Winter in Greece
When we finally left the cosy rooms of the hostel from Athens, we took the main road to Thessaloniki. Here is a good place to mention that this style of life is not always about pretty pictures and enjoying a worry free life. Sometimes you just have to grind through, because the area is not pretty, the weather is awful, or some important equipment fails. In our case, the mattresses were still not working, and it rained on and off through all of our first week, so it was definitely not sunshine and happiness. The way offered little to find a really good camping spot, but we one more card to play.
An alternative way of camping
There were plenty of abandoned buildings we could hide in, so most nights we had a roof over our head. For my birthday, we even found an open stadium with an unused locker room, with running shower and electricity. It was a funny situation actually; we were enjoying our dinner and watching a show on the laptop, when we saw some shadows pass by the door. Suddenly we heard kids rushing in the adjacent locker room and the stadium lights turned on – it was practice time. At first we froze like two possums playing dead, but then we just plugged in the earphones and tried to be silent while we continued our evening. I wonder what they would have thought, if they would have discovered us. 😀
The route was mostly flat, and we couldn’t see much from all the grey clouds covering the mountains. Generally we were not in the greatest mood from the lack of sleep and cold, we just wanted to be done with the section. We tried to keep warm with lots of campfires in the evenings and mornings, and putting the sleeping bags together for the night. In the first week, the only thing keeping our spirits up was the image of the hot baths right next to the famous battlefield, where Leonidas fought with the Persians. It did not disappoint, and we had the tent set up right next to the stream rushing through the land like a snake. We were literally 5 seconds away from jumping into the 40 degree water, which we used to the fullest, spending quite a lot of time in bikinis and swimming shorts.
The area looks pretty barren with only a few shrubs and trees on both sides, but the background is gorgeous, with the steam rising all over the green hillside, creating a misty mountain effect. There is just one building nearby, a former hotel which was turned into a refugee camp. I have to say it is a nice idea for a place like this, allowing them some luxurious bathing. These hot springs are unique in the way that they are not commercialized. Before the owner passed away, he gave it to the state in his will, with a condition that it remains free for public use indefinitely. So even though there are no fancy hotels and restaurants around, you can still enjoy your spa and Jacuzzi time. In addition, a guy driving a car in a bathrobe is a frequent sight, as Lamia, a quite big city is only a 15 minute drive away.
Larissa and an awesome warmshowers experience
Nothing can illustrate better how hard it was to leave the springs, than only fifteen minutes after we were on our way, we stopped in the middle of the road and were actually thinking about going back for a long time. But the weather turned sunny for a short period, and we wanted to use our luck to be dry for once. We arrived quickly to Larissa, the fourth biggest city in Greece, where we already had a warmshowers host waiting for us. Marios just arrived back from his long tour, cycling from England to Greece, but nevertheless taking us in without hesitation. He even hosted another cyclist in his small flat, knowing well how harsh the weather can be during winter cycling. He had the true spirit of warmshowers, sharing his stories, hospitality and food with us.
He also played our tour guide, showing the historical areas of the city. We discovered some pretty interesting old amphitheatre and agora, and then had the most authentic gyros ever, while we waited for the yet again rainy weather to clear up. After we left Larissa, the temperature was cold, turning a bit below zero in the night, but at least it was dry. The city is close to the famous Mount Olympus, although sadly it was out of the question to climb it this time of the year, unless we wanted to play snowman. Luckily the weather cleared up just on the day we reached the closest mountain pass, so we had the opportunity to at least admire it from the distance.
Shortcut to Thessaloniki
As we were close to the coast and forested areas, wild camping was super easy, and we almost always had enough wood to make campfires both in the evenings and in the mornings, which made our comfort levels much higher. Not to mention we saved a ton on gas, only using the fire to cook on. This was better anyway, since we only had gas cartridges and they don’t work so well in the cold. We were still in grind mode and just pedalled through, so we didn’t see a lot of interesting things, but as we got close to Thessaloniki, at least we spiced up the experience a bit. The road was going parallel with the highway to Thessaloniki, but close to the river delta just before the city, it made a 30km curve. On the other hand, the highway continued straight on a bridge. We like cycling as much as any bike tourist, except when we feel it’s pointless.
So simply put, Alan convinced me to be his partner in crime and climb a fence onto the highway to cycle over the bridge (and get over another fence of course, fun with bikes). At first I was afraid we were gonna get busted but it was done quickly and actually we had a rail separating us from the cars, hence it wasn’t even dangerous. And our coolness factor just got raised by a lot. 😀
Winter solstice and leaving Greece
Even with our little stunt, we couldn’t make it to Thessaloniki that day, and ended up camping in a nature reserve/wetlands area. It happened to be on winter solstice, which for us outdoor people is more important than Christmas. Little by little, the days are getting longer again, allowing us to pedal more in the afternoon. We managed to make a campfire in our little dry corner and sat there long while we gazed at the stars.
After getting our package, we headed straight back to the road without really discovering it. The next few days blended together as we tried to squeeze in as many kilometres into a day as we felt comfortable with, when finally the last day of our super long stay in Greece was coming to an end. We were quite ready for Turkey, waiting for us on the other side of the border.
We had some nice moments in the this last part, but there’s not much to write about. As they say, a picture worth a thousand word, so let them speak about our adventure a bit 🙂