Friday, August 9, 2013

Athens - Greece

--Há uma versão em português logo abaixo--

The crossing from Italy to Greece took about 16 hours, the ferry left Brindisi around 20:00 and arrived in Patras at 13:00, local time (Greece is one hour ahead of Central European Time). I was very excited, not only because it was a new experience, the first country I wouldn't be arriving in, by bike, overland , but also because it would be my first time ever on the high seas.

As shipmates I had more than a hundred cars, trucks and, of course, a bunch of people. You can sleep in your own cabin if you pay more, but if you are someone like me, willing to save money, then the only rule is: find your spot!

People who choose this option don't care about comfort, they sleep everywhere. When I got on the ship the deck was already infested with sleeping bags and makeshift beds, outside even tents could be seen. Without a second thought I took my 5 star cabin and went to find a place to pitch it.

Before pitching my tent I went to visit the captain with the idea of offering some advice in case he needed it. Unfortunately he was off duty but his assistant allowed me in, was very kind and even gave me control of the ship. But because we didn't want to end up in Spain, he took it back as soon as I had had my picture taken.

And because I was already almost a crew member, I decided to pitch my tent close to the bridge of the ship, not only because there were no people sleeping there, but in the event that something went wrong with the ship my tent would be a reminder of the instructions, being something like: women, children and cyclists first!

Well... at first it was OK, I was well installed in my tent, enjoying the refreshing breeze and the wonderful starry sky. After a while, when I was already napping, things started to change. What was once a refreshing breeze became a persistent wind, and when we hit the high seas that persistent wind became a hell.

At the beginning I even laughed at the situation, but when I found myself lying with my arms spread wide, holding the tent because it was shaking so much, the laughter disappeared. Being the very stubborn person that I am, it took a while to convince myself that the "refreshing breeze" wouldn't stop soon.

But at the point when my tent and I were well and truly fed up with that earthquake, I decided it was time to pack and find another place. I moved to the other side of the ship, but to avoid any surprises I decided to take only my sleeping bag and sleep in a beach chair. Good choice this time!

Arriving in Patras, I slept a night there and the day after started heading towards Athens, which was less than 250 km away.

In Patras I had a CouchSurfing host, and already staying in his house was a nice Austrian girl. She‘d been travelling through Europe by car for more than a year. And alone! For me it's always a pleasure to meet this kind of person and to share our views about the different worlds we're seeing.

Leaving Patras it took me three days to get to Athens. I camped in Kamari, Kineta, and cycled through Corinth, the city which the apostle Paul wrote one of his letters to.

The temperature was always around 35 degrees, so in the afternoon I would stop cycling and enjoy the sea. Well in Italy I did it once in such a hurry that I decided not to change out of the shorts I was wearing, thinking that because it was so hot they would dry quickly. While still in the water I started to feel something in my pocket, it was my cell phone vibrating to announce its retirement. Oh boy!!

Arriving in Athens I met again another nice traveller. I went straight to the Acropolis to take the "official" arrival picture, and as I was about to leave the place, I saw a cyclist arriving. Of course I was going to talk to him, but when he got closer I realized we had already met. We met in Rome at Saint Peter's Square, and it was the very same way: I was leaving the square (without my bike) when I saw him arriving and I went to talk to him.

He's from Germany and is cycling from there to Israel, where he’s taking a plane back home. We had a very similar route: leaving Rome, crossing to the other coast, taking the ferry to Greece and from Athens flying to Israel.

Even though he left Rome before me, I arrived in Athens (a few minutes) before him. He took the ferry from a different place and arrived in Greece more to the north, having to face some hilly areas as far as Athens. And from Patras to Athens I had a flat road always next to the sea.

I've already met many bike travellers, I enjoy stopping and talking to them but, as for cycling, I prefer cycling alone. Everyone has a different way of doing the same thing, and because I'm a bit crazy I sometimes do things in life differently, and it works for me. But faced with a different opinion on how to deal with a situation, I could change my mind or not do at all what in my (crazy) view had been the right way of going about something.

And on this trip the major differences I have with other travellers are my low budget and my policy of saving money. Rule number 1 on this trip is never pay to sleep, even in campsites. When I can't find a CouchSurfing host (if you don't know what CouchSurfing is click here) I try to sleep in a church, if I can't find a place to sleep with the church staff then I camp. In these 13 weeks, I only paid on my first day, because there were already so many uncertainties starting this type of trip, and I didn't want one more, so I had a bed and breakfast booked, but on my second day I already knew the ropes, so my tent was waiting for me. And when I left Prague, due to the floods and the ensuing situation, for safety I paid to camp in a campsite.

In Athens I had a CouchSurfing host waiting for me, but due to some miscommunication, when I arrived in his place he was not at home, and because I couldn't call him and didn't have access to the internet, after waiting for a while, I decide to embark on the "Church Operation".

In the same neighbourhood I found an Orthodox Church. After some problems communicating, they allowed me to camp in the garden, since they didn't have a place where I could sleep or even have a shower.

I had a garden hose shower and after getting my tent and things ready, I went to eat something. Fortunately the place had WiFi, so I read my host's message and explained to him what had happen saying that it was OK, I'd be camping at a church that night and the day after I'd go to his house.

I didn't say in which church I was, but after 1.5 hour, when I was already lying in my tent, I heard my name being called, it was my host coming to pick me up. I found that very kind of him, but because I was ready to sleep and it would take some time to pack everything up again, go to his place, take everything off the bike and walk it up to his apartment, I asked if it would be OK if I slept in the tent that night. He agreed and gave me the key of his apartment, since he would be leaving very early the next day.

I can say for sure that this is the most kind and generous host you will ever find on CouchSurfing. At the same time he was also hosting two French guys, and when he left to go on holiday two days ago, he told us we could stay in his apartment for as long as we needed to. That was not only very kind but also very unusual for the world we live in today.

I only bought my ticket to Israel when I arrived in Athens, I didn't want to spend the whole trip under pressure to arrive here at a certain date because a ticket had already been booked, even though I knew I would ended up paying more, which I did.

I was planning to stay one more week in Greece, maybe even visit other islands, but the price of the ticket would double if I didn't catch the cheap one I found for tonight.

Unfortunately this didn't leave much time to spend in wonderful Greece, but at least I managed to spend some time in Athens, visited the Acropolis (a mandatory stop) cycled around the city and spent some hours on a bus tour.

So today I say good bye not only to Greece but also to Europe. This is the end of the European stage of this adventure. Tomorrow I start the most challenging part of my journey: the Middle East.

And I'm very excited, as I wrote here on my first post, the Middle East was what gave me the idea for this trip, so here we go!

There'll be no need for me to be scared about things that are not out there waiting for me. What must happen, will happen, it's always been like that. And I know I have the companionship and protection of THE great Friend, and also the support of nice friends and people that are travelling with me via the internet.

So let's find out what this new world has in store for us..