Byzantine coast camping

After the excıtment of gettıng the bıke stuck ın a lıft ıt was wıth a sense of relıef that I rolled out of Thessalonıkı. Squırmıng thıs way and that tryıng to fınd a comfortable posıtıon on my 15 euro South Korean saddle me and Fred spent the early afternoon slowly clımbıng and steadıly becomıng more and more frustrated wıth the our map. Despıte beıng a very respectable1:250,000 scale the 'topo250 Macedonıa' by Anavası was an utter mess. ıt made lıttle dıstınctıon between road types and was often downrıght mıssleadıng and ıt was clear that ıt had been made by sımply takıng a mass of onlıne road data and dumpıng ıt unceremonıously onto the page wıth no thought for clarıty.

One mıght assume the top left of thıs pıcture (sw of Thessalonıkı) represents a major conurbatıon - perhaps a well planned resıdentıal area. You would be wrong ıts fıelds wıth the ırrıgatıon channels shown. Naturally. 

One result of thıs cartographıc clusterfuck was that the yellow route we followed (whıch the key claımed meant a sıgnıfıcant secondary road) looked lıke....

Fred's summary: An 'Afrıcan road'

Despıte the false advertısıng I thoroughly enjoyed thıs sectıon of the day bouncıng over loose stones up and down steep twısts wıth the path to yourself ıs my ıdea of cycle tourıng. Much nıcer than makıng good tıme on nıce tarmac. (That thıs was about the only sectıon where I was faster than Fred may also have had somethıng to do wıth ıt) On our way we dısturbed a sızable herd of goats accompanıed by some aggressıve dogs who much to my relıef were soon brought ınto lıne by theır watchful shepered.

We were also graced wıth some very pleasant vıews of Lake Koroneıa whıch ıs currently wıltıng Aral Sea style.
but remaıns a pretty sıght.

Leavıng the track we found some tarmac and made good tıme before campıng ın a pleasant pıne forest overlookıng Koloneıa's sıster lake Volvı.

Once more I was a lıttle jealous of Fred's swısh lookıng hammock.

The mornıng revealed a nıght assault by ants had compromısed both my and to a greater degree Fred's supplıes meanıng a slow breakfast as we cleared out the lıttle blıghters.

After a good mornıngs cyclıng we were back on the coast and couldn't resıst the chance to stop at one of the endless heavenly beach bars and take a plunge to releave the unrelentıng heat.

The owner a Anglophıle mınıstry of sound fanatıc ınsısted on buyıng us a few drınks whıch we dıdn't try very hard to refuse

Just to proove ıt ısn't all loungıng by beaches and acceptıng free drınks:

Fred sprang a puncture and so I took the opportunity to put my feet up and have a read only to discover, just as we went to leave, that I too had a puncture. Hmmmmm.

Having discarded the pathetic map of Greek Macedonia I was now on to a much more satisfactory map of Thrace which helpfully highlighted points of interest including something called 'Appalonia's Tower'.

Jokingly I suggested to Fred that we should sleep there and so we went to investigate. Following a long stair up to the deserted tower which lacked even so much as an information plaque.

What a find! I don't know who Apollonia is but this crumbling Byzantine watchtower was right up my street. History, great views, solitude.

Climbing up into the doorway was a challenge as it sat some 9 feet of the ground. Upon clambering inside we found a wonderful Escher-esque pile and spent a very happy half hour exploring its interior marveling at the views and imagining its heyday.

With a little courage it was possible to climb quite high!

Having decided we both could and would sleep here we headed down to the beach for a swim, chatted to a friendly trucker as we cooked dinner. Undercover of darkness we lugged out gear and bikes up to the tower.

The pretty sunset had been followed by a blood red full moon and a sense that this was a really very special place.

I awoke after a restful nights slumber to find that Fred had abandoned his post in the night due to falling masonry.

Greece really is a wonderful place to cycle if you are even mildly appreciative of history. Around every turn another wonder awaits. Along a nondescript highway this 25 foot beauty stood sentry.

Erected in honour of one of Alexander the Great's naval commanders it was, amazingly, only found buried in the 1950's.

The time had come to part company with Fred. It really had been a pleasure to cycle with him and I would miss the company. Nevertheless the reality was that over the proceeding days the difference in our preferred pace had begun to tell to the frustration of us both. Where I felt unable to stop at my leisure and appreciate the surroundings, Fred found himself leashed to a slower cyclist. With the scent of the finish line in his nostrils he set off to see how quickly he could make Istanbul.

Sad though it was to see him go, as with Mattias back in France, there was also a slight satisfaction in regaining complete autonomy.

I put my autonomy to good use with a having a very lazy day. Stopping for swims on every whim. This meant I progressed perhaps only 30k that day before coming to a halt just outside Kavala. I sat on a roadside bench and chatted with a friendly Greek cyclist banker before helping another rider with a flat tire. Rather than ride on I investigated the rock escarpment that lay through the bushes and found a nook which suited my needs rather well.

Admittedly the gradient was a touch severe (I started off on the rocks in the top left before slowly slipping off in the night forcing me to retire to the more horizontal perch shown even though ti lacked my earlier sea vıew.

A shame because it was quite some view.

The next morning I reached the town early to explore the old quarter. Kavan's castle has been turned into a venue and as a historic site it has suffered. The view of Kavala's aqueduct however was worth the 2 euro entrance fee alone.

To my surprise I found I had a great appetite for kilometers that day and despite finding time to stop and wander around Xanthi (wide squares and lazy cafes backed by twisting streets and art galleries) and Komotini (leafy) I made excellent progress. Covering 150 kilometers with some ease through lovely countryside including the first cotton fields of my trip. 

Perhaps it was some previously undetected guilt at failing to keep up with Fred or at my slovenly previous day but I was resolved to loop all the way back to the coast at Petrota where a commune campsite was marked on my map. This would also give me a good chance of reaching Turkey the next day. 

This meant an exciting night cycle. Rising up into the coastal hills in the pitch black with only my headlight to guide me. (my front light, as you may recall, was damaged in the 'lift incident.') It was a little hair raising in places but in the main a rather magical ride with the stars and a gloriously visible milky way rather than road the focus of my attentions; it was like piloting my own spaceship or perhaps more reminiscent of the scene from E.T.

Unfortunately my out of this world experience was brought back to earth with a bump as I free wheeled into the campsite to find a sprawling busy mess of camper vans. Urgh. Not exactly what I had in mind. Not ready to compromise I resolved to set off along the coast on what was sign posted as the 'rough road.' I couldn't see a further than my nose and soon had to get off and push lest I break my neck. It was by now after 22:00 and after investigating a number of seemingly promising side tracks only to find extremely rocky ground I was beginning to feel both frustrated and tired.

My deliverance however was at hand as I spied a squat building silhouetted against the stars and on closer examination and subsequent map consultation I realized that another Byzantine watch tower stood before me.

Wakıng to another very pleasant dawn at hand.

Less impressive than Apollonıa's perhaps, but no less welcome.

The next day there was time for a final Greek ruin surrounded by olive groves before a quick tour of workaday Alexandropoulıs. 

As I cycled the long hot highway towards the Turkish border I distracted myself with reflections on Greece.

This angry sign on the border encapsulates some of the frustration to be found in the politics of Greece. Their oppressive economic duldrum is related at length by the often oratorically inclined Greeks. Those I met were only too pleased to talk unprompted and at length about the failings of their political classes and to bemoan the pernicious effects of foreign immigrants, the euro and Germans.

Bad relations with their neighbors predates their current depression. Cyprus an ever present thorn in Turkish relations, they also vetoed Macedonia joining Nato on account of their name.

Albania and Bulgaria enjoy little more cordial relations, often branded as thieves and gypsies respectively. One can't help but wonder if the glories of Greek history so ever present and enjoyable to me as I cycled through represent something of a burden and a chaffing weight under which the modern nation must labour. Britain and it's desperate determination to remain a world power and to punch above its weight would do well to avoid a similar fate.


  1. Great blog - the cycling is doing wonders for your waistline - looking positively slim. Dad x

  2. Agreed! Some amazing places to sleep and glorious photography. Not sure I fancy the ants or the punctures, but both of them part of the experience I guess!

  3. Whoops, the whole thing seized up, so I couldn't say that I think you're right about those who can't come to terms with the changing nature of their position in the world..... Juliet xx