Archive for November, 2008

Arrival in Çesme

Thursday, November 13th, 2008

In Chios (both the name of the island and the town), there were a few cafés open and an all night pizza place. We found ourselves a seat at one of the cafés and ordered a wonderful cup of green tea. We enjoyed the tea as we watched the confusion of the ferry unloading and reloading. The ferry began casting off the lines with the last car still on the loading ramp.

After a slow cup of tea, we hopped on our bikes and road around town. It was odd seeing so many people just wandering about at 4:30 am. We were stopped by some young adults that were interested in the bikes. They invited us to a party, but we were too tired and cold to be interested. We found the ferry port for Cesme and then went back for a second cup of tea. By 5:30 am, we were feeling pretty cold, so we moved indoors to the pizza place (there were several people smoking inside the café, making it quite unpleasant indoors at the café and the pizza place was empty). Becky enjoyed an omelet that was shaped like a pizza, and Scott had a nap at the table. Soon enough it was 7:30 am, and we needed to go to the ferry.

At the ferry, we met Randy, Kathy, Sharon and John, an American family who are backpacking to various places around the world. We took the same ferry, so it was nice to chat with them and learn about their adventures. They had a very similar unfortunate incident at the hostel in Brindisi. Kathy had her travel purse stolen. They were at the hostel only 2 weeks before us, and the more we talked, the more we found some aspects of the hostel a little creepy. We would recommend that anyone staying in Brindisi find accommodations elsewhere.

Our first awe-inspiring view of Cesme was of the castle, which dominates the skyline. We stopped to take a quick photo and then found our way to the tourist information centre. When we arrived, we had a brief discussion with the tourist information agent about Canadian tourists. Apparently 90% of Canadian tourists to this part of Turkey are from Vancouver, followed by 5% from Montreal. We have found that many people think that Montreal is the capital of Canada. Not too long after our arrival, Randy, Kathy and family arrived. Randy and Scott went inside with the tourist agent to gather information on accommodations and Cesme in general, while the rest of us waited outside and chatted.

We had two choices for inexpensive Pensyion, 30 YTL or 40 YTL for an ocean view. We opted for the 30YTL (about $24 CAD) as it did not involve riding up stairs – the ocean view was on a street that was accessed by a staircase. We are staying in the Pensyion that is also the home of a friendly family. We are the only guests as they are not usually open at this time of year.

Given our poor nights’ sleep, our first order of business was a nap. We laid down and within 5 minutes both of us had passed out, only to emerge 2 hours later ready for some food. Our Pensyion is a short walk to the main pedestrian street, so we headed out for some food and a walk. We quickly found a place that was mentioned in the guidebook and had the “house special”, a sampling of all the different premade stews. The food was yummy – Becky especially likes the rice. We thought the price was a bit high at 28 YTL, but this was still much less than we would have paid for a full meal in Greece or Italy. We reminded ourselves to ask what the price of food is before ordering it.

Our next order of business was to take a walk along the waterfront and to check out the castle. You could see how the waterfront would be bustling with tourists in the warm season. It had warmed up from the overnight, but was not warm enough for shorts and T-shirts.

The castle was quite well preserved and included some museum displays. Becky was particularly amused by the Byzantine toilet which looks amazing like the squat toilets found throughout southern Europe and Asia. We reached the top of the castle just in time for the afternoon call to prayer. From that viewpoint, you could see several mosques, and we could hear three distinct calls to prayer. It was interesting how they each were done in their own time, not all starting exactly at once. We found the calls to be beautiful music and wonder what people from Muslim countries think of church bells when they hear them for the first time. We were surprised that the mosques in town were all low key. For some reason, Becky had expected that all mosques would be miniature views of the grand Blue Mosque in Istanbul. More reasonably, the local mosques are pragmatic buildings that other than the minarets, blend into the skyline.

By the end of the day, Becky was feeling a cold coming on. The last day in Athens, she had a pretty bad sore throat, but now the cold was moving into her sinuses. Since we were comfortable in Cesme, we decided to hang around for a few days and allow the cold to pass before getting on our bikes.


Departure for Turkey

Wednesday, November 12th, 2008

10 km to the ferry terminal

For breakfast, we introduced Michalis to peanut butter and he introduced us to Tahini (sesame paste) and honey spread on toast. We both very much enjoyed the Tahini and honey. Michalis found the “just peanuts” peanut butter a bit dry and salty, and in comparison we would have to agree. Maybe we’ll have to give up the peanut and almond butter we’ve been carrying since Florida?

When we told Michalis about our visit to the cathedral in Patras, he commented that most of the Greek Orthodox churches are not so ornate. This was news to us, as the ones we had seen in Canada also contained large domes with fancy motifs. But with further observation, we noticed that the churches of Athens do not stand out like the newly built cathedral in Patras. The traditional Greek Orthodox churches do contain elaborate wooden chandeliers (or at least the ones we went in did), but did not have the bright motifs like the newer one in Patras. We wonder if the darker colour is partially related to all the candles that are burned throughout the day. As we passed each of the small churches there were always people walking in and out to light candles and pray, even the smallest churches on the quietest streets.

Ever wondered where to get bunny tails in Athens?

Ever wondered where to get bunny tails in Athens?

Since our ferry didn’t depart until 1900h, we had time for one last wander around Athens before getting ready to leave for Turkey. First, we ended up in the market district. We had never seen so many different meat vendors in such a small space. The floors were very slippery, and Becky was terrified of slipping and landing in all the refuse from the meat and fish vendors. Watching one of the vendors hack a goat in half with a cleaver, we wondered about sanitary conditions, but at least here we could see what was happening. In Canada, this is all hidden away in the meat packing plants, but the activities are pretty much the same.

During our wanderings, we stopped to see Keramikos, the ancient graveyard of Athens. It was a tranquil spot, with a small museum, lots of partial walls and houses as well as grave stones and ceramics from various eras. We tried reading the various placards – both there at and the Parthenon, and have found them almost impossible to digest. They are all quite technical and written too much for the archeological student and not for the average tourist. Becky believes the folks running the museums in Athens could benefit from hiring a learning consultant to help with their displays. It would be much more meaningful if at least some were simplified and used to tell a story. Talking later to Michalis, we learned that this is quite a common complaint, but money is not allocated for such things. Perhaps it is so people will hire a guide?

Michalis in his studio with some of his paintings (and Scott)

Michalis in his studio with some of his paintings (and Scott)

After our morning of touring, we headed to Michalis’ studio. Neither of us are close friends with any professional visual artists, so it was really neat to see his studio and some of his pieces he is working on. Scott’s comment on seeing his pieces is that many had a theme of traffic and sexuality. They often involved vehicles of some type and forms of the human body. There was a neat one that was a parking lot that made the shape of a women’s body. Becky focused more on the “coming of age” theme in other works.

His art initiated some discussions on the current situation in Athens and Greece. He is working on a piece called “The Acropolis without Athens”, exploring the possibility of Greece without the focus on being the “Cradle of Western Civilization”. With all the money and focus allocated to tourism (“Greece’s heavy industry”), and restoration of past glory, there is little focus on today. Virtually all the money for arts is going to the restoration of the Parthenon and other ancient Greek glories, leaving nothing for the contemporary arts (dance, music, visual). With that focus, and significant government corruption, there are many problems not being dealt with. For one, Greece has just overtaken the U.S. as the country with the highest child obesity rates. Michalis teaches in the primary school, so he sees this every day. Interestingly, we had not noticed. We certainly saw a few more large women and men, both adults and teenagers, than in southern Italy, but it was still quite a small percentage. The younger children must have been in school during our wanderings.

After our brief visit to the studio, it was time for us to venture to the ferry terminal. The ride itself, 10 km south east, was amazingly painless. Michalis helped us find a route mostly on quieter streets, which was a big help. When we did enter a busier street, Becky had to remind Scott to not be so polite. He stopped behind the last car rather than moving up on the right to the front of the line. This is fine and expected in Canada, but in Greece is causes confusion. The cars expect all the bikes and mopeds to weave through stopped traffic to jockey for position at the light. We need to learn to at least make a token effort in order to not confuse the car traffic!

The Greek ferry terminal was definitely nothing like the terminals at home. When we found our way to the main terminal road, there were at least 30 different ferries throughout the terminal. Our tickets, which we are glad we bought in advance, told us which gate to go to and which boat was ours. It turned out there where at least 3 boats in the vicinity of our gate. We expected there to be someone, somewhere in the terminal to check us in and direct us, but we found no one. We found the boat, so we made our way on board. The loading process is complete chaos. You just find a time when the transports are not being backed in, and ride on board. Then you find someone to tell you where to put your bikes. In all this vehicular chaos, there are people coming onto the boat on-foot with hand trolleys full of stuff and big suitcases. Their luggage is stored in room right by the entrance, causing an increase in congestion during loading.

Safely on board, with our gear stowed, we went to find ourselves a seat. We were hoping to upgrade to a cabin, but that was not meant to be. They wanted 60 Euros for the cabin, which seemed a bit much given that we were only on the boat until 3:30 am. Our previous ferry must have been a particularly good deal at 26 EUR. Instead, we slept on the deck. Unfortunately, we had not planned well, and our Thermarests and sleeping bags were on the bikes, nicely locked on the car deck. We made do with what we had, found a flat corner on the deck, and slept – Becky was asleep by 8 pm! Scott didn’t sleep as well, even with earplugs and eyeshade, since he kept worrying about being told to move, or missing the Chios arrival, or…

At 3:30 am the ship arrived at Chios. The unloaded process was no more organized than the loading process. Scott went downstairs to discover that many of the trucks parked near him had their engines idling. They saw nothing wrong with running them for 15 minutes while the boat was docking. Needless to say, the car deck was not exactly great for breathing! Scott was almost choking on fumes from badly tuned diesels, and had a headache from the carbon monoxide for more than an hour afterward. Fortunately, Becky was a little further forward and on the other side of the boat, so she found it hot, but not as unbearable. With the unloading chaos, we jumped off the boat the moment the ramp chain was removed and were quickly in the fresh air of Chios.


The ancient/modern city of Athens

Tuesday, November 11th, 2008

About 10 km around town.

Becky and the Parthenon

Becky and the Parthenon

What can you say about Athens that hasn’t been said by another of the millions of visitors who come here every year? We don’t have anything profound, but we have enjoyed our two days sightseeing and wandering around central Athens. It would take many more days than we have to even scratch the surface of all the museums, shops and districts, but we have enjoyed our time here.

We especially enjoyed walking around Athens. Other than the key attraction of the Parthenon, we have spent much of our time walking the streets, and getting a feel for the city. It is definitely busy, with everyone moving much more quickly and purposefully than we have seen elsewhere – comparable to New York City! The drivers tend to be quite pushy, especially with their horns, and scooters/motorcycles will leap into any available space. We have seen more big/powerful cars here than in Italy, and even the motorcycles are much bigger and louder. Even with this aggressiveness on the road, we have not yet seen an accident, not even a small fender-bender. The drivers seem to be careful and aware of their surroundings, unlike many in North America.

Originally, we felt bad about riding our bikes on the pedestrian streets. In Ottawa, riding a bike on Sparks Street will get you a nice fine. We realized that riding our bikes on the pedestrian street here was not going to be an issue when we were passed by a motorized scooter, then a motor bike, then another. It appears that scooters and motorcycles also qualify as pedestrians, at least in the minds of their drivers.

Becky in front of some of the better grafitti we found

Becky in front of some of the better grafitti we found

One thing that Becky has found surprising is the amount of graffiti in Athens – especially on some of the older buildings. We do wonder if some of the graffiti is actually commissioned. Back at home, most of the graffiti would have been cleaned up or painted over. Here, the graffiti seems to be left and Becky thinks there is much more of it than elsewhere – Scott thought it was pretty normal for a large city.

We have now replaced the most critical items from our stolen bag, and we’re ready to move on to Turkey – eager to get there before it gets too much colder.

After two days of not biking – but a lot of walking, Becky’s back and shoulder are feeling better. She figures the issue was caused by the fall, and all that her body needed was a day or two off the bike to recover. Unfortunately, by the end of Monday, we had both picked up a sore throat. Hopefully, that too will be temporary and will be gone by the time we get to Turkey. So far in our travels, we have both been much healthier than we normally are back in Ottawa, where one cough or cold seems to follow another. Some of this may have been due to taking “Cold FX” whenever we start to feel a bit of a sniffle, but unfortunately our supply was one of the things in Becky’s stolen bag. We have found some Ginseng in the pharmacy, and hope that will work as well as the Cold FX – at least until our supply is replaced.

Wednesday we are off to Turkey – taking an overnight ferry to Xios (Hios/Chios) followed by a short ferry to Çesme, Turkey. We have planned an extra day in Çesme, which should ensure we are well rested before we start biking again.

Athens extending north to the hills

Athens extending north to the hills

Bus and Bike

Sunday, November 9th, 2008

15 km around town

Waving goodbye to Dimitris from the bus

Waving goodbye to Dimitris from the bus

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!

The Acropolis, as the sun sets

The Acropolis, as the sun sets

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.

On our trip to Greece

Saturday, November 8th, 2008

For the last week, the song going through Becky’s head has been the Arrogant Worms “On his trip to Greece”:

I get water in my ear (On his trip to Greece)
Which makes it kind of hard to hear (On his trip to Greece)
It isn’t bad ’cause already (On his trip to Greece)
All they say is Greek to me
He thinks this joke is so funny
That he says repeatedly (On his trip to Greece)

Becky is constantly reminded of the English expression “It’s all Greek to me!”. Until we arrived here, we had little idea what Greek sounded like. Becky is finding that it is a flatter and much faster language than Italian. Italian is much more emphatic or passionate. Greek is often spoken very fast, so we are barely able to make out the different sounds people are making and have found it very difficult to remember even a few key phrases (Efharisto – which means Thank-you – has been particularly challenging). Fortunately, we have found that many people in Greece speak at least a little bit of English, such that we do not need to use Greek to get our message across. We have also been spoiled by having Dimitris to help us order food and ask questions for us.

We were late to rise this morning, and did not leave the apartment until after noon. After a quick trip to the grocery store, we headed out on our bikes to replace a few of the items in the stolen bag (a new bag and a set of bike lights). Again we found ourselves on an adventure riding through the streets. Becky was greatly confused when we stopped for some of the stop signs and then rode through other ones. She found we were doing it yesterday on our ride as well – the rules were rather mysterious. Eventually, she noticed that there were stop signs (or yield signs) next to the traffic lights. The ones Dimitris and Scott had been leading her through were when the traffic light was green. Apparently, the signs are there to tell people what to do when the lights are out. In Canada, we are taught to always stop for a stop sign, and when a traffic light is dark, it acts as a stop sign as well.

Illegal Immigrants climbing the fence into the port

Illegal Immigrants climbing the fence into the port

After a wonderful lunch, we rode around some more and checked train and bus schedules, then rewarded ourselves with a coffee on the waterfront. We again watched as at least twenty illegal immigrants climbed over the fence towards the ferries and other ships in the port. After the sun set, we took a ride down to see the bridge across the Gulf of Patra. The bridge is 3 km long and costs 11 Euros to cross. Dimitris called it the most expensive 3 km in Europe.

We passed several parks where more refugees were preparing meals over open fires, and several beaches where they were using the free showers. Becky noticed one the men was clearly naked as he crouched down while shaving after his shower. Another experience we never imagined! We continue to feel very safe in Greece, despite not always understanding what is going on around us.

The most expensive 3 km in Europe

The most expensive 3 km in Europe

Bike rally and good food

Friday, November 7th, 2008

20 km around town

We both slept pretty well on the ferry. We are so glad that the cabin was available and much less expensive than we had anticipated. Dinner on the ferry was pretty tasty, and reasonably priced – compared to the food prices in Italy or Canada. Unfortunately breakfast was expensive and 100% protein. We will need to look more seriously into self-catering for breakfast. The coffee on the ferry was awful and expensive (3 Euro for a cup of instant watery coffee). We suspect we’ll be missing the tasty, cheap coffee of Italy for some time. (Yes, even Scott enjoyed an occasional coffee in Italy!)

We arrived in Pátra about two hours later than scheduled. Dimitris, our couchsurfing host, had come down to the port to meet us, and was waiting, but we managed to get off the boat right behind a transport, and go the wrong direction, such that we did not see each other. We wandered about Pátra in search of the tourist information center and a way to phone him. Eventually we found it, purchased a telephone card and phoned him. He had finally gone home, but five minutes later, he was back at the ferry terminal and we met.

While Becky was waiting for Scott to make the phone call, she noticed that there were many people climbing the fence between the port and the town. The police were there, but they did not seem to be doing much other than hassling the people. They were not arresting them. The people where clearly not of Greek descent. When we asked about this phenomenon later, we learned that they are mostly refugees from war regions such as Iraq and Afghanistan. They are trying to get passage further into Europe, where they can vanish into the mass of other illegal immigrants. The Greek officials appear to mostly ignore them but they do make an effort to prevent them from getting into trucks or onto ferries. They do not arrest them, as then they would have to do something with them (feed them, provide some kind of refugee camp). So at the moment, there are hundreds of people sitting near the rail tracks and jumping over the fence to the container port on a daily basis.

This is a particular problem for Greece, because it is at the edge of the EU. In Canada, this is less of a problem because there are large bodies of water between us and any war zones.

Our first order of business for the day was to drop off our bags at Dimitris’ flat. That would allow us the freedom to ride around town without the burden of the weight or the worry over losing anything. Dimitris has a nice small flat, with one bedroom. We are very happy to meet another person who is willing to share his space and culture with us.

Soon after dropping off our bags, we were back on the bikes again. The ride to lunch was a lesson in city riding in Greece. Dimitris expertly negotiated the traffic. We have found here and in Italy, that the traffic rules in downtown are a mixture of randomness, aggressiveness, and defensiveness. On a bike, although it is chaotic, it actually feels safer than in Canada or the US. Becky thinks this is because out of necessity the drivers must be more alert. Because the drivers are always looking for that scooter or other car that may cut them off, that they actually see the cyclists and often will give the cyclist ample room. Of course, this is not always the case and you need to be ready to make an emergency stop – like when the taxi cab passed me and then stopped right in front of me. We were just glad to be learning this lesson without the added 50-80 pounds of gear!

We joined a group of Dimitris’ university friends for lunch. The particular place served random dishes. You just ordered the number of dishes you wanted, and you got what was served. Everyone shared from the various plates. The food was excellent, and we had the opportunity to share many different traditional dishes.

After lunch we had a brief tour of Pátra and we visited the church of Áyios Andhréas, which was opened in 1979. It is a large and beautiful Greek Orthodox church. The main entrance way is still being built and decorated. Our bicycles continue to get lots of attention here, with people staring and pointing.

At 5 pm, we joined up with a group of cyclists for a monthly protest. The protest was a bike rally protesting for more parks, the removal of cars from the central district of Pátra, and more support for bicycles and public transportation. It was interesting riding around the streets of Pátra with about 100 cyclists chanting. We certainly never anticipated this as part of our travels! It was structured similarly to the Critical Mass ( demonstrations in various Canadian and U.S. cities including Ottawa. For the most part, the demonstration was well received, and many of the people looking on cheered, smiled, or waved. There were a few irate scooter drivers – who were not happy with the brief interruption of traffic. Traffic was never interrupted for more than one cycling of the lights, and generally we were on our way before people started to sound their car horns. Apparently, public demonstrations of this nature are common in Greece, so everyone is accustomed to the delays.

There were a number of chants repeated by the group, but our non-existent Greek wasn’t good enough to understand. Unfortunately, just as the rally was coming to a close, it started to rain. We were almost back at the are starting point then. Dimitris gave us a rough translation for the last chant: “Better one hour on a bicycle in the rain than 40 years imprisoned in a car”.

Dinner was not until 10 pm. We headed out to a local restaurant and had a wonderful Greek Salad followed by a Pita filled with Souvlaki and French fries, all washed down with some local Mythos beer. The food was excellent, and 15 Euro fed all three of us. We are looking forward to enjoying more yummy Greek food.

We are finding it a little bit of a challenge adjusting to the meal times. Greeks eat even later than the Italians, with lunch at around 2 or 3 pm and dinner at 9 or 10 pm. Getting through the early part of the day will become a challenge for us, as we are accustomed to eating a real breakfast.

Tomorrow, we will spend another day in Pátra. We will try and create a replacement for Becky’s fake passport and replace some of the gear that was in the stolen bag.

Gloomy beginnings, warm endings

Thursday, November 6th, 2008

The day has been gloomy and wet. This is the first real rain (beyond the 30 minutes our first night tenting) that we have seen since arriving in Italy. We awoke to thunderstorms, heavy rain, and strong winds. Fortunately, it did clear up for a little while in the afternoon, such that we did not need wet weather gear to get to the ferry.

After hearing about the loss of our mascot, Maurizio gave us a Canadian Moose. He figured it was time that the moose returned home. We have adopted the new mascot and named him Moe (Moe the Moose).

Purchasing the ferry tickets was pretty painless. We went to one of the many travel agents in town that advertise the Greece ferries. It was not open when we first arrived at 3:25 pm, but by 3:40 siesta time was over and the agent returned. We considered getting a cabin, but the 110 Euro premium was a fair bit more than we were willing to pay. After the ship departed, we asked about cabins and were given a 4-birth cabin for a grand total of 26 Euro! A much better deal than reserving the cabin in advance. We are certain that would not have been an option during the busy summer months, but at the moment, the ship has mostly truck drivers and a few backpackers.

Becky reflects on the events of yesterday:

When I think of my stolen bag, I think of the waste. The person who took it likely just grabbed the wallet and camera and threw the rest of the stuff away. It is that “rest of the stuff” that I want back the most. I am sad thinking of Puffie all alone in a dark alley somewhere. Replacing the bag itself will be a challenge, as it was one of a two piece set. A replacement is guaranteed not to match – which breaks the symmetry of the bike. It won’t actually affect the way the bike rides, it is more a visual thing than anything else. Again, it is most annoying because the person who took it has most likely just thrown it away.

In Italy, everyone lives behind a fence. The fences are more about claiming your space then they are about security. In many cases, people leave the gates open all day, but the gates are always there. In many cases, the fences are solid walls. Add to this, that garbage is often strewn everywhere. There does not seem to be an organization that cleans the streets and people do not usually clean the areas outside of their fences. Land that is commercial is often much more cluttered than residential land. It seems that no one cares enough to clean the mess. A bag could easily be thrown over a fence into a pile of garbage, never to noticed again. A part of me hopes a good Samaritan will find the bag and think to return it somewhere, but from what I have seen of Southern Italy I do not have any faith of that actually occurring. People just don’t appear to care enough about others such that the concept of returning a lost item would not even be considered.

In the end, I am very glad I had removed much of the stuff that was normally in the bag in anticipation of the ferry trip. I am also glad that we are finally leaving Italy – two and a half weeks has been enough. I have found that in general the people of Italy have been reserved to the point of unfriendliness. People often stare at us while riding our bikes, but would not return a smile. There are always exceptions, and it is the exceptions that have made riding in Italy pleasant – that and the friendly drivers. At least once an hour, someone would honk, wave or give us a thumbs-up from a passing car. In reflection, we note that the reaction is opposite that of what we found in North America, where people on foot always shared a smile but people in cars were often reserved. We have met some friendly people in our time in Italy, but we did not find the culture in Italy welcoming. We are looking forward to some famous Middle Eastern hospitality.

A Puffie Memoir

A Puffie Memoir

Robbed in Brindisi

Wednesday, November 5th, 2008

Eve having fun on Becky\'s bike

Eve having fun on Becky's bike

Our day started out well, with both of us waking up and feeling well rested. We had wifi access, so got caught up on email and blog posts, then packed up our stuff and moved out of our spacious double room. We were the only guests for the night, so sat down for a coffee and breakfast with the staff (Maurizio, Eve and Dannii). After breakfast, we moved all of our bags down to the back patio of the hostel, since it was a quiet area.

In hindsight, it was foolish to leave the bags unattended, but with no-one around except staff and the two big dogs, we figured they would be safe for 30 minutes. Maurizio, Eve and Dannii were very interested in our bikes, so we set them up for test rides, then Scott sat down to do some bike maintenance while Becky did some more work on the computer. It wasn’t until an hour later that she discovered one of her bags was missing.

All five of us looked everywhere in the hostel, but found no sign of the bag (one of Becky’s bright yellow front panniers). After an hour of searching, we resigned ourselves to the fact that the bag had been stolen.

The bad news was that this bag contained Becky’s wallet (including driver’s license, health card, credit and bank cards), camera and most traumatically our mascot Puffie (Becky is most traumatized by where Puffie might be and the loss of the pannier itself). On the bright side, it only contained a small amount of cash as we had not successfully gone to a bank machine in several days. In packing for the ferry, Becky had removed some key maps (Greece and Turkey) and her passport, so those thankfully were not in the bag. We lost maps of Italy and Syria, a couple of books, and some small clothing items (touque, gloves), which will likely be hard to replace. We are sure as the days go by we will discover a few other items that were in the bag.

Once we were certain that the bag was not misplaced, we cancelled the two credit cards. Fortunately, the joint credit card has different numbers for Scott and Becky, so Scott’s card still works. We then headed out for a visit to the local police station. We were first directed to the Carabinieri – which are the national police similar to the RCMP in Canada. They sent us to the Polizia Statale which are the local police. They are located in a Questura (police station). Once there, we found someone who spoke enough English to allow us to file our report. She felt it necessary to offer us a snack / coffee from the Bar. Reminded of advice from Friedel and Andrew , we took her up on the offer and we each enjoyed an Italian coffee before returning to the Hostel.

Since the wallet contained both Becky’s driver’s license and her passport photocopy, we are concerned about identity theft. In addition to cancelling all the cards, we will put a fraud alert on her credit reports. In Canada there doesn’t appear to be a way to do a “credit freeze” like in the U.S.

Instead, we need to file a “fraud alert” with the credit bureaus. All this means is a note is put in our credit report. It is up to the companies accessing the report what they do with it, so doesn’t seem very effective to us.

Annoyingly enough, the Lonely Planet guide did warn us about petty theft in Brindisi, we just did not expect it here. We are both very annoyed and frustrated, both with ourselves for being careless, and that someone would actually sneak into the hostel compound (which is fenced and gated) and steal a bag. It is common practice for staff to leave their laptops and cameras out – often forgetting where they last put them. We think if the hostel had been more populated, we definitely would have been more careful.

With passports in hand, we will continue with our journey to Greece on tomorrow’s ferry. We will likely plan to replace the pannier and some of its contents in Istanbul, as we know of a good bike shop there. We are again without a Mascot.

At a youth hostel

Tuesday, November 4th, 2008

81 km, 5h 30 min

The no trumpets sign - common outside many small towns.  People still quite happily use their horns though...

The no trumpets sign - common outside many small towns. People still quite happily use their horns though...

We did not sleep too badly last night, but were still somewhat restless. At 3 am, Becky woke up to sounds that sounded like someone walking around. She woke Scott up and we both listened intently for about 5 minutes to discover that it was just the tarp flapping. The wind had changed directly and was now coming directly into our shelter. It was warm enough out that this did not cause a problem, so we move a bag to hold the tarp down and prevent it from flapping. Scott had several dreams where a transit station or a warehouse was present in our abandoned building, with many people showing up before we packed up and left.

We were up early – Becky was awake by 5 am – something to do with going to sleep at 8 pm. Becky made Scott get up by 5:45 am, so by 6:30 am, we were packed up and on the bikes. Unfortunately, fog had rolled in a few hours earlier, so everything was damp. Our normal practice while camping if this happens is to lay out sleeping bags and clothing and wait for the sun to dry them. Not an option today, since we needed to leave at sunrise before anyone arrived.

The S.S.7 to Brindisi had good shoulders, and trucks generally changed lanes to pass us, so our ride was pretty comfortable and fast. We tried to take the service roads a few times, but they tended to be much less direct when we were on them. When we were actually on the highway, the service road appeared to parallel us beautifully though!

While we knew where the youth hostel was (roughly), thanks to Google Maps, our South Italy map wasn’t detailed enough to help us get there. We hopped off the S.S.7 at the last exit, went north, and then headed down the SS 16, which we thought was the right direction. We ended up in front of a school at 1 pm when the chaos of lunch happened. We are starting to despise the moment when hoards of teenagers enter the streets at one time, causing all the traffic to become unpredictable. Add teenagers yelling comments at you about your bikes to the unpredictable traffic, and it becomes very difficult to maneuver.

We stopped just past the school to get our bearings. Becky noticed a youth hostel sign at the intersection we had just crossed, so she went to check it out while Scott was looking for the address in the Lonely Planet guide. Just then, Maurizio (owner of the hostel) pulled up beside Scott on his electric bike. We had indeed found the hostel.

We were both quite tired after a restless night and early morning, so we didn’t do much other than unpack, eat and sleep. Scott was in bed by 8 pm!


Wild camping

Monday, November 3rd, 2008

81 km, 5h 30 min

There is lots more to see in Matera, but we are starting to feel time slipping by and worrying about weather in Turkey. Hearing about the first winter storm back home in Ottawa a few days ago reminded us that Turkey gets snow too.

Scott went out shortly after sunrise to get some more photographs of the Sassi, but heavy cloud meant none of the photos were great.

Our ride was not overly adventurous. We were a little late starting, as we tend to do when we have Internet access in the morning. Our goal was to head to someplace between Matera and Brindisi, since Brindisi was too far for a single day given our late start.

All the major roads join at Taranto, but we have no reason to go there, and took many minor roads trying to go around. We ended up riding through Massafra during rush hour, which wasn’t too much fun.

As sunset got close, we hadn’t found anyplace to stay, so decided to use our backup plan – wild camping. This meant eating dinner before we stopped for the night, and continuing on our ride after the sun set. Fortunately our lights and reflectors work well to warn cars of our presence. The Italian drivers continue to give us a wide berth, and mostly slow before passing, which is very nice.

For the night, we set ourselves up in an abandoned building. It seems to be a new building, that looks like they started building it and then ran out of money – not atypical here. They build as much of a house as they can afford, and then wait until they have more money to finish the building. Sometimes they will move into buildings that are not yet finished – which is feasible because the climate is so mild. This particular building was at the end of a road that did not have any signs we could see or a gate, so whoever owns it doesn’t appear to be too concerned about security. We’ll see how well we sleep, and whether anyone comes to check on us!