"Caryl and Brian's worldwide bicycle adventure" has been a favorite web site of mine for a long time. You can check it out for yourself from my links section. One thing I like about it is the way she manages to weave in historic tales with her bicycle traveling stories, and do it in a very direct compelling way. You know what they say about imitation, about it being sincere and flattering and all that. Apparently it isn't all bad. Anyway, ignoring the history in Greece would be like ignoring your parents when your at their house. It's very difficult. So, especially during this first half of this story, you'll find plenty of digressions about that subject. I was thinking of making this a truly internet worthy experience by including buttons that let you skip comments about history, or continue from one history paragraph to the next. Talking about getting carried away ...  

Allons! The road is before us!
It is safe - I have tried it - my own feet have tried it well - be not detain'd!
Let the paper remain on the shelf unwritten, and the book on the shelf unopene'd!
Let the tools remain in the workshop! Let the money remain unearned!
Let the school stand! Mind not the cry of the teacher!
Let the preacher preach in the pulpit! Let the lawyer plead in the court, and the judge expound the law.
Camerado, I give you my hand!
- Walt Whitman, form Leaves of Grass

Athens to the port of Rafina
sleeping with your bicycle - the alternative to an advertising budget - a hate hate relationship
3 days 76 miles
Three and a half Cycladic Islands: Andros, Tinos, Syros and half of Mykonos
being paranoid for a good reason - good bye Scotland, hello Greece - Venetians on the hill - island war and island peace - a ferry odyssey
10 days 346 miles
The Argolid and the Easter Peloponnese Coast
a Corinthian king of the hill story - Otto of Nauplio
4 days 240 miles
Sparta, Mystra and the Lakonian Plain
give silence a chance - the peace pipe ceremonial - the wonderful arrogance of youth
1 day 22 miles
Around the Mani Peninsula
the God of War, feuding men and vegetable selling women - pannier packing stories
2 days 129 miles
Messina and the Western Peloponnese Coast
an American castle in Greece
2 days 150 miles
a road without ambition through Arcadia - a string of hellos
4 days 168 miles

Athens to the port of Rafina

March 30 - April 2: 3 days, 76 miles

titles: sleeping with your bicycle - the alternative to an advertising budget - a hate hate relationship

I WAS WAITING ANXIOUSLY to be reunited with my bicycle, at a rainy Athens airport. I was thinking back to the last time I saw it, soaking  reluctantly in the London Gatwick rain, on top of an airport baggage car. Here, in the overcrowded Athens arrival lounge, German tourists were arriving in armies. They pulled out their cell phones like wild west heroes pulled revolvers :  "Hello Helga, Well, we have safely  arrived at the Athens airport. And how is little Ursula doing ? And tell Tom we're doing just fine !" - Isn't technology wonderful ? Sometime it is, sometimes it's not. There was my bike, as usual with one flat tire. The only thing missing was the air pump. I had forgotten to take it off the frame before the flight. It must have shaken loose in a plane between Denver and Athens, and may still be cruising along in some dusty corner, high above the Atlantic, back and forth.

Okay, one step at a time now. I loaded the bike. I wanted to bike the 20 or so miles into Plaka, the Athens quarter below the Acropolis. We'll cross that deflated tire bridge when we get to it. I suspected that it was not punctured. They always seem to let the air out of just one tire, to see that there are no explosives inside, or something. As unlikely as it might seem, I found a gas station with an air hose within 2 minutes walking distance, just on the other side of the airport parking lot. This parking lot was just large enough for your regular medium sized super market back home. By now, it was raining with the intensity of a cow pissing on a flat rock, making the smooth concrete at the gas station slick as ice from the rain. I wiped out as soon as I got on the bike for the first time. Nice start ! But the air held in the tire.

By the time I pushed off, rush hour was in full swing. I cycled off into the weird wet void, learning how to bike all over again with all that weight - it shimmies therefor it moves - floating along between swirling eddies of water and oatmeal traffic, in a concert for small car horns - "hey, I'm riding my bike into Athens" - not quite the way I pictured it, but still ..., noxious fumes and all. "Don't ride through anything you can't see to the bottom of" was the motto for this ride. I pulled back a soaked hood from my dripping face, and saw the Acropolis for the first time, right in front, on top of a regular mountain, not hill - much more spectacular than I ever pictured it. I yelled something pleasant, but the traffic noise drowned me out.

Finding a hotel room in Athens is a pretty easy task, if you're reasonably awake, have some energy, and are fond of stairs or elevators moving in slow motion - I guess one out of three ain't bad . A dry brain helps too. For an American, accustomed to the ability to sleep next to his bicycle in every motel room, from sea to shining sea, there were some new attitudes to learn, right off the bat. Taking a bicycle to a reasonably clean hotel room was not the local custom, even if the bike was wiped dry and clean. It seemed like I let myself be shuttled for hours up to rooms on the 6th floor of some nice old historic building, inside tiny elevators moving at the speed of a sinking rowboat, only to learn, that I was expected to find some other additional accommodation for my trusty travel companion. By now my brain was definitely out of commission. So, I ended up in a slightly more seedy part of town near the two train stations. That's okay - cheaper anyway.  They let me lock my bike to a piece of furniture in a corner of their office, which doubled as an extra living room. On the way to storing the bike, I saw the hotel telephone switchboard, a manual plug-the-wire-into-both-ends type of thing. Greece is a place of great antiquity !

I had my first ( and only ) stupid tourist experience that evening. You must have one on every trip. It's an unwritten law. Best to get it over with at the beginning. I had finished my meal in a restaurant, frequented by two or three working Athenians. Seemed like the bill had too many zeroes on the end of the numbers, realistically speaking, according to my amateur drachma conversion calculations. I sign-languaged some questions about the prices of the stuffed peppers and the rice. The respectable vermin waiter, who was also the proprietor, out of the goodness of his ever loving heart, took off one zero behind every number. - Still, 15 $ for this sort of meal was about 4 times as much as I ever paid after that. I was so frazzled, I promptly left behind my fanny pack with papers, camera and money. The same vermin/waiter/proprietor came running after me with the pack as soon as I headed for the door. Jimeny Creepers, just when you think you have a really good reason to loathe a person, he turns around and does something nice! Still, I quickly acquired professional drachma dollar conversion abilities.

I wanted the next two days to get used to my surroundings, sleep, and walk about on sightseeing. Also, a new air pump would be nice, and a stove that would work with the type of gas cartridges, available here at every corner supermarket.

I had a hard time finding a stove, but when I finally found one, in Plaka - boy - did I find a stove ! I found 10 other places selling more and more stoves. It was stove heaven. I discovered there were little quarters that contained dozens of stores selling basically the same things. If it's a door handle you're looking for and stall A is selling door handles, sure as Sherlock, there was stall B C D and E next to it, specializing in door handles. - Saves on advertising I guess. If you want to open a door handle business you already got your door handle shoppers. All you got to do is compete on a price level. Having a shop in Plaka is the alternative to an advertising budget. It's kind of nice not always having to stare at billboards telling you to consume yet something else.

And so I picked up a marvel of a little stove that works with what is known as C270 cartridges in the US, for a grand total of 4 dollars and 50 cents. These worked with the locally produced C270 cartridges, that cost a grand total of 30 to 50 cents each here, about 1/4 to 1/8th of what they cost back home. - Next I searched for the air pump district. Well, I was a little disappointed not to find ten bicycle stores adjacent to one another. But I did get a great little pump with two heads for Schraeder and Presta valves, for exceptionally little money.

Okay, now that the bicycle touring support systems seem to be in reasonable shape again, it was time for a sightseeing venture. The Acropolis seemed like the obvious thing to visit when you're in Athens.

The Acropolis has been the prototypical anthill of human activity since 5000 BC. Their are layers upon layers of cultures starting with a neolithic community from 5000 BC. This is followed by Minoan ruins featuring for the first time cyclopean walls and royal palaces, followed by Dorians, Athenians, Peisistratid tyrants, Franks, Venetians, Byzantines, and Turks, foreign tourists, and probably others, each leaving their own archeological evidence in the form of palaces, temples, walls or disposable lighters.  Some buildings were churches, mosques and brothels, each in their time to different civilizations. It is striking that we focus on one period, the classic Athenian period. Subsequent medieval layers have been removed, especially anything Turkish. But there is no love lost between Turks and Greeks. Still, nobody has gone so far as to restore the temple on the hill to its original classical state. This would also involve painting it red blue and gold, and install an image of goddess Athena in rings and bracelets on top. The result would affect the senses as directly as any modern theme park. It would be very different from the abstract white stone outlines we are used to seeing.

But if I go down this road in this narrative I might never get back to bicycling, so I'll stop here. And I really only spent a couple of hours walking around the ruins. Just enough to come to the conclusion  "yup, it's a temple all right; typical case of roof being supported by many columns". Actually, the nicest spot from which to admire the Acropolis that I found, was from the next hill over. Apparently God ( or one of the Greek Gods, perhaps the God of Tourism ) put Filopappou Hill where he put it, so that man could get a beautiful view onto the Acropolis. But man, being what he is, found other uses for the hill too. It was from here that Venetians lobbed a shell at the Parthenon and blew the roof off. The fact that the Turks were using the Parthenon as a powder magazine at the time made the situation worse. Did I mention that there is no love lost between the Turks and Greeks ? More recently, during a coup attempt in 1967, tanks controlled the area from up here. Nonetheless, when I was there, you could gaze from peaceful pine solitude over to the Acropolis, picture perfect on the hill. This spot was great for picturing the wars over the Acropolis - in peace.

"Good bye ?" asked me the gentle old lady at my old "Hotel Louvre" as I showed signs of packing up my bike. "Yes, good bye" I said. I had decided to make my getaway. Hotel Louvre is kind of a curious name for a hotel in Athens. Now why would a hotel in Athens, Greece be named after an art museum in Paris, France ? - Because the Louvre contains a number of antiquity artifacts from the Acropolis.  The name showed a sense of humor. A French ambassador, by the name of Fauvel was kind enough to remove artifacts from the Acropolils to the Louvre. This happened in the early 19th century, a time when digging for classical greek antiquities became fashionable for Northern Europeans. Some pieces of columns and temple friezes wandered off to the British Museum. Others apeared in Bavaria, others in France. Having a little bit of Corinthian column in your pad or national museum showed just how sophisticated you were. Of course this was looting. But Greece was not a unified nation at the time and it had no museums. The Turks were still in control of much of the country, and it was no skin off their Acropolis. I think I already mentioned that there is no love lost between the Greeks and Turks.

Athina was a tough one to get out of on a bike,  with volume of car traffic comparable to any nightmare city in the world. Although I have to say in their defense, they were all small cars, with mufflers, and they were not aggressive. The volume of moped traffic was incomparable to anyplace that I could think of. The noisy pesky two cycle mosquitoes swirled about like gnats in Alaska. The volume of train traffic, by the way, was similar to Denver, virtually nonexistent. A single line subway has about as much impact as the single LRV line in Denver, none discernible. - Seems like most of the public transportation budget is eaten up by the incredibly cheap and efficient ferry services, which I was about to take advantage of.

I was heading for a small ferry ports serving primarily the Northern cyclades, Rafina. Rafina, was the word for the day. I always make an attempt to learn some basic language skills. But when it comes down to practice, most often those skills are used for asking directions. And then, whatever place you're trying to get to, plays the starring role in any sentence construction, uttered to innocent, befuddled, hopefully helpful strangers. Though it's nice to dress up the place name in some courtesies, like Parakalo, dehn katalaveno and efkharisto.

But first I had some mopeds and cars to content with. In the traffic I felt like hot dog mixture being made into a hot dog. All my Rafina sentence constructions got friendly responses, accompanied by helpful pointing gestures, except one, when I asked a "fully dressed for services" orthodox priest. - Oh well, maybe he had a difficult sermon ahead of him. I climbed over a pass still inside city chaos, and descended on a street that made me think I rode in a circle. I was creeping along a service road fronted by the same arrangement of balcony houses as the one from the airport. Balconies are an important thing here. But these balconies were all empty. - Nothing to balcony over, but smog, exhaust, cars, and once a century a poor little bicyclist. Now around noon, I was still trying to get out of Athina. But the road was more of the same, somewhere else. I had not gone in a circle. The street just looked the same. An hour later, I was stuck in a traffic jam behind a bus, surrounded by mainly dirt bikes with young people, utilitarian scooters with hubbies, all equally disgruntled about the traffic mess. - "Rafina ??", accompanied by questioning gestures, didn't get much of a response there, just disgusted looks.

It did finally end. Above Pendelli, a gyros pita later, I crested a 2000 foot pass. Then, rolling through a midget forest of burnt trees, I saw the Aegean for the first time below me, in the drizzle looking like a faded holiday slide through dirty glasses.- Not exactly post card material, but at least breathing wasn't hazardous any more.

Three and a half Cycladic islands: Andros, Tinos, Syros, and one half of Mykonos

April 3 - April 12: 10 days, 346 miles

titles: being paranoid for a good reason - good bye Scotland, hello Greece - Venetians on the hill - island war and island peace - a ferry odyssey

AFTER THE FIRST HALF DAY of fully loaded touring, for the next two weeks, I stretched the concept of "bicycle touring" somewhat. I wanted to ease into fully loaded bicycling slowly. I am always worried something is going to break that can't be repaired, an axle, a wheel, a frame, me - and then the tour would be over, before it ever started. I've broken all of these things on past tours, at one time or another. So maybe I'm not completely paranoid, or at least paranoid for a good reason. I started out, floating from island to island by ferry, and finding a room in the port city. From there I could explore the island by day trips.

I boarded my first Greek ferry, and found myself a seat next to a window, with a good view on the rain developing outside. -  Funny, all the pictures I had seen of Greek islands showed them baking in translucent blue sky with perpetual sunshine, not a drop of rain in the whole lot of them. My seat was in the cozy warm interior of the boat, across from a moving stairway, heaving people up on the main deck, one by one. I was one of a couple of handfuls of tourists, in a crowd of Greeks, lugging radios, TVs, and other major appliances back to their homes on the islands. It was reassuring not be heading for tourist central. But this wasn't tourist central season yet. It wasn't relentless sun season yet either.

I rolled off the boat at dusk, together with maybe 20 cars, that immediately headed down the road to the other villages on the island. Finding a comfortable economical room was a tourists dream come true. I picked a room right in town, with a window and balcony immediately above the ferry dock.

For my first day ride on an island, I headed past the tourist village of Batsi, into the dirt track interior of the island past a tiny village, Arni. White houses and churches dotted the bare mountainous landscape, houses and churches without people. I imagined much of this housing must belong to rich Athenians who come here only on weekends or vacations. I stopped at one of the many whitewashed chapels, this one especially picturesque, overlooking the spine of the island, and the sea below. The door was unlocked. Except for grasses and flowers the scene was lifeless, no people, no cars. The inside of the chapel appeared clean and sparse, white and a few strong expressive colors, a couple of wicker kitchen chairs, a metal cross, an icon or two. Take a basic wicker kitchen chair, surround it with white adobe like texture, and sprinkle some strong saturated color on surrounding object, and pretty soon you got yourself an art object. Somehow even simple utilitarian objects like kitchen chairs took on a special appearance in these clean esthetic surroundings. Visitors had left a fair amount of bills and coins near the altar. After this I thought that theft wasn't going to be a major problem here.

Passing sheep, an occasional whitewashed house, and a parked car here and there, I rode up to the spine of the island. As I started the descend back down, bouncing from rock to rock, like mountain bikes like to bounce, I suddenly noticed that my brand new Mavic 511 - "especially built for this trip" - rim had a slight untrueness. I didn't think much of it, at least not now. In my experience bicycles only broke when they were fully loaded. My panniers carried some food and a rain jacket for the day. That's all. A bike has no excuse to break under that load, even if it is 15 years old. A good bike lives forever.

After an intervening day of rain, I determined, that Eastern Andros was just the right size, for a satisfying one day circumbikulation ( with some shortcuts ), and become completely exhausted in the process, fully loaded or, as in this case, not so quite fully loaded. It was a respectable 72 miles, with (according to my Avocet 50) an astonishing 7200 feet of climbing. But enough sadistics, ah, I mean statistics. Don't know what it is, but it seems the destinations on the far end of the trip are always the most interesting. This was also true today. On the furthest part of the day trip, high on a hill above the town of Andros, the clouds suddenly tore open, and revealed a magnificent rugged cake wedge of a mountain sticking out of the Agean. The sun burned a hole into the misty layer of clouds, and as it turned out, the sun was here to stay for the season. Good bye Scotland, hello Greece. From here on perfect moderate sunshine was in charge of the days, constantly. It was so perfect, I started taking it for granted weeks later, until it caught up with me in a big way, but that's several chapters down the road. So I'll mention the weather again a few times, when it was even better than super fandangtastic perfect, and then again when it turned on me.

On the way home from the circumbikulation of Northern Andros, a constant view out to the sea kept my head permanently turned left. The blood red sun started to dip into a hazy gooey atmosphere, dusk. I ran into the heaviest traffic during the ride, a caravan of 10 cars or so coming the other way. Aha, the evening ferry must have arrived a while ago. It brought me back to reality just a bit. It was enough to keep a couple of spokes in reality, while the rest of me was rolling along in a dream. I could see how cycling along an ocean all the time could become a pleasant habit, more addictive than staring at a lava lamp.

A few days later I took the ferry to the next adjacent island, Tinos. There I had a hard time picking a home balcony with attached room. So many balconies, so many views on white cubistic housing under blue sky, so little time. - Yeah, I know, problems, problems, nothing but problems. When I have a choice I'll take a friendly private room over a hotel any day.

"All people good - people good - politics bad - Germans good, Americans good, Turkish good" said Janis, the friendly man showing me one of his "rooms to let", looking least convincing during the "turkish good" part. I took the room. When you take a private room in a strange place, you get an idea of how people live in a strange place, not what hotels are like in a strange place. Besides, they cost less money and the proprietors are friendlier. If I wanted something, the friendly grandfather pointed out sister-husband-house brother-house and his house, out the window, where I was sure to find a relative of some sort. Otherwise I was on my own in this house. It felt good to be shown how to let yourself into the front door with a key hidden behind a plant, and to get the use of a little butane stove in the kitchen for coffee and meals. He assumed that I was a reasonably responsible member of the human race, who knows how to deal with these responsibilities. It's the opposite of a hotel with a bathroom where the water turns itself off automatically, as soon as you take your hand off the faucet.  The room for the bike was the whitewashed hallway. At night I locked it to one of the 20 or so gigantic flower pots, making it a spectacular arboretum, because old habits are hard to break.

I imagine Janis' carefree attitude has something to do with living on an island. The world was at a safe distance. Every once in a while, somebody came by. You could always see them arriving through the port. There was only one port, and its two docks could be seen from all the hills in town as clearly as I could see it from my balcony. Sometimes the visitors are good. Sometimes the visitors are bad. But eventually, they all leave, Normans, Franks, Venetians, Turks, Athenians, foreign tourists. And then life goes on as before.

Tinos is not a party island, but a pilgrimage island. An incredible 40 to 60 villages dot the island, depending on who you believe, and how you define a village. Each one consists of a small cluster of white houses, glued together by a maze of narrow alleyways. Most of them congregate around a 1600 feet rock outcrop like hens around a chicken. The mother hen on top of the mountain is an old Venetian Fort, watching over the island.

This was the first of several  Venetian forts in picture perfect and super strategic  hilltop locations, I saw during this tour. So why are there Venetian forts in Greece ? Well, it's like this. It dates back to the time when crusaders, Germans, Normans, and Franks came in force to ransack the Byzantine empire, Constantinople and spread Catholicism.  Not content with liberating Jerusalem from Islam and putting christianity back in place there, while they were at it, they thought they'd get rid of Greek orthodox christianity in favor of their brand of christianity too. Just as a sideline, they'd pillage and murder for personal gain. During this time, the Venetians were a powerful city state with control of many harbors in the Adriatic. The Greeks actually first invited them in, in order to get protection for themselves. For the Venetians this was just peachy. They secured trading strongholds, acquired ports, and made out like bandits. The relationship turned really sour when the Venetians added their support to a later crusade against the Byzantine Greeks, the fourth crusade. Paradoxically, Venetians were catholics too. So one way or another, a catholic element forced itself into Greece from the West. A third of the population of the island form a strong Catholic presence. The rest is traditional Greek Orthodox Christian. Hey, that makes for twice as many picturesque whitewashed church towers.

But Tinos is a pilgrimage island, for orthodox pilgrims, not catholics. Around 1820, somebody orthodox holy found something orthodox holy with the usual holy powers, a miraculous icon with healing abilities.  Hm, sounds like a religious plot to me. Sounds like one religion was trying to upstage the other religion. As long as the religions compete by finding healing icons, and building higher and more beautiful church belfries, like here, we have nothing to fear.

The next morning, I pointed my own miraculous icon with healing powers skywards, my bicycle. I rode around the big old ruin of a Venetian hen on the mountain, watching over an incredible number of picturesque tiny hen villages. It all made for a perfect day of village biking, and exploring narrow medieval whitewashed mazes. A curious combination of old and new mixes in the villages. I saw a man butchering a goat hanging from a tree, in a 10 foot garden with a view. In between villages, I encountered men riding their donkeys sidesaddle, on their own trip through life. In contrast, the occasional white Mercedes and BMW stood parked between medieval walls, both equally immaculately clean. In addition to butchered goats, there is money in them there medieval villages. Maybe it's just having problems trickling down very far. But there are some signs of trickling. The insides of old white washed walls were being renovated to contain tasteful luxurious modern housing with the latest luxury appliances and precision fitted windows.

On the following days I discovered again, that the size of the island was just perfect to get from one end to the other in a day, and wear myself to frazzles in the process. The road to Pyrgos is high up on the mountainous spine of the island, terraced dry hills falling steeply into the ocean, many hundred feet below. I could only wonder at the origin of all those terraces. There were hardly any villages here now. Pyrgos and its surrounding bays, beaches, mountains and monasteries were the perfect goal for the day. It was only about 50 miles, but an astonishing 5200 of climbing, according to my Avocet50 altimeter.

I couldn't help but feel the comfort of home, in my economical Tinos apartment. Just staying was tempting.  During the balmy evenings I watched the ferries glide into the harbor, their strings of lights gliding smoothly over one another. A few people walked quietly through peaceful streets, carrying cloth shopping bags filled with vegetables and fish. It was as if the whole concept of tourism was still a few centuries in the future. The glow of the moonshine competed with the strings of lights from the boats. The balmy air hardly moved. Life was a balcony. I could watch many bowls of tobacco go up in smoke on my balcony under those conditions.

But I really came here to go on a bike tour, - Later, just a couple more islands. Exact information about ferry connections East towards Ikaria were impossible to come by. I could only find out that none were leaving from here, Tinos. So I took a boat to the next island, touristy Mykonos, thinking I would get more exact information there.

First I had to find somebody to pay for the last 3 nights of accommodations. Over in sister-husband house, somebody identified herself as "madam" who was willing to take the money. Janis, the men who had rented me the room was away on business. You can't help but feel good about spending money in such a carefree atmosphere.

I started to embark on my own little odyssey. In Mykonos, an hour and a half by boat, I was told that boats to Ikaria, stop in Syros, but not Mykonos. Getting to Syros, first involved backtracking to Tinos. Syros was getting ready for orthodox Easter, and as luck would have it, that's when a new ferry schedule goes into effect. But they hadn't received it yet from Athens. So nobody was sure about the boats leaving after three days, except for the boat to Athens, where the schedule was coming from. Oh well, I could think of a lot worse places to be stranded.

Syros is easily circumbikulated in half a day. Yet its port, Ermoupolis, is the capital of the Agean district. The houses of Ermoupolis drape over two steep perfectly cone shaped hills, a grand old affair. When I saw it for the first time from the ferry I thought it was a medieval hill town. Spectacular buildings on the summits crowned anthills of activity. You could defend yourself from those hills. But the Ermoupolis hills origins were not medieval. Ermoupolis started to be built after the Greek revolutionary war against the Turks. A large catholic population lives here also. Before the war of independence against the Turks, Syros was completely Catholic. During that time orthodox refugees from islands closer to the Turkish border, settled the island in large numbers. The two giant cones in the city conveniently served as distinct neighborhoods, a catholic hill, and an orthodox hill, each crowned by a majestic church,  a very striking image. Tourists in crowds were here to appreciate this image, almost all Greeks.

Traffic fills Ermoupolis, all kinds of traffic except bicycle traffic, but most of all  moped traffic.  I spent an evening in downtown Ermoupolis watching the moped scene. People like to judge each other by all kinds of appearances, dress, shoes, the cigars they smoke, whatever. While we probably all try to distance ourselves from this sort of behavior, I was tempted to judge people by their mopeds in Ermoupolis.  The socially mobile young female, hopping from date to date in downtown Ermoupolis, clearly preferred the "safety sport" scooter in trendy red and orange colors.  Young males feeling the need to attract attention, went for the twin exhaust sports models, making twice the noise of the sports scooter.  Entire fleets of Honda Cub 50's stood parked in echelon squadrons fronting the ocean, like brave fighter planes on a gigantic base, ready to roar into action at a moments notice. Those were the vehicles for the masses taking home the groceries. Every once in a while I saw a motor bike with an engine larger than 50ccs, status symbol I guess. - But - not a single Harley on the entire island.

After three days of exploring scenic nooks and crannies jutting into the blue sea like the tentacles of an octopus, I thought I'd inquire about the new ferry schedule again. - Hot dog, the new schedule was here, and I got myself a ticket. Not so quick Odysseus Interuptus ! Don't count your ferries before they're hatched. The ticket turned out to be for a hydrofoil, which does not transport cars, or even bicycles. They would have sold the ticket to me, me attired in Lycra biking costume, helmet and all. "Hm, wonder why they thought I was wearing this curious costume". All of a sudden, I started feeling self conscious about my dress. However, this was unnecessary. These islands were not a tourist frontier.  They've seen all kinds of tourist curiosities, and habits, especially over in Mykonos. Their attitude to all this seems to be an admirable "live and let live", or sometimes "stare and let live".

Back to ferry logistics: for the next regular ferry to Ikaria, I would have had to wait another week. And so I decided to leave Ikaria for another trip, and actually go bike touring, bags and all. I didn't really have a fixed itinerary. I just wanted to discover someplace I had never been before. And so my island odyssey ended. Together with throngs of tourists that were heading back after a long weekend, I boarded a crowded ferry to Athens. I knew that look on their faces. It was the look of "weekend lost". I knew it from my home in Denver. I could be seen every late Sunday afternoon, in standing cars, as people were stuck in endless traffic jams on I25 towards Denver, returning from the mountains.

So all in all, I considered myself pretty lucky. My weekend was scheduled to last 2 and a half more months. The escape from Athens was a lot easier the second time around, paradoxically because I stuck to big roads. They all had shoulders, and I had the shoulders to myself. Still, I had some island withdrawal symptoms, toiling along between refinery tanks, four lane highways, tourist cafeterias and Goody's restaurants, all glued together by a matrix of litter. Still, I had the Argo Saronic gulf to my left, and conditions were improving with each pedal stroke. At one point my rear tire exploded spontaneously. No matter how hard I looked, I couldn't find any problems with spokes poking trough the rim, or other objects in the tire. It remained a mystery for another 2000 miles.

The Argolid and the Eastern Peloponnese Coast

April 13 - April 16: 4 days, 240 miles

titles: a Corinthian king of the hill story - Otto of Nauplio

MY DESTINATION FOR THE EVENING was about 50 miles from Athens up the Argo Saronic Gulf, the town of Corinth with its ancient ruins nearby, at the mouth of the Corinth Canal. I was wondering if finally I was heading towards major tourism with all its trappings, stores selling mostly souvenir plates, busloads of people and noisy bars. But when I got there, I thought that archeology tourists were a model bunch of tourists, or at least the village catering to their supposed wants was a model village, weather the tourists arrived in busloads or not. The pleasant main street of Acrocorinth, at the base of the Corinthian ruins, was lined with friendly merchants, renting reasonably priced pleasant quiet rooms, selling groceries, tomatoes, bread, goat cheese and souvenirs of course. Of course I can only speak for the time I was there, April. Everything was easy going, friendly, quaint and organized on a small intimate scale.

The large impressive scale was reserved for the Acrocorinth ruins. The next morning I rode my bicycle up the imposing limestone mesa, towering about 1000 feet above the Corinthian canal and land bridge. I was now on a top-of-the-hill strategic location that kept people busy for a couple of thousand years trying to control it. The reward for controlling this mountain top was plain as ironed toast, once you were up here.  This was the one defensible mountain top around. From here you could control the land bridge between the Agean sea to the East, and the Ionic sea to the West. Two trading routes crossed at this point, a land route across the land bridge from mainland Greece to the Peloponnese, and a sea route from the Agean sea to the Ionic sea. During classical Greek times, when control lay in city states like Athens, Sparta and Corinth, controlling the trade between the mainland and the Peloponnese was the key to power. Trading caravans from the North had to pass over the land bridge onto the Peloponnese, to continue on to Sparta and other city states. Location, location, location ! It was important if you wanted to be a successful city state in 500 BC. Successful friends were nice too. In the Peloponnese war, Corinth sided with successful Sparta.  Sparta defeated Athens, and so Corinth remained in power. Later when the Romans invaded Greece, Corinth was leveled to the ground.

Later the location of this strategic position again gave power to the kings of the hill, now the Romans. From here they controlled the trade, not over the land bridge to the Peloponnese, but between the two bodies of water. Powerful and wealthy Rome was to the West. Trading partners Egypt and Syria were to the East. The Romans built two port cities to transfer the goods by land between the two seas. During this time Corinth received the honor of being visited by St. Paul. He lectured the Romans about the organized prostitution, they were so fond of. They received him with rioting and tribulations. So now we have the "letters to the Corinthians" in the bible as a result. This time two major earthquakes in 375 and 521 defeated the kings of the hill. Now a canal connects the two bodies of water, that made the Peloponnese an island, technically speaking. But that came much later, when controlling this picturesque mesa top was not a strategic advantage any more.

When I wandered around this gigantic jumble of overgrown ruins, the trees were in full spring blossom, and a colorful jungle of wild flowers and olive trees covered the enormous area, large enough to swallow up busloads of tourists. Massive roman walls and gates surrounded the mesa. They enclosed ground, trod upon by the collective history of Europe, and now, ehem, me. Work for generations of archeologists waited to be dug up, Greek, Frankish, Venetian, Roman, Turkish and Byzantine ruins. No wonder so many of the really good archeology students from California come to Greece to do their work. As for me, a complete layman in that subject, I loved the expanse and the solidarity afforded by this location. A location that played a major role in the history of the world had had become a perfect example of picturesque decay. I got there under my own power, making it even more picturesque and no less decayed. Below the mesa in the archeological museum, I could catch up on my Corinthian, Athenian and whatever other kinds of columns there were.

Okay, let's go bicycle touring. I headed South across the Argolid area, to return to the Agean coast near Nauplio in the evening, a distance of 50 to 60 miles. The scenery felt vaguely familiar, dry rolling hills with extensive orchards, and an occasional snowcapped range to liven up the horizon, and keep you longing for the distance. Along the way, scores of signs were begging me to learn still more about ancient Greek history. But I wanted to do some bicycling too. I think you bicycle tourers will understand.

Feeling the pressure of being a tourist, ... well, you just have to see ... Mycenae. I did my duty. I'm sure lots of interesting history happened here. But, mauling along with three busloads of tourists, doing your part to erode a small archeological hill by trampling them to death, climbing a mount like football fans climb into the bleachers, it felt more like standing around the water cooler at work with 300 of your closest coworkers, discussing your weekend entertainment preferences.

Still, rolling away happily, past parked busses, and scores of stores selling replicas of vases from a completely different period in history, the scenic spot the Mycenaeans had picked was impressive. It overlooked the floor of a wide valley several hundred feet below, an ocean bay in the distance on the left, and a shimmering snowcapped mountain range in the far distance on the right. It felt reassuring that people living in 2000 BC apparently sensed natural beauty like us. I imagine the defensibility of this spot didn't hurt either.

I wasn't done with history lessons yet, by a long shot. My town for the evening, Nauplio, contained so much history, every nationality gets to pick their own episode to focus on. If you're an Italian in Nauplio, you focus on the highest and most impressive of the three castles in town, the Venetian Palamidi fort. Again it was the highest and most dominant of the three castles in town, the king of the hill.

If you're a Greek in Nauplio, you focus on the period when Greek independence finally succeeded, when independence heroes laid siege to Turks in the Palamidi Fort above the city, and finally after a year succeeded in conquering it. You focus on the fact that Nauplio was the first modern capital of Greece. You focus on the fact that the same old conquering independence war hero, was later imprisoned in the same fort for kidnapping 4 members of the parliament. Independence often takes several tries.

If you're German in Nauplio, you focus on the Bavarian king of Greece, Otto. After aforementioned independence movement fell apart because of internal Greek disputes, European powers of the decade installed a good old  monarch in Greece. This seems like a strange idea now, with all that history of democatic tradition. They considered internal stability more important than democracy.  This sentiment perhaps can be understood ( if not felt ) looking at the current history of Russia. Shopping for monarchs yielded a prince from Bavaria, Otto. He made himself at home in Nauplio for about 30 years.

Walking around the second most impressive castle in Nauplio, where Otto made himself at home, I discretely attached myself to a German school group also touring the castle, and listened to stories about how Austrian waltzes were received in Nauplio, how beer came to be brewed in Nauplio. ... "And how successful this brewing venture was, you'll have to decide for yourself" said the schoolteacher to his (I'm guessing here) 10th grade class. In typically beer liberal germanic fashion she was alluding to sampling the brews later during the school outing. I must admit, old Otto must have felt at home here. The Agean sea looks more like a placid inland lake, like the Bodensee in Southern Germany for example, than an ocean. The horizon contained snowcapped peaks that looked like the alps from this distance. Castles studded the bay, more than anywhere else along the Mediterranean, three alone in Nauplio itself. Introducing beer brewing to Greece may have been a successful venture. Still, Otto didn't last. Monarchs from outside one's country tend to be a bit out of touch with their subjects. After 30 years a Danish monarch was installed. He didn't live in Nauplio. It looked nothing like Denmark here.

In an evening I barely learned how to use all the appliances in this night's private accommodations. Sofar I had learned to use a water heater switch for taking a shower, a large gas stove for cooking, a short wave radio for English language news and weather reports for places where I'm not. It was time to leave. I did as instructed. I locked the door behind me, and dropped the key through the mailbox. The couple who had rented me the room was away at work. Again I felt a deep sense of "people are good creatures after all", thinking of the trust they had in me. This should be natural, but it really isn't where I come from.

In the third week into the tour I still felt, finally I have to get going. I had miles to rack up, coastlines to ride, mountain passes to pass, garbage dumps to fly by, flats to fix, gyros to consume. So many new things waited to be seen. They distracted me from riding many miles. Finding the right balance between riding miles and experiencing new things, is the key to a successful bicycle tour. Lots of books offer advice on what size cone wrench to take, what sleeping bag, what credit card to take. But not many offer advice on the balance between miles and sights.  This worked best for me: Do just enough sight seeing, to think that I should be biking a bit more. This way I always looked forward to bicycling more, and never got tired of it. In the long run, I was maximizing the miles ridden, by maximizing the desire to ride more miles.

During the following 2 days, I rode down the East coast of the Peloponnese, along an increasingly scenic and mountainous coast. Since Athens I had peddled myself from traffic mania to carless paradise, from oil tank industrial scenery to a mountain coast garden of Eden, from a steady flatso plain, to a a forested alternating climb and roll scenery,  Great - I was finally catching up a little on the miles to ride, just a little bit, and I still had that hypnotizing blue ocean to gaze out on.

From Leonidi, I rode into the interior of the Peloponnese through a massive limestone canyon, scenically worthy of any US National Park designation. I stopped for cookies with the nuns in a monastery. I'll leave this description for pictures. I continued climbing with happy cookie belly over a 3000 foot heavily forested pass across Mount Parnon and descended into a new world. I rolled into a large valley, more properly called a park in American West terminology, the Lakonian plain,  a dry expanse of prairie ringed by mountains. Orchards, scattered cypress trees, and Byzantine ruins spread over the dry grassland.

Sparta, Mystra and the Lakonian Plain

April 17: 1 days, 22 miles

titles: give silence a chance - the peace pipe ceremonial - the wonderful arrogance of youth

THAT EVENING I SAT ON MY INTRICATELY RUSTED BALCONY overlooking the main drag of Sparta. I had crossed one mountain range, but it felt very different over here, away from the coast. The solid wall of the Tayettos range behind Sparta provided a landlocked appearance, even if the ocean was just on the very spectacular other side of the range. Helped along by the relaxing qualities of some local beers, I had the illusion I was making an odyssey around a small continent. "From sea to shining sea" here applies to Agean and Ionian. Famous wanderers like Odysseus wandered from one side to the other, and around and round this miniature continent, the Peloponnese, and its adjoining seas. It's too small for a continent. But it's too big for an island. And the regional and climatic differences from just two days ago were continental enough in my book, I decided, finishing the third bottle of beer. I came from the sophisticated tree studded East coast.  Now I was in the dry practical interior. I was heading for the unknown wild West.

Sparta was laid out in an orderly square grid that minimized confusion and maximized efficiency. No jumble of ancient city alleyways kept cars from doing what they were designed to do, actually drive. If cars stood still, it was because of the sheer traffic volume resulting from unbridled enthusiastic commerce. Sparta itself contains no classical ruins, except for the decaying remains of the obligatory Acropolis. The prevalent classical philosophy stated "It was the men who made the city, not the buildings". This philosophy bread success. Sparta defeated Athens in the Peloponnese war at the end of the Greek classic era. They gained fame by exposing babies to the elements and letting the week ones die. They were proud of getting along with little. We named a whole way of life after them, the Spartan way of life.

People here concerned themselves with the present and the future, not so much with the past. In between sips of beer on my noisy balcony, I heard wisps of John Lennon peace lyrics performed by street bands float by. Bands of people organized outside to protest Nato involvement in Kosovo. I couldn't help but wonder what John Lennon would have thought of this new use of his song "give peace a chance".  Here no tourists listened silently to tales of kings, freedom fighters and pirates. Freedom fighters or pirates ( depending on your point of view )  roamed the streets, yelling loudly, listening to nobody. Not even ear protectors designed to protect the hearing of airport workers from jet engine noise, could eliminate noise from the street bands and roving crowds that night.

The next morning I unplugged and uncapped my ears. By the end of the night I had put on all the hearing protecting devices I carried along. First, felt earplugs in the ear cavities, then the external earmuffs described before. As I removed the devices, the noise around me became a few decibels louder, comparably speaking. I made my getaway fast, and moved on to the tourist settlement next to the old Byzantine ruins of the town Mystra, about 10 miles up the road into the Tayettos. After negotiating a 5000 Drachma price, I carried my bags past multicolored windows on white blossoming trees, past wedding pictures of the now old single woman who was renting me this room, past pictures of her husband in the military, into a large bedroom with balcony out on a citrus garden and the Lakonian plain. Large old wooden pieces of furniture would have interested an antiques fan, and I had the use of a kitchen again. I felt like I had gone from noisy hell straight to silent heaven.

If the Spartans thought men made the city, the builders of Mystra surely thought the hill made the city. Northern European Franks first built Mystra, while on their way South to the holy crusades. The houses of Mystra were glued to a steep hogback of a ridge, that formed the initial rise of the saw blade like Tayettos range. The hogback is steeper than any I have seen in Colorado. Also, if the inhabitants of the Spartans and their decendents didn't believe that investing a lot of effort in grand public buildings was all that it was cracked up to be, the people who came after them didn't believe much in tearing buildings down either. This has been a ghost town so to speak since 1825, when a second fire destroyed the town. But its past goes back so much further than any ghost town. Mystra, first settled in the 12th century, once was a steep hillside home for 42000 people. It was the last capitol of the remains of the byzantine empire. Then the Turks gained control of this last part of the Peloponnese in 1460. A second fire finally destroyed the town during the war of independence against the Turks. In the first decades of this century the town became a lived in archeology town. Excavations started while about 50 families called this hilltop town their home. Now only a handful of nuns in a monastery still call this place home, happy to sell icons and baked goods to the tourists.

The six churches, with their cozy arched interiors made the most interesting part of Mystra.  The interior provoked a completely different feeling from a northern European cathedral. You enter into a wonderfully styled protective cavern. You feel protected from the outside world, safe in withdrawal from the world. Intricate glittering icons, smoky incense, surround you in all directions, objects to focus your attentive prayers on.

For a second excursion I pointed my bike along a wild narrow winding concrete path straight up into the Tayettos. After an exhilarating climb, I found myself a seat with view on scenery worth remembering the rest of my life, sat down to rest, and smoke some tobacco. A goat herder strolling along with his umbrella like an English gentleman in the London rain, mosied on over to have a look with a slow deliberate walk. The umbrella was for protection against the sun, even if did look a bit like one of the avengers in that old british TV show. He knew no English. I knew no Greek. He sat down next to me and rolled himself a cigarette. Call me lazy, but the nice thing about smoking is that you can sit down and enjoy the moment without having to do anything else. As we both sat there next to one another, I felt I understood how that whole peace pipe ceremonial thing evolved. That's what we were doing here, two strangers with different languages and cultures, like two tribes, one from the wild hills, the other from a close planet, sharing some wordless moments of understanding, puffing. Although we both had our own puffing implements. After this unspoken ceremony, we found we had enough sign language in common to compare ages. With weathered smile under his English detective cap, he signed his age to me with pride, 70 years. He topped me on that one. It was clear we both deeply appreciated this spot with its view on a deep gorge eating into the 2600 meter high snowcapped saw blade of the Tayettos range. It was his view. I was the guest.

Other things were not as clear. "Telephone ?" he asked me about the headphones that I carried along for my portable cassette player. - No, I'm not a member of that cast in my tribe, not yet anyway. Maybe when they start giving away cell phones in the bottom of Cheerios boxes, who knows ... So he does know some English words. I took his picture and he posed without a word. I asked him for his adress, so that maybe I could send him a copy of the picture. In response, he slowly wrote his name in squiggly capitol letters on a piece of paper. No adress at this name, I guess. "Good bye friend" he said and headed off the road into the brush, direction Tayettos.

I was wondering how many of these hearty nomads were at home in these hills, and for how long they stayed there. I was wondering if anybody had ever bothered to find out. As I was descending the snaky serpentines back into Mystra, looking for the best vantage point onto the Byzantine town, I was wondering if soon we would be living in an age where even goat herders living solitary lives in the Tayettos wilderness would be equipped with cell phones.

In Mystra I also met the first self professed cyclist so far on this journey. He was a confident kid in the prime of his amateur racing career, helping out in his parent's restaurant business during the summer. He told me the road I had been riding into the Tayettos, was the site of a bicycle race once a year, and that he had won that race once. As a matter of fact, it may be an official race course in the next olympics, hosted by Greece.  He indicated that Athenians, when it came to bicycle racing were wimps, because they had no mountains to train on, although I'm paraphrasing due to the language difficulties. There was that age old rivalry again, the intra continental differences between the sophisticated city slickers of Athens and the direct practical forward mountain Spartans. Some Coloradoans like to think the same way about flatlanders, even if we're originally from there, like me. He showed me another picture of himself, doing a wheelie across the finish line in a race. He was disqualified for doing the wheelie on his road bike, but the picture was worth it. The situation resembled an ice dancer doing a full forward flip during an obligatory figure skating routine in front of a TV audience - Screw you establishment, I'm too good for your rules. - Probably Athenian judges anyway. - Ah yes, the wonderful arrogance of youth.

I carried my bags past the multicolored window panes onto the white cherry tree, past the key to Niagara Falls hanging on the wall, to my bike, carefully locked away with the shovels, flower pots and other gardening implements in a garden shed. - It was time to move on again. I had fixed myself a pot of coffee while the spunky white haired one was away at church. It was Sunday. I would have liked to find out more about how that key to Niagara Falls got on her living room wall, but these are the limitations of language impaired travel. We had to communicate with dried garbanzo beans instead. She gave me some. She was just drying some in the shed. They made a nice snack. I got the good bye procedure that is usual for relatives.

Around The Mani Peninsula

April 18 - April 19: 2 days, 129 miles

titles: the God of War, feuding men and vegetable selling women - pannier packing stories

MY NEXT GOAL WAS THE FINGER NAIL of the middle finger of the Peloponnese protruding into the Mediterranean sea, the Mani. It's almost the Southern most point of this island or continent, or almost island or almost continent, however you like to think of it. The finger to the West of the Mani reaches just a few kilometers further South. Pedaling South, down the Lakonian plain from Sparta to the sea started as a utilitarian ride. The traffic was mercifully light. A straight road, lined by familiar things, gas stations, stores with parking lots and orchards, lead me to the edge of the continent. Here the sea asserted its temparateness, blowing a fresh cool breeze across my face. The temperature was 10 degrees cooler now that I had reached a beach, at Ytihio. I still  found myself staring into the distance to the Tayettos Range.  Those snowcapped peaks still made a spectacular picture, especially now with the ocean and beach in the foreground. The Tayettos warrant a comparison with the Sangre de Cristo Range in Colorado. They are both linear steep snowcapped fault ranges, that look like an impenetrable flat wall from the distance. The ocean is an added scenic ingredient on the Mani.

Areopoli marks the entrance onto the inner Mani.  Ares is the god of war, so Areopoli is the city of the God of war.  But the Mani has nothing to do with classical Greece and its host of gods. Its surviving culture dates from a much later period. And it's about as medieval as it gets, castle towers, walls, hilltop towns, feuds and all. Still, if the name fits, wear it ! And it does fit ! When I reached Areopoli, those familiar things lining the streets, gas stations, stores, and orchards, apparently disappeared again. Or maybe their modern appearance was rendered in cognito ?

First, I needed a place to stay. I planned to ride around the Peninsula it in a day ride. Riding without panniers for a day was always a refreshing change. Wobbling over the cobblestones of Areopoli, I quickly discovered that the Mani peninsula had its own style of architecture, medieval fortresses, thick natural rock walls with windows just big enough to pass a canon or a sword through. Every third or forth building was a regular tower from which you could lop things down onto the enemy, whoever that may be.  Light flighty balconies, like I was used to, would be out of place here. You could easily be picked off by the enemy, whoever that may be.

But accommodations here were also suited to higher tastes, at least in Areopoli. While surveying the dhomatio situation, I was offered my own private castle tower, licked clean to perfection, tasteful framed pictures on the walls, doily cloths on the tables, more towels than a Holiday Inn, every detail attended to. It was tempting, but I was looking for something more, well, Spartan. I found an apparently quiet rooming house on the edge of town where I could stay for two nights for 7000 Dr.

Riding around the Mani peninsula makes for a perfect day ride. My first attempt amazed me just how narrow and traffic free the road was, how isolated the villages were. Well yes, but I was heading back to Ythio on roads not on my map. If the road isn't on the map, how much traffic can you expect ? So, if you get lost right in the beginning and follow a concrete path along the coast back to Ythio, riding around the Mani makes for an even more spectacular but long day ride, about 75 miles, again with an astonishing 7100 feet of climbing. When I finally headed out in the right direction there was no more traffic than before. But the roads were a little wider, enough for 2 cars to pass anyway.

I started climbing into the stark scenery. Sometime before noon, I started stopping into small cubicle like stores in thick walls, like big walk in refrigerators. Here men sold plastic wrapped pastries and candies, bread, and other foods, that 500 years from now will be in the same state as now. Having become spoiled by always finding some fresh vegetables such as tomatoes, peppers, and onions to eat, I asked for some. "We not have fruit here, only Areopoli" came the answer. Historically, these stark dry hills have never been good for planting vegetables grains or fruits. Instead of a history of growing things plentifully, people developed a fierce long history of feuding during the 1400s. Though it may been be Renaissance already further North, the big hand of the history clock was still pointing straight up to Medieval in this history zone.

On the Mani in the 1400s, you could initiate a feud by going over to your neighbor's tower and try to knock the roof off his tower. A ringing of the church bells signaled the beginning of the feud. The feuding clans confined themselves to their towers. The peasantry evacuated. Let the hostilities begin ! These feuds would go on for years or decades sometimes. But, just like with bicycling, you've got to eat to feud. So during the difficult harvest season, they took a break, so they could start feuding again afterwards with renewed vigor and full bellies. Women were not valid targets, since they were instrumental in ferrying food and ammunition into the feuding towers. - No food, no war ! The harvest of fruit and veges may have been scanty, but the harvest of fighters for the Greek nationalistic cause has been plentiful. During Turkish and Venetian occupation they sold Venetians to the Turks, Turks to the Venetians. The Greek war of independence from the Turks started with uprisings on the Mani.

As I rolled and climbed and rolled and climbed, I realized many of the tower towns sticking out like very picturesque gigantic rotting dentures, were mostly abandoned. The boarded doors, the empty roads and hotels, the totally empty bus that passed me twice, all were evidence of the absence tourists touring. But this was April. Maybe that changes in summer.

I rolled into the towers of Yerolimin. In the tiny town center, three old women dressed in black, feuding for pleasure, watched me suspiciously, as if I belonged to the next clan over the hill. Actually I came from several hills over. I tried a yasu greeting, but got no response. But I had not come to smash the roof of their tower house, and thereby declare war. I just wanted to have a look at the town, admittedly through outlandish sunglasses wearing strange out of place clothing, compared to the traditional black dresses and head shawls they were wearing. Yerolimin had an especially picturesque and clean orderly set of high towers.

But Yerolimin did not exist during the 1400s, evem though it had the typical local 1400s medieval tower village appearance. Yerolimin was built in the 1700s by a rich businessman. Armed with this clue, continuing around the peninsula, I noticed a number of men working away at castle like buildings, quite medieval looking, with a little cement mixer, quite contemporary looking.  With a shovel, a pile of natural stones, and a little cement mixer, they were building places to live. A man's home is his castle. Actually, many of the buildings here didn't exist in the middle ages. Sometimes a slight stylistic addition drops a hint, a swimming pool next to the feuding tower, or a garage with turrets on top.

Still, this is not Disney Land. People are continuing a tradition. They've come to like to live in stone castle towers over that last 500 years or so. I don't think there is any kind of zoning code in effect here. The area seemed to depressed for that. The middle ages live.

The scenic highlight was a dirt road near the Southern end of the peninsula. With a good biker's high from climbing 3000 feet so far today, I descended, grateful for the rest, onto a series of coves, beaches adorned by small fishing settlements, hills crowned by Maniot towers, against a blue sky melting into a blue sea. After I rounded the end of the Mani and headed North,  the Ionian sea would hypnotize me from now on, instead of the Agean. As I struggled back home, hoping to get back with some daylight left. Ten miles or so before Areopoli, I found a store selling fresh peppers, eggplants and onions. A friendly gentle woman ran the shop. Did I mention women used to bring food into the feuding Maniot towers and keep their feuding husbands healthy ? They still do the same thing for tired cyclists. It felt good to have a room waiting for me at the end of a long exhausting day, and to look forward to a good fresh vegetables with eggs and Maggi soup dinner.

Leaving Areopoli and heading for the ocean side of the Tayettos, I ran into the first honest to God bike tourer, a strong rough looking fellow, probably around 40.  He was riding in opposite direction. So the meeting was short, but good enough for a basic exchange of information. Hey, I discovered I could still speak English. It's been a while. He had been on the road, more or less, for 4 months, riding from his home, Switzerland, around Sicily and other coastlines. "I have everything I need on my bike, tent, food ..." he started out. Last night he spent in a goat shed. I had to admire his packing job, very orderly, catalog material really. He wanted to get to the next coffee shop to get his fix of caffeine. - "But surely you carry a stove and coffee". Even I had that. - "Well yes, but I don't want to get everything out just because of that !" was the answer. Like everything in life, exemplatory orderly pannier packing requires work, time and effort, I concluded from that. Yeah right, as if I hadn't noticed that already.

While we're on the subject of pannier packing, or pannier searching, here is another little story. - On a ride 10 years earlier through Northern India, I spent several days touring with a couple from Seattle. One morning, for 30 miles or so, we had all been setting  a pretty good pace, and were spread out over half a mile of road. Around noon, I passed the woman of the the husband wife team, standing by the side of the road, bent over her bicycle. As I passed, I looked back to check that everything was all right. No, she wasn't studying her derailer. I noticed she was brushing her teeth. "I was going to have lunch, but I reached the toothbrush first" was the explanation for the belated tooth brushing ceremonial. I had to stop to laugh. I was getting pretty hungry myself at about that time. We all had lunch half an hour later. Well, maybe it's funnier if you spend an hour each day looking for stuff in your pannier bags.

Another cycling friend of mine, Ralph,  who lives in Germany, did several self supported tours with his wife and two daughters, on two tandems, a grownup and a daughter each to a tandem. That's a total of 8 panniers for 4 people on 4 wheels, containing 4 sets of toothbrushes in 4 bags of washing utensils, 2 stoves with 2 sets of cookware, so 2 people each could cook in 2 tents while it was raining outside, and so on. Bicycle touring can be anything you want it to be, including a logistical planning challenge. Well, from the stories that Ralph told me, finding things got to be quite a nightmare, with two daughters aged 8 and 10. Patience is a thing that often takes decades to acquire. So Ralph, being the teutonic order loving person he is, took control of the situation. With one of those tape labeling machines, he started labeling all the panniers with their contents: "Ralph's washing utensils, Karin's washing utensils, Kristin's and Ralph's cook set, Monica's cloths" etc. - Some years ago I saw a TV commercial, about a person with a dazed stare of insanity on his face, labeling everything in his life with one of those tape labeling gadgets,  including the cat of course. Well, I always thought Ralph and his family could have starred in an even better commercial targeted especially to the bicycle touring community, labelling cooksets, toothbrushes, toiletpaper, underwear etc.  Maybe with the specific market targeting affordable with the internet, this may someday become reality. Hopefully Ralph's daughters will continue to enjoy well organized bicycle touring.

Back to the present. - After I said good bye to the tourer from Switzerland, and watched him go in search of caffeine amidst the castle towers, I  had an exceptional piece of road in front of me. For the next 60 miles or so, the Tayettos formed a wall to my right, and the ocean resembled a blue carpet to my left. The road was a playful child bouncing around between the mountains and the ocean, back and forth, as if trying to decide which one it liked more. Happily following the whims of the playful road, I was one tired puppy, by the end of the day, another 75 miles. Technically this part of the coast is called the outer Mani, although it does not have the tower villages of the Mani Peninsula.  A liberal sprinkling of old byzantine churches with intricate brickwork coaxed me off my bike now and then. The villages were beginning to show larger levels of population.

In the bay that forms the boundary between Lakonia, and Messina, it all ended. Suddenly I entered into the modern world again. I reached the city of Kalamatha, commerce, traffic, industrial harbors, supermarkets with every conceivable food, and suddenly a billboard depicting a young couple in a trumped up dance pose.  The billboard was an advertisement for a German cigarette brand. "Experience life" read the caption, in English. Well, I guess there's more ways than one. I  thought that's what I had been doing, but in a different way. Then I realized I hadn't seen a billboard since Sparta. Yes, some things you never miss when they go away. The change had come within a very short distance. Just 20 miles ago the coast was as unspoiled as it now was industrialized and littered.

Messina and the Western Peloponnese Coast

April 20 - April 21: 2 days, 150 miles

title: an American castle in Greece

FOR THE FOLLOWING TWO AND AND A HALF DAYS I continued riding along the Messina coast in a clockwise direction. The coast here catered to tourists, but in a very nice way. Overwhelming megalithic corporate hotel developments have not replaced small hotels and private rooms. Small handwritten signs advertised groceries, rooms, beaches and restaurants in three languages, Greek, German and English.

Fruit orchards, sunshine, rotating feet, a fresh breeze blowing in my face during yet another decent to the ocean, lunch with tomatoes and fetta cheese under an orchard trees pruned into submission with tortured curves, all of these things had become as everyday as putting on the shoes to go to work. I was starting to figure out what put the "Greece" into a bicycle tour through Greece. Archeological sites and castles played a big role too.

While riding North up the Western Messina coast , I stopped at another castle. Poised scenically by the Messina sea, stood a castle and several gigantic figures, including a three story tall Poseidon's horse, and an Athena gazing out onto the sea, looking like severely misplaced Mickey Mouse figures. The door to the castle was open. I saw no other visitors or ground keepers. I let myself in. But this was no dark dusty cobweb covered Hollywood version of a Frankenstein castle with creaking doors and spider webs. It seemed to be constructed with concrete. All the walls were whitewashed like a Greek island dwelling, and this castle was American.

It was the product of Harry Fournier, or Haris Fornakis, a Greek American who was a doctor in Chicago and returned home in the 1960s. It would have been fitting had he been a dentist, because the castle does rather look like a lone gigantic molar tooth with some cavities, sitting on the oral cavity of a large curved beach. In a burst of energy, Harry built himself a theme park here, apparently pretty much by himself. He might have had some help with the castle walls, but all the paintings and statues are in the same loopy style.

A plethora of primitive statues and paintings, depicting classic Greek and European subjects, knights with lances on horseback, classic disproportioned nudes gazing sour sweet and cross eyed, lined the castle walls. It made me laugh, because the originals are held in such unquestioned veneration in every european school and museum. My favorite was a painting of a Greek in classic proportions, too long arms, and too small head, holding outstretched in perfectly gay pose, a decapitated head by the scalp. A very expressive face was attached beneath the scalp, with an expression saying ever so gently "ouch". You could read laconic sarcasm into all these primitive depictions. All this middle aged and classic killing was really quite barbaric and grotesque. The classic depictions don't get that across. You always see battles of any kind depicted with such refined dignity, such wonderfully red blood. These were cartoons, good cartoons, very American. I don't know if that's what Harry Fournier had in mind. It could be all those crossed eyes and innocent childlike facial expressions on knights spearing each other to death, are just due to the failing eye sight of old age. But the depictions are open to interpretation by whoever wants to interpret them. That's more than I can say about Disneyland characters. Both places contain lots of paper mache looking castles and cartoon characters. Here an eccentric did his own thing, expressed his heart, let it all hang out. In this beautiful setting with a mountain backdrop he found a great outlet for his creative insanity. The sheer volume and size of things created  was impressive. In that respect it had something else in common with Disneyland. Also, the sheer insanity of Fornier's castle and that of Disneyland impress, both in their own way.

The whole experience made me feel so at home, that when I finally met the ground keeper, I started jabbering away at him in English about how I enjoyed this. He didn't know a word of English. Why should he ? I was still the only other person around. That ended my role as a bicycling art critic for the time being.


April 23 - April 26: 4 days, 168 miles

titles: a road without ambition through Arcadia - a string of hellos

NORTH OF KIPARISSIA, I aproached the influence of the industrial port of Patras, with all its traffic, garbage and development. So I turned inland towards the medieval towns of Strimitsana, Karetenya and Dimitsana. I pedaled and pedaled, then had a conversation with a Greek American sporting an "I love NY button". After accepting advice to consume more olive oil, I continued climbing through forest that was becoming denser, into villages draping the ridges with heavy shingled roofs. On those two days covering roughly a hundred miles and 10000 feet in climbing, my rotating feet propelled me past a temple covered completely in a tent, and Christo had nothing to do with it, and through several isolated villages. Sometimes they apeared on my map. Sometimes they didn't. I spent some time wandering around lost on dirt tracks without signs, but managed to get found by the end of the day. I found myself in the medieval town of Dimitsana. There it rained for a day. I took the hint and rested.

"On the road again, I just can't wait to get on the road again, la la la la la ..., going places I have never been, la la la, seeing things that I may never see again, la la la, ... music with my friends, I can't wait to ge ON the road again." - Willie Nelson never once mentioned a bicycle in that song. Yet, it makes the perfect bicycle song, just begging to be hummed while pedaling along joyfully. Or even more appropriately, it fits a rainy day, a day of rest, a day unfit for biking, when you really can't wait to get on the road again, and do some touring. And so it was the second day in the little medieval town of Dimitsana. It was the first day of rain since Andros. Just in fairness, it rained one other evening and night on the tour sofar, the first day in Sparta. Still, complaining about the weather here would be difficult, unless you had been really looking forward to spending your vacation in the rainforrest.

Next morning, "have bike, will travel", and as ground fog rose in great shrouds around me, I started a new recital of "on the road again". It turned out to be a cool clear day.  Splendid sunshine cut crisp forms from the moody hilly terrain at about 4000 feet altitude. I entered into the province of Arcadia. Yes there are two of them. One is in Maine, the other in Greece. Common sense would say that the one in Maine is named after the one in Greece. They bear some resemblance. Arcadia, Greece is a hilly high plain, forested heavily with needle trees. The heavy forest came as a pleasantly shocking surprise after all that arid scenery just two days earlier. Oh well, nothing you wouldn't expect from any continent.

Arcadia, Maine also has a dense forest, in many places.  But it lacks that high plain character. Also, heading North through Maine on my bike along Route 9 , I once stopped in order to relieve myself, and to my surprise, found that there was nothing but huge clear cuts, adjacent to the 100 feet strip of forest left next to the road. I guess they figured that's all the tourists need, especially if they always use bathrooms in gas stations. I saw no clear cuts in Arcadia, Greece.

In Arcadia, Greece, even on a bike, getting that genuine Hinterland feeling doesn't take longer than half an hour on a side road. Past the town of Karkalou, the road seemed to be going nowhere, and it wasn't doing it fast either. "What town ?" the road seemed to be saying. "I don't want to go to the next town. I want to look at that brook, then meander down to that lovely pasture perfect for grazing sheep. Then I want to take a dirt stretch break. All that asphalt is really beginning to cramp my style. Then I want to go to that fruit grove, just to see what's there." Apparently I was the only traveler who felt at least reluctantly persuaded to follow the road. I hadn't seen a moving vehicle for at least 10 miles, although some were parked in the handful of villages I had passed through.

The road treated me reasonably well. Unlike several days before, between Karetenya and Dimitsana, it did not hand me over to a maze of dirt tracks culminating at junctions with signs to fantasy land locations. No, I rounded a corner into yet another apparently depopulated village, and to my surprise, what seemed like the entire male population of the village, sat permanently parked on wooden chairs in the middle of the road, next to the single cafe in the town center. All were at least 60 years old, and I would guess many were in their 80s. All held on to great wooden walking sticks, like symbols of authority or religious ceremonial objects. By this point I had passed through so many entirely empty lifeless villages. It just seemed natural to stop.

I was welcomed warmly, with cold ice cafe. Everybody started talking away at me simultaneously, apparently oblivious to the fact that I just didn't understand. So I did what I usually do in this situation. I pulled out my trusty old Peloponnese map and rattled off Peloponnese names of places that I had traveled through, accompanied by hand waving gestures of great appreciation. They were appreciative too, though I think they liked their little village better. Here you could sit in peace, and discuss the world form a neutral place, like from another planet.

Being the obsessive photographer and record keeper that I am, I wanted to record this place and these people with my camera. They were very agreeable. Two men sat at a table and locked their hands in something resembling a handshake and gave me a pose, looking not proud or macho, but open and wise. "Padre Onkel uncle father Vater Son ?" I used a mix of foreign words, to try to establish what relationship these two had to one another. Unfortunately none of the words were Greek. They understood anyway.  "Clinton, Gorbachev" said the younger of the two, pointing to himself and the other man. I made a motion of two fists colliding. They nodded. They were butting buddies, argumentsters.  This certainly was a great place for discussing the fate of the world, without the risks of actually having to make those decisions.

This was the only place on the entire ride where such a encounter was perfectly natural. "That's what you get for not following your guidebook" I thought. So, just for the record, this is definitely not a guide book, so maybe it will happen again to somebody else.

After I got an adress to send some pictures to, I again gave myself over to the whims of the road. It entertained me with some switch backs through a little canyon. A little later it showed me a little store where I could replenish my supply of bread, cheese and tomatoes. Then it delivered me back to one of its more powerful relatives, the kind of ambitious road that knows where it's going in life, with trucks, stripes down the middle, drainage gutters, now and then a busy town, but without idle meandering through the landscape, and without chairs in the middle of the road.

I needed tow more days to reach Patras, my exit point from Greece. As I neared the coast to the golf of Corinth, I once again returned to the modern world. But first I rode through another layer of curious friendly people, where the remote Greece and the modern Greece met. Now near the end of April, I met not only Greeks, but also a noticeable influx of solo travelers from Northern Europe. First I talked to a German hitchhiker. Fate treated me better than him. A Car to a hitchhiker is like a bicycle to a bicycle tourer. The streets were still empty of cars. I had a bicycle. The mean interval between hellos from the roadside was decreasing steadily. Next, a man, his demeanor reminding me of a good old uncle, saw me have lunch by the roadside. He offered a chair and his own baked bread. "Village bread" he said proudly, holding an offering. It was heavier moister and better. He told me how he had worked a stint in New York, and then returned to his home. I started climbing a pass into the Aoania mountains under a protective shield of clouds. "Hello", this time from a stopping car. "You will live to be 125 and have no cholesterol" the driver prophesied.  Now that was a nice greeting if I ever heard one. "I'll have to eat more olive oil for that" I answered. My diet lacked this essential Greek ingredient. The other car windows came rolling down, interest peaked by curiosity. That evening another "hello". A group of three Slovenian biking youths dragged their Diamond Backs, GTs and panniers out of the narrow gauge train in Kalavrita. After four weeks of puzzled bewildered stares at my biking costume, I met people from the same mental state, bicycle touring land. They wanted information, advice of where to go, descriptions of where I had been. They were on their way to drop a pin into Epidaurus, to see if it was true that you can hear it from every seat in that famous amphitheater, and search out the perfect castle. "Thanks for instructions" spoke their leader, after my description of crossing Mt Parnon, and we hurried off to separate destinations. Next, "hello", another German couple on bikes. I could now discuss the Kosovo conflict with somebody without fear of being lynched.

Back in Patras, remembering my ferry difficulties in the Cyclades, I wasted no time investigating ferry connections. The story here was "no problem". An hour and 40 dollars later, I found myself reclining on the empty back deck of the Aphrodite2, watching the sun set over Patras and its harbor and mountains, in the company of a handful of truckers. For the price of an overnight accommodation I had bought an overnight accommodation that was transporting me to Brindisi, the southernmost connection in Italy. From a vehicle standpoint, the ferry was almost fully loaded. But the vehicles were almost all trucks, almost no cars, and one bicycle. As a result very few people were on the decks, all truck drivers. I had a four person cabin to myself. Watching the mountainous coastline and the strings of lights recede into the distance, I wondered why I had been in such a hurry to leave. I thought about what I left behind, bread loaf mountains by the sea, with what looked like at least a thousand feet of terrain above tree line, quiet pleasant people, inexpensive rooms to spend the night.

I woke up the next morning and looked out over the Italian Puglia coast, flatness punctuated by oil tanks and smokestacks. I was still wondering what I left behind. But that's part of the next chapter.

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