Greece #3 – Central Greece & Athens

After Meteora we rode just 50 km away to a small crag called Mouzaki. We were happy to find that the local climbing community have put a lot of effort into the crags in central Greece. Mouzaki even has a hut built next to the crag as well as wooden and stone platforms built directly next to the wall. This was perfect for us and we made ourselves at home.

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Our ‘living room’ with a view.

The tent was propped up in the hut to keep the mosquitoes out and our ‘living room / kitchen’ was set up on a wooden platform. From there, we had a 5 star view over the valley and river. The only problem was water access… we had to cycle some distance up a steep road to a water fountain every second day.

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Our tent in the hut at Mouzaki.

The sun was also strong during the day and touching the rock was like touching lava, so instead we relaxed under a big shady tree until the wall was in the shade. This suited us fine because we had plenty of things to enjoy during the day – playing guitar, writing in our journal and speaking with family to let them know we haven’t fallen of the face of the Earth. And of course – nothing. Sometimes, its nice to just do nothing.

We also enjoyed bathing in the river pool below, although as soon as we jumped in small fish kept attacking our skin. Some people pay a lot of money for this spa treatment but we wouldn’t exactly describe it as pleasant.

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Regular visitor in Mouzaki.

The climbing in Mouzaki was good quality and we enjoyed our time there. We also enjoyed hosting local ‘guests’ who came by to climb. They were all super friendly and told us about another crag called Pyli nearby. Apparently this was the place to be but it would mean a 20 minute hike into a canyon with all of our gear.

Stubborn as we are, we decided to go anyway. We stocked up on food at a small town on the way and we got chatting with the shop owner. He offered us to taste some delicious but strong liquor called Tsipouro, only made in Greece, and when we approved he filled up a massive bottle and gave it to us….! It also came with a firm warning: “After climbing – not before!” This bottle is still with us in Turkey and we are glad we got passed border control with it ;).

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Our camp in Pyli.

We got to Pyli and left our bikes at the start of the canyon and laboriously took all of our panniers up.. we must have walked three times each awkwardly holding panniers, handlebar bags, tent bags and food for a week until we finally got there with all of our stuff. It took us at least 2 hours but the week that we stayed there was completely worth it! Again, the locals have built a large wooden platform that we camped on and best of all there is a tap directly at the crag!

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Beautiful climbing walls next to our tent in Pyli.

The climbing was also excellent with great routes on good quality rock! On top of that, a lot of the routes already had new, shiny quick draws clipped in. Some of our nicest routes were ‘Blade’, ‘Unforgiven’, ‘IRA’ and ‘Per te JB’. Apart from day visitors including friendly Greek climbers and a nice Swiss couple, we had this crag all to ourselves for a week, which was hard to believe considering how nice it was.

From Pyli, we got back on the road for a week to cycle to Athens. We really had to plan our food stops well because there are not many supermarkets in the Greek countryside. This wasn’t much of a problem on one day, though, as we cycled over a gorgeous mountain pass to Kastro… as we sat down to eat an elderly woman came over to us with a large tray of tomatoes she picked from her garden and a bottle of water. She then went back to pick pomegranates for us. We had no idea how to eat them but a messy 10 minutes later, our bellies were very satisfied. She didn’t know it but she saved us from going to bed hungry since we couldn’t find a supermarket in this stretch.

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A very generous gift from an elderly lady.

The next day a strong back wind blew us all the way to Thermopylae. This was the first time we hit the coastline again since Montenegro and it was a welcome site. Thermopylae is the site of the famous last stand of the Greeks against the Persian invasion of 480 BC, with the famous 300 Spartans fighting to the death to slow the advance of the 80 000 strong Persian army.

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Memorial for the battle of Thermopylae.

We also stumbled on a small hot spring and waterfall in the area. Thermopyles means hot gates and is named after the sulfur springs in the area. After feeling the water, we jumped in and let our minds and bodies unwind – just what we needed for our sore legs! Simon also enjoyed the piping hot waterfall and we didn’t notice the smell of sulfur after a short while.

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Natural thermal bath close to Thermopyles.

Feeling much more relaxed, we headed towards the Blue Bay where our evening turned more stressful. We decided to cycle into the night and head for the Blue Bay campsite. Unfortunately, it was completely locked up and closed when we got there. We carried on to find a spot to wildcamp but Simon soon got a flat tire. We took this as a sign that we should just camp in the olive grove next to us. The next day, we had farm workers and tractors driving by. They didn’t kick us out but we soon left. Pushing our bike through the olive grove was not so easy and we ended up getting 5 small punctures from thorns on the way out!

We made it to a beautiful small town called Arkitsa where we spent a good couple of hours fixing our tires and maintaining our bike. We were very tired from our late night expedition and early morning escape that we decided to spend the day in Arkitsa. Lucky for us, Arkista had a beautiful beach area with a perfect camping spot right next to the beach. This was such a relaxing and peaceful spot to spend the day and we really enjoyed it.

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Beautiful beach and campsite in Arkitsa.

After Arkitsa, we followed the coastline before heading into the mountains again on our final stretch towards Athens. Before our last mountain, some friendly people working on a grape vineyard asked us to stop and then went through the vineyard cutting huge bunches of grapes off for us. We told them they had give us more than enough but they insisted on cutting more and more until we had a massive bag full of grapes. Just the extra weight we needed before we climbed a mountain… But they were so friendly and as we were leaving they told us they were from Albania! Obviously! Ahhh, we left a piece of our heart in Albania.

Our last night in the mountains was spent next to a little chapel looking out over some fields. The air was so still and quiet and we took the opportunity to enjoy the calm before the storm. A herd of mountain goats invited themselves for dinner and one of them especially liked the smell of our food but we valiantly defended it by running around, shouting and screaming at it.

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Last campsite before Athens close to Dafni.

The next day we climbed the last hill and descended down into Athens. The city is absolutely massive and long before we arrived, we could see the many rows of white multi-story buildings spreading out towards the sea. Athens itself was fascinating but busy as most big cities are and the air pollution was noticeable as soon as we entered the city.

We wanted to visit the Gods at the Acropolis, but apparently they charge (20 EUR) so instead we visited them by hiking up the hill opposite where we had the perfect view of the ancient ruins. The hill is also famous for having the oldest site of the sophisticated Ancient Athenian democracy where thousands of people gathered to vote on topics. The Temple of Zeus was also easily seen from the fence and in the end we could enjoy all of the attractions free of charge.

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Acropolis in Athens.

While visiting the city center, we happened to come across the Greek version of ‘Changing of the Guards’. The Greek soldiers were moving their feet, dressed in pom poms, to interesting choreography and young cadets lined the square in front of the King’s Palace. Later we found out that this was a special occasion all done for the defense minister of Serbia’s visit.

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Changing of the guards in front of the parliament building in Athens.

We also biked a lot in Athens and we realised why people don’t cycle in this city. We were constantly going up and down very steep and short hills. Distances are also far to get around. Nevertheless, we still cycled around the city to go indoor bouldering and it was really fun to jump around these routes again!

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Thanks Alexis for all your tips and stories!

While there, we went for some wine with Alexis, a warmshowers host who was super friendly and shared a lot of stories from his time cycling across Asia (www.nomadcyclists.com). On our way back to our apartment we got caught in a heavy downpour. It was the first time on our entire trip that we cycled in the rain. And man did it rain. There was so much of water that the street got flooded and cars speeding passed drenched us even more with dirty street water. Another shower was needed to get clean again!

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Acropolis seen from the other side and the massive city of Athens around.

We also found the restaurant ‘Ta Kanaria‘ through warmshowers. They kindly give cycle tourists a free meal so give them a shout if you’re in the area! We stopped by on our way to the ferry and enjoyed a delicious meal with them.

From there we headed to the harbour to make our way to the climbing paradise that is Kalymnos Island. But that’s for another day…

More photos of Greece can be found here.

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