but we will meet tomorrow for breakfast" he enthused. The next day, in what we have discovered to be typical Turkish hospitality, Adnan could not do enough for us from getting us food, to helping us get the kite that we had lugged up the hill from Gokova sent off from the post office and drawing up a list of contacts of fellow cyclists that we could get in touch with on the road. We told him we were going to head to Milas that day, a small town about 75 km away. Adnan's eyes lit up! "I know a cyclist there! His name is Serdar, he is a journalist... Maybe he could do a story on your trip!" Next thing we knew he had phone him up and scrawled all the details of how to get in touch with him on the back of our receipt from breakfast.

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Armed with our list of contacts and some simit (like bagels but a bit less stodgy with sesame seeds on them) we were off. After the first 10 km the roadworks started and continued pretty much the whole way into Milas. We had a constant headwind as well so by the time we pulled into Milas we were exhausted despite the relatively low mileage. So tired that we were struggling to string a sentance together to each other did we really want to contact Adnan's journalist friend? We wandered into the internet cafe to get a drink and think about it. Amazing what a can of ice tea can do (our cycling tipple of choice in Turkey) to get our energy levels back up so we decided to give it a go. After 3 attempts at ringing the number Adnan had given us but not reaching anyone who could speak English, the chap at the internet cafe offered to give it a go (he didn't speak english either but did speak very good french so I managed to stutter out who we were trying to ring and why and could he possibly do it on our behalf) Half an hour later Serdar turned up at the internet cafe. Turned out he WAS the person on the other end of the phone each time I tried to ring but did not speak one word of English. Given our limited Turkish diction it looked like a cutting edge interview about cycle touring through Turkey was off the cards : )

However Serdar did take us to the local bike shop which had just opened a couple of months earlier run by a lovely man called mustafa - who spoke excellent English. It turned out that Mustafa had been made redundant from his banking job a year ago when his wife was 8 months pregnant with their first child, so he decided to pursue his longstanding dream of opening up a bike shop and hasn't looked back since. "Now I can't even stand to stay in a bank for more than 10 minutes, I don't understand how I managed to stay for 10 years" he told us. After numerous cups of tea we asked him if he knew anywhere nearby where we might be able to camp as there was only about an hour left of daylight. "There isn't a campsite for another 40 km" he told us. Without missing a beat he then said "You must come and stay at my house". And so we did and had a lovely evening with him and his wife who at no notice arranged a vegetarian friendly feast for us to eat. We spent the evening sharing our cycling experiences and dreams....

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The hospitality continued to roll through the medium of wonderful warm showers... We stayed with Cumhur on his farm the following night who was very hospitable although a little bit eccentric with late night rantings about how much he hated the monarchy. The following day took us to Izmir to stay with Tugce and Suheyl, a lovely couple that we could have stayed with for much much longer but with less than three months to go until we get home the clock is ticking so we are trying to keep moving.

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We did get a chance to explore Izmir a bit though a really enjoyed it. It is much less touristy than southern Turkey and this was certainly reflected in the food which is authentic and very very tasty.

One of the big discoveries we have made on good places to eat in Turkey is looking for 'Lokantas' (derived from the italian 'locanda') which is a 'worker's or shopkeeper's restaurant. These are cheap eateries serving simple and honest food.

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They can be found in city centres in non-touristy places like Izmir, but the best ones we have found are in the 'sanayi' (industrial) areas on the outskirts of cities providing workers on low pay with a cheap but very good quality meal. In Izmir we managed to find a lokanta which was allegedly one of the top ten pide (turkish pizza) producers in Turkey. We were not disappointed! Izmir was also the venue for Rob's long awaited induction into turkish baths. He coerced Suheyl and one of his friends into going along for the ride. It was men only so they shuffled off with their towels while Tugce and I stayed in and watched the televised voting count. It was the night of Turkish elections. We had spoken to many young Turks about politics in Turkey and it seemed as though although there was a strong sense of exercising your right to vote and participating in the democratic process people (at least the ones that we spoke to) were not excited about it as they felt the results were sewn up; the current government will stay. While Rob and Suheyl were sweating it out in the Hamam it seemed from the voting results coming in that this prediction was correct. By the time they returned, their skin visibly lighter and smoother than a baby's bottom having been pummelled washed and scrubbed the TV was off as the results were indeed sewn up - the government would stay another term.

Despite Tugce and Suheyl's fantastic hosting we did manage to leave the next day. We wild camped that evening and the next day made it into Ayvalik, a beautifully preserved historic town with cobbled streets and beautiful houses clinging to the hillside. There are so few tourists here so we were surprised when we walked into one of the small squares and found about 5 horses and carts lined up. The carts didn't even seem to have seats so we wondered how they were going to persuade the few tourists that there are to go on a tour in them. Turns out that this is one of the few places we have been to in Turkey where they haven't turned something authenic into a tourist gimmick. The horses and carts are loaded up with vegetables and taken through the streets up the hills where cars can't get through the windy streets or for people who are infirm and can't get to the shops. Rob and I both decided that this was one of our favourite places in Turkey.
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This favourite spot was quickly equalled by Cunda Island which is connected to Ayvalik by a narrow manmade spit. We rode our bikes out to the end of the island over about 8 km of dirt road and although not majestic or dramatic in its scenery in the same way that southern Turkey is there was something very magical about this place. The beach was totally deserted save for a small shack which was owned by a local man who was cultivated an organic garden next to the beach. He had enlisted two greek musicians to help him work on the shack and the garden. That night we camped under the stars after dinner on the beach mesmerised by greek folk music. This was a good day. IMG_5929.jpgIMG_5930.jpgIMG_5932.jpgy.

Posted by mrs lewis 15:13 Archived in Turkey Comments (0)

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