The fog was in thick and heavy as we set off in the morning. The lights from cars would periodically emerge from the grey, and either they’d see us, or we’d see them and one or both parties would swerve to avoid a collision. Thankfully, none occured. Our ride along the sea was a little spoiled by not being able to see it at all, only hearing the rollers crashing into the beach.
My biggest issue was deciding which route to take into Thessaloniki. The fast route, via the motorway, took us straight there and was only a gentle 70k. The other route, avoiding the motorway, took us 50k out our way to get to the city. Not really a good option either. I managed to find a tiny road that ran alongside the motorway for most of it, so decided that looked like a good option to check out. We boosted to Eginio, then head for the dusty track beside the roaring motorway. It was a beautiful road, going through a national park which was full of wetlands – including water buffalo and flamingos. Well, colour me excited if this isn’t the best damn road I’ve ever spotted!
This positivity didn’t last. The cycling was good, with no cars at all, but then we hit a river. Obviously, this tiny track didn’t have a 50m bridge designed for it, so it’s into problem solving time. The motorway has a big fence on either side, so it’s very difficult to just clamber up and cycle along, not to mention pretty dangerous. The routes going forward don’t look very good – the maps give no indication of a bridge anywhere else than the motorway. I find another route that could take us only 20k or so out of our way, but spot a place we can pull onto the motorway from our tiny track. So we cycle back a kilometre or two. That’s when I see the toll gates I’d forgotten about. Shit. Considering our experience with the police near Metsovo, knowing full well that cycling on the largest motorway in Greece is pretty illegal, I’m expecting the worst. The alternative route is almost a definite, but I think it’s worth a shot. We’ll do the classic lost British tourist act and hope for the best.
Well it was totally unnecessary. As we rolled towards the toll, a man waved us over, and before I could start my finely crafted speech, he asked where we were headed to. I responded tentatively, giving him the spiel about China and Marco Polo. He’s impressed, and doesn’t seem to know or care that bikes are definitely not allowed on this piece of road, and tells us to climb under one of the toll gates. What a success! This man, this modern day hero, delivered us from an hour’s detour through twisty winding tracks with a wave of his hand. What a man. We were only on the motorway for fifteen kilometres or so, but it was a lovely ride, with a massive shoulder and almost no traffic. Heading onto a route into Saloniki I’d noticed, we stopped for lunch as we were making good time and, lying in the weak sunshine, had a good chat about our plans for the future, and career aspirations. Within ten minutes of us leaving our lunch spot by the river, we came upon a number of cars going very slowly, and the reason soon became apparent – a river had burst it’s banks and was flooding the road with some vigour. We stared at it for a minute, hoping it would go away, and after it did not go away, we charged. I got my feet bloody soaked, as I jumped off my bike and ran through the water. Shoes needed a good clean anyway.
Almost immediately after crossing the river, the traffic just got mental. The roads started to deteriorate, and the dogs got closer and closer. We had lots of trucks thundering past, dogs jumping out at us from the side of the road and plenty of potholes to dodge. It was pretty stressful, especially the enormous four way junction, with cars and lorries beeping all over the place, and having to wave at lorry drivers just so they know I’m actually in front of them. Once we got out the other side of the junction things quietened down for a little bit, but then we hit the centre of town and it got flipping mental again. Far worse than London in terms of manic drivers – people pulling out, massive buses all over the place and cars flying all over the road. We found some internet and managed to find the hostel – obviously it was at the top of the biggest hill in town – and it was great. The owner, a lady called Vicki, was absolutely lovely, so smiley and happy. We got settled in, then had a few beers and we went out for dinner with a Canadian guy, Matt, to this great Greek place. Another beer as a nightcap and crashed in bed. Tomorrow get to explore Thessaloniki, the second city of the Byzantine Empire, which I’m pretty stoked about!