No one ever heard of a bicycle in ancient Greece. However, the cradle of thought promoted by Plato at his ‘Academy’ in 335 B.C. brought seeds of creative energy into being. One of his students, Aristotle said, “You create an ‘idea’ and then, bring it into form.”
In other words, you must generate the ‘idea’ of a wheel before you can build it. You must know what it is before you can use it. Everything depends on the creative mind of humanity. For those who realize Aristotle’s revolutionary thinking, he became the harbinger of the bicycle and much more. In 399 B.C., Athenian politicians convicted another Greek thinker—Socrates--of corrupting their youth and promoting religious heresies.
He espoused that the soul stood as the epitome of the waking consciousness and moral character. “Guilty!” they cried. Socrates drank deadly potion in Athens—instead of pleading for his life. Greek generals, intent on knowing the future, bowed to the Oracle of Delphi at the foot of Mount Parnassus. The oracle originated in the worship of an earth-goddess while standing as the principal shrine of Apollo.
Leaders arrived to step up to the oracle and partake in the games at the massive coliseum created for Greece’s finest athletes. Finally, Alexander the Great became Aristotle’s student--before conquering many nations around the Mediterranean Sea. Alexander the Great gave a speech at the amphitheater thronged by thousands.
Little did the Greeks realize that 2,300 years later, a couple of cyclists who pushed the pedals of the invention started by Aristotle’s concepts would make a visit across the Adriatic Sea to the fabled Greek shores.
“Dang, it’s hot!” Gary said as we rolled off the ferry in Patras, Greece.
“Sure was cooler out in the middle of the Adriatic Sea than this toaster oven,” Frosty said. “Let’s find the tourist office for directions.”
After having pedaled through thousands of years of Roman history in Florence, Venice and Rome, Italy, we relished the chance to pedal through Greek civilization that became the cradle of thought and one of the first great democratic countries in the world.
We pedaled through a heat wave down a bumpy, car strewn street past Moroccan immigrants squatting in the shade near the docks.
Greek sounded like nothing in Europe. It felt like a difficult language to learn; the alphabet was a bit different than what we’re used to, and we couldn’t pronounce anything seen on a sign or otherwise! We’ll learn a word or two each day and it will be fine. Always start with hello, goodbye, please and thank you! The best international language is a smile!
After leaving the ship we found a tourist center and grilled two guys about everything! We asked them to write down in Greek the names of their favorite foods--the ones that their grandmothers made for them. We decided to ride north across a large bridge to the mainland north and from there stay along the coast to Itea and then up to Delphi and down to Athens. Supplied with maps, advice and grandmother food, we pedaled to the first pastry shop in sight.
We had been eating our way through Europe and wouldn’t let Greece be an exception.
Immediately several English speaking Greeks helped us in determining our choices. We chose croissants stuffed with cream filling, and apple sponge cake. People scurried down the street past us. Greeks showed friendly smiles and wore lots of whites and loose fitting pants.
Greek women proved as beautiful as portrayed in movies. They offered us directions to get out of town when we wished they would have invited us to stay!
We left Patras. We were told that bikes and pedestrians are simply casualties of the automobile traffic so we must be careful at all times. Our flags six feet up and two feet into traffic kept all vehicle drivers alerted to our location well in advance.
Riding along the Mediterranean Sea made pedaling an incidental experience with blue waves shimmering under the sun and low to the ground olive trees and brush growing in the rocky soil. Dry, rocky mountains peaked alongside and ahead of us. The two lane narrow asphalt suffered vegetation close up and constricting our view.
We cranked out of the city, across the bridge and did 60 km before we decide to camp for the night by the rocky shore and under some olive trees. Although the waves lapping the rocks felt liquid to our eyes, we camped on dry, rocky ground. Not much could grow in such a climate.
We had 55 km to Itea and then 15 up to Delphi. An extremely hot head wind started in the morning sometimes stopping us and the bikes on a decline! The road proved desolate and uninhabited with few places for water or food but finally find a gas station for a rest.
A heavy-set Greek station attendant took us into his cool shade and told us we were crazy to bicycle in such heat. He patted his rather rotund stomach saying, “You Americans work too hard and go crazy for money…you suffer too much stress…but me, I work little, play a lot and have summer all year around…we Greeks have found the best answer to life.”
“How can you argue with that well founded logic?” Gary said, smiling. “Everyone in New York is waiting at a red light in a cab in the middle of Manhattan at this very moment.”
Loaded up on fresh water, from Itea we pedaled up a long, hot, dry, and windy climb a couple of thousand feet toward the Oracle of Delphi. We stopped several times for shade, but as we gained altitude, cooler air became our companion. Salt had dried everywhere on our bodies and clothing.
We discovered an organized camp just west of Delphi called Camping Apollon at 19 Euro dollars per night. A cold shower washed away the sweaty four hour climb in minutes.
We must return to this site on a future trip. This place offers fantastic scenery overlooking the Mediterranean Sea with a first class restaurant. This is one of the best evenings of the trip. We sat on the patio terrace of the camp restaurant which is as beautiful and scenic a setting on this journey. We watched thin cloud banners spin across the sky with a setting sun and ships cruising across the Mediterranean Sea in the distance.
Dinner consisted of a Greek salad replete with tomatoes, feta cheese, onions, cucumbers, olives and seasoning. The main course featured mousaka, a ground meat pie soufflé with vegetables, and a 1/2 liter of the local village white wine, 1 1/2 liter bottle of water and for dessert, yogurt with honey and ground nuts of some type.
“This kind of eating could become an addictive way of life,” Gary said. “Man, this beats rice and beans every night!”
“Without a doubt, Greek salad made in Greece sets the benchmark for culinary excellence,” Frosty said, smiling.
We met a French couple in the next tent on this veranda. They visited all the small islands off of Athens and area. Andros, Tinos, and especially Mikonos are high energy party islands. Sifnos is the most quiet and romantic. They found it the best. It appears that a good way to see these islands is to start at Pireas outside Athens and use the frequent ferries to all of the outlying.
A small village before the Oracle offered fantastic shops with exotic helmets, art work and jewelry created by Greek artisans.
Additionally, beautiful blankets hung from shop windows along with vases featuring Greek scenes of chariots and soldiers. We bought miniature Greek helmets, vases and statues of Hercules for souvenirs.
We pedaled around curves with olive trees growing along the road for miles below in the valley all the way to the Mediterranean Sea. Rough juniper trees grew up the rock and arid mountain flanks.
As tour busses passed us, travelers looked out with benign eyes wondering why anyone would work so hard to travel. Little did they know our efforts brought us into the “Zen of the Crank” excitement of travel.
We reached the Oracle of Delphi in a slight, refreshing drizzle. Hard to comprehend that small city, high in the Greek mountains, built in 500 B.C., which became the stuff of legends for thousands of years.
We reached the Museum of Delphi entrance. After paying, we stepped into a building that dropped back in time over 2,500 years to the ancients. In 500 B.C., bronze became the main metal with iron not far behind. Once Greeks discovered how to mix cement, they constructed magnificent temples, coliseums and statues. They deified leaders and athletes. Their gods ruled the world at sometimes fanciful whims.
Upon entering, two 15 foot high “kouroi” statues depicted two athletic brothers. As their civilization developed, Greeks evolved into more sophisticated works of art. “Melancholy Greek” rendered a powerful, muscular body with a sad face. At the end of the exhibit, a beautiful bronze female stature featured an elegant robe showing her somber face. Standing there, we realized it was created 2,100 years ago!
Later, we walked into the grounds of the Oracle of Delphi. We walked where Alexander the Great walked. We walked where conquering Romans strode as they pillaged the Oracle. No doubt many slaves labored to build the Oracle to its ancient glory. Finally, many great athletes trained and competed at the Oracle’s coliseum.
We passed what looked like steam rooms built into the side of the mountain or they might have been food vending enclaves. The walk turned into steps as we passed one small temple still intact with large Greek columns. We walked where great Greek and Roman generals walked. Soon, we stood at compelling remains of the Oracle which had stood for over 2,000 years.
One prediction told the Greeks leaders about an invasion by sea. Greece would be saved by a “wall of wood.” Taking the advice of the Oracle, they built an armada of ships with battering rams in their bows and sank the enemy ships which beat back the invasion.
Climbing more steps, we arrived at an amphitheater that seated at least 1,000 people. Rock seats spread upward with a back drop of mountains and a fore view of the enchanting valley that led to the Mediterranean Sea. Mist hung on the upper peaks from the drizzle that befell us.
Frosty stood in the center where he gave a famous speech, “Socrates did not die in vain; he died for the rights of people with ideas to speak their minds….bicycle touring rocks!” The crowd, if there had been one, screamed wildly for the American cyclist. Amazingly enough, Alexander the Great had spoken in that same spot over 2,000 years ago!
Walking further up the path led past more columns and buildings until it reached a 100 meter long stadium that sat an estimated 10,000 fans. It featured toilets and walk ways through a massive temple promenade.
Below the stadium, we saw the training facilities of the athletes. Those buildings gave proof that the athletes of old trained at shot put, javelin throwing, discus, hammer throwing, running, long jump and the marathon. They lifted weights, too!
We loaded up on water before heading toward Athens. Since it was late in the day, we stopped at a point in the road overlooking the Oracle and the training field we had visited. That night, we camped out with a view and appreciation of Greece’s distant past.
To be on a bicycle, to stand where the ‘greats’ stood, to camp where antiquity reached into the present; well, it didn’t get any better than that.
Sunshine spread across immense canyons in the morning. We packed up for what turned out to be an all morning climb that led to Harahova through the Paranasso mountains.
Through all that beauty, a growing and disturbing aspect of our ride found itself in the unending roadside waste system. Greeks throw cans, trash, paper, plastic, garage, diapers, cars, sofas, chairs and worse along their main and secondary highways with no regard to ecology, esthetics or personal responsibility. They do not promote clean ups, rest areas or rest rooms. Toilet paper flutters from bushes along the road. Hard to believe the people who brought democracy along with Plato to the world could be callous to such a national eyesore.
After a long sweaty climb, we reached Harahova. Fifteen people waiting for a bus looked at us as if we were from another planet. We pedaled through narrow, cobbled streets where old men played cards and women, dressed in black gowns, walked with babies in their arms. The streets suffered chaotic confusion of big busses and trucks fighting for room to pass when they shouldn’t be in such narrow streets meant for ox carts.
Once through the town, we descended under higher peaks with craggy cliffs that led toward the plains below. It’s ironic that a five hour climb with sweat and muscle ends in 30 minutes or less with a downhill coast. Nonetheless, it’s always a fun-filled descent of gravity driven fun!
We rolled into the town of Livadia featuring a town center with a stream and small waterfalls. After exploring for awhile, we sat for lunch when Gary’s rear tire exploded for the second time in as many days. Since the tire was replaced, it could only be something to do with the tire itself. Livadia was large enough for a bike shop and we were able to secure a new rear tire and two new tubes, one of which Gary pinched a hole in while installing.
After camping in an olive grove, we headed for Athens about 130 km the next day with three climbs on the “old” national road. Rode through a valley where we saw farms laid out. Cotton grew along with Roma tomatoes, and melons were ripe and being harvested.
The ride inside Athens was crazy with the four million people in that area with all the corresponding crazies. What a difference having to ride with crazy non-stop traffic and speed and noise. It’s a rude reintroduction to big city life, no matter where the big city is... Oslo, Hamburg, Rome, Athens, Denver!
We stopped at the ancient Angora archeological and museum site, known for its complete history of the ancient world. We spent a couple of hours visiting the site’s ruins; most of which had been pillaged but now some small portions were reconstructed. The museum on site contained fantastic remnants of pottery, burials and sculpture from as old as 3000 B.C. We found it difficult to think of human history as being that ancient in relation to our small piece of being part of living human history.
Later, we pedaled through crazy traffic to the steps of the Acropolis. What do you say when you dismount from your bike and climb the steps to the world famous Parthenon overlooking the center of Athens?
“This is way too cool,” Gary said. “We’re standing on one of the greatest monuments ever built on the planet. This is the cradle of civilized thought. This is where Greece brought advancements in science, literature and art. This is the best of bicycling.”
“Can’t argue with that,” Frosty said. “We’ve ridden from the Arctic Ocean in Norway all the way to Athens, Greece. Can’t imagine how the Vikings lived their harsh lives while the Greeks created the Olympics and higher learning. This is where Aristotle, Socrates and Plato played out their lives in their time. For us in our time, I’m glad we pedaled into antiquity for a closer look and greater appreciation of the past.”
Above us, the great Parthenon temple stood against the sky. People climbed around the ruins with us. Massive Greek columns built 2,200 years ago gave mute testimony of humanity’s potential, its hopes and dreams.
That last night, we sat in a beautiful romantic open air restaurant at our camping spot in Rafina, Greece on the eastern coast just 30 km from the center of Athens. The sun set behind us as we are perched a 150 feet on a cliff looking out over the Aegean Sea. Our table clothed resting spots have oil lamps providing a warm glow throughout the restaurant, new age Greek music is playing in the background.
“What you thinkin’?” Gary asked. “What are ya thinkin’?”
“Can’t believe three and a half months went by so fast,” Frosty said. “From the raw edge of nature in Norway to the madhouse of civilization in Athens, Greece. Good thing we’ve got pictures to remember this amazing adventure.”
For two guys on bicycles, Greece served up a feast of adventures that offered great riding, incredible history, the Oracle of Delphi, the Parthenon and a taste of Greek salad. Life doesn’t get much better for those who enjoy the ‘Zen of the Crank’.