Get the tent broken down in the rain and hung up for twenty minutes to try and dry it off a little before we head off to the centre of Krania. We take a lot of wrong turns in the village and takes us a while to get on the right road, but once we do we start to pick up the speed. Annoyingly, I put on my waterproof trousers in the morning before we left, but after the first two hills the rain disappeared and the sun came out, so I took them off again. Well, half an hour later we climbed into a cloud and the heavens opened, and I got absolutely drenched. Should have just kept them on.
From Krania to Kalambaka, the road went through a pine forest and it was a beautiful ride. Gentle hills and nice sharp turns were great fun, but the cloud cover had the visibility reduced to about twenty metres again, so it got a bit hairy at times. Luckily, we didn’t see a single car on the road until we hit the E92 again just before Korydallos. The final descent down to Korydallos was one of the most stressful rides so far. The cloud cover had reduced visibility to about twenty metres, and the corners on this road were incredibly tight. I would be cycling along a beautiful straight and then a hairpin bend would pop up out of nowhere and I would have to slam on the brakes – which of course were soaking wet – and slip my way around this corner. Stressful yes, but great fun, and absolutely beautiful cycling. As there were no cars on the road, I was quite happy to see how fast I could take some of the corners, and there was a few close calls with me almost slipping off the road, but I managed to keep my seat.
As soon as we pulled into Korydallos, we stopped by a petrol station to have some cookies and try and dry out a little. My trousers were literally wet through, although the rest of me was fine. The petrol station was something different that I’ve noticed in Greece. There were a few older people sitting around a stove just talking about the world and everything. Obviously, I had no idea what they were saying – obligatory ‘it’s all greek to me’ – but they seemed to be having a great time, and we ended up laughing along with some of their jokes. It seemed like they got there in the morning, and they would just spend the rest of the day there. The station owner would sometimes come through and chat with them, then go through to another part of the building and work. This wasn’t the first place I’d noticed this, and these little roadside spots full of people chatting are quite common.
After twenty minutes of failing to dry out, I thought we should probably get a move on, so we hopped back on the bikes and rode the final stretch to Kalambaka. This was another pretty hair-raising ride, as the road we were on was on the very edge of a mountain and there were some more tight corners. This time however, we were paired with lots of trucks on the road, so I thought best to play it safe and be a little more conservative with my speed. There were probably some beautiful views to be had, but the weather wasn’t playing nicely, so we just saw more clouds. We have another nice experience with dogs, where four of them bark at us as we pass, then as soon as we stop immediately come up for some ear scratches and cuddles. These dogs are great. About ten kilometres outside Kalambaka, we stopped to pick up some fruit from a nice old man, and he gave us a few tiny apples for free. You could fit one of these things in your mouth whole, and they were absolutely delicious so I picked up plenty for the road.
As we were arriving in Kalambaka, we spotted the mountains that make this area famous. Great pillars of rock, rising out of the plain of Thessaly, with monasteries on the pinnacles. The cloud cover broke just as we were getting close to the town, so we were able to see the mountains clearly and they were stunning. Incredibly sheer sided rocks, rising at least three or four hundred metres out of the flat plain. Once we got into the town centre, we grabbed some pastries and then looked for a place to crash. The monasteries at Meteora were far too good to miss, so we got a cheap place just on the outskirts of town, went in to do a bit of washing, and then took our bikes up to the monasteries for sunset.
Unfortunately, the sun set on the other side of the mountains from us, so all we got was some grey fading light, but the monasteries were beautiful anyway. I’ve no idea how they were constructed, but these buildings cling to the top of these immense rocks, and the view from inside must be astonishing on a clear day. Six of the monasteries still have people inhabiting them – four by men and two by women. We cycled around the roads giving us great views of these awesome buildings, then headed down once it got dark. A couple of gyros later and I headed back to our accommodation to try and figure out the Iran problem.
It looks like there’s almost no chance I’ll be able to cycle through Iran. The visa regulations for British citizens changed earlier this year, meaning that I need a guide, an itinerary and to have hotels booked for the duration of my stay. Obviously, these are incompatible with cycle touring, but there is one company that I am exploring the option with. I’m pretty sure this will be prohibitively expensive however, so I need to be prepared with a plan B. The difficulty with the plan B is that I need to specify my dates of entry and exit for three of the four Central Asian countries, meaning I have to know the exact days I will be getting to the border of each country. This is a logistical nightmare. If I was able to spend a month in Iran, I could go to Tehran, sort out the visas there, then cycle to the border. Not an option however. To go overland, there is either the train or the boat.
The boat, affectionately known as the vomit ferry, goes from Baku, in Azerbaijan, to Turkmenbashi, in Turkmenistan. The train goes from Van, Turkey, to Sarakhs, Iran – it would take about two days and I would be able to get the transit visa for the trip I think. If I take the boat, I will not be able to cycle across Turkmenistan, as the distances are too great for the five day transit visa we can get (any other visa requires a guide and hotels etc). The bonus of the boat though, is it leaves from Baku, so I would be able to cross Georgia and Azerbaijan at least before I head for Central Asia. If I took the train, this would almost certainly preclude me from going to Georgia or Armenia. As all of the border crossings between Turkey and Armenia are closed, there’s no loop I could do that would allow me to go though all three countries then get back to Van easily – I’d have to totally retrace my steps and it’s not a short trip. Since I’m not going to be able to travel in Iran, I am planning to take some extra time in Istanbul to explore – either a few weeks or a month – which will allow the Turkish climate to improve a little before we head off.
Anyway, enough logistical problems, tomorrow we should have a solid day of riding. The roads should be flat all the way to Larisa and then the day after that we should have the chance to see Mt Olympus. It will be nice to get back onto flat ground after a week of hills, so I’m looking forward to seeing how the legs go.