Part 1 of Greece Tour, A Week In

Written in the pissing rain, in our champ tent on the beach

  • We leave Manchester in a blur
  • Party Greece is a total bust
  • Slip the noose and escape on our bikes
  • We’re not as hard as we like to think
  • Ancient Olympia rocks
  • Our tent is tested

 

Leaving

Wow! What a blur from last Friday to this! Last Friday Anna had just finished her last day of three years’ work and training, handed in the corrections on her Psychology thesis, packed up the last of her flat’s furniture into our massive camper van and her car, driven over to her parents’ place to unload and finally get to bed about 1am. We thought that was the hump and that the Friday would be easier- we were wrong! Although the flat was mostly empty, we still needed to do a final pack, break down the bikes for the flight, totally empty the flat and deep clean. The afternoon and then the evening slipped away and midnight found us still mopping floors and emptying the fridge. The van was loaded with the last of it and we finally got away, totally exhausted but slightly exhilarated. It was too late for bed by the time we got to Anna’s bro’s, where we were supposed to have spent the evening and night before the 3am taxi- a bottle of champagne had been promising itself to us all night and the lack of sleep wasn’t going to stop us!

The Villa

This whole Greece jaunt was instigated by an invite to a friend’s 30th birthday at a villa in Zakynthos- we thought we could make the most of the flights rather than just going for a long weekend like most. It was going to be a good chance to celebrate with her, catch up with a few of her friends I knew, meet some new ones and have a the good old party we deserved before a couple of healthy weeks.

 

 

Despite a nice first-day boat trip to the famous Shipwreck Bay things didn’t go to plan. There was an existing split in the villa between those who had come to party, and had been doing so too hard for the neighbours’ (and the birthday girl’s?) liking for the past few nights and everyone else who was there to… I’m not sure? After an excellent celebratory meal in a local taverna (the Art Café, north east Zakynthos, highly recommended, good wine, great food and €30 a head without looking at the prices for anything) the evening was teeing up for a classic. We had flown over my Mackie (350 v2’s- amazing) sound system and were getting ready to use them. There are few better times I’ve had recently than a free-flow of our own booze, our own playlist on the Mackies and half a dozen close mates to have fun with and this had all the makings. Conscious of the neighbours we went to lengths to contain the sound, moving everything in from the pool to the main house, and then again to a friend’s underground room with one small window. The turning point blow came around 1am, three quarters of the way through Darude’s ‘Sandstorm’ of all things.

The birthday girl stormed in, declared it was too loud, unplugged all the cables and left us in silence, mouths aghast. I might never get over it. Despite coming all the way to Greece to celebrate with her, donating my system, shifting the sound here there and everywhere to be inoffensive we weren’t even asked to keep it down but just cut off. We reverted to a sound-dock and double Jack Daniels but it just wasn’t the same. I wanted to Liberate the cables by any means necessary then lock ourselves in the bunker with all the remaining booze and snacks. Apparently I was talked out of it, just as well I suppose.

I can’t remember much of the rest of the night and the next day was a total write-off to hungover exhaustion. The mood in the camp was icy anyway- we had evidently made ourselves unpopular. About the only thing we were spoken to about by anyone of the ‘non-partyers’ was our contribution to the kitty- in the end about €200 for what seemed like things that had already been consumed by the time we arrived. They set off to town quickly to stock up on food and booze for the next couple of nights, after a few hours it seemed clear they weren’t coming back so we settled in for a DVD (Vanilla Sky- excellent) and chalked it up to experience.

The next couple of days brought a measure of reconciliation and apology, swimming and beaches but it wasn’t the fun we had hoped for. I didn’t have the heart to even mention my own birthday, I kept it between me and Anna rather than have it half-heartedly celebrated.

On Yer Bike!

In summary then- we couldn’t wait to be off! As soon as we had dropped the hire car at the airport, loaded and mounted our steeds for the first time properly and rolled on off to the port I felt liberated and content. While heavy, the bikes were comfortable, the climate perfect and the roads quiet and smooth- we had come to the right place.

The ferry to the mainland literally put clear blue water between that holiday and this. I must confess to some trepidation at the other end, gearing up for our first proper ride. Was I going to enjoy this after all? Maybe I don’t really like cycling? What’s it going to be like to do day after day? The great unknown…

I some ways I needn’t have worried- the 30km late-afternoon ride was almost as idyllic as our chance destination- a random road down to the coast brought us to a rustic beach-front café, sunset sardines and our first wild-camping spot. Having kicked booze for a bit we spent the evening setting up camp for the first time, taking a swim in the warm, clear waves and doing a spot of meditation I’ve been meaning for years to get back into- perfect? We thought we’d chance sleeping out under the stars for the experience and romance, but nobody seems to mention the temperature shifts, condensation or insects! We bailed back into the tent in the middle of the night but all told the night was a restless, uncomfortable one for these city-dwellers. It’s been years since I’ve camped property, and despite the extreme luxury of our new sleeping bags, tent, mats and pillows the alien sounds and environment were far from restful.

Classic(al)

A morning swim made some amends, but we were both tired and late to get started on our 40km ride to Olympia. This took us through the heat of the day, and despite everything being brilliant I can only describe my mood as tired and grumpy! It seems it’s possible to still have bad moods in paradise! However nothing could quell my enthusiasm for ancient Olympia- the home of the original Olympics which ran for over 1,000 unbroken years. The site, setting and ideas they embodied were all enchanting in the crowdless late-afternoon cool.

Night two- this time on a campsite. A chance to brew up with our new stove and acquired gas- a flame-thrower of a burner, almost instant tea! The second night camping was already better, the sleeping bags are perfect when zipped together at the bottom and just pulled over us loosely on top, and there’s no doubting the Exped comfort. Much better rested we were ready for another quick morning-museum and an afternoon ride back down the coast as far as we could get.

I finally got into my stride, especially after a picnic lunch, and was loving having the kms whistle away beneath us, the sea and falling sun to our right, mountains, Greece and our near future to our left and everything we needed right with us. With sunset threatening we turned to the coast and found ourselves on a stunning stretch of sand (150km long, apparently). The tent was up on the shoreline in a flash and we were just about to take a dip when the police turned up! Shit- there goes perfection! But no, it looks like he was just dossing away the end of his shift at the beach- total win! A mountain of pasta was cooked, campfire and stars enjoyed and beds rolled into as lightening flashed in the far distance.

Fast forward four hours and a light drizzle is fast becoming a tropical downpour! Under the force of the wind all the tent pegs are popping out of the now loose wet sand- this tent is about to get tested! I reinforced things as best I could- the leading guy-rope anchored to the bikes and our gear pushed to the corners inside to weigh things down. All that remains is to waterproof everything essential, try to reassure ourselves that despite the thunderous rain, cracks of lightening straight above  and the walls caving under the wind nothing that bad can actually happen. And wait. For an hour and a half I can honestly say that the tent had the fiercest testing I could possibly imagine and not one drop of water entered and not one seam split- impressed is not the word. For £90, 2.9kg and ample space for two this has got to be the best tent ever made.

Today has brought another slow start- exhaustion and further spells of rain have kept us on lockdown on the beach, but at least a chance to catch up with the blog.

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