10 Apr Cycling Northern Greece
Our last climb out of Albania leads us straight up to the Greek border. Apparently, the border runs right along the ridge of the mountain range between Albania and Greece. So, once we finally reach the summit, we decide to spend our last few Lek that we still posses to reward ourselves with an ice cold coke and two portions of almost as cold french fries. But who cares! We finally made it up the mountain to take a rest and get to enjoy the view, before cycling Northern Greece.
A border official at the Albanian side told us just to cut right in front of all the cars to get stamped out, which was good for us but not so good for the car drivers behind us, since it took him quite a while to get our passports through the scanner. After several minutes of waiting for the computer to register our passports and after getting stamped, we rolled over to the Greek side.
We’ve heard stories, that the Greek authorities are a little bit of sticklers when it comes to checking passports and overstaying in the Schengen-area for non EU-members. So we were curious, how smooth the crossing was going to be, especially with all the different stamps we have accumulated so far–some that are easy to read, others that we could not even figure out when or where we got them.
As we hand the border guard our passports, he starts leafing through the pages. After a while he seems to find the page he was looking for and starts to what appears to be punching dates in a computer… apparently, he was really trying to figure this thing out! That’s when we just pulled out our 1-year visa card for Germany. He glanced at it quickly, a glimmer of relief hushed over his face, he pushed the computer off to the side, stamped our passports, and sent us off on our merry way.
Greece here we come!
The northern part of Greece is very sparsely populated, instead it is full of woods, creeks, the occasional abandoned village and the occasional small populated village… Most of all though, it is full of mountains and some crazy civil engineer decided to build the roads right over each and every mountain top. Needless to say, we are getting a bit tired by the late afternoon.
At least, we figured, it should be easy to find a wild camp spot in this desolate area; yet, finding a level spot big enough for our tent might prove to be a little bit more of a challenge.
Also, we ride by several signs warning us about wild life crossing in this wilderness.
We had no idea that there are bears and wolves in this area! Nor, are we very interested in having one of these creatures visit our tent while we are sleeping. Hoping to get out of bear-country before nightfall, we pedal a while longer. Unfortunately, our endeavor proved fruitless since the wilderness seems to continue to forever. So, as it is getting close to sunset, we pull off the road, push our bikes up a very narrow goat path to a level area on top of a hill, which looked like it was cleared a long time ago to help construct the road. We eat our sandwich dinner, hang the rest of our food up in a tree far away from our tent, (as to not attract any nightly visitors), and go to sleep.
Considering, that there are no towns or houses in sight, that we are well hidden from the road, and that it is impossible for any vehicle to drive up to our camp spot, we figured, we could sleep in in the morning if we wanted to. So, we were very surprised, when we suddenly heard a voice coming our way in the morning. I poke my head out of the tent and see a guy ride by on his horse. He has two other horses in tow and a couple of dogs running along the side of him. He looks at me, says “hello” and just keeps on riding down the goat path, like it is the most common thing to see a couple of cyclists camping out in the middle of nowhere.
We like Greece already!
The next morning and after a very nice, long descent we find our way over several more hills into Kastoria, where we restock our supplies.
After restocking our food supplies and chatting with a couple of locals, we continue our ride. It does not take long for us to find the hills and before long we are cycling along a ridge line; climbing up and coasting down several more mountain tops that seem to never end! We enjoy the views and the very light traffic. The car drivers that we do encounter are all very cool and laid back. Nobody seems to be in a hurry and everybody gives us plenty of room or waits behind us until it is safe to pass.
Since crossing into Greece we have encountered a lot more dogs. There are many more strays, some of them act like we do not even exist. Unfortunately, we also encounter more and more dogs, that are trying to chase us down. Especially, the big guard dogs make us a little nervous. A lot of times we ride past yards or other properties with huge guard dogs and for some reason, people do not care to close their gates, so the dogs do what dogs do best and chase after us. Sometimes, it helps to stop riding so they do not have anything to chase after and lose interest. Othertimes, they seem a little too aggressive, so we spray them with our water bottle, which usually makes them stop. However, we have encountered a few dogs in this area, especially the sheepdogs, which are not phased at all by the water, and if it wasn’t for the sheep herder holding and calling them back, they would have propably chewed on our legs very quickly.
After another long day of cycling, we find another great wild camp spot in a patch of small oak trees.
The next day we continue pedaling for long miles over several more mountains. The scenery changes sometimes between wooded mountains and rocky mountains. At some point we find ourselves taking a break on the bottom of a beautiful canyon with an awesome, turquoise colored river flowing through it.
Another time, we take a lunch break over an old bunker at the top of another mountain…. and after miles and more miles of endlessly uphill cycling, we wonder again, why the heck is this road going every single peak of the mountain range?! There must surely be an easier way?
Eventually, we arrive tired and with sore legs at another wild camp-spot. This time, we stop a little sooner in the afternoon, to rest our legs. We just lounge around, listened to the birds, and watched the wild flowers sway in the breeze, before the weather suddenly turned and it started to rain and thunder. We quickly set up our tent and settled in for the night.
After a rainy night, we get a short break in the clouds. We pack up camp and continue with a fairly short ride to Meteora, where we plan on taking a few down days and do some hiking.