So, after a lovely, but surprisingly long and wet winter we leve Crete behind and head north taking ferries first to Athens and then, hopping up a whole string of Ionian islands, to Kevala.
We might alternatively have taken boats to Rhodes or Cyprus then to southern Turkey, but for two reasons: friends to visit in Orestiada, near the Turkish border in northeast Greece, and the poignancy of leaving Europe across the Bosphorous in Istanbul. Back on the bikes we head east again for three days on peaceful back roads, first across plains then through beautiful mountains on the Greek-Bulgarian border, through towns with both Orthodox churches and mosques with slender space rocket towers – a taste of the new phase of our trip to come.
The transition back to nomadic ways is greatly eased by lots of friendly waves, fair weather and good campsites. At this spot, with not only a waterfall but also a drinking water spring, an old bloke turned up not to complain about our pitching in a picnic area, but to insist we accept a package of freshly-cooked meat koftes: a rather lovely sentiment even if they smelt disconcertingly of the fish he’d presumably cooked sometime previously in the same pan.
And then into the hills. For me (John) the climbing is strangely its own reward. For Ginevra its perhaps more that the pain is at least balanced by spectacular scenery and the odd gem of a campsite you find in sparsely populated areas. After an afternoon following a road up a stream course through gorges and forest, passing more cows than cars (in small herds grazing the roadside verges, tended by highly autonomous dogs), we found this spot: a flat-topped protrusion into the cauldron of slopey bits, curiously shielded from the melee of winds funneling through numerous passes, and softly grassed yet offering up plentiful large flat stones for campfire. construction.
Ta again, Beau and Izzy, for such useful gifts as the bike cover and highly portable little grill rack, perfect for cooking smokey aubergine.
Next morning we whizzed down through clouds then across rolling farmland to the town of Orestiada, founded in 1922 for the resettlement of Greeks forced West during population exchange and redrawing of the Greek-Turkish borders.
Ginevra and my thanks to Theodoros and Dimitra, friends from my spell teaching English here some 12 years back, for providing us with accommodation. Theodoros and his friend and academic adviser Aristoteles, in addition to both running marathons, both cycle. So we left Greece with an escort, and were met on the Turkish side of the border by Aristoteles’ Turkish runner/cyclist friend Çaǧri to ride into Edirne (aka Adrianopolis).
Since I last visited 12 years ago, Turkey appears to have become significantly more prosperous, massively reducing the stark wealth gap across this border, rendering still more obvious the shared cultural heritage (even if you don’t get pork kebabs on this side).
Choosing a route towards Istanbul north of the most direct one we mainly managed to avoid huge expressways, though at one point the perfectly adequate single-lane road suddenly became a massive motorway-like thing. For the time beng, with little traffic, it’s actually quite fun to ride on. But as traffic grows in the future?
And so into the city of Constantine, declared Roman Emperor while in York, and who moved the capital to the East. And sunset on the Byzantine basilica Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque and the European leg of our journey.