15 km around town
Taking the bus from Patra to Athens turned out to be much easier than we anticipated. Dimitris explained to the people at the bus terminal what we wanted to do, which made the whole process much easier. We had asked about taking the train, but the track between Patra and Athens is under repair, so the trip involves an hour on a bus in the middle. The people at the train station said that we could not take our bikes on the bus portion of the trip, so it would have taken us 2 days to get to Athens by train. Instead, we took an express bus – one leaves every hour on Sundays. The driver and luggage loader quickly rolled our bikes (gear and all) into one of the luggage bays and we were off. Because it was the express bus, it did not stop, so we did not have to worry about the bikes or any of the bags until we arrived in Athens.
During the 3-hour bus trip, we checked out the highway for “bikeability”. Our first impression was that there was a nice shoulder we could have ridden on. That proved to be a fallacy. We soon discovered that the vehicles drive on the shoulder – the lines on the highway are a mere suggestion. The cars drive as far right as they can, allowing the center line to be a passing lane. The passing lane is either 1 or 2 cars wide, depending on how wide the road is. Often cars seem to pass without paying any attention to what the vehicles in the other direction are doing. It would definitely have been unsafe to be riding a bike on that road!
After arriving safely in Athens, we hopped back on the bikes for a short ride (about 4 km) to Michalis’ flat. He is kindly hosting us in Athens. Unfortunately, the “walking track” that Scott had downloaded from Google Maps took us the wrong way down several one-way streets and into a crowded park – Sunday is flea market day in many of the parks. The fact that we were riding our bikes down the streets of Athens felt completely surreal. Even more amazing is that we felt quite comfortable doing it.
At one point our “walking track” brought us to a staircase. We had to deviate from the track – so we headed down a block and pushed our bikes up the steep hill. Normally this is not an issue, but it was particularly challenging because our feet kept slipping on the tile sidewalk.
We arrived safely at Michalis’ home and enjoyed a welcoming cup of coffee and some great conversation. Michalis is a sculptor and painter who has lived in both Italy and England, so it was very interesting to learn more about his life, and see some of his work. We are looking forward to a visit to his studio in the next day or two.
For lunch, we all headed into downtown Athens on our bikes. Again we found ourselves following a local navigating through the narrow twisty streets and through all the cars. This city riding has challenged our skill on our bikes, as we are often riding between a row of parked cars and a row of stopped cars with barely a bike width between. We wouldn’t want to do it with all our gear though! We did let both Dimitris and Michalis know that we cannot weave through the cars as they are often do. Our recumbent have a much larger turning radius than an upright bike. We are also learning that it is completely acceptable to ride on the left side of a road – especially a one way street. We find this much easier when the cars are parked on the left, which is common practice on one way streets. It is also necessary when you will be making a left turn. For the most part, when we signal our intentions, the cars stay out of our way – much more pleasant than we been led to expect.
One very strange thing to our Canadian eyes is the way pedestrian streets are used. There are many in Athens, but contrary to the signs, scooters and motorbikes use them too. We don’t feel too bad about riding on them now!After another wonderful meal, we headed back towards Michalis’ flat with a stop for coffee along the way. We caught several views of the Parthenon, which helped to reinforce in our minds that we are actually in Greece (you might think all the Greek signs would do that!). Scott stopped to take a few photos, and we were on our way. Becky is definitely missing having her camera, and as a result, there are many fewer “snapshots” of the scenery while we ride. We will look into replacing her camera either here in the next few days or in Istanbul when we get there.
At some point during the day today or yesterday – perhaps when pushing the bikes up the hill, Becky managed to pull something in her back and shoulder. She is not sure if it happened today or yesterday when she had a spectacular fall just outside Dimitris’ apartment in Patra. She did not notice any pain until we started out to lunch today, and it got worse while riding back. So, we will definitely be taking it easy for the next couple of days and limiting our travels to foot and public transit.
We are looking forward to at least two days seeing the sites, both ancient and modern, in this wonderful city.