The slow boat to Greece
Trip Start May 29, 2005
25Trip End Dec 17, 2005
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15 Oct, Friday
Start point: Trodos
End point: A boat, somewhere off the coast of Turkey
Total Ascent(m): ???
Max Altitude(m) ???
Max Speed(Km/h): ???
Time to get the boat. Even though I had to be there at 11am and I was 80Km away from the port there was no need to panic. The port lay at sea level and I was at 1650 metres above sea level. For one full hour I cornered braked and admired the scenery with very little effort. Reaching speeds of 60Km/h I arrived at the port for 9.30am. On arrival I phoned my contact to confirm everything was OK, checked in a the company desk and proceeded to immigration. Unlike a passenger terminal I had to track down different offices and present myself and relevant papers before proceeding to the next stage. At each stage a number of telephone calls were made, records entered on computers and paper forms filled in and stamped. Finally I made it out the building and cycled around the harbour looking for the container ship "TRADER I". Difficult to miss I presented myself and and paperwork accumulated enroute to the table setup overseeing loading. "Where is your car" they asked looking around. I pointed to the bike and they just laughed. Ok, I show you to your cabin. Off we set through ladders and walkways to the crew quarters which had the look of a university campus apartment block corridor! Each room had a desk, chair, table lamp, sink, mirror, wardrobes and bed. 9x15 feet, carpeted and porthole with sea view. W.C just down the corridor. In comparison with what I am used to its luxury. Everyone was frantically busy loading containers, running around with bits of paper, shouting into radios and at each other while making mobile phone calls. 12.00 was lunch break and we all sat down for a generous helping of rice, meat and salad. There is a mix of nationalities; Romanian, Slovak, Egyptian, Aserbyjarn, Russian and this was just amongst the officers. Everyone had a seat allocated (although no name plates) and conversation carried out in English or Romanian. I soon slipped into the routine and in between coffee breaks and food breaks I explored the ship and carried out odd jobs on my gear and chatted to the crew about life on the boat, what they did before, length of contracts and also my trip through Europe to Turkey and Cyprus. After the evening meal I was so tired after the excesses of the previous night I was in bed by 21.00. Awoke at 2.00 to high winds and rough seas. I could feel the boat ride up on a wave and the front slap down onto the sea surface. It was like being rocked to sleep, or shaken, I lay awake for a half hour trying to decide which.
'TRADER I' loading up
16 Oct, Saturday
Start point: A boat, somewhere off the coast of Turkey
End point: A boat, somewhere amongst the Greek islands
Up for breakfast and more exploring and photos. Found the washing machine and soon had all my gear cleaner than it has been all holiday - it was purely a self service affair and being a top loader I could see the near black water after each wash - not good!
The chief Engineer who I had spoken to after lunch (or listened to!) took me down to the Engine room and talked me through the system, the workings of the engines, the generators and the panels in the control room. I stood in the gap between the two 6 cylinder turbo diesel engines - so loud is the noise even the hardest of crew members use ear defenders.
Word got round I had a digital camera and my services were called into action for group and individual portraits. I offered to send the good ones on to the crew when I get to dry land. I went onto the bridge for a look at the radio room and navigation systems. Mostly mid 1980 technology - green screen and lots of dials and buttons with the addition of newer bits of PC based kit bolted on. Spent the rest of the day updating my journal which I have not done for the last 4 days - knowing I would have a 'bit' of spare time to play with. Currently we are weaving our way through the chain of Greek islands - Rhodes around 13.00, then Tilo, Mandrakion, Kos. Currently inbetween Astipalea and Amorgos in the Aegean sea. 250Km to Pireas, the main port near Athens and my GPS estimates arrival at 8.30am tomorrow morning. Let the ship roll on and not over.
The mess boy
The maker of the mess
Left to right - The mess boy, 2 hands and the most important on the ship - the chef
Navigating the Greek Islands
Next Cheif Engineer
One turbo deisal engine - 6 pistons, there is another behind him
In the cabins
On the deck
On the bridge - captin on the left
Notice in bathroom
Me in my cabin
17 Oct, Sunday
Start point: Stuck on a boat in Pireas without a passport (Athens)
End point: Methana, North east Peloponnes
Got up early to watch our entry into Pireas container handling harbour. This hive of activity would not reflect my progress over the remaining day. Firstly my passport had to go somewhere for a very long time - 5 hours. When it arrived back at TRADER I, There was also a 30 euro port tax to pay. Ready to go I set off - but was called back again. You need to go to customs. Here is my advice. Don't. Unfortunately for me the employee worked by the book and I followed him to a warehouse where the paperwork was prepared. Luckily for me a gentleman who exports modified car was also going through the motions to act as translator. "This is how it works" he said, "You give them 30 Euros and they do the paperwork for you. It like a 'fee' you have to pay in Africa. You can do it yourself, but believe me it is more trouble than its worth. There is lots of paperwork and the forms are in Greek. The different offices are located around the port and this port is big. I suggest you pay the 30 Euro and let them do it". I expressed my surprise that all this for what is essentially listed as a personal effect, like a suitcase or a bag of sandwiches. "Because it is a personal effect (such as a bag of sandwiches) and now listed as such, you must go through the procedure". I paid up, watched the warehouse master fill in form after form. Only a few stupid questions followed - what is the number plate and serial number of your bicycle? I laughed, it was parked up next to me. "You don't need a number plate in the UK for a bicycle". He nodded, scribbled more stuff of the form and continued. The rest was copying details from on form to the next. At the end he had amassed a 5 forms - some more than one page filled with completely illegible scribble. I signed in the relevant places and off he sped on his moped to do battle with the beurocrats. 3/4 of an hour later he returned with the same form and some new forms. The had been stamped, signed, new section filled in and I signed 3 more forms that he had picked up on the way. I paid a further 15 euros required as specified on another printed form "OK, you can you. I take these", filtering out and keeping most of the paperwork. "These are for your records and this you must show at exit number 5". Off I set. Most traffic was passing straight through the unmanned and open gates, I pulled up at gate number five and presented the form as requested. It was clear he was expecting another form. I shrugged my shoulders and proceeded to collate all the pieces of paper I accumulated on the way. Receipts, tickets, forms I had received before embarkation and everything I accumulated on the way to the exit. I passed over a veritable wad of paper. He looked at it, flicked through it, laughed, handed it back and gave me a dismissive wave to continue on my way. The whole episode from landing to getting out the exit took 9 hours, most of which was spent on the ship raiding the kitchen fridge waiting for my passport. The delights of a commercial goods port!
The town of Pireas was very busy - and it's a Sunday. After my rest on the ship I decided to skip visiting Athens, a city more suited for an Easy Jet city break than by a tour bike. The best way to get to the Peloponnese is ... you guessed, passenger boat. This avoids cycling through the most densely populated and industrialised region of Greece. I located the harbour for passenger ferries, purchased my 8 Euro ticket for a 18.30 crossing. I had enough time to cycle to the leisure harbour, Zea, for a few photos and then back to board the ferry boat. Arrived at Methana at 20.30 in the dark and hunted down a suitable camp spot just outside town.
Tugged into port
Late breakfast for one of the crew
General buz of the port
Stuck in customs
Pleasure boat port of Pireaus
18 Oct, Monday
Start point: Methana
End point: 5Km SW of Archea Epidavros
Total Ascent(m): 1495
Max Altitude(m) 533
Max Speed(Km/h): 56.0
Getting the boat was a good choice. The Greece I saw today had a quiet tranquility that contrasts greatly with Athens and its surrounding sprawl. I am also impressed with the internal ferry services - they arrive at a port with everyone waiting to on the lower deck - passengers and cars. When it arrives the ramp is lowered, off everyone gets and as soon as the last person is off the boat pulls away while the ramp is lifted. The whole operation took around a minute.
Methana town is picturesque, characterful, quiet and rather smelly. It is a familiar smell - a rotten eggy drain smell - infact it is the smell of healing saltwater treatments. After my Bulgarian experience I cycled past without thinking twice.
The landscape is hilly and the coastline rugged - perfect for views and some challenging cycling.
The mountains are full of marble and many of the older buildings are made from solid blocks of the gray white stone. Many places cut and polish it into slabs and the off cuts can be seen dumped at the side of the road like giant chunks of Kendal mint cake.
Fly tipping and litter dropped from cars is a big problem but I found plenty of things to distract me from this fact.
Goal for the day was Trizin, the site of some 1st Century AD Roman remains and a quiet place for a rest. Then continued to Epidavros, and failed to reach it as my map and reality didn't quite match up. To get back onto the right road I detoured past a monastery and down a steep dirt track. Part way down I concluded there was no traffic on this road and camped up to one side. From 17-21 hours, nothing has passed, not even a goat.
Another fine spot
19 Oct, Tuesday
Start point: 5Km SW of Archea Epidavros
End point: Nafplio
Via: Asklipiion Epidabvrou
Total Ascent(m): 645
Max Altitude(m) 349
Max Speed(Km/h): 46.7
Once again I I'm treated to the delights of the Greek countryside with its orange groves, wild thyme and Cyprus, almond and walnut trees. My unreliable map again miss informed me the main site on todays hit list was by the sea. No it wasn't. What I did find was a small theatre and an archeology dig in full progress. Then a couple cutting wood for winter on their Massey Ferguson tractor with band saw attachment. One false slip and off with your arm! Then I investigated one of the marble workshops - heavy lifting gear and mechanical saws that cut huge blocks into slabs - a slow process. Located the actual site of the Greek - Roman remains of Epidavros. The site is wee presented and the museum on site gives details of all the main buildings and artists impressions of what they looked like. All except the theatre - it is all there to see - apart from the backstage construction. The stadium is famous for its acoustics and I saw this demonstrated by one for the tour guides.. She asked for silence - which all 200 people currently sitting around gave. I was standing on the far back centre row. She leaned down to the ground and russled a leaflet she was carrying. I could hear it perfectly all the way on the back row. She read a short passage from a book and the audience erupted into applause. What followed was a succession of teenagers singing - silencing the whole theatre and being rewarded with a rapturous applause at the end of their piece. I sat an listed to 5 songs. Once set of girls sang so well that after they finished their first song a member of the audience manhandled them back to the centre stage and made them sing another song. The atmosphere was like a festival.
Toured the rest of the ruins - the place was devoted to healing - forerunner to a health spa. People with aliments came to be cured by making offerings and sleeping in certain buildings expecting visitations during their dreams. Rituals being what the doctor ordered.
then a short ride to Nafplio, a beautiful port town with a citadel towering above and a perfect place to explore tomorrow morning.
Ruins found - but not the right ones
Cutting wood of the winter
Cutting marble for the bathroom
Talent spot - sing a song to the audience
Archeology in action
Spot the new passenger